It was another disappointing week but luckily not as disappointing as it would have been had I backed Brandt Snedeker who was extremely close to being my main tip. He managed to give up his 3rd round lead which allowed Jhonattan Vegas to come through the field for his 2nd PGA Tour title and first since 2011.
McGirt had a miserable week and Finau didn’t fare much better. Reavie on the other hand found himself on the leaderboard a few times but quickly fell away after throwing in several untimely bogeys.
That leaves the running results as follows;
Total points advised – 721.50
Total points returned – 780.79
ROI – 8.22%
This week we are back on major duty for the last of the year, the US PGA Championship.
US PGA Championship
Baltusrol Golf Club takes its name from the ill-fated farmer who originally owned the land in New Jersey where the course now lies. Mr Baltus Roll was brutally murdered by a couple of thieves who were attempting to steal his fortune in 1831. However it’s not the fortune that the 156 man field are desperately seeking here this week but the chance to etch their name in history by lifting the Wannamaker Trophy as they assemble for “glory’s last shot”.
There is a feeling in the game that the US PGA Championship is the lesser of the four Majors but try telling that to Shaun Micheel, Rich Beem, Y.E Yang or even Jason Day for that matter. While it is the last of the four it is also usually also the easiest of the four and that is probably why there have been so many shock winners over the years. That shouldn’t be the case this week however as there has never been a winner at Baltusrol in double figures under par. That might also explain why the roll of honour is such a classy one with Phil Mickelson, Lee Janzen and Jack Nicklaus the last three men to win majors there. In fact the last time the US PGA Championship was held here 9 of the top 14 were all major winners, further highlighting that the cream usually rises to the top at Baltusrol.
That was back in 2005 however so we don’t have a lot of recent course form to go on but nevertheless that leaderboard can still offer some insight. Together with the features of the course then we should still be able to work out who should go well this week, in theory if nothing else!
The first point of note is that the course is long and that is usually the case with the PGA host course. Baltusrol is a 7400 yard brute of a Par 70 and prior to that Whistling Straits played some 7790 yards, Valhalla – 7458 yards, Kiawah Island – 7873 yards and Atlantic Club – 7613 yards so you can see a general trend. That’s not to say that only long drivers can prevail but it is certainly an advantage at the final major of the season.
Despite there being a course on site since 1895, Baltusrol (Lower) was only opened in 1922 by the legendary A.W. Tillinghast and sits alongside two of his other designs, Winged Foot and Bethpage Black as three of the best examples of classic American golf courses. Baltusrol was the first of the three to open and it really made a name for Tillinghast as he was the first man to start bringing strategy into golf course design. He also allowed for the changing equipment at the time so made multiple tees on every hole so that the course could adapt in the future. One of Tillinghast’s other signatures was his use of the natural landscape which many other designers would bring into their works.
There has been a lot of renovation work done over the years since, firstly by Robert Trent Jones Snr and then more recently by his son Rees Jones. While a lot of their work has been to protect the course from the powerful, modern golf game, they have also been re-establishing a lot of Tillinghast’s original features like the deep, strategically placed bunkers and ramped approaches to the greens.
With the course requiring such strategy it should be no surprise that it has held 7 U.S Opens and I’d expect the winner here this week to plot their way accordingly through the 72 holes. That coupled with the high scoring result in 2005 makes me think that US Open specialists will be better suited to the test this week than those who prefer the normal low scoring PGA Championships.
The course is tree-lined but they are set back somewhat and the fairways aren’t overly narrow. The rough is green but by no means as thick as a U.S. Open so while finding the fairways will be helpful I don’t see driving accuracy being as crucial as it is at a U.S. Open. The whole course is relatively flat so there won’t be any of the random bounces that we saw at Oakmont and Troon during the last two majors.
The poa annua/bent grass mix greens are fairly large averaging 6400 sq. feet but they won’t be the easiest to hit. They are well protected by lots of bunkers and water and several of them have clever slopes that will deflect any errant approaches into the surrounding hazards. There are also several angled greens to make narrower targets from the wrong side of the fairway.
I’m expecting a very fair test this week where the right mix of aggression, strategy and patience will be required. Unlike a US Open there will be plenty of birdies around but equally any bad shots will be punished on this classic layout and I think we will see a winning score towards 7 or 8 under. For me that is normally the sort of score that results in the most exciting tournaments so I think Baltusrol will pick up from where Troon left off and give us an excellent four days of golf.
Again a compelling case could easily be made for the 4 market leaders, such is their ability. But despite the fact that they are all in some sort of form, I don’t really like any of them at the prices and instead I’m looking a little further down the market.
At the start of 2016 I earmarked Phil Mickelson to have a good year in the majors as I thought he would be suited to all four venues. For some reason I forget about that two weeks ago at Troon but it was always Baltusrol that looked to be his best chance, certainly on paper. Mickelson won the US PGA last time it was here in 2005 and while there were a few others in the field that played it 11 years ago, there aren’t many that can be expected to go well this week.
The fact that he won on the course before would have meant little had he not been arriving here fresh from a majestic performance in The Open. That means he has the brilliant combination of course and current form and is the only person in the field to properly have that in his locker this week. Further to that Mickelson is also one of the few players that can compete with the world’s top 4 ranked players should they all bring their best game to Baltusrol. That makes the 5-time major winner look like a decent piece of value long before we even consider anything else.
Mickelson’s 6 runner-up finishes at the US Open is something that everyone talks about and it is a massive shame that he looks more and more unlikely to be the 6th man to achieve a career grand slam. What is lesser known however are the finer details of those US Open finishes.
By my calculations, since 2001 Mickelson has played 9 US majors on poa annua (or a poa/bent mix) greens. Two of those were at Oakmont which for some reason he really doesn’t like so I’m removing those two missed cuts from my figures. His other 7 performances read 4th, 2nd, 18th, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd and that is seriously impressive. But looking further at those 7 tournaments, four of them were played on A.W. Tillinghast courses within 60 miles of each other by New York’s east coast. Those four brought about two runner-up finishes at Bethpage Black (2002 and 2009), a runner-up finish at Winged Foot when he really should have won in 2006 and his win at Baltusrol in 2005.
So it’s fairly clear that “Lefty” is getting his absolutely ideal conditions this week; poa annua putting surface (albeit mixed with bentgrass) on a Tillinghast design in the New York area.
For those that are looking for some stats to help back up the veteran Californian’s case, there are plenty of those too. He sits in 4th for strokes gained: putting right now and that is his highest position for several years. He also ranked 4th in total putting at Troon on the poa/bent/fescue mix. He ranks 5th for scrambling for the season and his long game is in good shape too coming off a ranking of 4th for GIR at the Open. When he won this in 2005 he made the 2nd most birdies in the week with 16 so despite the high scoring, birdies will need to be made and he ranks 8th for birdie average this season on Tour.
Mickelson is a long driver of the ball so he won’t be fazed by the length of the course and he ranked 8th for GIR in 2005 so we know the approach shots fit his eye too. Phil Mickelson at the very top his game with conditions to suit is a very daunting prospect and he looks a solid alternative to the front 4 in the betting.
Sergio Garcia was another that played in 2005 and he didn’t do too much wrong, recording rounds of 72-70-71-70 on his way to a 23rd place finish. Garcia also arrives in red hot form but it is the overall profile that interests me most for the Spaniard this week.
Firstly, if anything is ever going to inspire him to win a major it will surely be both Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson losing their maiden tags in the last month. Garcia has been touted as the best player without a major for longer than anyone cares to remember but that short list becoming ever shorter will have been at the forefront of his mind over the last 9 days. He is still a relatively young man but this looks a perfect chance for him with the last 4 major winners all having been first time winners.
Moreover though, Garcia also fits the usual profile of recent US PGA winners. One of the main stats lately has been that the winner has had a Top 20 at WGC Bridgestone the week prior but due to the rescheduling I don’t think that is as relevant this year and several of the top players actually missed Firestone this year, Garcia included. But it is the rest of 2016’s big tournaments that look to have him primed for a tilt at the PGA.
Garcia finished 34th at the Masters, 5th at the US Open and 5th again at the Open and a strong performance in the season’s majors has become increasingly relevant at the year’s last major. The last 3 PGA winners have totalled 41, 32 and 50 when adding together their 3 finishes in that year’s majors, Garcia’s total of 44 sits right in the middle.
He also has the all-important 2016 win that is usually required as only Dufner of the last 14 PGA winners had failed to win that season. His win was at the Byron Nelson Championship and that is of added interest as 3 of the last 4 US PGA winners have also won the Byron Nelson.
I’m not going to go in to any great details about Garcia’s game as everyone reading knows how well suited to major golf he is. He has amassed 22 major top 10s already and 12 of those would have paid out for a top 5 finish so it truly is just a win that is missing. It’s just really about whether he can have a decent week with the flat stick and Henrik Stenson showed us in Scotland just what is capable when one of the game’s best ball-strikers has a good week on the greens.
Unfortunately he ranks just 114th in strokes gained: putting for the season but I’m confident that the poa annua could be an equaliser of some sorts. He ranked 15th for putting at the Open and 34th on the poa annua greens at Oakmont in the US Open so he has been putting ok over the last month. Of Garcia’s 9 wins on the PGA Tour, 3 of those have been on poa annua greens so while many in the field won’t enjoy the surface, Garcia won’t be worried. Despite the putter being cold throughout the season he still ranks 8th in birdie average and 4th in the all-round ranking for 2016. Baltusrol should suit him perfectly where his solid ball-striking will be rewarded and other’s mistakes will be punished.
I guess it is always a risk backing Sergio to win a major but is a long time since I did so and I think he looks worth another go again here. This week he has a couple of extra things in his favour that might just help him over the line so he looks a very solid each way bet at 28/1
I looked fairly in depth at the 2005 leaderboard in an attempt to try and find some of the main attributes that helped them to play well at Baltusrol. I used ten in total and ran around 40 of the market principals through a model. The stats that I chose were birdie average, bogey avoidance, driving distance, scrambling, approach proximity from rough under 100 yards, GIR under 100 yards from rough, 3 putt avoidance, putting from 15” to 25”, all-round ranking and par 4 scoring.
Despite the top 10 being made up of some of the best players in the world, there were a couple of surprises. Ranking in 8th place alongside Day, Spieth, Mcilroy, Fowler, Garcia, Mickelson and DJ was Daniel Berger. The same Daniel Berger that won just two starts ago at the St Jude Classic before injuring his shoulder after a 37th place at the US Open. That injury resulted in his high profile withdrawal at Firestone before having to sit out The Open. But he seems to be back fit according to his twitter posts and if that is the case he looks extremely over priced at 125/1 on a course that looks like it will suit him perfectly.
Berger is currently 16th in birdie average, 29th in 3-putt avoidance and 17th in Par 4 scoring and arriving with a win he fits a similar profile to Keegan Bradley when he won this in 2011. Looks a nice each way price but I’m also including him for a Top 20 finish.
Charl Schwartzel was on my shortlist for this even before he ranked 10th in my stats model. The 2011 Masters winner has been threatening another major win for the last couple of years and he has a lot of sneaky high finishes. He has gathered five Top 25s from his seven US Opens and three Top 25s from his six US PGA’s and having finally won his 2nd PGA Tour title earlier in 2016 I think his game and mentality are in perfect order to enjoy the test that Baltusrol presents.
He finished 23rd at the US Open and 18th at the Open as well as 7th at Firestone in between those starts. Both his long game and putting are ticking over nicely and I expect him to contend this week. One of his favourite US courses is Riviera as he says that it plays a lot like the courses he grew up on in South Africa. That will be down to both the kikuyu grass fairways and the poa annua greens. While there is no kikuyu this week we can expect him to enjoy the poa annua present in the greens.
I seem to have a very bad habit of backing Brandt Snedeker in majors but this 8 time winner on Tour always seems to be a very fair price. While he can contend on almost any course when playing well he has a habit of popping up at the same venues again and again. That was evident only just this weekend past when he finished 5th in Canada after leading through 54 holes on the Glen Abbey layout where he won in 2013.
Most of his 8 wins have arrived after a strong run of form so given that he led the field in putting at Troon the week prior to his 5th place finish I think he looks likely to have another good week. Snedeker is perhaps Mickelson’s only peer when it comes to putting on poa annua with 5 of his 8 wins being on the trickier surface. He also has three US Open Top 10s on poa or poa mixed greens and I’m including him again here. If the course dries out a little and plays a bit tougher I think it will play into Snedeker’s hands.
Matt Kuchar let us down at the US Open but his form remains as strong as anyone’s with yet another Top 10 last week. In his pomp he was a Top 10 machine and I think Baltusrol will suit him nicely this week so there is no reason he can’t rack up another Top 10 at 9/2.
Andy Sullivan has developed a knack of playing well on the same courses as Rory McIlroy over the last two years. He has chased him home in a few European Tour events, namely their own DP Tour Championship where he gave him a real fight right to the 72nd hole. We know McIlroy loves US PGA set ups and Baltusrol should suit both him and Sullivan as long as it doesn’t dry out too much. There has been a recent pattern of a less heralded British golfer doing well at majors over the last couple of years and I think it could be Sullivan’s turn this week. He has gradually found his feet in major company this year with a 23rd at the US Open followed by a 12th place finish at Troon two weeks ago. He should go well and looks a very fair price for a Top 20 finish at 5/1. To me this looks like just about the standout US PGA bet.
Bubba Watson has often started very strongly in US majors and he looks massively over priced to do so here. Bubba hasn’t had the best of times in the majors this season but he has made all three cuts and returned to form with a 14th at Firestone. Baltusrol isn’t tricked up in anyway so I don’t see anything to unsettle him here this week. He could leave the field behind here if he putts well on the poa and with 3 of his 9 wins coming on the surface 50/1 looks a huge price.
Emiliano Grillo can be a bit of a streaky putter and already in his young career he has some low rounds to his name. When he won his 1st PGA Tournament in October he had a 3rd round 65 and just two weeks prior to that he threw in a 64 on his way to winning the Web.com Tour Championship.
The young Argentine’s brilliant tee-to-green game is also helping him to some good major finishes with a Top 20 at both the Masters and the Open.
The key here again could be the poa annua greens as that was the putting surface for his win at the Fry’s Open. I expect one low round from him this week and with an early tee time I’m hoping it can be the 1st round. I’m also going to back him for a Top 10 finish as 10/1 looks more than fair.
Summary of Bets
Phil Mickeslson 2pts ew @ 22/1
Sergio Garcia 2pts ew @ 28/1
Daniel Berger – 0.5pt ew @ 125/1 and 2pts Top 20 @ 9/2
Charl Schwartzel – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1
Brandt Snedeker – 0.5pt ew @ 50/1
Matt Kuchar – 2pt Top 10 @ 9/2
Andy Sullivan – 2pt Top 20 @ 5/1
Bubba Watson – 0.5pt ew 1st round leader @ 50/1
Emiliano Grillo – 0.5pt ew 1st round leader @ 100/1 & 1pt Top 10 @ 10/1
Weekly pts advised – 20pts