USPGA Championship: Donald Ross course form could be the key at Oak Hill, says The Punter

This week’s big prize – The Wanamaker Trophy

Our man has been studying the form for the year's final major and he fancies he may have found a nice angle-in. Read Steve's detailed preview of 'Glory's Last Shot' here...

"To illustrate just how tough a test of golf the East Course at Oak Hill is, in the seven major championships held here (including the two seniors) only ten men have finished 72 holes under par."

Tournament History
First played as a match play event, Englishman Jim Barnes won the inaugural US PGA Championship in 1916, at the Siwanoy Country Club in New York. It remained a match play tournament until 1958 and as it's the last of the year's four majors, it's universally known as 'Glory's Last Shot'. This will be the 95th staging of the event.

East Course, Oak Hill Country Club, Rochester, New York

Course Details

Par 70, 7,163 yards
Stroke index at the US PGA Championship in 2003 - 72.69

The East Course at Oak Hill Country Club was designed by Donald Ross in 1925. Robert Trent Jones Sr. made several changes to the course in the 1950's and prior to the 1989 US Open and this event in 2003, Tom Fazio also made further alterations.

In the run-up to this year's renewal an associate of Fazio's, Tom Marzolf, has tweaked the greens on holes 5, 6 and 15, toning down the contouring and adding some new pin locations and the last two holes have been lengthened slightly, resulting in the course playing 29 yards longer than it did in 2003.

The East Course has hosted five previous major championships - the US Open three times, in 1956, 1968 and 1989, and this event twice, in 1980 and 2003. It has also hosted the US Amateur twice, in 1949 and 1998, the US Senior Open, in 1984, the Senior PGA Championship, in 2008, and the Ryder Cup, in 1995.

The East Course is a constantly tough test. In 2003, only three holes (the two par fives, holes 4 and 14, and the par 4 16th) averaged under par but no hole was catastrophically hard. The toughest was the 17th which averaged 4.48, while the long par 4 7th claimed more double bogeys than any other and that averaged 4.38. The easiest hole in 2003 was the par 5 4th but even that's no cakewalk. The field only found the fairway 22% of the time.

The tree-lined fairways are narrow (averaging 25 yards wide), the rough is snarly, thick and 5-6 inches high and the Bentgrass/Poa Anua greens are small. There is plenty of elevation change and although much has been made of the speed of the greens and that Tiger Woods suggested they were only running at around eight on the stimpmeter last Tuesday, by the time they tee it up on Thursday, they should be running much faster. With more holes shaping left to right, faders of the ball should be favoured (or left-handers who draw the ball).

To illustrate just how tough a test of golf the East Course at Oak Hill is, in the seven major championships held here (including the two seniors) only ten men have finished 72 holes under par. The lowest total was Jack Nicklaus' six-under-par 274 in this event in 1980.

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Last Ten Winners

2012 - Rory McIlroy -13
2011 - Keegan Bradley -8 (playoff)
2010 - Martin Kaymer -11 (playoff)
2009 - Y.E. Yang -8
2008 - Padraig Harrington -3
2007 - Tiger Woods -8
2006 - Tiger Woods -10
2005 - Phil Mickelson -4
2004 - Vijay Singh -8 (playoff)
2003 - Shaun Micheel -4

What will it take to win the US PGA Championship?

On such a demanding track, I fancy the event will have a US Open feel about it and we definitely won't see a low winning score - as we have in this event recently. It's going to be a tough week and the winner will need to be patient, make few mistakes and above all else, be relentlessly accurate.

Although five of the par fours measure over 450 yards, driving distance hasn't been an important stat here. At first glance the key stat is greens in regulation, with the last four major winners here (including Jay Haas in the 2008 Senior PGA) all ranking inside the top-four for greens hit.

Of course, in order to hit the greens, finding the fairways is pretty important but surprisingly, Haas, who ranked third, is the only winner of the four to rank inside the top-ten for driving accuracy. Nicklaus and Strange both ranked tied 13th and Micheel was ranked tied 40th. It is worth noting however that in 1980, the runner-up, Andy Bean and third-placed finisher, Gil Morgan, ranked tied third and tied first respectfully for driving accuracy and that Chad Campbell, runner-up to Micheel, found more fairways than anyone else in 2003.

Nicklaus ranked tied 3rd for putting but both Strange and Haas ranked in the 30s and Micheel ranked tied 19th. So in short, putting isn't the be all and end all and you don't need to be monstrously long off the tee but you do need to be accurate and precise with your irons and wedges in-particular.

Will Donald Ross course form prove pivotal?

Shaun Micheel went off at 1000.0 when he won here ten years ago and the fact that he's not won anywhere since demonstrates how much of a shock winner he was, but there was a clue beforehand...

Micheel won just once on what's now the Web.Com Tour, way back in 1999 at the Nike Greensboro Open held at Sedgefield Country Club and that's significant because Sedgefield, now the home of the Wyndham Championship, was also designed by Donald Ross. Runner-up Chad Campbell and third-placed finisher, Tim Clark, both have good records at Sedgefield as well, so although they score very differently (Sedgefield is a low-scoring track), there definitely looks to be something in it.

To give more credence to the Donald Ross link, Chad Campbell's biggest career win came at the 2003 Tour Championship at another Ross designed course - East Lake.

Other Ross designs to consider are Aronimink, which hosted the AT & T National in both 2010 and 2011 (won by Justin Rose and Nick Watney), Pinehurst No. 2 course, which hosted the US Open in 1999 and 2005 (and does so again next year), Plainfield Country Club, where the 54-hole Barclays was held in 2011 and for the really adventurous, you could check out Irondequoit Country Club which is also in Rochester and which hosted the Xerox Classic on the Web.Com Tour in the four years between 2005 and 2008.

Is there an identikit winner?

Shaun Micheel is far from the only shock winner of this event - the likes of Rich Beem, Y.E Yang and Keegan Bradley were all un-fancied and all sorts of fancy-priced players make the places. Could anyone have envisaged David Lynn finishing second last year?

Every US PGA Championship winner since 2004, and 11 of the last 12 winners, had already notched a win during the year - even shock winners Beem, Yang and Bradley, so think twice about backing someone that's winless in 2013.

Very recent form looks important too. Since the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational moved to the week before this event, all six US PGA champs had finished inside the top-22 at Firestone. And one last little snippet... Europeans have won three of the last five renewals.

In-Play Tactics

Looking at the stats from the last four majors held here (including the Senior PGA five years ago), the East Course is definitely not a catch-up course.

In this event in 1980, Jack Nicklaus was just three off the lead after round one, one back at halfway, clear by three after three rounds and he won by seven.

At the 1989 US Open, Curtis Strange trailed by fully five strokes after round one but he equalled Ben Hogan's 1942 course record of 64 in round two to hit the front. He dropped back to third behind Tom Kite and Scott Simpson after a third round 73 but with the leaders floundering on day four, he was able to win by a stroke with a final round of 70.

Shaun Micheel trailed the first round leader, Phil Mickelson, by three in 2003 but was never headed after round two and in 2008, Jay Haas led after day one and trailed by one after rounds two and three before going on to win by a stroke over Bernhard Langer.

With the exception of Shaun Micheel's wondrous second shot on the 72nd hole, 17 and 18 played tough in 2003, ranking 1st and 3rd hardest, and they've since been lengthened slightly, so if someone posts a score on Sunday they might be hard to catch.

Rory McIlroy romped to an eight-stroke margin victory in this event last year, having led by three after three rounds, and in-between 1997 and 2007, out in front was where you wanted to be in this tournament - 10 of the 11 winners were in front through 54 holes. Recent history suggests leading majors after three rounds is not necessarily a precursor to victory though - only four of the last 18 major winners were leading going into round four. So although you need to be up with the pace here, being right out in front with a round to go might be a handicap.

Market Leaders
With Tiger Woods cruising to victory at the Bridgestone Invitational last week, we now have a very firm favourite. This time last week you could have taken almost 8.07/1 about the world number one but his price has collapsed since and you'll be hard pushed to get 5.04/1 about him now.

There was an awful lot to like about Tiger's performance at Firestone and his stats were superb - he ranked 2nd for greens hit, 4th for scrambling and 11th for strokes gained putting, but the win really does need to be put into context. That was his eighth victory at the track, equalling the number of wins he's had at both Torrey Pines and Doral, two other courses that he clearly loves, so while it was impressive, it wasn't necessarily unexpected.

He's now trading at considerably shorter for this event than he was for last week's and that's surely too short. It's now over five years since he won his 14th major, the US Open at his beloved Torrey Pines, and the chances of him catching Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 are diminishing year on year.

There's little doubt in my mind that he's finding major number 15 particularly elusive and the nerves appear to kick in once he gets to the weekend. Incredibly, he's now a combined 14-under-par over the first two days but 23-over-par over the weekend in his last seven majors.

Add to the mix that when he played here in 2003 he managed just six birdies all week and that he finished way off the pace in a tie for 39th, having shot 13-ove-par, and the price looks very skinny, especially when you bear in mind how well he was playing back then. He won five times in 2003, from just 18 starts, and his performance here was by some distance his worst of the season. I suspect he will get number 15 but I don't think it will be this week.

In contrast to Woods, Phil Mickelson has already shown a liking for Oak Hill. He was unbeaten here in the 1995 Ryder Cup and he led this event after day one in 2003, after a first round 66 which contained as many birdies as Tiger made all week. He drifted down to a tie for 23rd after his excellent start but that was to be the final Lefty major meltdown. Eight months later he was donning a Green Jacket after winning his first major, the 2004 US Masters, and if he opens with 66 this year I won't expect a collapse akin to the one in 2003.

Mickelson arrives at Oak Hill in arguably the form of his life, following back-to-back wins in Scotland that included the biggest event of them all and following a very respectable tied 21st at Firestone. He has a very good record at East Lake and he was runner-up to Payne Stewart at Pinehurst No.2 in the US Open in 1999, so he has a great record at Donald Ross tracks too and I wouldn't put anyone off backing him.

With form figures that read 3-MC-2-2-MC-1-1-21, Lefty's riding a brilliant wave of momentum right now and with his adoring New York fan-base right behind him, he might just keep that momentum going for yet more major success.

Padraig Harrington won this event in 2008, having just won the Open Championship so it can be done but I'm going to wait until the off. The PGA has yet again put the year's first three major winners together, so Phil will line-up alongside Adam Scott and Justin Rose and I really don't like it. That particular three-ball will obviously court the most attention and I fancy it's a handicap for all three - especially as they've been assigned an afternoon tee-time on day one, so I'm swerving all three before the off, even though they all have outstanding claims.

Third favourite, Adam Scott, following an understandable little slump after his win at Augusta, has bounced right back to form with a third at the Open Championship, when he traded at as low as 2.447/5 in-running and a tied 14th at Firestone. He has a superb record on Donald Ross courses (3rd at Aronimink and first at East Lake) and I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if he figured strongly this week.

Rose has great Donald Ross form too - he won at Aronimink in 2011 and was runner-up to Snedeker at East Lake last year. He's not quite fired on all cylinders since his momentous win at Merion but again, if he were to figure this week, I wouldn't be at all surprised, this looks right up his street too.

If Tiger, who plays in the morning, picks up from where he left off at Firestone, all the afternoon starters will drift and if he doesn't I can't see them shortening up dramatically, so I favour waiting and watching how those three start.

After narrowly failing to defend his John Deere Classic title, Zach Johnson contended well at the Open Championship, where he eventually finished 6th and his tied 4th at the Bridgestone Invitational was a fantastic effort too, so he's in fine form and he might just take to this place too.

Zach has a great record at East Lake, where he holds the course record of 60 and as he grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I suspect he may well have played the Donald Ross designed Cedar Rapids Country Club with much regularity.

I haven't backed Sergio Garcia since he won the Andalucía Masters nearly two years ago but at twice the price available on the High Street, and on a track that should really suit him, that he's already performed well at, I felt he had to be backed at 80.079/1 - albeit modestly.

His form figures at Sedgefield read 3-4-1 and the only playoff he's ever lost was at East Lake in 2008 so there's plenty of Donald Ross pro form to ponder and in addition, he reached the semi-finals of the U.S Amateur Championship here in 1998. He has his demons but with two seconds and a third to his name already in this championship, I felt he was worth chancing.

Ryan Moore's record at Donald Ross tracks is quite superb and given he's in fair form as well, he had to be included in my plans before the off. He won the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield in 2009, finished second to Justin Rose at the AT & T National around Aronimink in 2010, and was third behind Brandt Snedeker at the Tour Championship at East Lake last year.

Prior to turning pro, Moore enjoyed a stunning final season as an amateur when he won numerous titles in 2004, including the US Amateur and the NCAA Individual Championship, which happened to be held at the Homestead in Virginia, and yes, you've guessed it - that too is a Donald Ross design.

Given outsiders have a fair record I thought I'd chance a few of them. I threw a few last minute pounds at Richard Sterne last night at 250.0249/1, as his stats are reasonable and he ticks a few boxes but the outsider I like best is Boo Weekley. His record on Donald Ross tracks is poor but he has the right game for the course (currently ranks 23rd for driving accuracy and 5th for greens in regulation) and he's already won this year - at the Crowne Plaza Invitational.

My final pick is Carl Pettersson, who I have to admit, isn't playing well at present. The burly Swede, who finished tied-third in this event twelve months ago, has a fine record at Sedgefield, with form figures that read 1-67-MC-4-4, and he finished 6th at Aronimink in 2010.

Zach Johnson @ 75.074/1
Sergio Garcia @ 80.079/1
Ryan Moore @ 130.0129/1
Richard Sterne @ 250.0249/1
Boo Weekley @ 350.0349/1
Carl Pettersson @ 450.0449/1

I'll be back later on this week with a look at some of the speciality markets and I'll be back on Friday morning with the In-Play Blog.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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