US PGA Championship 2020: The Punter's Preview

American golfer Brooks Koepka
Brooks Koepka with the Wanamaker Trophy
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The US PGA Championship is the first of 2020's three majors and it's eagerly awaited given we haven't had one since Shane Lowry won the 2019 Open. Read Steve's comprehensive preview here...

"A previous win earlier in the season has been a very strong pointer historically with as many as 17 of the last 20 winners having already won an event prior to success in the US PGA Championship."

Tournament History

The Professional Golfers Association of America was formed in February 1916, one month after wealthy store owner Rodman Wanamaker (who the giant trophy played for this week is named after) had hosted a lunch meeting with the leading professionals of the age to set out the agenda for the formal organisation of the PGA.

In the October of 1916, the very first US PGA Championship was staged, in match play format. There was no tournament in 1917 and 1918 because of the First World War and the Second World War put paid to the 1943 renewal so last year's renewal, staged in its new slot in May, was the 101st edition.

Since the inception of the FedEx Cup Series, the US PGA Championship hadn't felt like a huge event but a change to the PGA Tour schedule last year, moving it May, to become the second major of the year, was a good decision. It gave the event gravitas and the move was universally applauded but here we are a year later and the event is being staged in August.

It was the fourth and final major for years, last year it was the second of the four, and this time around, after the postponement of the Open Championship until 2021, it's the first of three. The US Open at Winged Foot will follow in September and the US Masters, usually the first of four majors, will be staged in November.

Venue

TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, California.

Course Details

Par 70, 7,234 yards.

Named after President Warren G Harding and originally designed by renowned golf architects Willie Watson and Sam Whiting in 1925, Harding Park was substantially renovated prior to hosting the WGC - American Express Championship (now the WGC - Mexico Championship) in 2005, won by Tiger Woods in a playoff over John Daly.

Harding Park had hosted the old Lucky International Open on the PGA Tour back in the 1960s which was won by some famous names. Gary Player, Billy Casper, Chi Chi Rodriguez, and Ken Venturi, who actually played his first ever round of golf there, all won the Lucky International and Harding Park is also where Johnny Miller learnt to play the game.

It fell into disrepair for 20 years with the magnificent Cypress trees growing out of control, blocking out the greens and rendering the course almost unplayable but in the late 1990s San Francisco lawyer, and former USGA President, Sandy Tatum, raised $16 million to get the course back on track.

HARDING PARK 2.jpg

Harding Park then hosted the Presidents Cup in 2009 and three Charles Schwab Championships between 2010 and 2013 on the Champions Tour before the course underwent a greens renovation in December 2013, prior to hosting the WGC - Match Play in 2015, won by Rory McIlroy, when set up as a par 71. It's usually a par 72 but it will play as a par 70 for the US PGA Championship, as it did for the American Express 15 years ago.

Harding Park is a public course positioned about a mile away from the Pacific Ocean. It's essentially a parkland course that sits on a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the cypress tree-lined Lake Merced. The back-nine loops around the front nine and is more exposed to the wind and the bentgrass greens are large and undulating.

The greens were described as grainy and slow back in 2015 but I'm not sure how much stock we can give that. They were fairly new then and they could putt very differently this time around - especially after a sustained spell of dry weather.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 18:00 on Thursday.

Note that California is on the west coast of America so has a Pacific Daylight time zone, which is eight hours behind British Summer Time. A 2pm local tee time means a 10pm tee time for UK viewers. Be prepared for some late nights.

Last Ten USPGA Championship Winners with Approximate Pre-event Exchange odds

2019 - Brooks Koepka -8 [12.0]
2018 - Brooks Koepka -16 [23.0]
2017 - Justin Thomas -8 [50.0]
2016 - Jimmy Walker -14 [220.0]
2015 - Jason Day -20 [16.0]
2014 - Rory McIlroy -16 [6.8]
2013 - Jason Dufner - 10 [46.0]
2012 - Rory McIlroy -13 [23.0]
2011 - Keegan Bradley -8 (playoff) [300.0]
2010 - Martin Kaymer -11 (playoff) [50.0]

What Will it Take to Win the US PGA Championship?

Bombers have won the last six US PGA Championships and given Freddie 'Boom Boom' Couples scooted up here on the Champions Tour, that Rory McIlroy beat Gary Woodland in the final of the match play here, and that big hitters, Tiger Woods and John Daly, fought out the finish to the WGC event here in 2005, we can probably expect length to be a huge factor again this week.

It's a long time ago now and it's a very small sample size but looking at the stats from 2005, Driving Accuracy was largely irrelevant 15 years ago. Tiger ranked third for Driving Distance, Daly first, and Sergio Garcia, who finished tied for third, ranked second but they ranked 57th, 45th and 32nd for DA.

Finding fairways wasn't especially important but finding greens was and the first five home ranked tied 12th, tied 12th, tied 12th, first and third for Greens In Regulation.

Tiger putted brilliantly and that's how he won. The Putting Average ranking of the first five was first, 32nd, 30th, 36th and 17th and Scrambling was key, too. Woods only ranked 25th but six of the first nine ranked inside the top-ten for Scrambling. Luke Donald scrambled better than anyone else but he could only finish 11th. Maybe his lack of length was a hinderance?

Correlating Courses

Given it sits across the lake from Harding Park and that it too was designed by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting, the Olympic Club, which hosted the 2012 US Open, won by Webb Simpson, should correlate nicely.

Jim Furyk finished tied for fourth behind Simpson, having been tied with Graeme McDowell with a round to go and he also has form at Harding Park. He fell away at the weekend to finish 15th in 2005, having sat fourth at halfway and he was a beaten semi-finalist at the WGC there ten years later.

Tiger Woods, who won at Harding Park in 2005, surprisingly fell away in 2012 at the Olympic Club, having been tied for the lead at halfway, and Graeme McDowell, tied second behind Simpson, finished sixth behind Woods in 2005 so there are a few examples of the form crossing over in just a few events.

Tiger Woods wipes club 1280.jpg

Torrey Pines is another coastal Californian course and form there might be worth more than just a cursory glance. Tiger Woods won the US Open there on the South Course and he's won Farmers Insurance Open there seven times. And the man he beat at Harding Park, John Daly, has also won the Farmers there. And the two playoff finalists at Harding Park five years ago, Rory McIlroy and Gary Woodland, both have form at Torrey Pines. Rory's only played there twice, finishing fifth and third, and Woodland's contended several times. His best finish is only ninth but he's led and sat third and fifth through 54 holes there. And if we want to delve into some ancient history - Billy Casper and Gary Player have won at both Torrey Pines and Harding Park.

Is There an Angle In?

We've missed a big chunk of the season due to COVID-19 but given the US PGA Championship has moved back in the calendar, there's still a good chance the winner will have already tasted success on the PGA Tour this season.

A previous win earlier in the season has been a very strong pointer historically with as many as 17 of the last 20 winners having already won an event prior to success in the US PGA Championship. Brooks hadn't won in 2019 before his victory last May but he'd still won earlier in the wraparound season having won the CJ Cup in Korea in October 2018.

That may not appear a remarkable stat but it's worth highlighting that the list of 17 includes some very unlikely US PGA winners, with the likes of Y.E.Yang, Rich Beem, David Toms and Keegan Bradley all winning a tournament earlier in the season before they won what was then the final major of the season. A PGA Tour victory this season looks like a huge pointer and it's also worth concentrating on those who have just played well in the WGC - FedEx St Jude Invitational...

After Bridgestone withdrew their sponsorship, the FedEx St Jude stepped in to replace the old WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which used to precede the US PGA every year before it's move to May, and it used to be an incredible pointer.

When winning the first of his two US PGA titles, in 2018, Brooks Koepka had finished fifth the week before in the final edition of the Bridgestone Invitational and he was the 12th winner in-a-row to have finished inside the top-28 there the week before they won this.

The event's moved venues but this is a nomadic tournament anyway so given this one-off return to August in the schedule sees it follow the WGC event again, it's a trend that's well worth revisiting as it's very evident that strong recent form has been a big plus over the years.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Although five of the last eight winners (Koepka twice, McIlroy twice and Jason Day) were easy enough to find, this has been a good major for outsiders and for first-time major winners so if you fancy someone that hasn't bagged one yet and they're a big price, you could be in luck.

The three USPGA Championship winners between 2001 and 2003 - Toms, Beem and Shaun Micheel - all went off at huge prices and they were very hard to pick. And had either Chris DiMarco or Justin Leonard won the 2004 playoff at Whistling Straits instead of Vijay Singh, the run of triple-figure priced winners would have stretched to four.

The 2009 champ, Y.E Yang, went off at around [330.0], Bradley was matched at a whopping [650.0] before the off in 2011 and the 2016 winner, Jimmy Walker, was matched at a juicy [220.0] before the off.

It's very easy to concentrate too hard on previous major champions whenever we start looking at form for any major championship but it's odds-on that the winner won't have tasted success before if recent history can be believed.

Even though Tiger Woods won his 15th major at Augusta last April and Koepka has won four of the last 11 majors staged, the last two, and 12 of the last 17 (71%) major championships have gone to a first-timer. And if we look at this major in isolation, 21 of the last 34 winners (62%) were breaking their major duck. That's quite an impressive number given Brooks won the last two US PGAs (his third and fourth major wins) and Tiger's won five of them.

Don't be surprised if we get another first-time winner and they may well be a juicy price but do expect them to feature fairly highly in the Official World Rankings because the last 32 majors have been won by someone inside the world's top-50.

In-Play Tactics

Although the championship is staged at different venues each year, the set-up is often similar and therefore trends are established.

Koepka won wire-to-wire last year at Bethpage Black and so did Walker five years ago at Baltusrol. As many as five of the last nine winners have been in front at halfway and six of the last eight winners held a clear 54-hole lead.

We obviously can't gauge anything from the WGC - Match Play event here but looking back at the three Charles Schwab Cup Championships (staged over four rounds) and the WGC in 2005, only adds more weight to the up with the pace theory.

Jay Don Blake was three off the lead and in eighth place after the first round when he won here in 2011 but the other three stroke play course winners were all within two of the lead after the first day. Having been tied for second after the first round Woods eventually beat John Daly, who was leading by two with a round to go, in extra time, and those two finished two ahead of the first-round leader, Colin Montgomerie, as well as Sergio Garcia, who'd sat tied second after round one. Everything points to Thursday being an important day.

Market Leaders

Brooks Koepka deserves the utmost respect as he bids to win his third US PGA Championship in-a-row but a number of factors put me off. Walter Hagen, who won five in total, won four in-a-row between 1924 and 1927 when it was still a match play tournament but nobody has won more than two on the trot since. He's clearly found some form after his bruising tied second in the FedEx St Jude yesterday but his game wasn't absolutely at its best and his putting, in-particular, is still a concern. The fact that he hasn't won anywhere since he won this back in May last year is a negative too.

Following his victory at TPC Southwind, Justin Thomas is the number one ranked player in the world again and he's seeking to win back-to-back events for the second time in his career. He won the Sony Open in Hawaii a week after winning the Tournament of Champions back in 2017. Thomas lifted his only major to date in this event at Quail Hollow and he's a very prolific performer, now in search of his fourth win of the season and his 14th PGA Tour title. He's in-form at just the right time and should be favourite.

Justin Thomas wins FedEd st Jude.jpg

Two-time US PGA Champion and course winner, Rory McIlroy, has all the right attributes and having won the WGC-HSBC Champions back in November, he has that seemingly important current season win under his belt but having only finished tied 47th at TPC Southwind, following a run of disappointing results since the restart, he certainly can't be described as a player in form and he's fairly easy to dismiss for that reason.

Strictly on last week's effort, Jon Rahm appears to have lost his form as well as his number one ranking. Playing in his first start since impressively winning the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village to hit the top spot for the first time, the Spaniard could only finish tied for 52nd - although he did sign off with a four-under-par 66. He has just the right profile so if we can forgive his performance at TPC Southwind, he has a huge chance. The course should suit (he's a winner at Torrey Pines) and it's only a matter of time before he wins a major.

Bryson DeChambeau looks to have gone cold at an inopportune time. He won the 3M Open after a run of six straight top-eight finishes that bridged the COVID break but since that win he's missed the cut in the Memorial Tournament and finished tied 30th in the FedEx St Jude. That's quite off-putting and so too is his major championship record. His highest finish to date is tied 15th at the 2016 US Open and I'm happy to swerve him.

Selections

I can't say I'm overly confident about anyone this week. It looks a wide open major and a tough one to call but the two I like towards the head of the market are Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele.

As highlighted above, the only real negative surrounding Rahm is his performance last week so I thought he was fairly priced at [16.5] and I'm happy to chance Xander at [25.0] given his incredibly strong record in major championships and his decent performance last week, where he finished tied for sixth despite recording an eight on the par four third on Friday!

The 26-year-old Californian doesn't have the seemingly important recent win but he's finished inside the top-six in five of the 11 majors he's played in to date and he has the length to compete too.

Marc Leishman's been decidedly average since the restart, having finished second in his final event before the break (the Arnold Palmer Invitational), but he's found form from seemingly nowhere before so I'm prepared to take a chance on him at a big price. There's a lot to like about this year's Farmers Insurance Open winner at Torey Pines.

In search of his first major, the 36-year-old Aussie, who lost a playoff at the Open Championship at St Andrews back in 2015, is inside the top-20 in the world rankings and he reminds me of a few recent US PGA Champions. He lost to the eventual runner-up, Woodland, in the Match Play here in 2015, but he won all three of his group games so should have fond memories of the course. He plays tough tracks well and he won't mind how breezy it gets. Earlier indications suggest the wind will pick up every afternoon, and especially on Thursday.

Chile's Joaquin Niemann is a very last-minute pick on account of his eye-catching weekend rounds of 68-67 at the FedEx St Jude. The 21-year-old won the Military Tribute at The Greenbrier last September and he looked worth chancing at [230.0].

Texas-based Californian, Cameron Champ, ticks a number of boxes and he's my idea of the most interesting big outsider in the field this week. He hits it a country mile off the tee, he won the Safeway Open in California at the start of the season back in September and he played nicely enough at the FedEx St Jude, finishing tied 25th.

Whether or not he's played at Harding Park much before I don't know but he's from California so he may have done. He has played Torey Pines twice in competition though and the second appearance suggests he may like it here if the two courses correlate as well as I suspect they will. He missed the cut in 2019 but sat third and just three off the lead this year before 74 in round four saw him slump to 16th.

As Dave Tindall highlights in his trends piece here, eight of the last ten winners have been in their 20s so at 25 he ticks that box too.

I'm not sure if he's quite long enough off the tee but I thought recent 3M Open winner, Michael Thompson, was worth chancing at a huge price given how well he plays the Olympic Club. He finished runner-up there in the 2007 US Amateur and was second to Simpson at the US Open in 2012. He started understandably slowly last week, in his first start since the win, but shot 69-69 on the weekend.

Selections:
Jon Rahm @ [16.5]
Xander Schauffele @ [25.0]
Marc Leishman @ [110.0]
Joaquin Niemann @ [230.0]
Cameron Champ @ [300.0]
Michael Thompson @ [380.0]

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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