The 2021 US PGA Championship
The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island
All four days live on Sky Sports
The US PGA Championship has always been seen as the least prestigious of the four major championships and being staged in August, as the PGA Tour season drew to a close, and after the other three had all been played, certainly didn't help.
A change in the schedule in 2019 saw the championship move to May, in-between the first major, the US Masters (which I've looked at here), and the third, the US Open, and that had the desired effect. It felt like a more important event and having been the first of three majors last year, after the rescheduling due to the pandemic, the US PGA Championship returns to it's new May slot next year and to a venue used only once before - the Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, in South Carolina.
Rory McIlroy won the only previous edition held here, in 2012, easily by eight strokes, a little over a year after he'd won his first major, the US Open, by the same margin. At in excess of 7,600 yards, the Ocean Course is long so it was perhaps not surprising that nobody hit it further than Rory off the tee but we can't just indiscriminately dismiss all the short hitters. Rory may have ranked first for Driving Distance but he was the only player in the top-ten to rank any better than 15th for DD, the runner-up, David Lynn, only ranked 54th for DD and Ian Poulter, who finished tied third, ranked 53rd so length was hardly imperative. McIlroy also ranked first for Scrambling and Lynn ranked fourth.
Although he'd been a big outsider, Sweden's Carl Pettersson, who finished tied third, having been Rory's closest challenger with a round to go, had advertised his suitability to the venue earlier in the year when he romped to a five-stroke victory at another Pete Dye designed South Carolina course - Harbour Town.
Pettersson wasn't the only contender with form at Harbour Town so that's an angle in to consider and it was also noticeable how many fine links exponents and Europeans contended. As many as five of the first six were European and Welshman, Jamie Donaldson, finished tied for seventh alongside Sweden's Peter Hanson and American duo, Blake Adams and Steve Stricker.
In addition to considering form in the Carolinas and at links venues, an ability to play in the wind is likely to prove an asset again. It's an exposed venue and when the wind gets up so does the scoring. Vijay Singh was the only player to break 70 in round two when the scoring averaged a whooping 78.09 so how the course plays is very much weather dependant, although it's no pushover whatever the weather...
There were several rounds of 66 throughout the week but Korea's Noh Seung-yul's 65 on Sunday was the lowest witnessed and that brings up another angle in. Noh's only European Tour win to date was the 2010 Malaysian Open at the Kuala Lumper Country Club when the course was laid entirely to Paspalum grass. Very few venues are Paspalum but the Ocean Course is and so too are the venues used for the Corales Puntacana Championship, the Puerto Rico Open and the recent Mayakoba Golf Classic on the PGA Tour.
Form in any of those events may be noteworthy.
Given that angle in, Viktor Hovland, who won the last edition of the Puerto Rico Open as well as the Mayakoba Golf Classic a couple of weeks ago is a very obvious candidate at a decent enough price at 50.049/1, with just one slight concern. As highlighted in the Mayakoba debrief, Hovland's only weakness is his scrambling around the green so the fact that the first two home here in 2012 ranked first and fourth for Scrambling is a small worry.
Closer to the head of the market, I really like Jon Rahm but he's priced up correctly at 12/1. I'm happy to leave him out at this stage but one that does interest me at a big price is South Africa's Branden Grace.
He's a terrific wind and links exponent and a winner of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town.
And like all South African's he grew up playing on Paspalum. He's had a quiet enough year but he did win his national title in January and he finished the year with an eye-catching performance in Dubai.
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