US PGA Championship

US PGA Championship 2024: The Punter's Preview

Golfer Joaquin Niemann
Joaquin Neimann - fancied by The Punter to take to Valhalla

We're off to Kentucky next week for the second major of the year - The US PGA Championship - so read Steve Rawlings' in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's start here...


Tournament History

The Professional Golfers Association of America was formed in February 1916, one month after wealthy store owner Rodman Wanamaker (the man 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 or 1918 because of the First World War and the Second World War put pay to the 1943 renewal so this is the 106th edition.

Previously staged in August, as the PGA Tour season drew to a close, and after the other three majors had all been played, the US PGA Championship was very much viewed as the least prestigious of the four majors and the inception of the FedEx Cup Series in 2007 certainly didn't help either.

In order to give the Championship the gravitas it deserved, a change to the PGA Tour schedule in 2019 moved it to May and it became the second major of the year.

The Championship returns to Valhalla this year, 10 years after Rory McIlroy won his fourth and last major there.


Venue

Valhalla Golf Club, Louisville, Kentucky.


Course Details

Par 71, 7,457 yards

Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 1986, Valhalla has undergone several renovations, and it was lengthened again as recently as 2021.

With water in play on seven holes, it's a typical Nicklaus design in that there's plenty of room off the tee but anyone that does stray from the wide Zeon Zoysiagrass fairways will encounter thick Kentucky Bluegrass rough.

Long, undulating, tree-lined in sections and easy on the eye, Valhalla has a number of risk and reward holes. The short par four 13th with its bunker-loaded fairway and its tiny elevated green is the signature hole but it was the slightly longer par four fourth that gave up eight eagles and 147 birdies when the event was last staged here 10 years ago.

The only hole that played easier than the fourth in 2014 was the reachable par five finishing hole which averaged 4.49 for the week.

The par five seventh is a fascinating hole with two fairways. The green is reachable from the smaller fairway but plenty of players will choose the alternative route for safety.

Valhalla has hosted three previous US PGA Championships, two Senior PGA Championships, and the Ryder Cup in 2008.


Weather Forecest


TV Coverage

Live on Sky sports all four days, starting at 13:00 in the UK on Thursday.


Last 12 US PGA Championship Winners with approx' Exchange Prices

2023 - Brooks Koepka -9 28.027/1
2022 - Justin Thomas -5 (playoff) 21.020/1
2021 - Phil Mickelson -6 540.0539/1
2020 - Collin Morikawa -13 36.035/1
2019 - Brooks Koepka -8 12.011/1
2018 - Brooks Koepka -16 23.022/1
2017 - Justin Thomas -8 50.049/1
2016 - Jimmy Walker -14 220.0219/1
2015 - Jason Day -20 16.015/1
2014 - Rory McIlroy -16 6.86/1
2013 - Jason Dufner - 10 46.045/1
2012 - Rory McIlroy -13 23.022/1


Valhalla Major Winners

1996 - Mark Brooks - US PGA Championship -11
2000 - Tiger Woods - US PGA Championship -18 (Playoff)
2004 - Hale Irwin - Senior PGA Championship -8
2011 - Tom Watson - Senior PGA Championship -8
2014 - Rory McIlroy - US PGA Championship -16


Key Stats at Valhalla

I haven't been able to find any stats for the first edition of the Championship staged here but the winner, Mark Brooks, wasn't renowned for his length off the tee.

The man he beat in the playoff however, Kentucky's very own Kenny Perry, could certainly give it a whack and the last two winners, Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy, both hit it further than anyone else off the tee when they won here.

Rory McIlroy in Texas.jpg

Although I'd most definitely favour length over accuracy, with such thick and penal rough in play, you can't just hit it anywhere off the tee and the three previous results in this event here bear that out.

Brooks was an accurate driver and Perry finished the 1996 season ranking fifth for Total Driving, so he was far from just a bomber.

The playoff protagonists in 2000, Woods and the unlucky Bob May, both ranked 12th for Driving Accuracy and it was the number of fairways found that made the difference for Rory 10 years ago.

He ranked 10th for DA whereas the runner-up, Phil Mickelson, who was beaten by just a stroke, ranked 48th.

Rory ranked only 10th for Greens in Regulation and Jim Furyk, who finished tied fifth, was the only other player in the top-12 to rank inside the top-16 for that stat. He ranked third but it was a very different story in 2000.

Woods and May ranked first and second for GIR, Notah Begay, in eighth, ranked third, Stuart Appleby, who finished tied fourth, ranked fourth, and Davis Love, who finished tied for ninth, ranked tied for fifth for greens hit.

The first three home in both 2000 and 2014 ranked inside the top-10 for Putting Average.

Rory played the par fours better than anyone else 10 years ago (-9) but how you play the par fives is going to be key this week.

Rory played them in nine-under-par in 2014 but -10 was the best anyone played them in that year and Woods ranked first on the long holes in 2000, playing them in -13.


Who's the boss at Jack's tracks?

Rory's victory here 10 years ago is his sole success on a Jack Nicklaus designed track.

Muirfield Village is the Nicklaus track we visit the most on the PGA Tour and Rory's Memorial Tournament form reads an ordinary 10-5-MC-57-15-4-8-MC-32-18-18-7.

In contrast, Patrick Cantlay loves Muirfield and his form figures there read 35-4-1-7-32-1-3-30. And he also won the ZOZO Championship at Sherwood Country Club.

Jon Rahm is another to consider given he finished second to Cantlay at Sherwood and that he too has a great record at Muirfield.

The world number one, Scottie Scheffler, has improving Muirfield figures reading MC-22-5-3 and given Muirfield, like the Dunes, has bentgrass greens, it's a great place to start for correlating course form but if you're going to back one player on the strength of his form around Nicklaus designed courses then it has to be Collin Morikawa.

The 2020 US PGA Champion won his first PGA Tour title (the Barracuda Championship) at the Nicklaus designed Montreux in 2019, the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield in 2020 (and he also finished second there in the Memorial Tournament in 2021), and he won the Workday Championship at the Concession Club in 2021.


A recent win is a big plus

The US PGA Championship has moved around a bit in the calendar over the last few years but a previous win earlier in the season has been a very strong pointer historically with as many as 19 of the last 24 winners having already won an event prior to their success in the US PGA Championship.

It's not especially incredible that a major should be won by someone that had already tasted success earlier in the season, especially when it used to feature towards the end of the season, but it's worth highlighting that the list of 19 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 year.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

This used to be a great Championship for big outsiders and the three winners between 2001 and 2003 - David Toms, Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel - went off at huge prices. 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 330.0329/1, Keegan Bradley was matched at a whopping 650.0649/1 before the off 12 years ago, the 2016 winner, Jimmy Walker, was matched at a juicy 220.0219/1 and Mickelson was a whopping 540.0539/1 chance three years ago, but five of the last six winners have been easy enough to spot.

Whether we get an outsider or not, the chances are they'll be a first-time major winner that's inside the world's top-50...

As many as 22 of the last 34 (65%) major championships have gone to a first-time major winner so don't be surprised if we get another but do expect them to feature highly in the Official World Rankings.

We need to bear in mind that the figures are a bit skewed since the inception of the LIV Golf Tour but since Keegan Bradley's win in this Championship 13 years ago, the 2021 shock winner, Phil Mickelson, is the only major champion that wasn't inside the world's top-50 but as Dave Tindall highlights in his 10-year trends piece, Lefty broke most trends and defied all sorts of logic when he won at the age of 51 - ranking 116th in the world.

Looking at this event alone, 22 of the last 38 winners (58%) were breaking their major duck when they won and that's quite an impressive number given Mickelson's surprise second success, that Brooks Koepka has won three of the last six US PGAs (his third, fourth and fifth major wins) and that Tiger Woods has won five of the last 38.

And finally, as Dave Tindall highlights in his 10-year trends piece, seven of the last 10 winners have been in their 20s so this is the major where the young guns shine.


In-Play Tactics

The five Valhalla winners were all up with the pace throughout the week but five tournaments is not a huge sample size and there are reasons to think an off the pace winner is perfectly possible.

Tom Watson sat 12th and four off the lead when he won the Senior PGA here in 2011 and that's the furthest any of the five trailed after day one but Watson and the man he beat in a playoff, David Eger, trailed by seven and nine strokes respectively at halfway and Eger was still four adrift after 54 holes. Watson trailed by one.

Tiger won wire-to-wire in 2000 but the gritty May had trailed Woods by six strokes after round one and by five at halfway.

If you're betting in running, bear in mind that holes 14 to 17 are all tough but the par five 18th was the easiest hole on the course in 2014.


Market Leaders

Although there's been no confirmation yet, it appears that Scottie Scheffler's wife, Meredith, has given birth to their first child and that the world number one will be in the field at Valhalla.

In search of his third major championship and his fifth victory in six starts, he's the understandably strong favourite.

In addition to winning four of his last five, he also traded at odds-on when finishing second at the Houston Open prior to winning the US Masters for a second time last month.

He's in the form of his life and it wouldn't surprise anyone if he rocked up in Kentucky and won again but the baby being born creates a complication for punters.

I'm a fan of the 'Nappy Factor' as a rule as the birth of a child, and especially the first-born, often coincides with an upturn in form but where do you go when you're already playing streets ahead of everyone else anyway?

Scheffler hasn't played competitively since he won the RBC Heritage three weeks ago and with so much going on off the course, I'm happy to swerve him here at a shorter price than he was trading at before his US Masters success.

Rory McIlroy will pitch up in Kentucky in terrific form following victories in the Zurich Classic alongside Shane Lowry two weeks ago and at the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday.

That was his fourth victory at next year's US PGA Championship venue - Quail Hollow - and he sounded full of confidence after the win.

"I really got some confidence from New Orleans, winning with Shane, and then coming into this week, at a golf course that I'm comfortable at, my golf swing feels a lot more comfortable than it has done, so, going to a venue next week where I've won, it feels like the stars are aligning a little bit."

Prior to his victory here almost ten years, Rory had won the Open Championship at Hoylake the previous month and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone the week before so he's attempting to make the US PGA Championship at Valhalla his third win in-a-row for the second time! Maybe the stars are aligning?

Having backed him before the off when he won the Zurich with Lowry and again last week in Charlotte, I've felt compelled to back him modestly here too now but whether he's a value price at around 8/19.00 is debatable.

He's clearly in good heart but I was quite surprised at just how poor his record around Jack Nicklaus courses is, although I probably shouldn't have been.

Rory's long game is his biggest strength (currently ranks number one for Total Driving) and Nicklaus tracks are forgiving from the tee which negates his usual advantage.

Scheffler maybe in search of his fifth tournament win in six but Brooks Koepka commands a huge amount of respect given he's looking to win the US PGA Championship for the fourth time in seven years.

The 34-year-old won the Championship back-to-back in 2018 and 2019 and again last year so he's looking to defend the title for a second time.

Smarting after a poor performance at the US Masters, where he finished down the field in a tie for 45th, Koepka appears to have hit form at just the right time, winning the LIV Golf Singapore last week.


Selections

A one-over-par 72 on Saturday appears to have killed off Collin Morikawa's challenge at the Wells Fargo Championship given he trails the leader, Xander Schauffele, by eight with a round to go, but the 2020 winner is in decent form.

Morikawa was a well beaten third at Augusta behind Scheffler, but he sat within a stroke with a round to go (beaten by seven) and he followed that with a respectable ninth in the RBC Heritage.

Still only 27, Morikawa's form at Nicklaus tracks is a huge plus and I thought he was fairly priced at 30.029/1.

Koepka showed at last year's US Masters, and in this event, that LIV Golfers can compete in major championships and the one I really like this week is the 25-year-old Chilean, Joaquín Niemann, and he looks a great bet at 50.049/1.

Despite his victory in the Australian Open in December, Niemann has slipped from a high of 15th in the Official World Rankings all the way down to 91st but that position is completely false.

He's a huge talent and he ticks a lot of boxes this week.

Niemann followed his win in Australia with victory in the LIV Golf Jeddah event in March and he arrives in Kentucky after a third placed finish in Adeleide and a seventh behind Koepka in Singapore.

Despite his tiny stature, he belts it off the tee, currently ranks second only to Bryson DeChambeau on the LIV Tour, and he has some sneaky good form around Muirfield too.

In addition to finishing third two years ago, the last time he played in the Memorial Tournament, he finished sixth there on debut way back in 2019 when only 19.

Opening rounds of 65 and 68 saw him tied for the lead after rounds one and two in 2019 so he took to the track immediately, suggesting Valhalla may just be to his liking.

Generally a 28/129.00/33/134.00 chance on the High Street, and no bigger than 40/141.00, he's a great price on the Exchange at 50.049/1.


Listen to Golf...Only Bettor US PGA Championship special


Now read Dave Tindall's 10 Year trends piece here


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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