US PGA Championship: Berger can make mark at Harding Park

American golfer Daniel Berger
American Daniel Berger can win his first major

The first major of 2020 is finally upon us and Dave Tindall has three each-way selections for the action at Harding Park with the Betfair Sportsbook paying down to 10th place...

"Berger is enjoying a career year and in the season-long stats ranks in the top 15 for both SG: Tee To Green and SG: Putting which is some combination."

Main Bet: Daniel Berger each-way @ 45/1

As I noted in my Ten year trends piece, the US PGA has stood out in recent times as being the young man's major.

Since the start of the last decade, the ages of those to lift the giant Wanamaker trophy are 25, 25, 23, 36, 25, 27, 37, 24, 28 and 29.

This year we're at Harding Park in San Francisco, a course where a then 25-year-old Rory McIlroy hoisted the 2015 WGC-Match Play and 29-year-old Tiger Woods took the 2005 WGC-American Express with 10-under.

Not surprisingly, given who they are, McIlroy's previous finish was a top four in the US Masters while Woods had won two starts earlier but it does point to a wider trend: the majority of US PGA winners had some strong form coming in.

Obviously, matchplay form isn't ideal although there are some Strokes Gained stats from Tiger's win.

Looking at the top five finishers, all five were in the top 10 for SG: Tee To Green while four of the five were in the top 10 for Off The Tee and Approach.

By contrast, runner-up John Daly recorded a negative SG: Putting figure while Woods was 11th for Putting and 19th Around The Green (Monty and Stenson, both T3, were both negative ATG).

It suggests we're looking for good drivers of the ball and top-class ball strikers and the narrowing of the fairways since 2005 adds to that belief.

What else? We're on Poa/Bent greens so some West Coast form would be handy too.

With all that in mind, my first pick is Daniel Berger.

The 27-year-old has been in superb form this season, reeling off five top 10s on the spin either side of the break in play, the highlight a play-off win at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

A missed cut at Memorial ended the streak but he bounced back with an excellent display in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational on Sunday when firing 67-67-65 over his final 54 holes to charge up into a tie for second.

Speaking afterwards, Berger noted: "Kind of found something yesterday and today was maybe one of the best ball-striking days of the year.

"Overall, it was a solid finish. Obviously the bogey at the last hurt, but I played aggressive off the tee trying to make a birdie, so it's just part of golf.

"Obviously looking forward to next week having some good play under my belt."

So what of Berger in the majors? Nothing jumps immediately to mind.

Well, there are some real positives once the surface is scratched. He was T10 on his Masters debut in 2016 and has made both cuts since. His US Open record shows a T6 at Shinnecock two years ago while he took T12 in the 2018 US PGA at Bellerive.

As for West Coast form, he was fifth at Pebble Beach on his last visit to California in February and ranked 5th for SG: Putting on West Coast Poa Annua greens when finishing in the top 25 at the Safeway Open.

Berger is enjoying a career year and in the season-long stats ranks in the top 15 for both SG: Tee To Green and SG: Putting which is some combination.

At Hilton Head he said: "I feel so confident with my game. I feel like I don't have to hit the ball great to score well because my short game can hold up, where in previous years, it was like, if I didn't putt or chip it good, I played bad."

At the St. Jude he was sixth for SG: Approach and 8th Tee To Green and has his best driving numbers on the weekend.

And, yes, as he mentioned earlier, his short game held up too: Berger was 19th SG: Around The Green and 23rd SG: Putting.

Making just four bogeys across his final three rounds is the kind of steady stuff you need for a major and, with his head and game in a great place, this could be a very, very big week for him.

Next Best: Collin Morikawa each-way @ 28/1

Collin Morikawa.jpg

Course form is thin on the ground this week.

There's the 2015 Match Play while Harding Park was designed by Sam Whiting and Willie Watson, the same duo who did Olympic Club which staged the 2010 US Open.

However, that was a short, tight track whereas this one you can pull driver plenty. Rory McIlroy (MC Olympic, winner at TPC Harding Park) has noted the big differences between the two.

But there is a young, elite ball-striker in the field familiar with Harding Park - Collin Morikawa.

He gave these very rounded quotes at Muirfield Village: "I've played there maybe around 10, 15 times throughout my college career. Stanford hosted their event there one year. So I've seen it quite a bit."

"I haven't really played it ever too early in the morning. San Francisco's weather in the morning could be freezing, and we've been playing in 95-degree, very humid weather so far since quarantine, or since we've restarted.

"But that's a course that I feel familiar with. I can name any hole for you right now. I can tell you what spots you want to miss it.

"But I've never seen a course like that go to a major championship kind of style, so I'm going to see obviously rough is going to be up, greens are going to be much faster, but at least off the tee I'm going to feel very comfortable."

Keegan Bradley won the US PGA on his first attempt, actually his debut in the majors, and there's definitely an argument for siding with those who have no scar tissue in the majors.

Morikawa has played in just a single major, finishing a decent T35 in last year's US Open, but has the game, class and temperament to win one early in his career.

Already twice a winner on the PGA Tour in just 28 starts, this year he ranks 17th Off The Tee, 2nd in Approach ad 4th Tee To Green.

Those numbers helped him win the Workday Charity Open at Jack Nicklaus' Muirfield Village a few weeks ago and that can act as a stepping stone for this.

As for the top of the betting, is there a major course that doesn't suit Brooks Koepka?

Well, the modern venues certainly do and he says of Harding Park: "It's a tough golf course. It favours ball striking, so kind of, it favours me a little bit, obviously being a long hitter, too. Such long par‑4s and things like that. I think it's actually plays into my hands a little bit."

He'll take plenty of positives after his big return to form and near-miss on Sunday and another back-nine duel with new World No. 1 and WGC-FedEx St. Jude winner Justin Thomas wouldn't be the biggest surprise.

They're the two market leaders now at 9/1.

After having his No.1 status ripped from him after just one week at the top , Jon Rahm could have a more go get em' attitude although this is an each-way preview so I don't really want to jump in at 12s.

The same applies to Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau at 11s. Rory has gone off the boil while DeChambeau is getting in his own way despite hints of world dominance.

Final Bet: Scottie Scheffler each-way @ 125/1

Scottie Scheffler.jpg

My idea of a sporting bet at a three-figure price is Scottie Scheffler and there's plenty of scope to back such players given Betfair's each-way terms of 1/5 odds 10 places.

The Texan certainly fits the remit as he's a 20-something, who strikes the ball exceptionally.

As with Berger and Morikawa, we need to ask the question about 'previous' in the majors and all he has to show is one cut out of three (all US Opens).

However, T27 at Erin Hills made him the Low Amateur in the 2017 US Open while, as we've heard so many times, the US PGA is the major most like a regular PGA Tour event so he should have a certain level of comfort.

Scheffler has only made five starts in California but he has a third place at this year's American Express while he added a top 30 at Riviera.

But I like the way his game appears to be peaking for this week's challenge.

He kept himself active with a win and a second in a couple of local Tour events in Texas during lockdown and after struggling to get his eye in initially, Scheffler has finished tied 22nd at Memorial and tied 15th in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

Examining his stats from those two events, he was third for Greens In Regulation and 10th for SG: Off The Tee at Memorial and ranked fifth Tee To Green (8.306) and 8th Approach (4.2) at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude where he shot all four rounds in the 60s.

That gives him some nice, progressive form and I'll get the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year on board at 125/1.

Others at big odds? After his brilliant weekend (61-66) at TPC Southwind, Tom Lewis could have something up his sleeve again while I'll give another mention to Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who finished T20 at St. Jude after starting Sunday in the top 10 following a third-round 64.

Two more youngsters to note: 125/1 Cameron Champ (T25 at St. Jude) won the Safeway Open in California earlier this season while Matthew Wolff (T49 St. Jude despite a Saturday 65) can enjoy big highs and was runner-up at the recent Rocket Mortgage.

Staked: £874
Returned: £699.83
P/L: -£174.17

2018/2019 P/L: -£338.25
2017/2018 P/L: +£362.84
2016/2017 P/L: +£1179.89

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