For a while, many considered the USPGA to be ‘bolt on’ major, considered the fourth in ranking, behind the Masters, US Open and The Open Championship.
Despite the roll-call of winners containing the greats (Nicklaus and Woods leading many of the world’s best) the move to May has given the event that boost in profile, coming half-a-dozen weeks after Augusta and a month before the US Open, itself just a few weeks ahead of The Open.
It remains a bizarre thing to me we are done with the four premier events by the end of July, the tennis Grand Slams run from January to August, and I’m certain we’d have a lot more fun splitting them up down the calendar and in very differing conditions, but the promotion of the FedEx Cup, Ryder Cup years and pressure on broadcasters has led us this way
18+ | BeGambleAware.org
Considering the small sample of recent winners since the move, all of defending champion, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson, Collin Morikawa and Brooks Koepka have proven to be elite players. Koepka won the 2017 US Open as the first of four majors, Lefty was winning his sixth major, Morikawa subsequently won The Open just 12 months later, while JT won his second major some six years after initially landing the Wanamaker Trophy in 2017.
There will be plenty of content written about the course, so let’s keep it simple.
After this year’s championship, Oak Hill will be the most-employed course in PGA/US Open history. Changes have been made throughout the years though, with golf.com saying, “The Oak Hill where Snead cashed in big in 1941 was not the same Oak Hill of 1968, where Lee Trevino claimed the U.S. Open, which was not the same Oak Hill of 1980, where Jack Nicklaus ran away with the PGA.”
A revised Donald Ross course, think long short holes, followed by (modernised) long, long holes, sloping greens, and ultimately a choice for the player – try the tough tee shot fraught with danger, or a simplified but shorter route. The lengthening to a 7400-yard par-70 has to favour those that either bomb it off the tee, or are full of quality with their long iron approaches.
The front nine looks to be very much a defending half with a 503-yard par-4, 615-yard par-5 and tough narrowing, closing hole at 480-yard-plus. If they’ve survived the outward half, the course tempts players with the 430-yard 10th, sub-400-yard 12th, par-5 13th, drive-able 14th and, 155-yard par-3 15th.
Given the winning scores here of 10-under (Jason Dufner 2013), 4-under (Shaun Micheel 2003) and 6-under by Jack Nicklaus in 1980, as well as the last four PGA Championships (averaging around 6-under for the three May events), this could be a grind. Hoorah!
Sure, long driving looks vital, but I’d take a look at total driving with distance an advantage, although, as always, a current strong tee-to-green game with leanings to long irons, looks key.
Given everything said, being one of the elite – or having pretensions to being so – is requisite to winning this grind. Of the last 10 winners, only Mickelson , previou;lsy the best player in the world without Tiger, was ranked outside the top-50, with 2018 champ, Jimmy Walker, out of the worlds top 25.
Looking at the top of the market, the results when selecting players with history on par-70 courses of 7300-yard and longer sees Scottie Scheffler with an impressive pair of runner-up finishes, and a worst of 32nd in seven starts. There is no victory, though, which puts him behind the likes of his rival for the number one slot, Jon Rahm, with a win at Olympia Fields and East Lake (Ross design).
Rory McIlroy has an enviable record of three wins at East Lake and a win at Firestone amongst his impressive collection at this range, but he went missing at Augusta and actually looked even worse at Quail Hollow, despite at least making the cut.
Cases are obviously made for the likes of Thomas and Hovland, and there is no arguing with those that opt for either but I’ve got a funny feeling this might be the day when golf goes a bit crackers.
Brooks Koepka - E/W
LIV intruder Brooks Koepka was put off by some adverse commentary during the lead up to the Masters, and again by the pace of play during the final round, but he was still the main challenger to the eventual champ for long enough. He has that victory at Shinnecock Hills and, of course, is a twice two-stroke winner of this event – it’s all a bit obvious.
The Norman-led tour doesn’t have anything like a grind on its menu but the 33-year-old is made for this, with a majors record that reads 35 outings, four wins, four times runner-up, five further top-fives, and four top-10 finishes.
Just before the start of last week’s LIV Tulsa, he spoke to the media.
“Yeah, this week just trying to make sure I tune everything up, get ready for next week. I like the majors. I like the discipline, the mental grind that comes with it all, the focus, and just use this week to get ready.
“That’s a huge thing. I’ve always done it. It’s not always about results the week before, but it’s about making sure that everything is starting to line up and I can see the progress and see where we’re going to be for next week.”
Examining the criteria set for all the players in the top-12 or so of the market, Koepka has the victories at the 7400-yard-plus Shinnecock and 7300-yard Bellerive alongside top five finishes at Baltusrol (2016 PGA), as well as multiple top six finishes at East Lake and Firestone, and has also been top five in his only start at the Houston Open (weekend rounds of 65 twice).
Having just announced that he and wife, Jena, are expecting their first child, there is every motivation to put up a solid showing around a course that suits the former world number one in every way.
Tony Finau - E/W
This event often throws up first-time major winners, and Tony Finau would seem the perfect candidate for another.
Whilst the 33-year-old has not shone in the two PGA’s of this length, that’s more of a surprise than expectation, but there are excuses in that both events were before an extraordinary turn of form and confidence that has seen the hugely-likeable big fella win five events in 45 outings.
Amongst those wins, he beat a top-class field at the 2021 Northern Trust (7300-yard par-72) that included the subsequent major winners Cam Smith and Jon Rahm, with two-time PGA champ Justin Thomas five shots off the pace in fourth.
2022 saw three wins, gagging up when back-to-back winner at the 3M and Rocket Mortgage Classic (Ross design) before waltzing clear at the 7400-yard-plus of Memorial Park, Houston.
In between all that, he flew at the end of the Canadian Open to be beaten only by Rory McIlroy, and at the Mexico Open to get bested by Jon Rahm, a defeat he avenged when holding off the world number one on their return, at the end of April.
Fifth to Koepka at Shinnecock, he filled the same position behind Rahm at Olympia Fields in 2020 and flew through the field over the weekend at last season’s finale at East Lake.
Tour-tips’ three-month tracker puts Finau in at #7 in the all-round listings, ranking him 17th in total driving, 14th ball-strking, 24th for greens in regulation, 24th scrambling and 31st for putting average. With some severe pressure on par-4 play this week, he ranks in eighth for that discipline and 13th for the longer holes.
In eight tries at this championship, his best run is since moving to this earlier slot (4/8/30 last three years), he’s a different player to the one pre-2020, and he can exploit an elite tee-to-green game, an attribute for which he ranks third over the 2022/23 season so far.
Hideki Matsuyama - E/W
Given a history of injury concerns, it could have been foolish to put up Hideki Matsuyama on Twitter over the weekend, but I’m buoyed by his play over the weekend at the Byron Nelson, recording a combined nine-under for his first two rounds, finishing with an excellent five-under final round, and ranking in the top echelons for approach shots on all four days.
2022 wasn’t great for the 2021 Masters champion, having to withdraw from The Players, Texas Open, 3M, St.Jude and Houston, but, when right, still managed a win at the Sony, and record a closing third at the Byron Nelson, another flying finish at the difficult US Open at Brookline (winner Matt Fitzpatrick at 6-under), and a top-10 at East Lake, where a third-round 63 equalled winner McIlroy, Thomas and Rahm for low round of the week.
2023 has been a year of steady improvement, with his two top-10 finishes (at Torrey Pines and Sawgrass) overlooking that he was ninth after three rounds of the opener in Hawaii, 12th after three rounds in Texas and in fifth place going into the final round at Augusta.
Possibly still carrying the niggle he discussed after his second round, Deki just lacked that confidence to attack on Moving Day last week, when everything stalled after a missed birdie opportunity at the gettable ninth. It was good to see him get revenge on that hole plus four others for last night’s final round and gain momentum heading onto this week.
The last few weeks have been nothing but an encouraging sign as he bids to add a good finish to his 10/10 cuts at the PGA in all its formats. To add a but of meat to the argument in favour, Deki has some experience of Oak Hill when top-20 in 2013, and boasts some low rounds throughout his career at the Ross-designed Sedgefield, home of the Wyndham Championship (form of 3/11/15).
Whilst not the longest driver, the Japanese star struck a final round 61 to win at Firestone in 2017, has three top 10s at East Lake, and a tied-second alongside Dustin Johnson at the 2020 Houston Open, where a weekend 66/63 brought him through from 26th at halfway.
Approach stats for Craig Ranch last week saw him rank in 7th for approaches on the week and eighth place for greens-in-reg. He may need to turn up with more gusto in his driver, but as long as he is fit, there is a percentage there in his locker, and plenty that he can work with.
Should this get nasty, there are a handful of players that should come to the fore.
Jordan Spieth seems obvious in single-figure winning tournaments, except from his Ross form (one runner-up and 17th at Pinehurst from seven starts). That isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for a player that is a three-time major winner, and coming off a fantastic run of form, but, having pulled out of the Byron Nelson with a wrist injury, I’m looking for clues that all is okay, before piling in for The Open at Royal Liverpool in July.
Justin Rose - E/W
Justin Rose is a tempter for a high finish after his first win for four years at Bay Hill in February, and he can make up for Lee Westwood’s failure to exploit his good overnight position back in 2013.
It wasn’t the greatest of events, but he won easily and confirmed the promise he showed when ninth at Houston at the end of ’22 (third after three rounds) and when top-20 at Torrey Pines a week before the victory.
The experienced Englishman, who beat Phil Mickelson in a duel at the US Open at the ridiculously tough Merrion, certainly has the game to keep pounding away for par, and proved he has still got the game to compete with the elite when inside the final 10 players after three rounds at the Masters and, most recently, when in second place at halfway at the ‘elevated’ RBC Heritage.
A two-time runner-up at the Masters, Rose is also a 16-time a top-10 major player, with wins at the AT+T/Quickens Loans, Memorial and Torrey Pines to remind us just where he sits amongst the hierarchy.
The 42-year-old now sits at the highest ranking (low 30s) for over four years and it doesn’t take a long memory to remember that a 50-year-old Phil Mickelson won this event just two years ago. I’ll take the chance it’s tough enough out there for Rosey (yeah, I know, Butch, eh?) to land a decent payout on the specials, whilst having a small stake on the each-way market.
Tyrrell Hatton - E/W
Fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton is a real head-scratcher as he seems to hate everything, but is blinkin’ top class at this golf lark. He’s recently recorded a fourth place behind Rose at Bay Hill, runner-up at Sawgrass, top-20n at Harbour Town, third at Quail Hollow, all topped with last weekend’s top-five at the Byron Nelson, a course that should not have fitted his grinding style of play.
Such was his play at Craig Ranch that he ranked 7th for tee-to-green, 5th in around-the-green and 32nd for putting and he comes here carrying USPGA form of eight runs, two top-10 finishes and a most recent 13th at Southern Hills, dropping slightly from a halfway position of 10th.
The 31-year-old doesn’t ‘do’ Ross very frequently, but in four outings has a top-10 at Sedgefield and, perhaps more importantly, a top five in Detroit, the latter coming after a run of a win (Bay Hill) and third (lead after three rounds) at Harbour Town. He is absolutely the grinder amongst grinders.
In the end, yesterday’s finish might have just ruined his price, but (since 2006) and apart from Mickelson in 2021, every champion has finished in the top-28 in their event immediately before this major, with seven inside the top five and 11 inside the top-15. I’ll stick with a player in red-hot form and coming to an even more suitable track.
We may need a pair of hardy players come Sunday afternoon, and in Rose and Hatton, we get just that.
Gary Woodland - E/W
Americans have won the last eight PGA Championships, and whilst it’s not hard to see young bucks Taylor Montgomery or Cameron Young getting involved, I’ll turn to 2019 US Open champion Gary Woodland to revive former glories after showing a return to top form over the last 18 months or so.
The form of that victory needs no explanation, beating Koepka, Rose, Rahm and Xander Schauffele by three and six shots, with McIlroy and Stenson further behind. That was to be the highlight of the now 38-year-old’s long career, one that started 16 years ago and containing a next-best major finish of sixth place at Bellerive, a 7316-yard par-70 and home of the 2018 PGA Championship.
Indeed, looking at the Florida resident’s card, all of Woodland’s best major finishes have been within the last five years. Apart from the two efforts mentioned above, he has a fast-finishing eighth place finish at brutal Bethpage Black in 2019 and a back-door 10th at last year’s US Open, all signs that he’ll stick around should it get tough out there for the more finesse style of player.
2022 saw Woodland record top-five finishes at the Honda and at Bay Hill, whilst top-10 finishes at the Texas Open, afore-mentioned US Open and Houston all provide evidence for the wager.
Following a slow start to this year, Woodland found form at Riviera, where he was fifth after three rounds, before a recent run of six cuts that include a 14th place finish at Augusta and at Quail Hollow, where ironically he sat in ninth place going into Payday.
On the three-month tracker, Woodland ranks inside the top 35 over the last three months, based on his high position of fifth for total driving (in eighth for the season overall) 11th for greens-in-regulation and top-35 for both the par-fours and fives. The official season-long PGA Tour stats see him top-25 for tee-to-green, with highlights being top-10 rankings for approaches from sub 100-yards, 150-175 yards and 200+ yards, the latter surely an advantage on this monster.
It’s all not quite good enough to see him lifting the trophy on Sunday, but there is plenty there to think he’ll give us a run for a place on the front page, or at worst inside the top-20. Let’s go each-way and the alternatives.