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  • Austin Meo

PGA Championship Preview

Updated: Feb 3

Course Preview

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort will be the host of this week’s PGA Championship. The Pete and Alice Dye designed par 72 course measures over 7,800 yards and uses seashore paspalum grass (similar to Bermuda grass which is typically seen in the Carolinas and Florida). Kiawah previously hosted the 2012 PGA Championship, which was won by Rory McIlroy by 8 strokes. Coming off a win at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow two weeks ago, it is no surprise that McIlory is the betting favorite this week (despite missing the cut at both the Masters Tournament and The PLAYERS). In addition to McIlroy’s victory back in 2012, Kiawah has also hosted the 2007 Senior PGA Championship, the 2005 PGA Professional Championship, and the 1991 Ryder Cup (known as the “War on the Shore” where Europe’s Bernhard Langer missed a 6-foot tying putt that led to a Team USA victory). In the 2021 edition of Golf Digest’s “America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses,” Kiawah ranked 24th, just behind Riviera Country Club (CA) and Whistling Straits (WI) and ahead of Shadow Creek (NV) and Pinehurst No. 2 (NC)[2].

Like many Pete Dye courses, the Ocean Course is all about second shots. That’s why many analysts note that the 7,876 yard figure is a bit deceiving. While long hitters will certainly have an advantage, particularly if the wind picks up, shorter ball strikers will still have a path to compete this week. One way to look at this is to examine that 2012 PGA Championship leaderboard. In 2012, just 20 players broke par (and just 7 players broke 70 more than once for the week). Only 4 players who finished in the top-20 in 2012 were top-30 in driving distance that season. On the (somewhat) opposite side, 3 players in the top-20 were top-30 in driving accuracy for the season (that same figure goes for greens in regulation percentage as well). Note that these statistics are not always the best when compared to “strokes gained” metrics, because they’re entirely dependent on the types of courses each player played throughout the season, rather than their play versus their competitors week-to-week. Of course, some analysts will argue that strokes gained statistics have a reverse effect, arguing that highly ranked players who only play in majors and WGCs are sometimes unfairly weighted poorly because of strong fields.

In addition- you might have noticed that 7 players in the top-10 were Europeans that week. Moreover, 23 of the top-41 finishers were either European, South African or Australian. In a betting field where you only see a few international players with odds shorter than 50-1, in might be wise to consider a European/SA/Australian player that favors playing in the wind and/or rough conditions.


Majors are always tough to forecast simply because the field is everchanging and the courses are unpredictable year to year. Kiawah played nearly 400 yards shorter the last time it hosted a major- does that mean driving distance should be weighed more or less? Will wind even be a factor? How can you weigh approach shots from specific distances when everyone will be hitting from different spots. What I can say is that there are a few metrics that should certainly be weighed no matter how the course plays. On Dye courses, strokes gained: approach is a must (think TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town Golf Links). Driving accuracy is also a must- some advanced analytics have said that a player’s chances of hitting a green in regulation at Kiawah goes from about 69% (if they’re in the fairway) to just over 31% (if they’re in the rough). Over the last 24 rounds, the top-10 players (strokes gained: total) on Pete Dye courses varies widely from bombers to ball strikers. That top-10 in order is Abraham Ancer, Bryson DeChambeau, Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Brian Harman, Patrick Cantlay, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey and John Rahm.

For this week’s model, here are the weights:

SG: Approach - 20%

SG: Off the Tee - 15%

Greens in Regulation Gained - 15%

SG: Putting - 10%

SG: Around the Green - 10%

Par-4 Scoring 450-500 yards - 10%

Par-3 Scoring 225+ yards - 5%

3-Putt Avoidance - 5%

Opportunities Gained 5%

SG: Par-5 - 5%

This first model applies those weights over a player’s last 50 rounds. That might seem like a bit of a large sample size, but sometimes looking at overarching data can be helpful- especially when you are targeting a particular skill set. A few longshots that pop up (at least on DFS, many of these guys could easily go win a standard PGA Tour event any given week) are Cameron Tringale, Corey Conners, Joaquin Niemann, Jason Kokrak, Sam Burns and Charley Hoffman. A bunch of players in that region all have the same problem too- while they are great ball strikers and can plot their way around a course, either their wedges or putter can hurt them any given week. Putting is unpredictable- sometimes grass or recent form can give some indication, but the truth is you never truly know until a player starts a tournament.

The second model is a bit different- that focuses on a player’s last 12 rounds on courses only over 7,400 yards. This layout had a bunch of overarching players, but I was most impressed with Bryson DeChambeau’s metrics, particularly in terms of course fit. Among the field, he is 1st in SG: OTT, 8th in GIRs Gained, 9th in P4: 450-500 yards and 3rd in P3: 225+ yards over his last 12 rounds at courses over 7400 yards. In addition to Bryson, you’ll see favorites McIlroy, Spieth, Thomas and Rahm all float to the top (though notably, Dustin Johnson does not).

DFS Lineup

Jordan Spieth - $10,100

Spoiler alert, every player in this lineup is coming in with great form. Besides Rory McIlroy though, no one is coming in hotter than Jordan Spieth. Since February, Spieth has 5 top-5s in 8 events, including a win at the Valero Texas Open and a 3rd place finish at the Masters Tournament last month. This past week, he finished 9th at the AT&T Byron Nelson where he gained nearly 5 strokes approaching the green and 6.7 strokes tee to green. The key for Spieth over this stretch has been his driver. From the beginning of the restart in June of 2020 to January of 2021, Spieth gained strokes off the tee in just 2 of 16 events. Since the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am in February, he has gained strokes off the tee in 6 of his last 7 events. He’s also dialed in his irons- he’s gained 4.9+ strokes approaching the green in each of his last 5 events. One final stat that might sway you to Spieth? In his career he has gained nearly a stroke on the field in severely windy conditions and 1.5 strokes in moderate wind.

Viktor Hovland - $9,300

Hovland captured his first PGA Tour win at the 2020 Puerto Rico Open, a paspalum grass coastal course. His second career win? The 2021 Mayakoba Golf Classic, also a paspalum grass coastal course. Hovland is coming in looking great after back-to-back third place finishes at the Valspar Championship and the Wells Fargo Championship. He’s gained strokes off the tee in every start since the 2020 playoffs, and even has gained strokes around the green and putting in 3 of his last 4 events. There’s a theory that Hovland and Rory McIlroy play well at the same courses- well McIlory is the favorite this week and beat Hovland by 2 strokes 2 weeks ago to capture the Wells Fargo Championship.

Abraham Ancer - $7,900

Also at the top leaderboard at Quail Hollow was Abraham Ancer, a stellar tee to green international player who should love the paspalum greens at Kiawah this week. Despite not having the same name recognition as some of the other bigger names in the field, he has consistently qualified for WGC events for the better part of the last 2 years. Since 2019, he has not missed a cut at a WGC event and his only two missed cuts in majors were at the 2018 and 2019 Open Championships. He has not missed a cut in the last 2 months and has only lost strokes approaching the green once in his last 11 events.

Joaquin Niemann - $7,800

Niemann plays amazingly in the wind- gaining at least .5 strokes on the field in every wind condition on Fantasy National Golf Club. He has gained strokes approaching the green in 12 of his last 13 events and has gained strokes off the tee in 25 of his last 27 events (that’s dating back to the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational). To have a guy at $7,800 that is virtually a lock to make the cut (he hasn’t missed one since the August 2020 Northern Trust Open), Niemann is a must start in any DFS lineup. And at 60-1, he also brings some great value as an outright bet.

Sam Burns - $7,500

Burns has been all over place in the past 3 months. In his last 7 starts, he has a win at the Valspar Championship (3 weeks ago), a runner up finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson (last week), a third place finish at Genesis and 3 missed cuts. On this part of the board, DFS players have different thoughts- some like to go with veterans or perhaps players with a specific skill set. But going with the hot hand in Burns might just make the most sense. He’s succeeding by crushing it tee to green and playing solid around the greens. While he doesn’t have much paspalum stats to go off, Burns is notorious for playing well on Bermuda grass (a close cousin) where he has gained .65 strokes putting for his career,

Matt Wallace - $7,400

Wallace is quickly becoming the no-longer sneaky DFS pick this week- and for good reason. He has made the cut in each of his last 4 starts, has gained 28.6 strokes tee to green in his last 3 eligible starts, and has only lost strokes off the tee 3 times since the June restart. Along with his 3rd place finish at Valero and 6th place finish at Wells Fargo, he also has an 18th place finish at Harbour Town Golf Links (a Pete Dye design) where he gained 6.1 strokes tee to green and over 3 strokes on approach. In the second model, he actually ranks first among this field (thanks to his stellar play approaching the green and par-4/5 scoring). There might be some hesitation in DFS formats that he is becoming too chalky, but if you need a low-end guy with not as much US name recognition, the Englishman is still probably your guy.

Honorable Mentions:

Rory McIlroy - $11,500

Corey Connors - $7,600

Brian Harman - $7,400

Jason Kokrak - $7,100

Robert Macintyre - $7,000

Ryan Palmer - $6,900

Sports Law Society Picks

SLS Blog EIC Dani Bland - McIlory

SLS VP Kristin Dolan - Rory McIlory

SLS VP Ryan Murphy - Rory McIlory

SLS Secretary Emily Rollo - Bryson DeChambeau

SLS Treasurer Dani Clifford - Jordan Spieth

SLS Social Media Chair Jacqueline Borrelli – Xander Schauffele

Former SLS President Arun Thottakara - Aaron Rai

Former SLS Vice President Steve Dranoff - Xander Schauffele

Professor Andrew Brandt – Bryson DeChambeau

Professor David Caudill - Jordan Spieth

Dean Candace Centeno – Collin Morikawa

Betting Odds[4]

Rory McIlroy 11-1

Justin Thomas 14-1

Jon Rahm 14-1

Jordan Spieth 16-1

Bryson DeChambeau 16-1

Dustin Johnson 18-1

Xander Schauffele 22-1

Viktor Hovland 25-1

Daniel Berger 30-1

Collin Morikawa 30-1

Brooks Koepka 33-1

Hideki Matsuyama 33-1

Patrick Cantlay 35-1

Webb Simpson 35-1

Cameron Smith 35-1

Patrick Reed 35-1

Tony Finau 35-1

Scottie Scheffler 40-1

Sam Burns 40-1

Tyrrell Hatton 45-1

Will Zalatoris 50-1

Tommy Fleetwood 50-1

Paul Casey 50-1

Abraham Ancer 50-1

Matthew Fitzpatrick 55-1

Sung-Jae Im 60-1

Joaquin Niemann 60-1

Louis Oosthuizen 60-1

Marc Leishman 60-1

Justin Rose 66-1

Shane Lowry 66-1

Sergio Garcia 66-1

Corey Conners 66-1

Adam Scott 70-1

Keegan Bradley 70-1

Brian Harman 80-1

Gary Woodland 80-1

Max Homa 80-1

Matt Wallace 80-1

Garrick Higgo 80-1

Jason Day 80-1

Si-Woo Kim 80-1

Charl Schwarzel 90-1

Bubba Watson 90-1

Robert Macintyre 100-1

Jason Kokrak 100-1

Lee Westwood 100-1

Harris English 100-1

Matt Kuchar 100-1

Billy Horschel 125-1

Rickie Fowler 125-1

Cameron Tringale 125-1

Kyoung-Hoon Lee 125-1

Cameron Champ 125-1

Charley Hoffman 150-1

Branden Grace 150-1

Russell Henley 150-1

Christiaan Bezuidenhout 150-1

Kevin Na 150-1

Alex Noren 150-1

Matt Jones 150-1

Stewart Cink 150-1

Ian Poulter 150-1

Emiliano Grillo 150-1

Aaron Wise 150-1


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