Our golf tipster Jamie Worsley is back, with his full comprehensive preview of the 2nd major of the year, the PGA Championship. He has five selections and will have further pieces on first round leader, specials and in-play markets through the week.
US PGA Championship Tips
- 3 pt Patrick Cantlay each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 18/1
- 2 pts Matt Fitzpatrick each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 25/1
- 2 pts Cameron Smith each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 28/1
- 1 pt Patrick Reed each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 80/1
- 1 pt Harris English each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 150/1
It’s been six weeks since Jon Rahm roared to victory at Augusta National, writing the first part of the script for the 2023 majors by winning his first Green Jacket and Masters title.
The major story moves northwards to New York this week, as the game’s elite descend on Oak Hill Country Club’s East course to battle it out for the Wanamaker Trophy in the 105th edition of the PGA Championship.
The PGA Championship was the third of golf’s most coveted titles to enter into existence, having been established in 1916 as a match play event; taking place every year since with the exclusion of 1917-18 due to WWI and 1943 due to WWII.
It remained in a match play format right up until 1957, during which time Walter Hagen recorded five wins (the joint most in the tournament’s history), with players such as Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson also claiming the trophy.
Jack Nicklaus tied Hagen for most wins in the stroke play era, winning five times between 1963-1980, with his fifth and final PGA Championship coming here at Oak Hill.
Tiger Woods is 3rd on that list of most PGA Championship wins with 4, twice defending his title in 2000 and 2007. Gary Player and Lee Trevino, along with Justin Thomas, Rory, McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson in recent times, are amongst the list of players to hoist the Wanamaker trophy on more than once occasion.
The first of Rory McIlroy’s PGA Championship wins in 2012 at Kiawah Island saw him win by a huge eight strokes, the highest winning margin in the tournament’s history, whilst in 2015, Jason Day’s -20 at Whistling Straits broke the record for lowest winning score in the event.
Justin Thomas won a thrilling renewal of the PGA Championship at Southern Hills last year, in what was the most challenging edition since 2008. After Chile’s Mito Pereira made the inexplicable mistake of finding the water on 18 whilst holding a one-shot lead, Justin Thomas and Will Zalatoris finished tied atop the leaderboard on -5; with Thomas seeing off his less experienced counterpart by shooting -2 in the three-hole playoff for his second PGA Championship success.
Thomas returns to defend this week at Oak Hill Country Club, looking to become the ninth player to win back-to-back PGA Championships; a feat most recently achieved by Brooks Koepka in 2018/2019.
Oak Hill Country Club’s East Course has hosted the PGA Championship on three previous occasions (as listed below), as well as being a three-time US Open host, two-time US Amateur host and 1995 host of the Ryder Cup. Though will have a much different look and feel this year.
Previous PGA Championship winners at Oak Hill:
- 1980 – Jack Nicklaus (-6)
- 2003 – Shaun Micheel (-4)
- 2013 – Jason Dufner (-10)
Originally designed by the legendary Donald Ross in 1926, Oak Hill went through a major revamp in 2019 at the hand of restoration expert Andrew Green, whose aim was to return the course as much as possible to Ross’ original design, whilst keeping it in touch with the modern game and ready for major championship golf.
This involved the building of two new holes from scratch: the par 3 5th and the lengthy par 4 6th, which Green describes as “By far the hardest hole on the entire property.”. They also replaced the old poa/bentgrass greens with pure bentgrass, restored the unmistakably Ross shapes and undulations of the greens, opened the course up by reducing tree numbers significantly and moved/removed bunkers.
Additionally, new back tees mean the course can play at over 200 yards longer compared to when we last saw it, with the par 70 course now measuring at up to a lengthy 7394 yards.
Despite the removal of many trees, the course still remains predominantly tree-lined but whereas the density may have resulted with nothing more than a chip out sideways before, you will now find yourself with a shot more often than not if missing the fairways; albeit a difficult one.
The fairways are relatively narrow, especially at the beginning of the course, though there are a few with more generous landing areas. They are protected be strategically placed bunkers aside most – of which Green says will be extremely penal – as well as typically testing major championship rough and though there’s a little more space amongst the trees you are bound to end up with line-of-sight issues if continually missing fairways; making advancing your ball to the greens difficult.
Said greens are small – averaging at 4.5k square-feet – and undulating, many of which slope from back to front and are well bunkered, with run-off areas and false fronts aplenty; putting huge amounts of pressure on your tee-to-green game before facing the challenging putting surfaces themselves.
Further penalty is found from a creek that runs throughout the property and is in-play on six holes (#s 1, 6, 7, 10, 11 & 13). No more so is this evidenced than on that aforementioned 6th, where it hugs the right-hand side of the fairway and the entire left-hand side of the green.
The makeup of the course reads every bit as challenging as the aesthetics make it look. The par 5s would usually be the scoring holes on any course but the two here – both measuring over 600 yards – are far from gimme birdie opportunities.
The par 3s possess some of the most well-bunkered greens on the course and though the 5th and 15th are relatively short at 180 and 155 yards respectively, they’re countered by the mammoth 245-yard 11th and long 230-yard 3rd.
Finally, the par 4s offer great variety, with the drivable 320-yard 14th, sub 400-yard 12th and three more at 430 or less offering some chance to attack, though they are joined by six above 460, including a devilishly difficult closing duo – the 502-yard 17th and 497-yard 18th – which are both potential tournament killers.
This is a traditional, old-fashioned course renovated to take us back to that, whilst keeping modern times in mind and I can’t wait to see how it plays compared to previous renewals here this week.
- SG: Off-the-Tee
- Driving Distance
- SG: Approach
- Sand Save Percentage
- SG: Around-the-Greens
- Par 4 Scoring
- SG: Putting (Bentgrass)
It goes without saying that everything will need to be done well this week – it is a major championship after all – but it is clear to me that as a long course where fairways are pretty tight in places and looking particularly punishing should you miss them, that those high-class drivers who are best able to combine their length with accuracy will fare best at this new Oak Hill.
This will need to be part of a strong all-round ball-striking game. Many of the penal bunkers around the greens are noticeably short of the back-to-front sloping putting surfaces, putting pressure on you to be ultra precise with your approaches.
Fall short and you’ll have a tough time getting up and down from the sand; go long and you’re left with a treacherous downhill putt on speedy greens. Though in most cases hitting the green and avoiding the danger that lurks around them is by far the better option.
With the greens so small and hard to find – some challenging weather potentially making this even more so – for all you may try, you’re bound to find yourself in trouble around the greens often throughout the week. Therefore, quality around-the-greens, in particular out of the bunkers is going to be another necessity.
To finish, the volume of par 4s and their variety leads me to favour strong par 4 players and not to ignore the putter, we’ll weigh in those with proven ability on speedy bentgrass surfaces. Though as a lower requirement than the areas mentioned above.
PGA Championship Trends
No longer the most likely place for first-time major winners?
The PGA Championship was often spoken about as being the major that was easiest to breakthrough in but that has changed somewhat over recent years.
When Justin Thomas won his first major in this event at Quail Hollow in 2017, he became the seventh first-time major winner at the PGA Championship in nine renewals. Joining YE Yang (2009), Martin Kaymer (2010), Keegan Bradley (2011), Jason Dufner (2013), Jason Day (2015) and Jimmy Walker (2016). However since then, four of the last five have been won by former major winners.
Brooks Koepka added to his two US Open titles with consecutive victories in 2018 and 2019; Phil Mickelson became a six-time major champion (and the oldest at the age of 50 years & 11 months) at Kiawah Island in 2021 and Justin Thomas doubled his major tally last year at Southern Hills.
Collin Morikawa in 2020 at TPC Harding Park was the only PGA Championship winner in the last five years not already a major winner, winning there on just his second major appearance after finishing 35th at the US Open the previous year.
It was the only one of the four majors to not go to a first-time winner last year and thus, it may pay to side with those with major-winning experience this week.
A previous major top 10 important
If you’re not already a major champion, it is almost imperative that you have at least recorded a top 10 in a major in a previous year.
Going back to Martin Kaymer’s win in 2010, eleven of those thirteen winners since and including the German had recorded at least a top 10. Six were already major winners, two had finished 2nd in a major, with Kaymer in 2010, Jimmy Walker in 2016 and Justin Thomas in 2017 all having recorded finishes of 6th, 7th and 9th before winning.
The two outliers in this regard are Keegan Bradley and Collin Morikawa. Bradley’s incredible win in 2011 came in his first ever major appearance, whilst as mentioned above, Morikawa’s 2020 success was just his second major start.
Prior PGA Tour win looks vital
Each of the last twelve PGA Championship winners had recorded a victory on the PGA Tour before winning the Wanamaker Trophy; with us having to go back to Martin Kaymer in 2010 to find the last winner to not fit this criteria.
The two players who didn’t tick the box for a prior major top 10: Collin Morikawa and Keegan Bradley, each recorded a win on the PGA Tour that year before going on to taste major glory.
Morikawa was a two-time PGA Tour winner having won the Barracuda Championship in 2019 before winning at Muirfield Village in the Workday Charity open as a prelude to his win at Harding Park; Bradley won the Byron Nelson around six weeks prior.
Strong current form an obvious positive
Nine of the previous thirteen players to take home this title had recorded a top 10 in their three starts in the run-up to this event.
The four players to not were Phil Mickelson in 2021, not surprising when we see what he was able to do at Augusta in April; whilst Justin Thomas’ lead-in form in 2017 was pretty poor, recording finishes of MC-MC-28, though he had looked very good earlier in that season, with two victories to his name.
Although Jimmy Walker in 2016 and Keegan Bradley in 2010 hadn’t recorded a top 10 in their starts prior, their form was solid enough. Walker had recorded finishes of 16th and 14th, whilst Bradley not only had two top 25s in the three starts before but was also a winner earlier in the year.
Correlating Events (Courses)
We have a few avenues to go down in terms of finding events that may correlate this week. Firstly we can look to the Donald Ross angle.
Ross’ courses are typically unique to him and see many of the same features translating from one to the next; culminating in players often being able to carry form over across his various designs.
On the current PGA Tour schedule we have the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club, Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club and Tour Championship at East Lake. Whilst in the past we’ve seen Pinehurst No.2 host the US Open, most recently in 2014 and Aronimink Golf Club host many events, the most recent of which was the 2018 BMW Championship.
However, the Wyndham and Rocket Mortgage Classic are much easier tests, whilst East Lake is only played by the top 30 players every year and in a quirky format. Therefore I’m inclined to do a little more digging and find courses that are not designed by Ross which play similarly to what I’m expecting to see at Oak Hill this week.
The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village stood out most. This lengthy course has small bentgrass greens, is punishing when you miss fairways and of all the courses on the regular season schedule, ranks most closely to a major test in difficulty around the greens, with penal bunkers an intimidating feature.
Two more I like are fellow major championship hosts: Torrey Pines’ South Course the main host of the Farmers Insurance Open and Quail Hollow Golf Club, which hosts the Wells Fargo Championship. Both long courses have been used on major rotations – Torrey Pines the US Open host as recently as 2021 and Quail Hollow hosted the 2017 PGA Championship – and as such, produce major-like tests.
In addition to this I like the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, particularly over the last couple of years where a toughening of the setup has brought almost every aspect of play around there up to a major championship level of difficulty.
To finish I’m going to throw in TPC Potomac, most recently the host of the 2022 Wells Fargo Championship. Despite being much shorter it’s small, hard-to-hit bentgrass greens were amongst the most difficult to scramble around on the PGA Tour last year and played a part in that tournament being one of the toughest on the schedule in 2022.
I’ve alluded to it a little already but the weather could well have its say this week. Temperatures are set to be cool throughout the week, though with nothing more than a mild breeze predicted on Thursday, the players should have a kind enough start.
However, from Friday onwards, the wind is stated to kick up, with gusts of up to 40kmh forecast over the final three rounds; adding another dimension of trickiness to a course not lacking in that area.
The strongest field of the year will arrive in Rochester this week, with ninety-nine of the world’s top 100 set to tee it up; world #9 Will Zalatoris the only players missing, having recently undergone back surgery that will keep him out for the rest of the season.
Jon Rahm arrives as the best player in the world, looking to back up his Masters win with a third major title this week. #2 Scottie Scheffler arrives off the back of a good tune up when 5th in last week’s Byron Nelson, whilst #3 Rory McIlroy makes just his second start since missing the cut at Augusta.
Rory is one of twelve former PGA Champions in the field this week, including reigning champion Justin Thomas, 2015 winner Jason Day – who made good on his return to form this season by winning in Texas last week – and the LIV duo of Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson.
They will both aim to go one better than their excellent tied-second place finishes in The Masters earlier in the year, performances that will have done wonders for the confidence of fellow players from that circuit.
Jordan Spieth is also set to return after pulling out of last week’s field in the AT&T Byron Nelson through injury, as he continues his quest to add his name to an illustrious list of grand-slam winners, with Masters, US Open and Open Championship titles already in the bag.
World numbers 1 and 2, Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler share joint-favouritism at 15/2. With redemption-seeking Rory third in the betting at 12/1.
As with The Masters, I feel Rahm is the one they all have to beat this week but at 1 ½ points shorter than he was at Augusta, I’m happy to avoid him here; the same with Scheffler, whilst Rory has plenty to prove and despite his suitability to this test and connection to the course, is not considered.
It’s the next rung down on which I start this week and though Brooks Koepka has continued to play well in LIV events following his 2nd in The Masters, it’s the man he shares fourth-favouritism with that I’m most keen on this week, Patrick Cantlay.
3 pt Patrick Cantlay each way (1/5 – 8 places)
Cantlay has been consistently excellent for the past three months and ranks 3rd in stroke-gained: total in that time period, only trailing those top two players in the world. His major record is a little disappointing for a player with such all-round quality but he can put that right this week on a course which should suit his strong-driving game perfectly.
Cantlay sprung into life when 3rd at the Genesis Invitational in February and hasn’t finished outside the top 25 since, recording further top 5s when 4th at Bay Hill and in the RBC Heritage, whilst was 14th at Augusta in the first major of the year.
Every part of his game has been firing over this time but it’s with the driver he’s excelled most, ranking 3rd for the season; balancing both power, ranking 28th with accuracy, ranking 18th.
He also ranks top 10 for GIR for the season. Additionally, over those last three months where his form has been at its highest, he ranks top 20 in approach and top 30 around-the-greens; all enabling him to rank as the joint-best par 4 scorer on the PGA Tour.
Cantlay is more than comfortable on bentgrass greens, something we’ve seen when amassing his excellent record at Muirfield Village, where he’s twice won and recorded two further top 5s.
This strong correlating form is enhanced by a win at the Ross designed East Lake in 2021 and a runner-up finish at another Donald Ross design when 2nd at the Rocket Mortgage in 2022; his 4th place finish in the API this year provides added encouragement.
Though his major record leaves his talent short, he has recorded three top 10s. His best coming in the PGA Championship in 2019 when finishing 3rd, with 8th and 9th place finishes at The Open and The Masters also on his C.V.
Cantlay is the complete golfer who ticks virtually every box for Oak Hill and looks primed to make that major breakthrough this week.
2 pts Matt Fitzpatrick each way (1/5 – 8 places)
Matt Fitzpatrick became a major champion for the first time at last year’s US Open and can follow in the footsteps of Rory McIlroy in 2012, by winning the PGA Championship the following year for his second major success.
The Englishman had been battling a niggling neck injury for much of the early part of this year but found form at Augusta with a 10th place finish and followed up by claiming his second victory stateside the next week, defeating Jordan Spieth in a playoff to win the RBC Heritage.
We’ve seen him twice since that win, first finishing 19th with brother Alex in the Zurich Classic and two weeks ago he finished a solid enough 35th at Quail Hollow.
He’s always been a strong driver but the addition of some extra length was huge in enabling him to get that first major over the line last year, seeing him rank as the 16th best driver in this field over the last twelve months and is top 20 with the club over recent weeks.
Fitzpatrick has historically been one of the best putters in the world throughout much of his pro career and is no slouch around the greens either, ranking as one of the best short-game players in this field over the last year (top 20 both ATG and in putting), whilst he’s strong out of the sand, ranking 23rd in sand saves on the PGA Tour this season.
His irons would typically be a weaker area of his game, though he’s far from a poor iron player. He was strong in approach in The Masters and at the RBC Heritage. Though struggling over the weekend at Quail Hollow, his irons looked in fine form for the opening two rounds; enough recent evidence to suggest they are in a good place.
Fitzpatrick showed his major credentials when he finished 5th in the PGA Championship last year prior to winning the US Open and his 10th at Augusta this year was his second top 10 in The Masters.
This strong major form is complimented by some excellent correlating form, where he’s finished 2nd at Bay Hill and TPC Potomac, as well as 3rd in the Memorial; all pointing to a player who can double-up on last year’s major win in swift fashion last week.
2 pts Cameron Smith each way (1/5 – 8 places)
Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson showed the LIV golfers should not be taken lightly when 2nd at The Masters six weeks ago and with that in mind, I couldn’t help but feel Cameron Smith’s strength in approach and with the short game would see him to a huge performance this week. Particularly as he seems to have found some accuracy over recent starts in LIV events.
We saw Smith for the first time outside of LIV when 34th at Augusta, where he struggled to keep it straight off the tee. However, he has put up positive driving accuracy numbers on his most recent starts, where he’s finished 4th in Adelaide, 7th in Singapore and last week lost out to Dustin Johnson in a playoff in Tulsa.
We are not blessed with strokes-gained data from those starts though we do have the benefit of stats from The Masters and it painted the picture of the same player who’d been one of the best in the world when on the PGA Tour over the previous 18 months before his switch.
He was the 9th best putter in the field there, an area in which he ranks as the 2nd best player in this week’s field over recent years and whilst the irons were a little inconsistent, he put up some solid stuff; again going back to his PGA Tour form in recent years he’d be the 5th best iron player in this field.
He’s quality around the greens too, an area he ranks top 30 in the field over the same period, whilst in his last full season – in 2021/22 – Smith ranked as the third-best par 4 scorer on the PGA Tour.
There’s some solid bits of correlating form, where Smith possesses top 10s at the Wyndham and in the Farmers Insurance Open, though it’s his major form that is the most telling. Aside from his Open Championship success at St Andrews last year he’s finished top 5 three times in the Masters, including a 2nd in 2020 and also has a top 5 in the US Open in 2015.
He’s a big game player and with the driver looking a little more under control, the ballsy Aussie can replicate a similar performance to that his LIV colleagues managed at Augusta.
1 pt Patrick Reed each way (1/5 – 8 places)
Patrick Reed’s excellent 4th place finish at The Masters flew a little under the radar because of the efforts of Koepka and Mickelson but shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise, as we’d seen how good his game looked when he ran Rory close in Dubai earlier in the year. With the elite short game he possesses and the ball-striking form he’s shown on those two non-LIV starts this year, particularly with the irons, this ultimate battler can go well again this week.
Reed’s 2nd in Dubai and 4th at Augusta are strong pieces of form in what has been a good year overall for the American, where he’s recorded a further two top 5s in the LIV series and comes into this week with recent form figures of 3rd, 14th and 11th.
Undoubtedly that Masters effort is the standout and it was eye catching how good each area of Reed’s game looked, as he ranked 6th tee-to-green and 11th on the greens. Looking especially good around-the-greens, ranking 3rd. This all very much replicated from Dubai, where he ranked top 10 in approach, ATG and putting. The short-game skills no surprise for one of the best in that area in the game.
This helped him on his way to a Masters success in 2018, whilst he’s recorded top 10s in each of the other majors, including a 2nd in the PGA Championship in 2017.
Wins at the Farmers Insurance Open and Wyndham Championship give me more confidence in his chances this week, as do top 10s in the Memorial, at Quail Hollow and in the API. All increasing my belief that Reed’s going to be a big player this week.
1 pt Harris English each way (1/5 – 8 places)
There’s often a few surprises at the top of PGA Championship leaderboards and following the best iron performance of his career last time out at Quail Hollow, which took him to an excellent 3rd place finish, I’m taking Harris English to make a stir atop the leaderboard this week.
Showing the form of his career in 2020-21, injury problems caused a downturn in form for English last year but there have been hugely encouraging signs this year.
A 12th place finish at the Genesis Invitational was the first piece of form to make me take notice and he followed with a 2nd at Bay Hill two starts later; both of those performances predominantly engineered by the putter, ranking 2nd and 1st in the field those weeks respectively.
Since his 2nd in the API his form has remained solid, missing just one cut at TPC Sawgrass in THE PLAYERS Championship; though despite finishing one place lower than when in Florida, his 3rd last time out in the Wells Fargo Championship was the most standout performance so far.
The putter was once again in good form, as was his general short-game but it was the irons that caught the eye. In gaining 2.03 strokes a round, English produced the best approach performance of his career, which saw him rank 2nd in the field; only winner Wyndham Clark ranking ahead of him.
Combine with a typically excellent short-game, solid form with the driver and English has more than enough in his bag to handle this week’s test.
He’s no stranger to quality major performances, finishing 3rd in the 2021 US Open and 4th in the 2020 renewal. That excellent correlating form this year at Bay Hill and Quail Hollow is enhanced by a runner-up finish in the Farmers Insurance Open and if English can maintain that level of performance he showed with his irons last time out, he can add another top major showing this week.