The best players in world golf will assemble in South Carolina this week and the stakes are high. It’s time for the second major of the season, the PGA Championship, which returns to the picturesque and unique setting of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
This is it, fantasy golf fans. Time to get serious with your selections.
The PGA Championship returns to Kiawah Island for the third time having previously been hosted at the course in 2005 and 2012.
Collin Morikawa comes into the 2021 renewal of this tournament as the reigning champ having won by two shots at TPC Harding Park in 2020. As is often the case in the majors, the cream usually rises in the PGA Championship, with modern stars such as Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, and Rory McIlroy, all of whom have spent time as world no.1, lifting the trophy in recent times, while through the years, other big-name players such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, John Daly, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player have all been crowned champion of this prestigious event.
However, though it is often one of the big boys who reigns victorious, this tournament has thrown up an unlikely winner from time to time. In 2016, Jimmy Walker, who went his first 187 PGA Tour events without winning, earned a 1-shot victory in 2016, and in 2011, Keegan Bradley surprised the crowds to win in a play-off against Jason Dufner, despite playing in a major for the first time in his career.
The most notable surprise of recent times was arguably when Yang Yong-eun, who to this day only has two PGA Tour wins to his name, came from behind to overturn a lead held by Tiger Woods back in 2009.
It’s worth noting that those who win this competition, for one reason or another, tend to arrive in form. In fact, only two of the last 15 winners finished outside of the top 20 the week before playing their way to glory in the PGA Championship.
Position the last 15 winners finished the week before:
2020 Collin Morikawa – 20th
2019 Brooks Koepka – 4th
2018 Brooks Koepka – 5th
2017 Justin Thomas – 28th
2016 Jimmy Walker – 11th
2015 Jason Day – 12th
2014 Rory McIlroy – 1st
2013 Jason Dufner – 4th
2012 Rory McIlroy – 5th
2011 Keegan Bradley – 15th
2010 Martin Kaymer – 22nd
2009 Y.E. Yang – 18th
2008 Padraig Harrington – 20th
2007 Tiger Woods – 1st
2006 Tiger Woods – 1st
Ocean Course, Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Only the fourth course to host each of the four major championships, the Ocean Course will host the PGA Championship for the first time since 2012, when Rory McIlroy emerged victorious, beating David Lynn by no fewer than eight shots to claim his first major success.
Designed by none other than Pete and Alice Dye, who are responsible for the layout at many of the best courses in America, the Ocean Course and Kiawah Island presents golfers with a unique and stern test, as they play the most seaside holes in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning that wind is a huge factor, so much so that from one day to the next, players can experience huge differences in club choice, depending on the direction and severity of the Atlantic breeze.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is generally considered as one of the toughest courses in America and is also widely regarding as the hardest links-style course outside of the UK and Ireland. In fact, The Ocean Course was named the toughest course in America in 2010 by Golf Digest.
The course itself has changed slightly since Rory strode off the 18th green wearing a winning smile back in 2012, as changes were made with this tournament in mind back in both 2019 and 2020. Interestingly, at 7,876 yards, the Ocean Course will become the longest course in Major Championship history. Designed to be a real test into prevailing wind on the back nine, the front nine is where players have the opportunity to take advantage, particularly early on, as there are a couple of par-4’s that play slightly under 400 yards.
It might seem obvious but being long and straight is going to be a big advantage, as noted by two-time PGA Championship winner Rory McIlroy, who said that “people who can hit it long and hit in the fairway are going to have a great chance”.
Fantasy picks times. Based on my analysis of course and players and values, here are my recommendations for the PGA Championship this week when building a team:
Rory McIlroy $11,500 (+1200)
Rory ticks plenty of boxes this week. In fact, there aren’t many boxes that he doesn’t tick. He meets the recent form trend having won when last featuring in an event just a fortnight ago, while he knows how to get over the line in majors, especially this one. Moreover, he knows exactly how to win this tournament at this venue, which is not something any other player can lay claim to.
The four-time major winner also ticks the distance box, as he currently ranks as the 2nd best player on tour for driving distance. The man who won this tournament when it was last hosted at this venue also, rather interestingly, ranks as the number one player in terms of strokes gained: tee-to-green on Pete Dye courses in the last five years, which simply makes him a player to have on side in fantasy this week.
Collin Morikawa $9,800 (+2500)
Certainly not the longest, but, boy, does the current holder of this tournament make up for that by being an accurate player, who has no real weakness. Morikawa lacks the distance of a Rory, a Bryson, or a Dustin, but he’s one of the very best at hitting fairways, hitting greens in regulation, and making birdies. There really is lots to like about the 2020 PGA Championship winner, who is currently the second-best player on tour in terms of strokes gained: tee-to-green and greens in regulation, as well as the third-best player when it comes to birdie average.
He’s also the number one player on the PGA Tour right now for strokes gained: approach. His ability to control his game in the wind is also a big plus ahead of play at an Ocean Course that can really howl. He hasn’t played an event for a few weeks, but it’s impossible to consider Morikawa as anything other than a must-have buy ahead of his title defense.
Abraham Ancer $7,600 (+5000)
The big draw here is accuracy. As touched on above, accuracy, especially in terms of hitting fairways, will be key this week, and few players have done that better than Abraham Ancer this season. Not only is the diminutive Mexican the 28th best player on tour in terms of strokes gained: off-the-tee, he currently ranks 2nd for driving accuracy, which goes a long way to explaining why he’s been able to consistently put himself in contention of late, finishing 5th and 2nd in his last two events. As a result, the 30-year-old, who has finished no lower than 26th in any of his last eight events, very much ticks the recent form box.
Daniel Berger $8,700 (+4000)
It’s been a solid campaign so far for 28-year-old Daniel Berger, who has quietly gone about his business, earning five top-10 finishes, winning at Pebble Beach back in February. He ticks the week-before-finish box having put in a fine display to finish 3rd at the AT&T Byron Nelson last week, shooting under 70 in each of his four rounds, while he also ticks plenty of other boxes.
Without setting the world alight, Berger has shown up as one of the more solid, well-rounded players at the top end of the tour this term. The fact that he ranks inside the top 25 for strokes gained: off-the-tee, strokes gained: approach, strokes gained: putting and strokes gained: tee-to-green is very encouraging. What’s more, him being the 12th best player in the line-up in terms of strokes gained: total on Pete Dye courses in the last five seasons makes him a standout value pick at the prices.
Keegan Bradley $7,300 (+7500)
It’s been something of a renaissance season for the man who burst onto the scene back in 2011 by winning his first ever major. Not only did the Vermont native win this event back in 2011, but he also finished 3rd behind McIlroy on this course in 2012.
Challenging in majors isn’t exactly something Bradley has become known for in the years that have followed, but things have gone well this term. Has three top-10’s to his name since the PGA Tour returned in 2021, while his recent form figures of T18-2-T4-T23 are encouraging, as we know those who are out of form struggle at this event.
Not the best off the tee in terms of distance, but still reasonably accurate, as a fairway hit percentage of 66% suggests, while he ranks inside the top 27 players on tour in other key areas such as greens in regulation, eagles made, scoring average and strokes gained: around-the-green. In addition, Bradley is currently the eighth-best on tour for strokes gained: approach. An even bigger draw is that he’s ranked 5th in terms of strokes gained: tee to green.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a longshot this week, then look no further than Keegan Bradley, who has plenty going for him at a venue where he’s played well before, in a competition that he’s previously won.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on picking for the PGA Championship below. Who are you banking on and why?
UK based freelance sports betting writer. Specializing in golf and soccer, Bradley has written for numerous websites and publications both in the UK and abroad, covering a range of sports betting topics from match/event previews to betting guides.