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Favorites, Longshots, Fantasy Plays and Tiger’s Return at the PGA Championship

By: Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads

Rickie Fowler had an opportunity to save an otherwise disappointing weekend for our model when he entered the final round of the St. Jude Invitational within striking distance.

Unfortunately, Fowler’s inconsistency reared its ugly head again as he fell all the way into a tie for 15th. Ryan Palmer finished with a strong 64 on Sunday, but our other sleepers didn’t step up and dropped out of the top 20.

The good news is that we’re moving on to the PGA Championship – our first major on the PGA Tour in over a year – at TPC Harding Park this weekend. And Tiger Woods is back for the first time since tying for 40th at last month’s Memorial Tournament (more on this later). 

TPC Harding Park

The San Francisco course is a par 70 playing around 7,240 yards, but it can play as high as 7,400 depending on the tee boxes. That’s a meaty par 70. It’s a course that hasn’t been used by the PGA in a spell, with the most recent data we have available coming from 2013 when it was a fairly easy par 71. While we can’t use the exact data from that tournament to project how the course will play in 2020, there is plenty of information we can use.

We know it will play tougher, as the PGA has said it has reduced the width of the fairways and let the rough thicken ahead of the tourney. We also know there are only around 70 bunkers and very little water on the course. Using this information, along with the data from 2013, we can infer that the course has very little variability in hole scoring. This means we likely won’t see the sporadic 8s and 9s we saw last week and at The Memorial. Players who have high variability in hole scoring will have a tough time making up any strokes they lose and the best golfers are more likely than usual to have the best results.

Like most par 70 courses, par 4 scoring is king. However, Harding Park has long par 4s, which means long par 4 (440+ yards) scoring is key. Among entrants, leaders in long par 4 scoring are:

  1. Rory McIlroy (0.155 strokes gained per hole)
  2. Bubba Watson (0.122)
  3. Justin Thomas (0.117)
  4. Rickie Fowler (0.117)
  5. Tyrrell Hatton (0.117)

There’s also a massive 251-yard par 3, which will take a 3-wood or even a 5-wood to reach for some players.

Pick to Win

Justin Thomas holds the trophy after winning the World Golf Championship-FedEx St. Jude Invitational Sunday.

Justin Thomas

Yeah, it’s a boring pick, but JT has dominated this year. He’s second in the field in long par 4 scoring, first in short par 4 scoring (0.154), and second in par 5 scoring (0.219). Our simulator gives him a 7.26% chance to win, about 1.5% greater than our second highest golfer (McIlroy).

Others Who Could Triumph

Webb Simpson

It’s no secret how much our model loves Simpson, especially on par 70 courses. He’s second to only Justin Thomas in par 4 scoring, and while his specialty is short par 4 scoring, he’s still eighth in the field in long par 4 scoring (0.110). The simulator gives him a 5.02% chance to win, or about 20/1 odds.

Tyrrell Hatton

Another player who excels at long par 4 scoring, Hatton disappointed last week at the WGC St. Jude where he finished tied for 69th. It was his worst finish this season by 55 spots, and we expect he’ll return to form this week in what could be cool, windy conditions that typically favor Englishmen. Our model gives Hatton a 3.90% chance to win, or about 25/1.

Patrick Reed hits from the bunker during the World Golf Championship-FedEx St. Jude Invitational on July 31, 2020.

Patrick Reed

Reed is good at just about everything. Looking at his last five tournaments, he’s above average in all four facets of adjusted strokes gained, though no higher than 30th in any of them. On a course featuring short and long par 3s, short and long par 4s, and some rudimentary par 5s, a player who does everything well is a good bet. Our simulator certainly thinks so, giving Reed a 3.52% chance to win, or about 28/1 odds.

Adam Scott

Scott hasn’t teed it up on the tour since the Players Championship, which was canceled after the first round due to COVID-19. There are a lot of unknowns with a player who hasn’t entered a tournament in so long, but he did take a two-month hiatus at the end of last season as well before coming back and winning The Genesis Invitational. Though better at short par 4s (0.106) than long ones (0.039), Scott gains 0.137 strokes per par 3 tied for the best in the field with John Rahm. Additionally, he isn’t likely to be fazed by the presence of two long par 3s, as his strokes gained is nearly identical for short and long par 3s.

Longshots Who Could Surprise

Harris English watches his tee shot during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament.

Harris English

English is both a great fit for this course and a great fit for this field. His best holes are par 3s and long par 4s, and his variance is only 0.311 strokes per hole – fifth lowest in the field. This means he has a great chance of making the cut and hanging around near the top of the leaderboard. In fact, his 78.41% chance at the cut is higher than more variable golfers Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Cantlay despite having a lower chance of winning than all three.

Kevin Na

With these longer odds golfers, we’re looking for guys who are consistent enough to make the cut, but also variable in the right places to potentially pick up some extra strokes here and there. Like English, Na is one of the least variable golfers in the field, but the one place he is a little erratic is long par 4s. Na is third in the field in par 3 scoring (0.124), which is our consistency, and the potential for scoring on those long par 4s is the variability we’re looking for. Our model gives Na a 69.79% chance to make the cut, which is 27th in the field and even gives him a fighting chance at a victory.

Carlos Ortiz tees off during a practice round ahead of the Travelers Championship on June 24, 2020.

Carlos Ortiz

Ortiz is, plain and simple, a course fit. He actually loses strokes on short par 4s, but he’s 21st in the field on long par 4s (0.079). He’s one of only three golfers (Bubba and Jason Day) in the top 25 in long par 4 scoring who also loses strokes on short par 4s. He’s also consistently good at those long par 4s, where he sees his lowest variability number (0.335). He’s a massive longshot, and we by no means expect him to win, but the data points to a surprise top 20 or even top 10 finish. In fact, his 21.62% chance at cracking the top 20 is better than shorter odds golfers like Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, and Shane Lowry.

J.T. Poston

Like last week, we’re picking Poston because there are only two par 5s. Also like last week, the model indicates he’s a much better choice for a top 10 or 20 finish than to win. His par 3 scoring is fourth in the field, and while he’s much better at short par 3s than long ones, he’s still well above positive for those 200+ yard par 3s. 

Tiger Watch

Tiger Woods hits during the final round of the Memorial golf tournament on July 19, 2020.

While we don’t see a ton of value for picking Tiger this week, we do give him a 2.19% chance of winning and a 77.6% chance of making the cut. There will be some concern about the chilly weather affecting his back and his ability to swing freely, but if his back holds up he should be competing for the top 10 on Sunday.

Favorite DFS Plays (Draftkings)

Webb Simpson ($9700)

Patrick Reed ($8000)

Tyrrell Hatton ($8000)

Adam Scott ($7800)

Abraham Ancer ($7700)

Harris English ($7200)

Kevin Na ($7000)

Favorite DFS Fades

Brooks Koepka ($11000)

Yes, Koepka always turns it up for majors, but his driving was a bit erratic last weekend. With the expected brutal rough, a course favoring a draw, and Koepka playing a fade, the model steers clear of Koepka.

Viktor Hovland ($8500)

Hovland is going to be a star, but the data indicates that this course could be a bad matchup for him. He’s a little too inconsistent with his short game to back in a loaded field, and we like any of Reed, Hatton, Scott, or Ancer better than Vik this week.


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