Damien Kayat previews the 103rd edition of the PGA Championship which is set to take place at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
The Professional Golfers Association of America was formed in February 1916 under the guidance of wealthy entrepreneur Rodman Wanamaker (after which the gigantic trophy is named). The very first US PGA Championship was staged in 1916 and played in Matchplay format. The US PGA Championship was long considered the ugly duckling of the Major roster. It often felt overshadowed in its old August scheduling, with many of the players already winding down their schedules after three tough Major Championships. This was only exacerbated by the inception of the FedEx Cup Series in 2007. Something had to be done to give the tournament a proper sense of gravitas. In 2019 the PGA made the ingenious decision to move the event to May, thus making it the 2nd Major of the calendar year. The Open Championship and requisite trip to Britain just makes sense as the final epic part of the Major calendar.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort was designed by Pete and Alice Dye. This severely exposed course hugs the Atlantic Ocean and provides stunning views of the Kiawah coastline (Alice Dye was actually the one who suggested raising the fairways to allow unobstructed views of the Kiawah Coast). This course came to prominence when it hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup- dubbed the ‘War on the Shore’. The usually metronomic German Bernhard Langer missed a six-foot par putt that would have helped Europe retain the Ryder Cup. It also hosted the 2012 US PGA Championship that Rory McIlroy absolutely dominated. This course is an absolute beast. While stats from 2012 suggest that power isn’t everything at the Ocean Course, I think that it will likely play a bigger factor this year.
The number of guys who get it out there has increased massively over the past decade. The ‘Bryson Effect’ is going to have massive ramifications for the game in general. The Bermuda rough is expected to be extremely punitive this week. The paspalum fairways will also offer an unusual twist from regular Major Championship conditions. The conditions will be far tougher this week than 2012. That year saw a softened course yield more scoring opportunities. A May event will invite much faster and harder conditions. Wind will obviously play a huge factor this week. The course is tough enough in docile conditions. But add some wind and you have a real brute on your hands. In that sense, it should like a British Seaside Links. Players with the ability to vary their ball flight and hit those low bullets should thrive. Scrambling abilities will also be crucial this week.
Rory McIlroy is the betting favourite this week following his 3rd victory at Quail Hollow. Yes, he did win this event on this very course by a record eight strokes. But the soft, receptive conditions suited him to the bone in 2012. I just don’t think I’m fully comfortable with backing Rory at 11/1 following his first victory in nearly two years. Jon Rahm has been consistent this season without any of the pyrotechnics that saw him duelling with Dustin Johnson last year (Dustin Johnson looks quite appealing at 18/1). Players Champion Justin Thomas will be a factor while Viktor Hovland is starting to emerge as a real Major threat. But perhaps the most enthralling subplot belongs to Jordan Spieth. The Texan has played some brilliant golf this year and he is looking to seal the career Grand Slam at the age of 27. The former Open Champion has proven to be a links maestro and he could very well be in contention this week. And let’s not forget defending champion Collin Morikawa, who’s currently trading at an inviting 33/1.
2020: Collin Morikawa (-13)
2019: Brooks Koepka (-8)
2018: Brooks Koepka (-16)
2017: Justin Thomas (-8)
2016: Jimmy Walker (-14)
To Win Outright:
Rory McIlroy 11/1
Jon Rahm 14/1
Justin Thomas 16/1
Jordan Spieth 16/1
Dustin Johnson 18/1
Daniel Berger: To Win 30/1 | To Place 13/2
Berger is the epitome of consistency. He has 5 top 10’s in 14 starts on tour this season. He perhaps hasn’t been quite as devastating as he was at his peak in 2020. Nonetheless, he’s still a fascinating dark horse in this very unpredictable event. He already has a victory this season at the AT&T Pebble Beach. He also finished in a tie for 3rd at last week’s Byron Nelson Classic. Berger is excellent in windy conditions and enters this event in great form. He finished in a tie for 13th last year at Harding Park. He also finished in a tie for 12th at Bellerive in 2018.
Dylan Frittelli: To Win 275/1 | To Place 60/1
This is one for the dreamers. Frittelli tasted victory on tour at the 2019 John Deere Classic. His form has really been in the toilet this year. But he does tend to elevate his game on tough stages. He did manage a surprising tie for 5th at last year’s Masters. He also almost cracked a top 20 at this year’s Players. I’m drawn towards him for three reasons. Firstly, he hits the ball a mile. Secondly, he currently sits 3rd on tour for SG: Around-The-Green. Finally, he just screams value. 60/1 in the place markets is surely worth a go.
The Man to Beat
Viktor Hovland: To Win 20/1 | To Place 44/10
This Norwegian talent has all the ingredients to match the exploits of fellow college star Collin Morikawa. This is a brutal tee-to-green test and Hovland has fast established himself as one of the best ball strikers on the planet: he currently sits 6th on tour for Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green. He has victories at the Puerto Rico Open and Mayakoba Classic (both of those events are played on this unique, sticky paspalum grass). In fact, the last time he competed on paspalum he finished 6th at the Saudi International. Incredibly, Hovland has finished inside the top 6 in 8 of his last 13 events. He just seems primed for Major success at some point.
Some Tasty Mulligans
Mark Leishman: Top 10 Finish at 5/1
Leishman fits the mould this week. He hits those low bullets that can pierce the windy conditions. He won a title alongside Cameron Smith in New Orleans. More importantly, he contended heavily at Augusta, ultimately settling for a T5 finish. He also finished in a tie for 2nd at the 2015 Open which further highlights his abilities in the wind. This is a no-brainer.
Robert Macintyre: Top Left-Handed Player at 7/2
Macintyre is coming for a solid T8 at the British Masters. But it could have been so much better had his tee-shot at the par 3 7th actually remained in the hole. It miraculously shot out and proceeded to evacuate the green. Macintyre is a short-game maestro who can scramble the lights out. He also had an impressive T12 at this year’s Masters.
Charl Schwartzel: Top Rest of World at 18/1
The former Masters Champion has mounted a terrific mini-resurgence in recent months. He has finished inside the top 26 in each of his last four events. That includes a magnificent T3 last week. He also finished runner-up alongside Louis Oosthuizen at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.