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The PGA Championship traditionally has the strongest and deepest field of all Major Championships. The PGA of America event returns, for only the 2nd time, to A.W. Tillinghast's Baltusrol Golf Club which is a 45 minute drive from Manhattan. This long par 70 is a classical design which will undoubtedly stretch the world's best players who'll play in hot conditions watched by the Big Apple's well renowned noisy galleries.
Paul Williams has also picked a few longshots, a first round leader punt and some selections for the King's Cup - you can read his thoughts here.
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Course Guide: Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey is a private members club with plenty of New York's elite paying annual membership fees of around $100,000. The course is only 25 miles west of Manhattan. It's a Bastian of golf in the area, with its Lower Course having hosted 7 United States Opens and the 2005 PGA Championship. That fact in itself will tell you that this classical golf course is no pushover and although the PGA of America do not set such strenuous tests as their USGA cousins, no player has ever won around here at double digits under par. Tree-lined, the course will play at 7,400+ yards making it one of the longest Majors played on a par 70.
Lower Course, Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, New Jersey: Designer: A.W. Tillinghast 1922, with Rees Jones renovation 2009; Course Type: Classical, Technical; Par: 70; Length: 7,462 yards; Water Hazards: 2; Fairways: Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass with Poa Annua 5"; Greens: 6,400 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Stimpmeter: +13ft; PGA Championship 2005 Average Score: 72.45 (+2.45), Difficulty Rank 3 of 55 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Baltusrol and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: Scoring at Baltusrol won't be easy, especially as the course should be set to play fast and firm with pretty punishing rough surrounding pinched-width fairways. Bentgrass/poa annua green complexes won't be Oakmont fast, but don't expect a pin-seeking birdie-fest. The shortest of the par 3s is 195 yards, with 4 of the par 4s on the front side of the course measuring in at 480+ yards. A couple of par 5s is standard fare on any par 70 set-up, but here on the Lower Course they are the final 2 holes. At 650 yards, the 17th will only be reachable to the very longest, making the closing 553 yard 18th a vital hole for any player wishing to contend for the Wannamaker Trophy. Historically individual low-scoring rounds are a feature of Majors held at Baltusrol (take Thomas Bjorn's 3rd round 63 here in 2004) as the course is a fair test, especially after the first 7 holes, but any player wanting to contend across the 4 days will need to have mastered their long game from outside of 200 yards.
Winners: 2015: Jason Day (-20); 2014: Rory McIlroy (-16); 2013: Jason Dufner (-10); 2012: Rory McIlroy (-13); 2011: Keegan Bradley (-8); 2010: Martin Kaymer (-11); 2009: Y.E. Yang (-8).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week which are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published PGA Championship predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to TPC Four Seasons/K Club and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Day 14/1; 2014: McIlroy 5/1F; 2013: Dufner 40/1; 2012: McIlroy 20/1; 2011: Bradley 175/1; 2010: Kaymer 50/1; 2009: Yang 150/1. Average: 65/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for the area is here. New Jersey has been particularly hot and relatively dry throughout June and July so expect firm conditions on Thursday. Thunderstorms cannot be ruled out throughout Friday with temperatures reaching around 30 degrees Celsius across tournament week. Winds will be light, picking up slightly in the afternoons.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of the US PGA Championship since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this type of test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
You can work statistics to form any kind of argument, but taking the last 6 PGA Championship renewals into account, Greens in Regulation and Putts per GIR have been the most important skills followed by Driving Distance. These differ quite significantly from the same exercise covering the recent US Open at Oakmont where Scrambling and Greens in Regulation were the most important skill-sets followed by Putts per GIR. Below are the tournament skill statistics for the top 3 finishers at the PGA Championship held here in 2005:
With a course the length of Baltusrol and the fact that the PGA Championship roll of honour is dominated by longer types, you would expect the 2005 stats to highlight that Driving Distance was key, especially with Phil Mickelson triumphing. However Lefty, Bjorn and Elkington played very cagily on the measured holes, taking shorter clubs off the tee for position. Remember the rough here at Baltusrol was particularly long, so a level of accuracy was definitely needed from the tee. Instead of outright power, Phil eventually won because of his natural gift with the putter. A trend that continues with Thomas Bjorn who's an exceptional putter when on form and Lee Janzen who won the 1993 US Open here. In summary, Baltusrol is a traditionally classical course which is just plain difficult, so focus on those who can play tactically from the tee, hit plenty of greens and are comfortable on Bentgrass/Poa Annua putting surfaces.
So let's take a view from players as to how Baltusrol played in 2005:
Phil Mickelson: "I think Baltusrol is just a very hard, straightforward, fair test of golf. I can't say enough good things about it. If it does rain and stay wet, it will play longer, but I also think it will allow for lower scoring, because of two reasons. One, the ball will stay in the fairways a lot easier than if they firm up; and two, hitting shots into the green, although we might be hitting a long iron, a 3 , 4 or 5 iron, having the ball stop quickly on those fast greens is going to be a huge help. So if it stays wet, I think we'll see lower scores than if it dries out.
I think that Augusta is a course where length is a big factor, no question. But here, the rough is so penalizing well, the difference between here and Augusta is that the fairways are, one, a little tighter here, and the rough is a lot thicker. If you do hit it into the rough, you are having a very difficult time saving par, so even though you might be a slightly shorter hitter, hitting out of the fairway allows you to get a lot closer to the green and make pars and birdies.
The first seven holes are by far the meat and toughest part of the course in my opinion. If you can somehow squeak through those first seven holes at even par, you should be able to have a pretty good round. Now, it doesn't mean that the last 11 holes are a pushover; they certainly are not that, but you have shorter irons in if you can hit the fairways and more birdie opportunities; whereas 3 and 7 are converted par 5s, they play very difficult, you'd be very thankful just to get a par there. The 4th hole is one heck of a hole; it's one of the toughest par 3s we'll see, it's just a very difficult test of golf. The first seven holes are by far the toughest."
Padraig Harrington: "It's a very fair golf course, it's all there in front of you. It's not tricked up in any way, so it's just there's not much you can say except for it's really a fair course. It's a difficult enough golf course, but I don't think anybody can have any complaints about it. There's not a huge amount of wedge shots out there, that's for sure. That's something that normally would be pretty strong in my game, but it's not required. Chipping and bunker play and putting is going to be important with the longer shots in, and sometimes if you miss the fairway off the tee, the rough isn't as heavy as some of the other majors. It's not that you're going to be able to hit the green, but you should be able to advance the ball forward. Chipping and putting always is important at every major, but this one is probably asking a little bit more. A player who hits a lot of fairways and greens this week will do well. It's a solid golf course. I think to be honest, it can be played a number of ways, but it doesn't suit one player in particular."
Path to Victory:
Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners plus Phil Mickelson in 2005:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Winning prices in the PGA Championship vary significantly. Short prices such as Rory McIlroy - who has won this title twice at 20/1 (2012) and 5/1 (2014) - and last year's winner Jason Day at 14/1 have had much recent success. Throw in Jason Dufner at 40/1 in 2013 and the last 4 PGA Championships have been won at just under 20/1. This trend marries nicely with 2016's Major winners who have come in at 66/1, 16/1 and 30/1 respectively. However Keegan Bradley and Y.E. Yang have both shocked the golfing world since 2009 and I wouldn't put anyone off backing some tasty triple-digit players this week either.
However I'm going for a group of 4 players who I think Baltusrol will favour. A distinctly technical and lengthy course for a par 70, the Lower Course will punish those who are constantly missing fairways and the course will appeal to those who like strategic play and love Bentgrass/Poa Annua putting surfaces. It's also hard to ignore a key fact that 14 of the last 16 PGA Champions (88%) had already won a tournament in the same season prior to winning the PGA Championship.
My selections are as follows:
Henrik Stenson seems the sensible sort and although many will be put off by the fact that he captured his first Major Championship at Royal Troon the week before last, the Lower Course at Baltusrol will undoubtedly suit the strategic mindset of the amiable Swede. The big question naturally is whether Stenson will 'switch off' after what many commentators seem to think will be his summit when it comes to career achievements. A look at the task that sits before Henrik in New Jersey this week though will encourage punters. Since 1994, Nick Price, Tiger Woods (twice), Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy have lifted both the Claret Jug and the Wannamaker Trophy in the same season.
It could be argued that all of the above had won a Major prior to doing the Open/PGA double but, in modern golf, form momentum seems to be increasingly more important and, as Jordan Spieth proved last season by winning at Augusta and Chambers Bay, instantly backing up a first Major win is more than achievable. Henrik himself seems to take wins in his stride and it's more than noteworthy that he has won in consecutive tournaments before - 2007 Dubai Desert Classic and the WGC-World Matchplay Championship - and that he can carry his form across long periods of time. Remember 2013 when he finished 2nd (Scottish Open)-3rd (Open Championship)-2nd (Bridgestone)-3rd (PGA Championship) followed by wins in the Deutsche Bank, The Tour Championship and DP World Tour Championship. Henrik stays hot.
Another angle that impresses me with Stenson is his PGA Championship record. 47th here in 2005 where he shot a Friday 67, Henrik has since finished 4th (2007 Southern Hills), 6th (2009 Hazletine), 3rd (2013 Oak Hill) with another 3rd only 2 years ago (2014 Valhalla). When he plays at his very best - with a short game that fires - he can be virtually impossible to beat and strong north-eastern Unites States results going back to the 2009 US Open hosted at Tillinghast's Bethpage Black do nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for the 40 year-old this week.
Sergio Garcia is next up. A winner at TPC Four Seasons in May, Garcia's settled life off the course is shining through with his golf right now and the Spaniard has always played well around the 'Big Apple'. A winner at the Westchester Country Club in 2004, 2nd in a Play-Off to Vijay Singh at Ridgewood in 2008 and 3rd at Bethpage Black in 2009 highlights a player who is adept around these parts. Bethpage Black is a Tillinghast design and it's worth noting that Garcia also finished 4th there at the 2002 US Open, backing that up with 10th there in 2009 - Phil Mickelson was 2nd at both tournaments. When looking at other correlating course form, previous winners here Phil Mickelson, Lee Janzen and Steve Elkington have all won at TPC Sawgrass - Garcia's undoubted favourite layout - and Mickelson and Elkington have also been winners at Riviera Country Club - Garcia has been 4th there across 2012 and 2014 (where he should have won). Current form of 3-54-1-5-5-5 deserves masses of respect and includes each-way payouts at the last 2 Major Championships. Garcia's mix of accurate power aligned with an improving short game makes the Spaniard a must-back for me this week.
As regular readers will know, I often back Brandt Snedeker when his form allows. An excellent putter by trade, the World Number 21 is a lover of tough, classical golf courses and he shines on putting surfaces which include the troublesome poa annua. Snedeker is the kind of player who has the potential to be a Major winner and undoubtedly had a golden chance to snare his 2nd PGA Tour title of 2016 at Glen Abbey over the weekend. His near miss might prove to be a good thing for the Sea Island, Georgia resident in the long run though. Typical, booming PGA Championship drag-strips don't really set up well for Brandt who hasn't got the brute power to take on the likes of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. However Baltusrol, which can definitely respond to accurate driving and a deft touch around the greens, should be a really attractive proposition to 'Sneds' whose wins across Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and East Lake correlate well with 2004 Lower Course winner Phil Mickelson who has 8 wins across the same courses. Snedeker has putted well in his last 3 outings and that, married to some decent ball-striking at Glen Abbey, signifies a player who can challenge this week, especially as he finished 2nd at The Barclays tournament held at Tillinghast's Bethpage Black in 2013. 8 Major top 10 finishes highlights a player who can mix it at the highest level and a strong week will guarantee his Ryder Cup spot.
Jason Dufner is a great option this week as he sits 12th and 3rd across my 10-week rolling Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation tracker. The 2013 PGA Championship winner also surprises on the basis that he can average well over 300 yards when he feels that he needs to be aggressive and his top-end ball-striking game is made for Major Championship golf. A winner at PGA West back in January, Dufner finished 8th at the Oakmont-hosted US Open last month and his CV contains a number of excellent performances in the northern United States including of course his Oak Hill win, not too far away in New York state. 5th at Whistling Straits (2010) and 2nd at Atlanta Athletic Club (2011), where he should have won, highlight a stellar PGA Championship record. A pair of 4th place finishes across Olympic Club (2012) and Merion (2013) clearly indicate a player who loves tough, classical golf courses. So I can see Dufner being at the top end of the leaderboard this week after an Open Championship career best 22nd last time out at Royal Troon.
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