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Welcome to our 2018 PGA Championship coverage. Bellerive Country Club in St Louis, Missouri, welcomes 156 players this week for the 100th PGA Championship. Naturally after his win in Ohio last week, Justin Thomas will be incredibly popular at 14/1 this week; World Number 1 Dustin Johnson heads the betting at 10/1, but as is the norm these days at the highest level of golf, the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods are all 25/1 or shorter in what looks to be a very open affair.
The PGA Championship traditionally has the strongest and deepest field of all Major Championships and 2018 is no exception. We're also in for a real treat as the PGA of America takes their Major Championship to the historic Bellerive course, which has seen Major Championship action across the 1965 U.S. Open and the 1992 PGA Championship. Those titles were won by Gary Player and World Number 1 Nick Price, highlighting that quality wins around here.
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Course Guide: Bellerive Country Club is located in the Mid-West of the United States, in St Louis, Missouri. An established Country Club with heritage going back to the 19th Century, we are talking a traditional, old-style, tree-lined golf course. This particular course was built in 1951 and is the original design of the master course architect Trent Jones. It's also seen a couple of recent re-designs from his son Rees Jones, lengthening and naturally toughening the course. What else would you expect from the 'Open Doctor.'
Bellerive is a parkland, tree-lined, classic, which in its current guise is plenty long enough. It also has some particularly quirky aspects, including very severe contoured greens and Zoysiagrass fairways, the likes of which you find in the south-east of the United States.
Bellerive Country Club, St Louis, Missouri: Designer: Trent Jones with 2005 & 2013 Rees Jones renovations; Course Type: Classical; Par: 70; Length: 7,316 yards; Water Hazards: 16; Fairways: Meyer Zoysiagrass; Rough: Winning Colours Fescues 3"; Greens: 7,600 sq.ft average featuring A4 Creeping Bentgrass; Tournament Stimp: 11-11.5ft; Course Scoring Average 1992 PGA Championship: 73.92 (+2.92), Difficulty Rank 2 of 54 courses. 2008 BMW Championship: 69.37 (-0.63), Difficulty Rank 35 of 54 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Bellerive and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Trent Jones & Rees Jones designs /re-designs include:
Course Overview: Bellerive Country Club is undoubtedly going to be a stern test for the 2018 PGA Championship. The course will play as a very stiff Par 70 at over 7,300 yards, featuring only 2 par-5s. An old-style, parkland course set in the West of St Louis, Missouri, the course is a Trent Jones original. The last time the PGA Tour visited Bellerive was back in 2008 when it hosted the BMW Championship - tournament 3 of the inaugural 4 event FedEx Cup Playoffs. The tournament that week was awash with precipitation, so with soft conditions likely this week, it's an angle to pursue in terms of research.
Off the tee fairways are of moderate width, with 300 yard landing areas pinched at 26 yards wide. Not too thin, but rough is sure to be penal. However two real features that stand out about the course are the rare Zoysiagrass fairways and the extremely contoured greens. Zoysiagrass is a rarity on the PGA Tour with only TPC Southwind, Trinity Forest and East Lake featuring this kind of grass, which is renowned for its springy nature. Plenty of professionals claim it promotes flyers, whilst others like the way the ball tends to sit up on it. Either way, it's another research angle to attack. Secondly, there was plenty of comment back in 2008 that the greens were very severe. It never really mattered back then as constant deluges during the tournament made them extremely receptive, but it's worth recognising that with such serious green contouring, stimpmeter ratings of around 11 with be the maximum we'll see this week - that's quite slow for a Major Championship. New green complexes sculptured by Rees Jones created small target areas within each huge green complex, where approach accuracy is rewarded with a birdie opportunity. Stray away from those, and 3-putt territory is a real reality.
All-in-all, a 7,300+ yard, Par 70 screams controlled power off the tee from the rooftops. There will certainly be a view this week that Bellerive will offer all in the field a chance of success and I can see that. Much will depend on turf conditions, but for me it's worth recognising that Nick Price won the 1992 PGA Championship here when the course played as a 7,148 yard, Par 70. He ranked 18th that week for Driving Distance. A post Rees Jones renovated Bellerive in 2008 saw the course play to an extended 7,324 yard, Par 70 format for the BMW Championship - very similar to what we'll see this week. Camilo Villegas was the victor that week - who across 2008 ranked in the top 50 for Driving Distance on the PGA Tour and was the 18th longest driver on the week. So a level of power off the tee, again would seem to be an advantage in my view. What we should potentially be looking for though in-general are players, who can be accurate with their approaches, and who are comfortable in soft conditions.
It's also worth recognising on a course where greens are described by Jim Furyk as having, "a lot of slope, there's a lot going on, a lot of ridges, a lot of swales, huge humps and bumps," that strong putters came to the fore here at the 2008 BMW. Villegas across that year ranked 15th for Putts per GIR on the PGA Tour, whereas his closest pursuers - namely, Dudley Hart, Jim Furyk and Anthony Kim - all ranked in the top 40 for Strokes Gained Putting that season.
Winners: 2017: Justin Thomas (-8); 2016: Jimmy Walker (-14); 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's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes. NEW! Combined Current and Course Form is now available here.
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm and Tony Finau.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Memorial Tournament & Italian Open and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2017: Thomas 45/1; : 2016: Jimmy Walker 150/1; 2015: Day 14/1; 2014: McIlroy 5/1F; 2013: Dufner 40/1; 2012: McIlroy 20/1; 2011: Bradley 175/1; 2010: Kaymer 50/1. Average: 62/1.
Weather Forecast: Latest PGA Tour weather forecast for St Louis, Missouri is here. Ground conditions allied to strength of wind always affect the target score greatly, especially at a Major Championship. In total 53mm of rain fell on St Louis late into last week and that must have had an affect on the speed of the course. With a 60% chance of further rain across Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, we could see a course which is receptive on Thursday at least. Wind across the whole tournament will be light so I'm expecting a tournament where a low double-digit under par score is required for victory, on a course which will continue to dry.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 8 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:
Here's some recent comments on the Bellerive course and how it sets up:
Justin Thomas (2018): "It's a great course. You can tell - it's a great driving golf course. Driving is going to be premium. The holes are - have great shape to them. A lot of them kind of go out and then dogleg and then kind of are still aware if you're going to want to challenge it to go farther up you're going to really need to be precise, so it's like, I'm going to need to hit 3-wood here or - a great example would be like, I felt like 10 or like 18 where you kind of want to hit it out to the dogleg, but then if you get a little help or you get a little downwind, if I want to challenge that, my area to hit it in is going to be a lot smaller, where I'm going to have the reward of having maybe a wedge or 9-iron as opposed to a 7- or 6-iron, but coming into greens this severe and with this many tears and slopes, shorter putts are going to be a big advantage. It's definitely going to be a lot of practice on the drivers and 3-woods."
Jim Furyk (2008): "When we got here, to be honest with you, it wasn't firm. It was quite soft when we arrived, and then with all that rain, it's got no chance of drying up I don't think for tomorrow. The greens were definitely a little quicker today than they were yesterday. They were a little sticky yesterday. I thought they had a little bit more speed to them today. I could see them getting a little firmer, a little faster, but I think with all that rain, we're going to be dealing with soft conditions. You know, the penalty here on this golf course is the greens are severe. There's a lot of slope, there's a lot going on, a lot of ridges, a lot of swales, huge humps and bumps. The greens are sectioned off into little areas, and being this soft, we can fire at the flags and stop the ball. If the conditions were - to be quite honest with you, you can't get the conditions very firm and fast or the greens wouldn't be playable in spots to be honest with you. This isn't a place where you're ever going to have the greens rolling 13 and firm because you honestly wouldn't be able to play them. So they're very, very severe to be honest with you."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 8 US PGA Championship winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of pure Bentgrass green PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Winning prices in the PGA Championship vary significantly. Short prices such as Rory McIlroy - who's won this title twice at 20/1 (2012) and 5/1 (2014) - and Jason Day at 14/1 (2015) have had much recent success. Throw in defending champion Justin Thomas at 45/1 and Jason Dufner at 40/1 in 2013 and 5 of the last 6 PGA Championships have been won at 45/1 or less. The exception is Jimmy Walker who played brilliantly at Baltusrol in 2016 to lead from start to finish and capture his first Major title at an unbelievable (after the tournament) 150/1. He joined Keegan Bradley (2011) and Y.E. Yang (2009) who won at 175/1 and 150/1 respectively.
It's also hard to ignore some key facts: 14 of the last 17 PGA Champions (82%) had already won a tournament in the same season prior to winning the PGA Championship. On top of that, the Bridgestone Invitational cannot be overlooked. Since the Akron-based tournament became the PGA 'warm up' event in 2006, the winner of the PGA Championship has always been in the Bridgestone field and has always finished in the top 28 of the tournament. With a disturbed schedule in 2016 due to the Olympics, Jimmy Walker also finished 16th at Firestone South and 15th the week before at the RBC Canadian Open hosted at Glen Abbey.
For more detail on the historical trends for the US PGA Championship you can read my earlier preview here.
My final PGA Championship tips for 2018 are as follows:
Justin Thomas captured his first WGC title last week with consummate ease and I think he'll be a huge factor again this week at Bellerive. Naturally it's exceptionally close at the top of the betting between World Number 1 Dustin Johnson, 2-time PGA Championship Champion Rory McIlroy and World Number 2 Thomas, but I'm siding with Justin. Yes there are downsides: he's the defending champion - often perceived as a negative; he's also grouped with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy across Thursday/Friday. But for me Thomas is the real deal who, like Brooks Koepka at the U.S.Open, can certainly defend his title this week.
With no adverse weather forecast for the week, Bellerive in my eyes will suit a player with power off the tee, razor sharp-approach play and a naturally confident putter who can tackle the intricate green complexes. 11th for Fairways Hit, 3rd for Total Driving, 2nd for Greens in Regulation, 1st for Proximity to Hole, 4th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 4th for Strokes Gained Putting last week at Firestone unsurprisingly amounted to a 4-stroke victory over the world's best. And there are other plus points which make him a must-back this week. Thomas defended his first ever PGA Tour title back in 2016 when he won the CIMB Classic. He's also gone back-to-back with wins when taking the SBS Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in January 2017. In effect, when JT is hot he's worth following - especially when he's hitting greens with aplomb, another example of which was his playoff defeat to Phil Mickelson at the WGC Mexico Championship, the week after winning the Honda Classic in February this year.
With 9 main Tour wins since November 2015 - only Dustin Johnson beats that with 10 - Justin is the sort who will arrive in St Louis, relishing the challenge and I get the feeling he'll think the job is only half done. I love his correlating course form with 3rd at TPC Sawgrass (2016) and 2nd at East Lake (2017) fitting in well with Camilo Villegas who won the 2008 BMW Championship here. And Thomas clearly has no issues with Zoysiagrass fairways, finishing 6th and 2nd at East Lake on his only 2 appearances on the surface. RESULT: T6
Brooks Koepka can't be overlooked this week either. The 28 year-old from West Palm Beach, Florida just lives for the Majors and his record since the 2014 U.S. Open is exceptional: 4th at Pinehurst Number 2 that year has been followed by 10th at St Andrews (2015 Open Championship), 5th at the Whistling Straits (2015 PGA Championship), 4th at Baltusrol (2016 PGA Championship), 1st at Erin Hills (2017 U.S. Open), 6th at Royal Birkdale (2017 Open Championship) and 1st at Shinnecock Hills (2018 U.S. Open). He's power-packed, versatile, putts well and simply loves tough golf courses. So I think Bellerive will play to his strengths this week and, as Rich Beem said in commentary at the Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, "Brooks is just lurking, waiting for next week." Indeed his play at Firestone was simply too good to ignore. 1st for Driving Distance, 25th for Fairways Hit, 4th for Total Driving, 1st for Greens in Regulation, 4th for Proximity to Hole, 4th for Strokes Gained on Approach and 1st for Strokes Gained Tee to Green highlights a player who's ready for a Major Championship test. When the putter fires watch out.
Another huge positive for Brooks this week is his obvious liking for Zoysiagrass. 3rd (2015) and 2nd (2016) at TPC Southwind, allied to 6th at East Lake (2017) show that he can cope with the surface with no problems whatsoever. The perfect player for tough, parkland, golf courses, a third Major title in 16 months is certainly not out of the question and a victory this week would see Koepka elevated to World Number 2. RESULT: Winner
In a world where 10 of the past 12 Major Champions have been first-time winners, covering off a maiden can't be a bad approach. Rickie Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood and Jon Rahm are the most likely from an odds perspective and all 3 could well feature; Bryson DeChambeau is far too big a price for a likely Ryder Cup starter and Patrick Cantlay is sure to have his admirers. From the European side, Thorbjorn Olesen is playing some super stuff and looks like he will be forcing his way into one of Thomas Bjorn's Captain's Picks. As ever Marc Leishman and Brandon Grace always hold appeal. But at an event where 5 of the last 6 PGA Championships have been won at 45/1 or less, and on the basis that I have favoured with Thomas and Koepka of the shorter prices, I can't look past Tony Finau who has become a Major Championship performer. Now a 4-time Major top 10 performer who went very close to winning the Shinnecock U.S. Open in June, Finau should arrive in Missouri both confident and motivated. A back-door 10th at Firestone last week was his best ever at a World Golf Championship and after a career-best season he finds himself in the mix for a Team USA Ryder Cup spot. With Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods likely locks, 3 spots are up for grabs across Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar, Kyle Stanley and Finau himself. So the Salt Lake City, Utah-based World number 29 has plenty to play for across this week and into the FedEx Cup Playoffs. 11th for Greens in Regulation, 5th for Proximity to Hole and 13th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green at Firestone show exactly what his strengths are and his CV is littered with excellent results across some of the United States most famous, tough golf courses. RESULT: T42
US PGA Championship Longshots
He might not be everybody's cup of tea, but Kevin Kisner for me is one to follow at triple digits this week. The World Number 28 seems to focus these days purely on the big tournaments and he's featured in plenty over the last 18 months: 2nd at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, 1st at the Dean & Deluca Invitational, 6th at The Memorial, 7th at the PGA Championship - he led for huge chunks - 3rd at the Tour Championship, 2nd at the WGC-Dell Match Play and 2nd at the Open Championship. Big boy events on very strong golf courses. Bigger green complexes will help the South Carolinian this week and the severity of them can only help a player who ranks 7th for Strokes Gained Putting on the PGA Tour this season. And the Zoysiagrass fairways will hold no fears for the 34 year-old. 5th after 54 holes at TPC Southwind as long ago as 2012 when Kisner was a relative nobody - he eventually finished 13th - Kevin was also 3rd at East Lake 10 months ago. And this is the point with 'KK' - who is very much a short track specialist. 2nd at both TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town in 2015 tallies beautifully with previous course winners in Price and Villegas. And lets not forget Kevin was very, very close to winning at Carnoustie only 3 weeks ago. RESULT: T12
In Nick Price and Camilo Villegas, the two previous winners here at Bellerive, correlating courses which jump from their resumes are Harbour Town and TPC Sawgrass. Price won the Players Championship in 1993 and the MCI Classic in 1997. Camilo Villegas won the Tour Championship in 2008 and was 5th at Harbour Town in 2010, nestled amongst a couple of other top 10s at Hilton Head. Jim Furyk was 3rd to Villegas at the 2008 BMW Championship and his resume includes 2 wins at Harbour Town and plenty of near misses at TPC Sawgrass. So I'm more than just interested in Si Woo Kim this week. A member of the World's Top 50 (a nice spot looking at a long list of consecutive Major and PGA Championship winners), the South Korean won the Players Championship last year and came agonisingly close to winning the RBC Heritage this year at Harbour Town. He also captured his maiden PGA Tour title in 2016 at Sedgefield Country Club, a course where Camilo Villegas again won at in 2014. So there's a lot of course form to like about Kim whose inbound form of 67(Open Championship)-29(Canadian Open)-10(Bridgestone) is clearly improving. The key with Si Woo is to recognise when his game is on the up-swing and pounce, because as standard with the Asian players, his price seems like real value. With soft conditions likely this week, Si Woo was only 3 shots back of the lead at Firestone after 36 holes last week when the course had cut and had receptive greens. A top 10 finish was excellent, propelled by his 2nd in Strokes Gained Putting. With an improving Major Championship record - 12th Erin Hills last year and 24th at Augusta this year - I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see the talented 23 year-old, whose short game is on fire at the moment, become a factor in St Louis. RESULT: MC
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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