The First Round Leader (FRL) market is fascinating given there are many ways to review the data to hand. How does the weather forecast impact conditions? Will it be softer earlier, firmer later, windier for some, warmer for others? What tee times have the recent FRL winners had? Have the recent FRL winners started well in this event in the past? Have the recent FRL winners started well in their recent events, have they even been playing well in recent events? Lots of questions and the odd red herring along the way I’m sure, however I think there are a few factors to consider which might help point us in the right direction.
We have 2 angles of attack this week given that the US PGA Championship moves around from course to course, plus there’s The Barclays held here in 2016 & 2012 and the US Open in 2009 & further back in 2002 to review.
Looking at the US PGA Championship history first, going back to 2011 the morning wave has produced 8 of the 12 players who either led or co-led after day 1 in this event. The exceptions to the rule were Adam Scott who matched Jim Furyk’s 65 from a 13:45 tee time in 2013, Ryan Palmer who also shot 65 the year after to co-lead with Kevin Chappell and Lee Westwood, Kevin Kisner who equalled Thorbjorn Olesen’s early 67 in 2017 at Quail Hollow from a 13:55 tee time, then Gary Woodland who broke our hearts last year from a 13:26 tee time to pip Rickie Fowler by shooting 64.
With the exception of the aforementioned Ryan Palmer, all first round leaders since 2011 had shown some snippets of form in the very recent past. 6 of Woodland’s previous 8 rounds had been in the 60s prior to shooting 64 in the first round round at Bellerive in August. In 2017 Kisner was 3rd after the first round in Ohio and Olesen had finished 10th overall courtesy of a 67/75 weekend. Jimmy Walker, who led from wire-to-wire in 2016 to capture his maiden Major title, had also started brightly at the Bridgestone and sat 2nd after 18 holes whereas Dustin Johnson, who led the US PGA on his own in 2015 after a first round 66, had also produced some good opening form at Akron where he was 2nd going into the weekend. Essentially a spark of life in the very recent past seems to be a good pointer for this.
Looking at the 2012 and 2016 Barclays tournaments held here, we see a similar pattern emerging in both events where early starters had by far the best of it on day 1. In 2012, Padraig Harrington shot 64 from a 7.32am tee time to lead after day 1 from Nick Watney (7.43am) and Brian Harman (8.27am) and, of the 4 players who finished in a tie for 4th after 18 holes, only Jimmy Walker (12.33pm) had an afternoon tee time. In 2016, Patrick Reed and Martin Laird shared the lead after 18 holes from 8.15am and 8.37am tee times respectively and similarly to 2012, only one of the players in a tie for 3rd after day 1, J.B. Holmes, had an afternoon tee time (12.33pm). The 2009 US Open would appear to throw this out with PM starters dominating, however crucially there were severe weather delays that year and PM tee times didn’t get started until Friday mid-morning.
Looking at the form of those players who topped the FRL markets at The Barclays events, Padraig Harrington had been playing well in decent company with 8th place at The Masters and 4th at the US Open that season. 61 to open at the Transitions Championship earlier that year was good enough for the first round lead and 69 in the 3rd round at the US PGA Championship (finished 18th) on his previous start was amongst the best efforts on the day and signalled some intent. In 2016, Patrick Reed had already recorded a FRL win and 3 FRL 2nd place finishes in the season and opened with a round of 66 at the Wyndham Championship the week before coming here, plus he recorded a 3rd round 64 to suggest he was scoring very nicely; Martin Laird had also shown some promise with a FRL at the Barracuda Championship the previous month when he opened with a round of 65, plus 66 to open on his next start was good enough for a tie for 3rd after day 1. 9 from 12 of Laird’s previous rounds heading into The Barclays that year had been in the 60s so again there was enough to suggest he could start quickly.
The latest weather forecast for Farmingdale, New York is here. Early morning showers should quickly clear to leave a dry and sunny day with temperatures reaching the mid-60s Fahrenheit by the middle of the afternoon on Thursday. The rain will further soften what is already looking to be a long, soft golf course and with light winds expected the only discernable difference between early and late starters will be the trade-off between lower temperatures and first use of the greens, versus warmer temperatures for the PM starters with poa-annua greens that will have seen a fair amount of traffic and tend to deteriorate as the day progresses.