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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 here 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 2008 BMW Championship to look at which was held here at Bellerive. Looking at the US PGA Championship history first, going back to 2011 the morning wave has produced 8 of the 11 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, plus Kevin Kisner who equalled Thorbjorn Olesen's early 67 last year at Quail Hollow from a 13:55 tee time.
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, more often than not at Firestone the week before. Last year was a case in point as 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 2008 BMW Championship held here at Bellerive, wire-to-wire winner Camilo Villegas had also shown some strong signs prior to leading here after 18 holes, most notably a 3rd round 63 the week before at the Deutsche Bank Championship which had catapulted him up to 2nd at the time. A final round 73 followed, however he was clearly very close to top form and duly converted the following week. The other 5 players who finished a shot behind Villegas on the Thursday here 10 years ago - namely Steve Stricker, Stuart Appleby, Tim Herron, Kenny Perry and Andrew Romero - had all produced an eye-catching round or two over their recent events and none could have been described as a complete shock to see them close to the lead after day 1 here.
The latest weather forecast for St Louis, Missouri is here. Clear, dry and sunny conditions are expected for all with temperatures rising from 70 Fahrenheit for the early starters to the mid-80s for those out in the afternoon. There will be barely a breath of wind all day with 3-5mph expected throughout. Recent wet weather will render the course receptive for all players and the only discernable difference between an early/late start is that early starters will get first go on the greens, whereas the later starters will enjoy warmer temperatures with the ball travelling a little further through the air.
In summary, I'm looking for a player who's shown a real spark of form recently, even if it was just for a round or two. The tee times concern me less this week than normal and I feel that the FRL winner could come from either side of the draw, so I've gone with 2 players from either side who I fancy might go well on Thursday.
2018 Key Bookmaker US PGA Championship Promotions
First Round Leader punters often get forgotten about by the bookmakers, but that certainly isn't the case at the 2018 US PGA Championship. Both Betfair Sportsbook and Paddy Power have gone 8 places each-way at 1/5 odds across Thursday's opening round action. Betfair Sportsbook shades it in terms of better prices, so I'm placing a number of my bets with them. The advantage being that there are 3 more paying places to fill as opposed to a group of bookmakers who are simply handing out the standard 5 places each-way at 1/4 odds.
Betfair Sportsbook have gone 8 places EW at 1/5 odds in the First Round Leader market plus get £100 in free bets for new customers using code ZBBC01 - full details here.
My FRL selections for the 2018 US PGA Championship are as follows:
Rickie Fowler 2pts EW 35/1 with £100 in free bets for new customers*, 18+, T&Cs apply (8 places, 1/5 odds)
A Major championship may have eluded the ultra-talented Rickie Fowler thus far in his career, however nobody would be remotely surprised if he were to pop up and contend again this week. The 22/1 for him to win outright is nowhere near as attractive as the 35/1 available on him to be first round leader though in my view and I'm happy to take the bookies on at that price. Twice in his last three starts Rickie has finished a single shot off the pace after day 1: an opening 64 at the Scottish Open was good enough for 2nd place after 18 holes last month and he produced an even better round of 63 last Thursday to kick off his Bridgestone Invitational campaign. Neither event produced a win for Rickie, however a 65 on Saturday last week added further fuel to the argument that he's playing some strong golf at the moment without putting all 4 rounds together. From a 7.39am tee time on Thursday alongside Hideki Matsuyama and Ian Poulter, who's also been getting out of the blocks quickly of late, the 29 year-old may well produce a sparkling opening round to set himself up for another promising Major performance similar to his opening 65 at last year's US Open which was good enough for the outright lead after day 1. 9th after 18 holes at the 2016 US PGA Championship and 8th after 18 holes last year shows promise and any kind of improvement on that this week will produce a tidy profit for this bet. RESULT: 2nd
Kevin Kisner 1pt EW 80/1 with £100 in free bets for new customers*, 18+, T&Cs apply (8 places, 1/5 odds)
Steve Bamford has quite rightly put Kevin Kisner up as one of his longshots in his US PGA Championship preview and I suspect this if he is to contend it will be driven primarily from a fast start. I won't repeat what Steve's said in terms of KK's raw credentials for this week, however suffice it to say that there's a lot to like about the 34 year-old. An opening round of 67 from a late tee time at Quail Hollow in this event last year was good enough for a share of the lead alongside Thorbjorn Olesen and he maintained that lead until the final day, eventually finishing 7th. It was a similar story at Carnoustie last month, this time from an early start on the Thursday, as an opening round of 66 game him a clear lead which he kept at least a share of every evening until the final day when he couldn't quite live with Francesco Molinari. Clearly the South Carolinian isn't afraid of getting into position at the Majors and after a mid-division finish at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, which nevertheless contained two rounds of 68 bookended by a 74 and 71, he could well hit the ground running again this week on the final big stage of the 2018 Major season. RESULT: T5
Charl Schwartzel 1pt EW 110/1 with £100 in free bets for new customers*, 18+, T&Cs apply (8 places, 1/5 odds)
The 64s produced by Thorbjorn Olesen and Dustin Johnson were perhaps the most eye-catching Sunday rounds at Firestone as they both finished in a tie for 3rd courtesy of those efforts, however further down the leaderboard we find an even better round of 63 from Charl Schwartzel. 8 under through 14 holes was enough for a few quiet murmurs of '59 watch' to be heard, however bogeys on 16 and 17 put paid to that pipe dream before he rattled home a 20-footer on the last to complete what was still an excellent round. The former Masters champion has started to find some form in the past few months after an indifferent spell and 2nd at TPC Sawgrass this year is certainly more than noteworthy given the correlation that Steve Bamford talked through in this week's podcast, and another top-10 finish in Germany prior to last week's effort suggests that the South African isn't very far away at all at present. 4th at last year's Open Championship after day 1 is encouraging form in elite company and although he's not been sprinting out of the blocks of late, if the trend from previous US PGA Championships holds then a player who produced a round like Schwartzel's 63 at Firestone could well be the type who takes that momentum into the first round here. A 1.32pm tee time will mean that he's playing in the afternoon heat which will suit him down to the ground. RESULT: T48
Jim Furyk 1pt EW 150/1 with Get a £30 welcome bonus** for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply (6 places, 1/4 odds)
I'll save the most speculative bet for last, however the First Round Leader market can regularly throw a curveball and sometimes it can pay to take a bit of a chance. Going back to 2002, nobody in this field has a better first round leader record than Jim Furyk, as is evident from our FRL stats summary where he sits at the very top of the list. Jim's focus has understandably been all about the Ryder Cup of late and his results have been fairly non-descript for some time now, however the 2003 US Open Champion may still have the odd explosive round in him and who's to say he won't produce something special from a 7.17am tee time alongside Le Golf National hopefuls Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele? We know that Jim can go low when in the mood - with two sub-60 rounds to his name of that there can be no doubt - and nestled inside his 22 US PGA Championship appearances over the years we find two FRL successes in 2002 and 2013, plus he was 4th after round 1 in 2014. 6 top-10 finishes overall in this event is also impressive, however the icing on the cake here is that he produced the best round of the week here at Bellerive back in 2008 with a sublime second round 62 as he put himself in a contending position, eventually finishing 3rd. RESULT: T33
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