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Golfers most likely to catch fire at the end of 2014

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We’ve had glimpses of meteoric play on the PGA Tour this season—namely Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer—but nothing that’s struck as sustainably brilliant.

In that sense, there’s some disappointment with how the golfing year has transpired. Henrik Stenson’s run over the last five months of the 2013 season easily reigns as the best stretch of golf in the past calendar year.

Two majors and a few months of golf still remain. Are we in for another Stenson-like performance (or greater) from the golfing professionals?

Here are the five most likely players (with two wildcards) to replicate, or at least approach such a performance.

Wildcards

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Brendan Steele

Steele won in his maiden PGA Tour season and would have been a prime candidate for Rookie of the Year if not for Keegan Bradley’s insanely successful maiden campaign. Steele maintains more than thrives on Tour, steadying his diet with a few top-10s and a half-dozen top-25s per year without really threatening to do more. But he has a lot more game than the average viewer gives him credit for. At times in 2014, he’s appeared on the verge of a career year—basically reaching his season averages in top-10 and top-25s before April—and rekindling the fire with back-to-back top-fives in the final weeks of June.

Maybe he’s not quite seasoned enough yet for a rapid jump, but he’s an under the radar candidate for a breakout in the near future.

160019139MW00079_The_Master

Thorbjorn Olesen

Objective measures are the name of the game here, but golf is downright sociopathic when it comes to removing logic from the experience. So going with one player purely on gut is appropriate then, right?

Olesen, who goes by his middle name because it’s cooler than Jacob, has struggled in 2014. Seven made cuts in 16 starts isn’t pretty. He currently wouldn’t qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs or the DP World Tour Championship. He also tends to produce his best stuff—at this point one win and a number of high finishes—early in the season rather than late.

Nothing points to an end-of-2014 run for Olesen, except for his perceived superstar-level ability. It’s a guessing game when this monster will be unleashed; here’s a blind toss that it is quite soon.

Five to Watch

keegan catching fire

Keegan Bradley

When he isn’t pouring ice water on his head—and doing so poorly, apparently—Bradley produces at a steady rate on the golf course. The 28-year-old’s 2014 campaign has been rather dull to the moment, with a solid, but unspectacular five top-10s and 10 top-25s in 20 PGA Tour starts. And Bradley only really threatened to win on two occasions, at Bay Hill and the Zurich Classic.

Nothing appears amiss in Bradley’s game, but there’s no doubt a certain spark is absent. Expect that to change in the coming months. For one, the native of New England feels he plays his best golf in the summer. His results moderately back him up too, as two of his three wins came in the summer months.

This is also a Ryder Cup year and Bradley currently sits 18th in the standings. Nobody is more motivated to qualify for the team than Bradley, whose bounce-off-the-walls energy married perfectly with the high-intensity atmosphere of the event in his 2012 debut.

Above all though, Bradley is extremely overdue for another win, and likely multiple ones. Victories have more to do with luck and circumstance than anyone will admit. Looking solely off win totals, Bradley was at his best in his 2011 rookie season, when he scored two titles, and has regressed since with one victory in 2012 and none thereafter. Yet the reality is the direct opposite, with Bradley demonstrably improving each year. He contends more consistently as time goes on, and there are no signs the lack of wins is attributable to a growing aversion to Sunday pressure—luck and circumstance intervene. (This putt likely kept Bradley out of the winners’ circle in 2013. It was well struck, and probably deserved to go in. It didn’t, and Bradley’s chances at victory significantly dropped after a good stroke.)

The putter is an issue, as the 28-year-old switched to a shorter non-anchored flatstick for the Memorial Tournament and has admitted that the impending ban on the anchored stroke constantly weighs on his mind. But Bradley made it clear his change at the Memorial was only a trial period, and he appears to be committed to staying with the belly through the rest of this season. Don’t be surprised if he anchors down a couple of victories before 2014 is finished.

Hoffman catching fire

Charley Hoffman

This has to happen at some point, right?

The Hoffman paradox continues to roll on, as the formerly mulleted fellow remains one of the most consistent yet frustrating players in the game. Hoffman has reached $1 million in earnings every season of his PGA Tour career (except for 2008, when he grossed $945,702) and refuses to fall victim to a blow up campaign.

But he’s always been capable of so much more.

The Hoffman hype originates back to his incredibly productive first thirteen months on the PGA Tour and regained steam following the stomping he laid on the field at the 2010 Deutsche Bank Championship. A star is yet to emerge.

The potential is there, but why will this chained-down pattern break in the remainder of 2014?

Well, it’s been quiet, but Hoffman’s played the best golf of his career the past several months. With a T3 at the Quicken Loans National, the 37-year-old garnered his fifth top-10 of the season, tying his single-season high for top-10s already. With 10 top-25s, he’s one off his career high there.

Of course, Hoffman has long been dogged as a guy who lights up the course on Thursday and Friday and fades on the weekend. There is some truth here, as he’s alternated between poor and adequate in this aspect.

But he’s become a great weekend player in the 2014, as he ranks 53rd in third round scoring average and 37th on the final day.

Hoffman is a great ball-striker who literally hates putters. When functional though, the flatstick works for him from time to time, as he’s placed 81st or better in strokes gained putting three of the last five seasons and currently sits at 39th in 2014.

Hoffman can’t wait much longer to breakout before age starts to erode his high upside. Now, under no outside pressure and with fantastic form coupled by a more robust weekend output, this is Hoffman’s best chance to pounce.

Justin rose catching fire

Justin Rose

Not going out on much of a limb here considering Rose’s recent victory at the Quicken Loans National. Even if it was more of a “I stumbled into the trophy and they let me keep it” sort of deal than a flourishing triumph.

Still, the result is the latest in a flurry of great showings. Since missing the cut at Bay Hill in March, the Englishman committed to his best impression of 2011 Luke Donald, racking up six top-15s in seven starts, half of which are top-fives.

To complete the gag, Rose not only needs to continue that string, he needs to add a few more wins to his slate before 2014 is out. Despite winning at least once every year since 2010, Rose and his game are too polished and all-around great to be satisfied with six victories in five years.

Praise for his ball-striking prowess is incessant, but correct—especially with his irons. Rose’s short game has a kick to it too, as the Englishman tends to be an above-average putter and chipper. The last two years, his flatstick let him down with finishes of 129th and 133rd in strokes gained, but he appears to have remedied the problem in vaulting to 72nd so far in 2014.

Rose has no consistent weaknesses and a few quite potent strengths. How that hasn’t translated into many multiple-win seasons or any three-plus victory campaigns is somewhat perplexing.

Rose made a good decision resting at the beginning of the season because of shoulder tendinitis. In his return, his game hasn’t skipped a beat. His driving and approach play have regressed some, but it appears those are starting to trend back toward his normal elite level. Add the confidence of a major champion to the mix, and maybe we’re finally in for a dominant Justin Rose campaign.

Paul Casey Catching Fire

Paul Casey

The story with Casey is that it’s never been enough. Even as his game coalesced into elite form in the later 2000s—from 2006-2010 he averaged nine top-10s a season, won seven times combined on the European and PGA tours and ranked as high as No. 3 in the world—his much-hyped skill was supposed to net him major championships, which he acquired none of.

As has been documented in no short order, Casey then took a nose dive. He actually won early in 2011, but rarely contended the next two years—with just six top-10s between 2011 and 2012—and plummeted to No. 169 in the world at one point.

There’s no doubt his form is returning though. His 2013 was lackluster, but he did return to the winners’ circle at the Irish Open. This year, his name has really re-familiarized itself with the first page of the leaderboard, as he’s gotten out well in the earlier and middle stages of a few tournaments. His issues revolve around carrying over his good playing through Sunday.

Really, Casey’s results from 2006-2013 are remarkably similar to Henrik Stenson’s production from 2005-2012. We know what happened next with Stenson.

That’s not to say Casey will be your FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai champion in 2014. But his talent probably outshines Stenson’s and his pitfalls are a little more understandable considering they were mostly attributable to an extraordinarily unfortunate series of ailments, including rib, shoulder and toe injuries (seriously, since when do golfers get turf toe??) and a difficult divorce.

There’s only one top-10 to his name in 2014, but that really doesn’t do justice to what Casey has flashed this season. It appears there’s a learning curve with sustaining hot bursts of golf when you’ve been out of the spotlight for years, exactly the growing pains Casey experienced these past several months.

He’s prone to snap out of it soon, and as we learned with Stenson, when an immense talent can’t be held down any longer, he’s subject to a crazy good run.

We saw what Casey still had over 36 holes at Muirfield Village, expect to witness much more of that over 72.

Sergio Garcia catching fire

Sergio Garcia

This man has been burning it up on the golf course this season, only most people haven’t noticed. Following a productive, but stormy 2013, Garcia’s hardly wasted a round this year. The according results are subtly spectacular. In addition to a victory in Qatar back in January, Garcia’s record includes seven more top-10s, with five of them top-fives and three of them top-threes.

In all honesty, the Spaniard caught fire at the beginning of the year and the flame has gained progressively throughout the season, to the point it might be a danger to the citizenry if it wasn’t metaphorical. And there’s further room to grow.

While fantastic, Garcia’s play is highly inefficient in producing victories. When couching Garcia’s golf in terms of himself versus the field in 2014, few do better. In his events the 34-year-old bested 83.83 percent of his opponents, a defeat rate that ranks third best in the entire game.

It’s surprising then that Garcia hasn’t fallen into more than one victory this season. And it’s not based on any deep-seated inability to close, as Garcia holds 19 career wins between the European and PGA tours.

If inefficiency is bothersome, recent history shows El Nino will soon alleviate the concern. Late in 2011, Garcia concocted two immaculate weeks of golf and won events in consecutive weeks, the first by 11 strokes. He almost duplicated the feat in 2012, capturing the Wyndham Championship and holding the 54-hole lead at the Barclays the next week.

If Garcia continues this form, I don’t see how he can’t at least triple his current season victory total. He leads the PGA Tour in Adjusted Scoring Average, and that’s not even the circuit he won on in 2014! So the only way to stem the tide is for his play to drop off, but his immediate past implies that as the season comes to a close, Garcia will perform at the same or a higher level.

At the very least this is the safest bet on the list. Garcia is both the most likely to come through and the least likely to implode. Whatever his emotional vagaries, the Spaniard’s scores don’t drastically fluctuate. Unless you pick him to win the Masters, he almost unilaterally refuses to miss cuts.

Total lost weekends since the beginning of 2011: four. Yes, four. In nearly four years.

Garcia is no novice at making people look dumb, but this a smart investment for a player who has somehow slipped into an underrated gem.

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Kevin's fascination with the game goes back as long as he can remember. He has written about the sport on the junior, college and professional levels and hopes to cover its proceedings in some capacity for as long as possible. His main area of expertise is the PGA Tour, which is his primary focus for GolfWRX. Kevin is currently a student at Northwestern University, but he will be out into the workforce soon enough. You can find his golf tidbits and other sports-related babble on Twitter @KevinCasey19. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: September 2014

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Mike

    Jul 14, 2014 at 8:41 am

    I might keep one eye on Tiger Woods, too…

  2. Pingback: Golfers most likely to catch fire at the end of 2014 | Spacetimeandi.com

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Early season wedge game tune-up

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Depending on the part of the country you call home, you might just be getting into the 2024 golf season, or you might be several months into it. Either way, your scoring success this season – like every season – will likely drill down to how good your game is from 100 yards and in.

The best way to sharpen your wedge play is, surprise, spend some time refining and practicing your technique. Whether it’s winter rust or mid-season sloppiness, your wedge game can be a serious cause of frustration if and when it goes sour on you.

If you want to be sharp when it really counts, give it some time and attention. Start with a detailed look at your fundamentals – posture, alignment, ball position, grip, and grip pressure – and then advance to an examination of the actual chipping and pitching motion of the swing.

No matter what your skill level might be, I am convinced that time spent on the following drills will yield giant rewards in your scores and enjoyment of the game. There is nothing quite so demoralizing and maddening than to hit a good drive and better-than-average approach shot, then chunk or skull a simple chip or pitch, turning a par or bogie-at-worst into a double or even more.

Core activation

The key to a solid short game is to synchronize your arm swing with the rotation of your body core. They simply have to move together, back and through impact into the follow-through. When I’m about to start a short game session, I like to begin with the club extended in front of my body, with my upper arms close to my chest, then rotate my upper torso back and through, to give me the sensation that I am moving the club only with my core rotation, with the hands only having the job of holding on to it. In this drill, you want to ensure that the clubhead is exactly in front of your sternum as you rotate back and through. When you lower the club into the playing position, this puts the upper end of the grip pointing roughly at your belt buckle and it stays in that “attitude” through the backswing and follow through.

S-L-O-W motion

I believe one of the most misunderstood and destructive pieces of advice in the short game is to “accelerate through the ball”. What I see much too often is that the golfer fails to take a long enough backswing and then quickly jabs at the ball . . . all in the pursuit of “accelerating through the ball.” In reality, that is pretty hard NOT to do if you have any kind of follow through at all. Relying on that core activation move, I like to make very slow swings – back and through impact – experimenting with just how slow I can make the swing and still see some ball flight. You’ll be amazed at how slow a body rotation can be made and still make the ball fly in a nice trajectory.

Windows

I’m borrowing this term from Tiger Woods, who often spoke of hitting his iron shots through certain “windows,” i.e. first floor, second floor, etc. For your short game, I simplify this into hitting short pitch shots on three different flight trajectories – low, medium, and high. I have found the simplest way to do this is to use the same swing for each shot and determine the trajectory by where you place the ball in your set-up. Start by finding the ball position that gives you what you consider to be a “normal” trajectory with your sand wedge. Then, hit some shots with the ball just one inch back and forward of that spot and see what trajectory you get. You can then take that to another level by repeating the process with your other wedges, from your highest lofted to your lowest.

Ladder drill

For this exercise, I like to have some room on the range or practice area that lets me hit balls any distance I want, from ten feet out to about 25 yards, or even more if you can. I start by hitting a basic chip shot to fly precisely to a divot or piece of turf I’ve targeted about ten feet in front of me. The next shot I try to land where that ball stopped. I repeat that process until I have a line of balls from ten feet to 25 or so yards from me. With each shot, I repeat it until I can land my shot within a foot or less of my “target ball.”

The idea of this kind of practice with your short game is to hit so many shots that you feel like you can do anything with the ball, and you can take that confidence and execution skill to the course. You can literally work through a few hundred shots in an hour or so with these drills, and there’s nothing like repetition to build a skill set you can trust “under fire.”

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 Charles Schwab Challenge betting preview: Tony Finau ready to get back inside winner’s circle

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After an action-packed week at the PGA Championship, the PGA Tour heads back to Texas to play the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth.

Colonial Country Club is a 7,209-yard par-70 and features Bentgrass greens. The difficulty of the event this week will be influenced by course setup and/or wind. The last four seasons have all produced winners with scores between -8 and -14, with the two most recent playing extremely difficult. Last year, Emiliano Grillo won in a playoff against Adam Schenk at -8, and in 2022, Sam Burns edged out Scottie Scheffler in a playoff at -9.

After last season’s event, the course was renovated by Gil Hanse. I expect the course to stay true to what the original design intended, but will improve in some areas that needed updating. Jordan Spieth, who is one of the most consistent players at Colonial, told Golfweek his thoughts on the changes.

“I always thought courses like this, Hilton Head, these classic courses that stand the test of time, it’s like what are you going to do to these places? I think that’s kind of everyone’s first response,” Spieth said. “Then I saw them, and I was like, wow, this looks really, really cool. It looks like it maintains the character of what Colonial is while creating some excitement on some holes that maybe could use a little bit of adjusting.”

The Charles Schwab Challenge will play host to 136 golfers this week, and the field is relatively strong despite it being the week after a major championship.

Some notable golfers in the field include Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Tony Finau, Sungjae Im, Collin Morikawa, Min Woo Lee, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth and Akshay Bhatia. 

Past Winners at Charles Schwab Challenge

  • 2023: Emiliano Grillo (-8)
  • 2022: Sam Burns (-9)
  • 2021: Jason Kokrak (-14)
  • 2020: Daniel Berger (-15)
  • 2019: Kevin Na (-13)
  • 2018: Justin Rose (-20)
  • 2017: Kevin Kisner (-10)
  • 2016: Jordan Spieth (-17)

Key Stats For Colonial Country Club

Let’s take a look at five key metrics for Colonial Country Club to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Approach will be a major factor this week. It grades out as the most important statistic historically in events played at Colonial Country Club, and that should be the case once again this week.

Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.09)
  2. Ryan Moore (1.00)
  3. Tom Hoge (+0.96)
  4. Akshay Bhatia (+0.85)
  5. Greyson Sigg (+0.83)

2. Strokes Gained: Off The Tee

Both distance and accuracy will be important this week. Historically, shorter hitters who find the fairway have thrived at Colonial, but over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of the players in the field use big drives to eliminate the challenge of doglegs and fairway bunkers.

The rough can be thick and penal, so finding the fairway will remain important.

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+1.11)
  2. Keith Mitchell (+0.90)
  3. Kevin Yu (+0.87)
  4. Alejandro Tosti (+0.81)
  5. Min Woo Lee (+0.80)

3. Strokes Gained: Total in Texas

Players who play well in the state of Texas tend to play well in multiple events during the Texas swing. 

Strokes Gained: Total in Texas over past 36 rounds

  1. Jordan Spieth (+2.16)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+1.97)
  3. Tony Finau (+1.91)
  4. Akshay Bhatia (+1.68)
  5. Justin Rose (+1.62)

4. Course History

Course history seems to be much more important at Colonial Country Club than most other courses. The same players tend to pop up on leaderboards here year after year.

Course History per round Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Jordan Spieth (+2.31)
  2. Justin Rose (+1.70)
  3. Harris English (+1.66)
  4. Webb Simpson (+1.54)
  5. Collin Morikawa (+1.47)

5. Strokes Gained: Putting (Bentgrass)

The Bentgrass greens at Colonial are in immaculate condition, and putters who roll it pure are at an advantage. Historically, great putters have thrived at Colonial.

Strokes Gained: Putting (Bentgrass) Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Denny McCarthy (+1.08)
  2. Justin Rose (+0.93)
  3. J.T. Poston (+0.87)
  4. Maverick McNealy (+0.85)
  5. Andrew Putnam (+0.74)

Charles Schwab Challenge Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (27%), SG: OTT (25%), Strokes Gained: Total in Texas (14%), Course History (17%) and SG: Putting Bentgrass (17%).

  1. Scottie Scheffler
  2. Chris Kirk
  3. Tony Finau
  4. Billy Horschel
  5. Daniel Berger
  6. Maverick McNealy
  7. Adam Schenk
  8. Collin Morikawa
  9. Austin Eckroat
  10. Sepp Straka

2024 Charles Schwab Challenge Picks

Tony Finau +3300 (FanDuel)

Tony Finau hit the ball incredibly well at last week’s PGA Championship. He led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, gaining 9.3 strokes in the category, which was his second-best performance on approach this season (Farmers T6). Finau’s tie for 18th at Valhalla is ideal considering the fact that he played very well but didn’t have the mental and emotional strain of hitting shots deep into contention in a major championship. He should be sharp and ready to go for this week’s event.

Finau has been phenomenal in the state of Texas. He ranks third in Strokes Gained: Total in the Lone Star state in his past 36 rounds and just recently put up a T2 finish at the Texas Children’s Houston Open last month. He also has success at Colonial. He finished 2nd at the course in 2019 and T4 at the course in 2022. He missed the cut last year, however, that seems to be an aberration as he hasn’t finished worse than 34th in his seven other trips to Fort Worth.

Finau has gained strokes off the tee in 10 of his 13 starts this season, and his ability to hit the ball long and straight should give him an advantage this week at Colonial. He’s also gained strokes on approach in 11 of his 13 starts this year. His tee to green excellence should work wonders this week, as Colonial is a challenging test. The concern, as usual, for Tony, is the putter. He’s in the midst of the worst putting season of his career, but with a target score in the -8 to -13 range this week, he should be able to get away with a few mistakes on the greens.

Finau is one of the most talented players in the field and I believe he can put it all together this week in Texas to get his first win since last year’s Mexico Open.

Sungjae Im +5000 (BetRivers)

Sungjae Im is really starting to play some good golf of late, despite his missed cut at last week’s PGA Chmapionship. Im missed the cut on the number, which may be a blessing in disguise that allows him to rest and also keeps the price reasonable on him this week. The missed cut was due to some woeful putting, which is atypical for Sungjae. He gained strokes slightly both off the tee and on approach, therefore I’m not concerned with the performance.

Prior to his trip to Valhalla, Sungjae was beginning to show why he has been such a good player over the course of his career. He finished T12 at Heritage and then won an event in Korea. He followed that up with a T4 at Quail Hollow in a “Signature Event”, which was his best performance on the PGA Tour this season. At the Wells Fargo, the South Korean was 20th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and showed his skill around and on the greens.

Sungjae has had some success at Colonial. He’s finished T10 and T15 with two missed cuts scattered in between over the past four seasons. When he is in form, which I believe he now is, the course suits him well.

Im hasn’t won since 2021, which is an underachievement given how talented I believe he is. That can change this week with a win at Colonial.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout +5000 (FanDuel)

I absolutely love this spot for Christiaan Bezuidenhout. The South African is having a fantastic season and this is a course that should suit his strengths.

Prior the PGA Championship, Bez hadn’t finished worse than 28th in six consecutive starts. He’s not the type of player who can get to -20 in a “birdie fest” but can grind in a tougher event. He is a terrific player in the wind and putts extremely well on Bentgrass greens. Bezuidenhout has also had success both in Texas and at Colonial. He ranks 16th in Strokes Gained: Total at the course and 10th in Strokes Gained: Total in Texas over his past 36 rounds.

Part of what has made Bezuidenhout play so well this year is his increase in ball speed, which has been the recipe for success for plenty of players, including the winner of last week’s PGA Championship, Xander Schauffele. Bezuidenhout’s coach shared his ball speed gains on Instagram a few weeks back.

https://www.instagram.com/p/C6FCvK3S97A/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Now at close to 170mph ball speed, that isn’t enough to compete at the monstrous major championship courses in my opinion, however it’s plenty to contend at Colonial.

Bezuidenhout has been one of the most consistent performers on the PGA Tour this season and a win would put an exclamation point on what’s been his best year on Tour to date.

Brendon Todd +12500 (BetRivers)

Brendon Todd is the type of player that’s hit or miss, but usually shows up on the courses he has a strong history on and plays well. Todd finished T8 at Colonial in 2021 and 3rd in 2022. He’s also flashed some Texas form this year as he finished T5 at the Valero Texas Open in April.

Todd doesn’t contend all that often, but when he does, he’s shown in the past that he has the capability to win a golf tournament. He has three PGA Tour wins including a win in Texas back in 2014 (TPC Four Seasons).

Todd is a player who can rise to the top if some of the elite players aren’t in contention after a grueling PGA Championship.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s 2024 PGA Championship betting preview: Rising star ready to join the immortals at Valhalla

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The second major of the 2024 season is upon us as the world’s best players will tee it up this week at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky to compete for the Wanamaker Trophy.

The last time we saw Valhalla host a major championship, Rory McIlroy fended off Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler and the creeping darkness that was descending upon the golf course. The Northern Irishman had the golf world in the palm of his hand, joining only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as players who’d won four major championships by the time they were 25 years old. 

Valhalla is named after the great hall described in Norse mythology where the souls of Vikings feasted and celebrated with the Gods. The course is a Jack Nicklaus-design that has ranked among Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Courses” for three decades. 

Valhalla Golf Club is a par-71 measuring 7,542 yards with Zoysia fairways and Bentgrass greens. The course has rolling hills and dangerous streams scattered throughout and the signature 13th hole is picturesque with limestone and unique bunkering protecting the green. The 2024 PGA Championship will mark the fourth time Valhalla has hosted the event. 

The field this week will consist of 156 players, including 16 PGA Champions and 33 Major Champions. 

Past Winners of the PGA Championship

  • 2023: Brooks Koepka (-9) Oak Hill
  • 2022: Justin Thomas (-5) Southern Hills
  • 2021: Phil Mickelson (-6) Kiawah Island
  • 2020: Collin Morikawa (-13) TPC Harding Park
  • 2019: Brooks Koepka (-8) Bethpage Black
  • 2018: Brooks Koepka (-16) Bellerive
  • 2017: Justin Thomas (-8) Quail Hollow
  • 2016: Jimmy Walker (-14) Baltusrol
  • 2015: Jason Day (-20) Whistling Straits
  • 2014: Rory McIlroy (-16) Valhalla

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value).

Key Stats For Valhalla

Let’s take a look at five key metrics for Oak Hill to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their past 24 rounds.

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Valhalla will play as a true all-around test of golf for the world’s best. Of course, it will take strong approach play to win a major championship.

Strokes Gained: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Shane Lowry (+1.25)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+1.09)
  3. Jordan Smith (+1.05)
  4. Tom Hoge (+.96)
  5. Corey Conners (+.94)

2. Strokes Gained: Off the Tee

Valhalla will play long and the rough will be penal. Players who are incredibly short off the tee and/or have a hard time hitting fairways will be all but eliminated from contention this week at the PGA Championship. 

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee Over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Bryson DeChambeau (+1.47)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+1.11)
  3. Keith Mitchell (+.90)
  4. Alejandro Tosti (+.89)
  5. Ludvig Aberg (+.82)

Strokes Gained: Total on Nickalus Designs

Valhalla is a classic Nicklaus Design. Players who play well at Nicklaus designs should have an advantage coming into this major championship. 

Strokes Gained: Total on Nicklaus Designs over past 36 rounds:

  1. Jon Rahm (+2.56)
  2. Scottie Scheffler (+2.48)
  3. Patrick Cantlay (+2.35)
  4. Collin Morikawa (+1.79)
  5. Shane Lowry (+1.57)

Strokes Gained: Tee to Green on Very Long Courses

Valhalla is going to play extremely long this week. Players who have had success playing very long golf courses should be better equipped to handle the conditions of this major championship.

Strokes Gained: Total on Very Long Courses Over Past 24 Rounds: 

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+2.44)
  2. Rory McIlroy (+2.24)
  3. Will Zalatoris (+1.78)
  4. Viktor Hovland (+1.69)
  5. Xander Schauffele (+1.60)

Strokes Gained: Total in Major Championships

One factor that tends to play a large role in deciding major championships is which players have played well in previous majors leading up to the event. 

Strokes Gained: Total in Major Championships over past 20 rounds:

  1. Scottie Scheffler (+3.14)
  2. Will Zalatoris (+2.64)
  3. Rory McIlroy (+2.49)
  4. Xander Schauffele (+2.48)
  5. Tommy Fleetwood (2.09)

Strokes Gained: Putting on Bentgrass Greens

Valhalla features pure Bentgrass putting surfaces. Players who are comfortable putting on this surface will have an advantage on the greens. 

Strokes Gained: Putting on Bentgrass Greens over Past 24 Rounds:

  1. Ludvig Aberg (+1.12)
  2. Denny McCarthy (+1.08)
  3. Matt Fitzpatrick (+0.99)
  4. Justin Rose (+0.93)
  5. J.T. Poston (0.87)

Strokes Gained: Total on Zoysia Fairways

Valhalla features Zoysia fairways. Players who are comfortable playing on this surface will have an advantage on the field.

Strokes Gained: Total on Zoysia Fairways over past 36 rounds: 

  1. Justin Thomas (+1.53)
  2. Will Zalatoris (+1.47)
  3. Xander Schauffele (+1.40)
  4. Brooks Koepka (+1.35)
  5. Rory McIlroy (+1.23)

2024 PGA Championship Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (25%), SG: Off the Tee (22%), SG: T2G on Very Long Courses (12%), SG: Putting on Bentgrass (+12%), SG: Total on Nicklaus Designs (12%). SG: Total on Zoysia Fairways (8%), and SG: Total in Major Championships (8%). 

  1. Brooks Koepka
  2. Xander Schauffele
  3. Rory McIlroy
  4. Scottie Scheffler
  5. Bryson DeChambeau
  6. Shane Lowry
  7. Alex Noren
  8. Will Zalatoris
  9. Cameron Young
  10. Keith Mitchell
  11. Hideki Matsuyama
  12. Billy Horschel
  13. Patrick Cantlay
  14. Viktor Hovland
  15. Adam Schenk
  16. Chris Kirk
  17. Sahith Theegala
  18. Min Woo Lee
  19. Joaquin Niemann
  20. Justin Thomas

2024 PGA Championship Picks

Ludvig Aberg +1800 (BetMGM)

At The Masters, Ludvig Aberg announced to the golf world that he’s no longer an “up and coming” player. He’s one of the best players in the game of golf, regardless of experience.

Augusta National gave Aberg some necessary scar tissue and showed him what being in contention at a major championship felt like down the stretch. Unsurprisingly, he made a costly mistake, hitting it in the water left of the 11th hole, but showed his resilience by immediately bouncing back. He went on to birdie two of his next three holes and finished in solo second by three shots. With the type of demeanor that remains cool in pressure situations, I believe Ludvig has the right mental game to win a major at this point in his career.

Aberg has not finished outside of the top-25 in his past eight starts, which includes two runner-up finishes at both a “Signature Event” and a major championship. The 24-year-old is absolutely dominant with his driver, which will give him a major advantage this week. In the field he ranks, in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, and has gained strokes in the category in each of his past ten starts. Aberg is already one of the best drivers of the golf ball on the planet.

In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the great hall where the souls of Vikings feasted and celebrated with the Gods. The Swedes, who are of Old Norse origin, were the last of the three Scandinavian Kingdoms to abandon the Old Norse Gods. A Swede played a major role in the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, and I believe another, Ludvig Aberg, will be the one to conquer Valhalla in 2024. 

Bryson DeChambeau +2800 (BetMGM)

Bryson DeChambeau is one of the few players in the world that I believe has the game to go blow-for-blow with Scottie Scheffler. Although he isn’t as consistent as Scheffler, when he’s at his best, Bryson has the talent to beat him.

At The Masters, DeChambeau put forth a valiant effort at a golf course that simply does not suit his game. Valhalla, on the other hand, is a course that should be perfect for the 30-year-old. His ability to overpower a golf course with his driver will be a serious weapon this week.

Bryson has had some success at Jack Nicklaus designs throughout his career as he won the Memorial at Muirfield Village back in 2018. He’s also had incredible results on Bentgrass greens for the entirety of his professional career. Of his 10 wins, nine of them have come on Bentgrass greens, with the only exception being the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. He also has second place finishes at Medinah and TPC Summerlin, which feature Bentgrass greens.

Love him or hate him, it’s impossible to argue that Bryson isn’t one of the most exciting and important players in the game of golf. He’s also one of the best players in the world. A second major is coming soon for DeChambeau, and I believe he should be amongst the favorites to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy this week.

Patrick Cantlay +4000 (FanDuel)

There’s no way of getting around it: Patrick Cantlay has been dissapointing in major championships throughout his professional career. He’s been one of the top players on Tour for a handful of years and has yet to truly contend at a major championship, with the arguable exception of the 2019 Masters.

Despite not winning majors, Cantlay has won some big events. The 32-year-old has won two BMW Championships, two Memorial Tournaments as well as a Tour Championship. His victories at Memorial indicate how much Cantlay loves Nicklaus designs, where he ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Total over his past 36 rounds behind only Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm.

Cantlay also loves Bentgrass greens. Six of Cantlay’s seven individual wins on the PGA Tour have come on Bentgrass greens and he also was one of the best putters at the 2023 Ryder cup at Marco Simone (also Bentgrass). At Caves Valley (2021 BMW Championship), he gained over 12 strokes putting to outduel another Bentgrass specialist, Bryson DeChambeau.

Cantlay finished 22nd in The Masters, which was a solid result considering how many elite players struggled that week. He also has two top-ten finishes in his past five PGA Championships. He’s undeniably one of the best players in the field, therefore, it comes down to believing Cantlay has the mental fortitude to win a major, which I do.

Joaquin Niemann +4000 (BetMGM)

I believe Joaquin Niemann is one of the best players in the world. He has three worldwide wins since December and has continued to improve over the course of his impressive career thus far. Still only 25, the Chilean has all the tools to be a serious contender in major championships for years to come.

Niemann has been the best player on LIV this season. Plenty will argue with the format or source of the money on LIV, but no one can argue that beating players such as Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith is an unremarkable achievement. Niemann is an elite driver of the golf ball who hits it farther than just about anyone in the field not named Bryson DeChambeau or (arguably) Rory McIlroy.

Niemann is another player who has been fantastic throughout his career on Bentgrass greens. Prior to leaving the PGA Tour, Bentgrass was the only green surface in which Joaco was a positive putter. It’s clearly a surface that he is very comfortable putting on and should fare around and on the greens this week.

Niemann is a perfect fit for Valhalla. His low and penetrating ball flight will get him plenty of runout this week on the fairways and he should have shorter shots into the green complexes than his competitors. To this point in his career, the former top ranked amateur in the world (2018) has been underwhelming in major championships, but I don’t believe that will last much longer. Joaquin Niemann is a major championship caliber player and has a real chance to contend this week at Valhalla.

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