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The 7 most underrated players at the PGA Championship

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We have finally reached the end of the major championship season, as the 2015 PGA Championship commences this week at Whistling Straits.

Rory McIlroy will indeed be playing, and with the final major on hand, DraftKings is offering its biggest prize pool ever!

Click here to enter the $3.3 MILLION contest!

That’s right, a $3.3 million purse with a $1 million jackpot. All you need is to put in $20 and you’re in for a chance at that lottery prize. And as the even higher purse would suggest, the secondary winnings are incredible. Runner-up garners $100,000, third $60,000 and fourth $40,000.

Anyway, it’s the PGA Championship and big money. Here’s my advice to aid your chances in bankrolling that cash:

The Course

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Ahh, here we come once again to gorgeous Whistling Straits, which is so in the middle of nowhere that most news and golf outlets can’t even dateline its location correctly.

Regardless, the Dye masterpiece hosted the PGA Championship in 2004 and 2010, and is known for its bevy of bunkers (somewhere around 1,000 in total) and severe dunes and elevation changes off the fairway that make missing the short grass hectic.

Observers tend to view the layout as links-style, but don’t fall into that trap. Whistling Straits has the aesthetic of a links course but really doesn’t play like one.

Anyway, let’s get into the type of player that excels at the Straits.

We’ll go on what’s been written on this subject.

What we discovered there is that the overwhelming key to performing admirably at Whistling Straits is keeping the ball in play off the tee. The importance of driving accuracy isn’t particularly surprising, considering these fairways are pretty average width and the deep rough, bunkers, elevation drops and awkward uneven lies all spell deep trouble for those who sneak off the short grass. As for driving length, the Head Pro at the club feels longer drives could be slightly more advantageous than normal.

Otherwise, it’s been suggested that great approach players with various different shots to offer thrive here. Short game really isn’t talked about, and putting has been touted as somewhat important because of these large greens.

Studying this course closely, I have to say that driving accuracy is not overhyped at Whistling Straits, you almost always need it in spades to contend. But I actually think approach play will be less potent than usual, because the greens here are large targets that aren’t really segmented by tiers.

Short game is being greatly undervalued. Even with these large surfaces, players will miss them plenty, and the greens are well-guarded, leaving players in difficult trouble spots. As for putting, there will be some long ones on these greens, so good lag putters will have a step up.

Overall, my course profile then is: Great driver (accuracy paramount, but extra power helps), excellent short game and lag putter.

My Underrated Players

Matt Kuchar ($8,300)

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The American actually led the 2010 PGA Championship at the 36-hole mark.

That performance proved Kuchar’s worth at this layout, and he noted that week the course really fitting his game. The Whistling Straits profile would concur, as Kuch is a very accurate driver when he wants to be and has a stellar short game.

He’s really had a Zach Johnson-like year in that he hasn’t contended a lot but he’s been on the verge with several top-25s. And just like Zach, he’s due. We know how that worked out for Johnson at St. Andrews, maybe the magic comes for Kuchar this week.

Considering that and the fact that everything about Whistling Straits screams Kuchar, he’s a steal at this mid-upper-tier price.

Bill Haas ($7,300)

Haas did miss the cut here in 2010, but not by much, and he’s a bit of a streaky player anyway. Not only does Haas’ game suit the Straits, he’s definitely found his form of late.

He nearly won the Quicken Loans National and played his last three rounds at Firestone in 4-under for a solid T25 (one of his better finishes at the WGC). Overall, a simple formula: course fit + game trending = attractive option.

Lee Westwood ($7,300)

I’ve probably gone crazy talking myself into this one.

While Westwood profiles admirably for Whistling Straits, he’s no longer a world-class talent and his play of late has only been OK.

Call this one a feeling then. This couldn’t go terribly wrong or anything.

Justin Thomas ($7,200)

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In the $6,500-$8,000 range, you’re going to find a lot of people chasing after a young gun in Brooks Koepka ($7,800), Danny Lee ($7,200) or Tony Finau ($6,800). I think those are all good choices, but among this baby batch in this price range, I trust Thomas the most.

It’s no secret I’m as high on JT as the consensus, and he quietly comes in as one of the hottest players in the game, holding the lead with nine holes to play at the Greenbrier and then producing top-fives at the John Deere Classic and Quicken Loans National.

Yeah, OK, there’s talent and excellent form, but this is just his second major and his inaccuracy off the tee doesn’t bode well at Whistling Straits. Well, Harbour Town is a horrific course for his game and he placed T11 there, so I think we’re fine on the latter part. As for the former, does this seem like a guy who would be overwhelmed by a major championship atmosphere?

Steven Bowditch, $6,600

Bowditch’s game has just been fantastic of late. Aside from a final-day 83 at the Quicken Loans National, he’s incapable of a bad round. Pretty much a lock for at least a solid performance, and that’s a beautiful thing at $6,600.

Chris Wood ($6,500)

My entire basis for this pick is Wood’s sneaky good recent play and that his talent bodes him performing highly in another major soon.

I don’t think the course fit for him is especially terrible or great, but he won two months ago and has posted back-to-back solid performances. This is a total flyer, I see a really good showing from a guy who appears comfortable with his game and has the ability to win one of these things.

Rory Sabbatini ($5,600)

OK, Sabbatini hasn’t played in a major this year and missed the cut at Whistling Straits in 2004 and 2010. I get it.

But he’s in the same range of cost as the club pros this week, and that is ludicrous. After all, Sabbatini has been on form the last two months and I think fits well for this course even if the results haven’t represented that.

I’m not saying Sabbatini will contend, but if you’re looking at this price, he’s by far the best value down here.

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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

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. SPANKY

    Aug 12, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    What moron picks westworld- hes washed up!

  2. devilsadvocate

    Aug 12, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Zach is due? After the British open win? Makes sense

    • Kevin Casey

      Aug 12, 2015 at 9:47 am

      “And just like Zach, he’s due. WE KNOW HOW THAT WORKED OUT FOR ZACH AT ST. ANDREWS, maybe the magic comes for Kuchar this week.”

      As in, Zach was due before the Open Championship and it finally caught up at St. Andrews. Kuchar could be in line for the same thing this week at Whistling Straits.

  3. Matt s

    Aug 12, 2015 at 3:51 am

    It’s all bubba this weekend if you don’t pick him at 9,900 idk what you people are thinking.

    But your weekly article is always a good read even if I don’t like the picks. This week kuchar is a great pick and just in Thomas is always good to have too. I feel like Jason John night be up there on the underdogs too even if his distance is crap.

    Bubba Golf justin rose Danny Lee Brooks koepka Jason bohn Zach johnson

  4. zoheb

    Aug 12, 2015 at 1:58 am

    Rose/Fowler/Lahiri/Reed/Z Johnson/Koepka

  5. Jeremy

    Aug 11, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    I notice you’ve stopped posting your actual lineups. Did you get tired of people copying your picks and having to split the million $$$? 😉

  6. Forsbrand

    Aug 11, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    Pic. Six instead of seven?

  7. Mike

    Aug 11, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Kevin, your track record has been brutal this season… Nothing personal but I’m avoiding your picks like the plague!

    • Kevin Casey

      Aug 11, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      I mean, I’m not saying I haven’t had poor or really bad lineups, because that has happened. And I’ve had players that I thought would especially play well perform really poorly.

      But to be honest, calling my track record brutal is cherry picking a few of my bad rosters and calling it indicative of my whole. If you look closely, yes I’ve had poor finishes, but I won money at each of the first three majors. And pretty much from the FedEx St. Jude until I changed to “7 underrated” at the Canadian Open, I won money on one of my rosters each week. Also, I structured it so that neither of my 6-man rosters overlapped players, in order that I could give out more picks in the article. But that also made it tougher for both of my rosters to succeed because instead of maybe 9-10 players doing well, I needed 12 to do that. That skews things a little bit.

      Also I will say my “7 underrated” did awful at the Quicken Loans but I did fine enough at the Bridgestone. Lowry was one of my seven, and I had a couple others (Horschel, Grace) who over performed their price by a bit. The rest (besides Martin) pretty much finished where their price suggested they would. Considering golf is so hard to pick, especially further down the roster like I have to do with this approach, that’s at worst a decent showing.

      Again, I’m not going to sit here and say that I’ve gotten every pick right in the world. Nor am I going to say that I’ve finished top among fantasy experts who do DraftKings, 1. Because I haven’t looked it up, and 2. Because there’s no chance that’s true.

      But I will defend against my record being brutal because I think that’s an unfair statement. That is what I did here and I backed it up with examples of my results. I’m at least adequate.

      Anyway, I appreciate you reading, Mike! I can understand you avoiding some of my picks but others have been quite useful. Avoiding Shane Lowry like the plague would have been a bad decision!

      If it helps you out, one guy I haven’t been able to get a read on all year is Kevin Chappell. I’ve picked him when he’s played his worst, and stopped picking when he’s played his best. That’s a guy you could pick this week then since I didn’t put him in this article (although I still might put him on one of my rosters). And I don’t know how this comes across but I’m being dead serious here. This is a guy who basically will do the opposite of how I prognosticate for him. Hope that helps!

  8. Chris Eckes

    Aug 11, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Day/Rose/Fowler/Streb/Bowditch/Perez

    • Kevin Casey

      Aug 11, 2015 at 3:41 pm

      Assuming that’s your roster, that’s really well done. I’ll be doing two full lineups, and I haven’t finalized them yet, but it’s likely four or five of those guys would be making it onto one of my rosters. The only one I’m weary of is Streb. Playing really well, but I don’t trust him on a penal major championship venue. He did very well at St. Andrews but that was kind of an easy course for most of the event. To be fair, his performance at Chambers was just fine, but for some reason I just couldn’t pull the trigger on him for WS. Just my opinion, he (and you) could easily prove me wrong. The rest of that roster is very well stacked.

  9. Max W

    Aug 11, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Steve Stricker – Home town hero in the twilight of his career. Still looking to put a major win on his card. Never count out a Wisco boy playing in his backyard

    • Kevin Casey

      Aug 11, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      That’s definitely true, and certainly someone I looked at. The thing I hesitate on is his semi-retired status. Unsurprisingly, his results have tapered off as he’s spent a lot more time with his family.

      I certainly commend him for making the decision he did, but if someone is asking me to pick him as a sleeper, I’m usually going to balk at this point. But I will say this is a very good setup for him, and Whistling Straits is a good layout for the type of player he is.

  10. Forsbrand

    Aug 11, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Westwood?

    • Kevin Casey

      Aug 11, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      If you read my blurb on him in the article, you will see that my reasoning there is mostly non-existent. From time to time, I’ll pick someone who makes little to no sense on paper because those guys win or contend in golf sometimes (See: Troy Merritt at Quicken Loans). This is mostly the case with Westwood. As I noted above, there aren’t many factors pointing toward his favor, mostly just a gut call.

      • Forsbrand

        Aug 11, 2015 at 4:08 pm

        Pic six instead of seven. Westwood ,hideous short game unfortunately. Makes the most of his below major calibre game though so hats off to him.

        • Kevin Casey

          Aug 11, 2015 at 7:00 pm

          Just to be clear, I didn’t pick Westwood because I had run out of options and I needed a seventh player. There are actually guys I had to take out to get down to seven. I was between Westwood and another guy for that seventh spot and I decided for the riskier option in Westwood because I believe in him more for mostly illogical reasons.

          I know this all sounds weird, but that’s how I like to pick. Most of the time I use a good amount of logic but golf is such an unpredictable and illogical sport that sometimes I pick guys that really shouldn’t do well based on the four main factors (recent play, course history–in weeks where sample is large enough, course fit and talent level).

          Pretty much every week you can count on at least one player being pretty poor in three or all four of those factors yet playing really well. This week, I think that guy is Westwood. I was honest about it and that I am taking a risk here (although not really that big because he’ll probably be one of my bottom two or three choices on any roster).

          Also, Westwood’s short game actually isn’t hideous anymore. Something that’s gone under the radar (as Westwood has faded) is that his short game and putting have significantly improved over the last couple of years.

          He’s actually had an above-average PGA Tour short game since 2013 and above-average PGA Tour putter since 2014. Unfortunately for him, the other parts of his game deteriorated more. His driving isn’t nearly what it used to be (he used to be long and real accurate, now his accuracy is average to below-average) and his approach game really fell down.

          So his short game really isn’t the problem anymore. He worked hard on it and putting to get those right, but he lost his other strengths in the process. Golf is cruel.

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