Wednesday, 20 July 2016

PGA Championship 2016 - Baltusrol Lower Course

With the dust barely settled on The Open, the fourth and final Major of the year takes place in New Jersey from Thursday 28th July at Baltusrol on it's Lower Course.We were last here in 2005 when Phil Mickelson emerged victorious. The World Number One, Jason Day defends. Jack Nicklaus won two of his four US Opens at this course.

Lower Course

Measuring 7,400 yds, the par-70 for the PGA Championship has just two par-5s...and they come back to back on 17 & 18. That said, the opening hole is a par-5 to its members at 478 yds,it won't be an easy start for the world's elite, indeed nor will any of the opening half a dozen holes. The course suggests accurate driving and perhaps those that can get it down there will fare the best. Bunkers galore adorn the fairways and by all accounts, the rough is quite penal for those not hitting fairways. The signature hole, the 4th is a par-3 over water and has seen many a story over the years as too has the first of the par-5s, the 17th. Not many have reached this green in two over the years so it will be interesting to see how Messrs. Day, Johnson, McIlroy et al fare here. The 7th, normally a par-5 to the members, was ranked the toughest par-4 on the PGA Tour in 2005 and the second toughest hole of all.(Harbour Town #14 ranked toughest) Finally, the 18th yielded just three eagles back in 2005 so we can assume scores will be hard to come by....a target of perhaps of 270 -272 might be enough.

The Contenders

I saw a great tweet form OWGR aficionado. "Nosferatu" (@VC606) on Monday where he reminded us that all four Majors are currently held by first time Major winners ( Day, Willett, Dustin Johnson and now Henrik Stenson). Another interesting tweet was that this time last year, there were five players in the World TOP10 without a Major win, and now there is just two (Sergio & Rickie). It's worth thinking about when trying to pick the winner here. Let's face it, "these guys are good". The PGA Championship, often referred to as "Glorys Last Shot" in the past, has seen many first time Major winners break through in its Championship.

Will Sergio Garcia take inspiration from Stenson's win ? Stenson had been knocking on the door at The Open quite regularly and the Spaniard has been knocking too. His TOP5 at Troon came on the back of a TOP5 at Oakmont. Sergio has been runner-up at Majors on four occasions, twice at The Open and twice in this tournament. Who would have thought back in 1999, at Medinah when he came so close to edging out Tiger Woods after that wonder shot on 16 that he would still be Major-less some seventeen years later? Garcia ranks inside the TOP30 for driving distance (DD) at an average 298 yds.

Patrick Reed is one of those players who appears to be a Major Winner-in-waiting. T12th at Troon came on the back of a TOP10 at Castle Stuart in what has been a very consistent season, without a win. He's posted ten TOP10s on tour this season (only DJ has posted more) and has risen to 14 in the world. This consistency should reward him with a win soon and Baltusrol looks like a course that should suit very nicely. Reed ranks 45th for DD at an average of 295yds.

Brooks Koepka is another knocking on the door for a big one but had to withdraw from The Open with an injury (torn ligaments in his knee). Its doubtful that he will be ready in time for Baltusrol and on the basis of the nature of his injury he is left out of my calculations, which is a shame as I thought the course would suit him greatly.

Kevin Chappell is yet to win on tour but its not without trying. Six TOP10s from his twenty one starts sees the Californian into the TOP10 in the FedEx Cup rankings. Runner-up at both Bay Hill and Sawgrass emphasizes his ability in these fields and he can enter the week in confident mood if looking at his Strokes Gained tee to Green (SG:TTG) where he ranks 10th on tour and SG:APP where he ranks 7th. If Chappell could find a putting week, he has to contend here. As I pen this post he can be backed @ 125/1. He sits inside the TOP50 for driving distance averaging 295 yds. If the link between this and the WGC Bridgestone can be maintained this year (although the WGC and this were moved up due to the scheduling of the Olympics) then Chappell's 3rd place is encouraging

JB Holmes is the longest on tour at present and will be buoyed by his T-3rd at Troon where he was one of only three players to break par each day (Stenson and Mickelson the others). Averaging 312 yds he edges Dustin Johnson slightly in the ranks. He missed the cut at Oakmont but posted T4th at Augusta so his 2016 Major form is strong and shows his best form ever in Majors. It's been a fine comeback following brain surgery in 2011 so soon after he withdrew form the PGA Championship. The Kentuckian has won in each of the last two seasons on tour. Big hitters will be best suited to Baltusrol but Holmes will need to find some accuracy if he's to put that advantage to use here. Now ranked 16th in the world, JB has the potential to put in another solid Major performance this week and make the 81.00 price seem too good to pass on.

Bubba Watson has the power to get it it around Baltusrol this week and he'll prefer the conditions much more than what he encountered in Scotland. Ranks 5th in SG:TTG, Bubba has shown a likeness for the bigger events of late and providing he gets a decent first round under his belt, could be in the mix this week. He's on the shortlist at a general 31.00.

Henrik Stenson finally broke through to end his Major drought and he did it in fine style seeing off Phil Mickelson with a closing 63 at Troon. Up to Number 5 in the OWGR rankings, he completed a memorable couple of weeks of golf for Sweden having won himself in Germany at the BMW International followed by Alex Noren's win in Scotland. Anna Nordqvist was beaten in a playoff for the Women's US Open in between. Stenson is one of the those players who seems to hold form as evidenced by his form of late. 4th at his home Nordea Masters in June came soon after a runner up spot in Houston and a third placing at Bay Hill.Having finished third at the 2013 Open Championship, Stenson closed out the year with the FedEx Cup title and a cool €11M not to mention taking out the Race to Dubai Title as well that year. If looking for Major Championship form, Stenson has played 42 Majors (21*T25s-10*T10s). Whilst often regarded that the Open was probably is best Major it's worth noting that his PGA Championship form is equally as good. His last three PGA returning figures of 3-3-25. He was also 4th & 6th back in 2008 & 2009; that's 4 TOP6 finishes in his last 6 PGA Championships.

Rory McIlroy will tee it up for his 8th appearance at the PGA Championship having won it in 2012 and 2014. He was T-3rd in his debut in 2009 and again in 2010. 17th last year at Whistling Straits was his worse finish in those eight appearances. Baltusrol should suit his strong tee to green game (he ranks 3rd on the PGA Tour). The World Number 4 missed the cut at Oakmont but returned a TOP5 at Troon and will tee it up in his last big event before the Ryder Cup in September having decided to give the Olympics a miss. He'll of course have the FedEx Cup Playoffs before joining his team mates at Hazeltine. Due to get married in December in Ireland, Rory will indeed be making this his final shot at golfing glory for 2016. If it to go the way of the bombers, then Rory has a shot here and despite lacklustre putting performances its hard to ignore the results this season, with a win at The K Club and numerous TOP10s , (10/15).

Dustin Johnson broke his Major maiden tag at Oakmont and he can double up here as his power game is likely to suit. DJ has fond memories in New Jersey too having won The Barclays at nearby Plainfield CC in 2011 (its worth noting that Jason Day edged out Henrik Stenson on that course too in 2015). DJ has solid PGA Championship form which includes his heartbreaking effort at Whistling Straits back in 2010. He has 4 TOP10s from his 6 starts in the Championship. He finished strongly at Troon and will be confident to nab his second Major in one that owes him!

Shane Lowry completes my ten man shortlist despite being off form of late. Well...a missed cut following an horrific opening round on the back of a 36th at Firestone whilst defending, is hardly a worry and he did challenge for the US Open at Oakmont, finishing T2nd!! He did miss the cut in Scotland also. "Shano" loves the big events and he can easily click into gear any given week and I think the course will suit his eye. With just 6 weeks to go before Darren Clarke needs to select his wildcards for the European Ryder Cup team, Lowry needs to produce the goods if he wants to make his debut in the event at Hazeltine. He will also represent Ireland at The Olympics next month so its an event that he should be approaching in confidence. He currently sits 74th in the FedEx Cup standings so will have the Barclays in his schedule for sure. With a clear plan ahead of him it's business end of the 2016 season for the Clara native. Lowry is 10/14 on the PGA Tour this season with two TOP10s (four TOP20s) and ranks 14 for Total Driving. At 80/1 with the books he's worth a flutter but maybe best taken on the exchange at 125.00 for a trading opportunity, if and when it represents itself.

I'll be using the players above to fill some Daily Fantasy teams over at Playon for the final Major of the year if indeed available to play. Whilst the site has been having an awful load of issues since launch, its the only available fantasy sports portal available at present to players in Ireland.

Sign Up here for Playon Fantasy European Tour Events here


3.50 pts WIN R. McIlroy @ 10.00
0.50 pts e/w J.B.Holmes @ 81.00
0.25 pts win S.Lowry @ 126.00 - 2.75 pts TOP20 @4.33
0.25 pts e/w K. Chappell @ 151.00
1.0 pts e/w P. Reed @ 51.00

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