AP Game Theory Decisions – PGA Championship
WGC Bridgestone – Review
Rory McIlroy -> Was in contention all week and faltered on Sunday
Tiger Woods -> He was a mention in my article, but I ended up fading him due to going 100% r Rory
Bubba Watson -> Watson was up and down all week and finished T31
Zach Johnson -> Zach with another sneaky top 20 finish, I say sneaky because he didn’t do much
Xander -> was really bad
Adam Scott -> was a complete roller coaster all week, his putting was horrible
Johnny Vegas -> Vegas finished T53 but he did score fairly well to justify his price
Aaron Wise -> Finish T6. Wise was fantastic all week. Really minimized mistakes and his game
The 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive
The PGA Championship takes place at Bellerive Country Club which has been altered slightly and will be playing as a 7,317-yard par 70. This course is loaded with doglegs, bunkers, large greens, and water hazards. First things first, you will find below my extensive course breakdown. I feel it is vital to know this course so that we can find out which golfers have the best shot at making us money this week.
Hole 1- Par 4, 425 yards – Longer hitters may opt to club down to avoid bunkers 300 yards out. The fairway narrows at about 325 yards and some may be able to outdrive the bunkers, but I’m not sure if the risk is worth the reward. The green is protected by 3 main bunkers. Players will hit mid irons into this large green. Favors -> Elite tee to green skills, accuracy off the tee, and a strong approach game. *Scoring Opportunity, but par is fine*
Hole 2 – Par 4 410 yards – Dog leg left that is protected by a lake that protects the entire left side of the fairway. A fairway bunker will come into play with misses to the right, but most will club down on this hole. Favors -> Accuracy off the tee & strong approach game. *Elite birdie opportunity*
Hole 3 – Par 3 148 yards – Tee shot is over a large body of water, but due to the short length of this hole, we should see some birdie opportunities or easy pars. A front pin could lead to some aces this week due to a feeder ridge on the left side of the green. Favors -> Elite proximity to the hole skills. *Scoring Opportunity*
Hole 4 – Par 4, 521 yards – Traditionally a par 5 for its members but will be playing as a par 4 for the PGA Championship. This hole is TOUGH! Bunkers protect the middle of the fairway, a right to left tee shot is ideal to hit this fairway. The green is protected by 5 very tough bunkers that surround the green. If the green is missed, elite scrambling skills will be required to save par. Hole Favors -> Bombers who hit a draw (right to left), Elite iron skills from 200 out, and scramblers. *Par is excellent*
Hole 5 – Par 4, 471 yards – This fairway is slanted from right to left, which will kick everything right. A right shot from the rough will bring the right-side bunkers into play. A draw off the tee (right to left) is ideal to hit this fairway. This par 4 is very difficult, par is a very good score here. Favors -> Bombers who hit a draw (right to left), Elite scrambling skills with bunkers protecting this green. *Par is excellent*
Hole 6 – Par 3, 213 yards – Bellerives signature hole, water protects the entire right side is protected by a large body of water, the left side of protected by bunkers. During the 1965 open, this stroke played a full stroke over par. This hole will bring some LARGE numbers into play. Favors -> Elite long iron hitters, Players who avoid bogey’s, a missed cut shot (left to right) will for SURE bring water into play, again I’d side with those who favor playing a draw. *In the 1965 Championship, this hole played a full stroke OVER par. Par is ELITE*
Hole 7 – Par 4, 394 yards – One of the easier opportunities on the front nine. Anyone who hits this fairway will have a wedge into this green. Bunkers protect the left and right side of the fairway. Favors -> ACCURATE players, bombers will most likely club down as bunkers are in play with a long tee shot. *Birdie Opportunity*
Hole 8 – Par 5, 610 yards – Double dog leg that the majority of the field will not be able to hit in two. The first shot is a dogleg from right to left, followed by a left to right tee shot to the green. The fairway is pretty generous. A creek hugs the right side of the fairways which will come into play for those laying up. The green, again, is protected by many bunkers. Favors -> Bombers who hit a draw (right to left shot) have a huge advantage on this hole. *Par is fine, but birdie is the goal with this being a par5*
Hole 9 – Par 4, 433 yards – The fairway narrows the further you go out and is protected by two bunkers on the left and difficult rough on the right. The green is protected by 3 very large bunkers. Favors -> accurate ball strikers, elite Tee to Green skills. *Risk/reward type of hole, birdie is in play if you keep it in the fairway*
Hole 10 – Par 4, 508 yards – Large dog leg left par 4, which normally plays as a par 5 for members. Hitting this fairway is critical because a creek guards and many bunkers guard this green. This green is very wide and shallow, which will bring the back bunker into play. Favors -> bombers who hit a draw (right to left) with elite and accurate approach skills due to the shallow green. *Par is an excellent score*
Hole 11 – Par 4, 355 yards – A short risk/reward par4. At 355 yards, this hole is reachable by long hitters, however, a pond guards the front right side of the green. Favors -> Bombers who hit a draw & Accurate ball strikers. *Birdie Opportunity*
Hole 12 – Par 4, 452 yards – A dog leg left par 4 with bunkers on the left side of the fairway. Two bunkers guard the right and left side of the green. This hole is pretty straight forward. Favors-> Elite Tee to Green skills, straight drivers of the golf ball. *Par is fine, but birdie is in play*
Hole 13 – Par 3, 180 yards – Medium length par 3 that plays very difficult to a back-middle pin location. Everything funnels to the front of the green or back right. A missed cut shot (left to right) could lead to a very large number. Favors -> Solid iron players & those who avoid 3 putts. *Par is excellent here*
Hole 14 – Par 4, 410 yards – Holes 14-16 are known as ‘the ridge’ because they are higher up than the rest of the course. Bunkers guard the right side of the fairway. This green is protected by two bunkers but is fairly large and should be avoided by most players. Favors -> Players who hit a draw & have elite tee to green skills. *Scoring opportunity*
Hole 15 – Par 4, 495 yards – One of the straighter par fours on the course with bunkers protecting the left side of the fairway. The fairway is wide for a shorter shot off the tee, and narrows after the bunkers on the left (300ish out). The green is guarded by three bunkers. Favors -> Bombers who hit a cut shot (left to right) and elite scrambling skills. *Par is excellent*
Hole 16 – Par 3, 237 yards – Brutally long par 3 that is guarded by bunkers on the front left and right. This hole typically plays into the wind, potentially making the tee shot required even longer. The green is large but missing the green brings bogey into play. Favors -> Longer iron hitters, 3 putt avoidance, scrambling skills. *Par is excellent*
Hole 17 – Par 5, 597 yards – Two tee boxes to choose from (530 yards AND 600 yards) Two bunkers guard the left side of the fairway and a creek guards the right side. This par 5 is a slight dog leg to the right and will be a three-shot hole for most of the field at the 600-yard distance. At the 530 yard distance, the entire field should be able to reach in two. Bunkers guard the greens. Expect fireworks on this hole on Sunday! Favors -> Bombers who hit the ball very straight, a cut shot is fine but could bring the water into play & Par 5 elite scorers. *Scoring opportunity, EAGLE is in play at the 530-yard distance for bombers who will have a wedge or short iron into this hole*
Hole 18 – Par 4, 457 yards – Classic finishing hole where birdie is tough to make. Bunkers guard the left side of the fairway, most players will lay up off the tee to take the left bunkers out of play. Longer hitters may be able to carry those bunkers giving them a wedge or short iron into this green. This is the toughest green to hit on the course and is guarded by four bunkers. Favors -> Bombers who hit a draw (left to right), elite tee to green players, elite scrambling skills. *Par is excellent*
Course Overview (Summary)
- 9 or 10 holes do present birdie opportunities (3-4 holes players will expect to make birdie)
- 8 to 9 holes are extremely difficult where par is an excellent score (Can’t see many going bogey free this year)
- Over half of the tee shots favor a right to left shot (a draw)
- Only a couple of tee shots will require a left to right tee shot (a cut/fade)
- You will find multiple bunkers on pretty much every hole. They guard fairways and greens. Scrambling, strokes gained around the green, and sand play will be key.
- The rough is penal, but fairways are generous with the right game plan
- Greens (Bentgrass) are very large, targeting players with strong approach game & proximity to the hole will be key
Course Ariel Map
Pink line = favors right to left ball flight
Yellow = straight shots & a couple left to right shots
Course Form (Stats to weight)
- Strong Tee to Green game
- Strokes Gained Off the Tee
- Distance Off the Tee
- Ball flight (Favor players who like to hit a draw over a cut)
- Proximity to the Hole
- Strokes Gained on Approach
- Stokes Gained Around the Greens
- 3 Putt Avoidance
When courses dry out and speed up, the problem bombers have is their club head speed generates so much force that their ball will hit the fairway and roll adding an enormous amount of distance to their overall shot. Quick example, Rory’s drive on 16 last week went 420 yards. The problem is the rollout can be unpredictable. Add in the movement this course has, you can imagine many of those long drives, if the course is playing firm, would have a decent chance of rolling out into the rough. When courses are wet and soft, there is almost no rollout making everything tee to green much more predictable. I think understanding the softness of the course is equally as important to monitoring weather draws. A soft course is going to heavily favor the bombers who can keep it in the fairway. Thus, the assumption I am making is that due to the weather, and more storms coming in Saturday night, we will see a soft course all week which will lead to favorable scoring conditions.
Clear path at the top
Given this course set up, the conditions and everything we have already discussed. The path, in my opinion, is very clear at the top. One of these five golfers is going to win this golf tournament; Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, or Jason Day. Let’s break down how/why each player will win this week.
Dustin Johnson, 11,400 -> DJ won the Canadian Open, came out a bit flat at the WGC event, but fired back with rounds of 66 & 64 on the weekend to finish T3. DJ is the #1 ranked player in the world, ranks 1st in SG:OTT, SG:T2G & 3rd in SG:APR. In my opinion, it is very surprising DJ only has one major championship win. DJ is one of the longest hitters on tour and he has been extremely accurate off the tee. The only knock I see to DJ this week is that he prefers to hit a baby cut/fade and over half of the tee shots will require a draw shot pattern.
Rory McIlroy, 11,000 -> Anyone who follows my blog, pod, and the playbook, knows I was all in on Rory last week. The most noticeable thing I saw at Firestone is that the course played much softer on Thursday and Friday. The course got very firm and fast on Saturday and Sunday, which is when Rory started to struggle. Rory’s driving distance average for the week was 340 yards. That is a 40-50+ yard advantage over your average tour player. Just ask yourself; would you rather have a guy with a wedge/short iron in his hand & 100 to 120 out or a guy who is more accurate but will have 160 to 180 into these greens? These greens are huge, and in my opinion, will make firing at pins from longer distances much more difficult. Why? Long story short, it is a psychology thing, a large green could make a player with a 180+ yard approach take a more conservative shot, that could lead to a lot of 30’ 40’ or 50’ foot putts. These greens also have a lot of movement too them, bringing the possibility of 3putts into play for players with poor proximity to hole stats. My last note on Rory, he prefers to hit a draw off the tee. He should feel very comfortable on these tee boxes.
Justin Thomas, 9,700 -> Both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have won the WGC Bridgestone and PGA Championship back to back. If you are fading Justin Thomas just because he won last week, I’d be cautious with this strategy. I said on the pod last week, Just Thomas got hot right around this time last year. Well, hindsight, I wish I would have went all in on chalky JT. I thought JT’s game off the tee was incredible at Bridgestone, I come to find out he only gained 0.5 strokes off the tee. He gained 14.6 strokes total on the field; 9.9 tee to green, 0.5 off the tee, 7.6 approach, 1.8 around the green, and 4.7 putting. JT also has one of the best caddies in the game, Jimmy Johnson. The main difference I saw between JT and Rory is when things firmed up, JT made the correct adjustments. You have to think his caddie had much to do with this. Koepka successfully defended his US Open title, Jordan was in the final pairing at the Open Championship; I see no reason why JT won’t be in the mix on Sunday.
Brooks Koepka, 9,600 -> Koepka’s history at the PGA Championship is very good; 13, 4, 5, & 15 over the last four years. Koepka ranks 4th overall in SG:OTT, 12th in SG:T2G and 17th in SG putting on bentgrass. His putting was all over last week; gained 3 strokes day 1 and lost strokes on days 2 and 3. I think we need to come up with a name for DJ & Brooks, how about we just call them the ‘Smash Bros’. Just like the US Open, it would not surprise me one bit to see the Smash Bros battling it out on Sunday for the PGA Championship.
Jason Day, 9,000 -> Speaking of history at the PGA Championship; Day has finished INSIDE the top 10 four out of the last five years and won it in 2015. When I think about Day and his price at 9,000 I think about Justin Thomas and his absurdly low-price last week. Day was very much in the mix last week but struggled down the stretch. I’m going to overlook that collapse as I think he let his emotions lead him to some bad decision making. Being that he lives close to Firestone, I can only imagine how much he wanted to get that win. At 9,000, I am going to make sure I am at least double the field in ownership. Day also is one of the best putters on tour and has one of the highest one putt percentages at 42.56%.
If you pair DJ and Day you are left with 7,400 left per position. If you pair Day with JT or Brooks, you are left with around 7,800 per position. So we are going to need some mid-tier and value plays to help round out our roster.
Middle Tier / Values
Tony Finau, 8,100 -> Finau has been a core piece to roster in majors. He has been in the mix in every major this year. Now, we get a course that should really fit his game. Finau has a very short, but shallow back swing with his preferred shot being a draw (my opinion from watching his swing). The advantage to a shorter back swing (IMO) is that it leads to better consistency and for him he isn’t sacrificing any distance, he is easily one of the longer hitters on tour. I like Finau in a build paired with Day/Brooks or JT/Day, where we will still have plenty of salary left over to build a lineup with an immense amount of upside.
Byeong Hun An, 7,500 -> Ben An didn’t have his greatest showing last week, but we can cut him some slack as he was coming off his 2nd place finish at the Canadian Open. The one positive from last week was that Ben An gained strokes on the field on Sunday. He ranks 15th vs this field in SG:OTT and 5th in strokes gained around the green. Ben An is a cut-maker type who does have an outside shot at contending or at least being in the mix on Sunday.
Kevin Chappell, 7,200 -> Chappell couldn’t make a putt to save his life last week, but we are really starting to see his ball striking come into form. Chap gained 6.7 strokes tee to green last week. However, he lost 8.1 strokes putting. Putting is going to be the most volatile thing in golf but maybe these large greens will help Chappell out like it did during the Open Championship.
JB Holmes, 7,000 -> JB grades out fine in every category except scrambling. I like JB in GPPs since he loves to hit his low flighted baby draws. That shot should serve him very well at this course. JB Also ranks 12th in strokes gained off the tee and 24th in tee to green.
Punt <below 7k>
Who will be this years Chris Stroud, Jordan Smith, Scott Brown or James Hahn from last year? All of those guys finished inside the top 15 and are well below 7k this year (not sure what there price was last year)
Brendan Steele, 6,500 -> I’ll be the first one to admit, Brendan looked horrible last week. He had only one round under par and he lost strokes in every category except off the tee. His game off the tee wasn’t great either, almost all of his misses were LEFT. Per reviewing shot tracker, his shots off the tee tend to favor the left side of the course. That miss this week will suit him just fine. A miss left on the majority of these holes will be better than missing right. Brendan is known as an elite ball striker and his price at 6.5k can really open things up for our builds.