PGA Championship 2020 betting preview

With both the Masters and US Open pushed back to the Fall, it will be the first major championship contested this year.

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The PGA Championship is approaching quickly and it will now be the first major championship contested this year, as dates for both the Masters and US Open have been pushed back to the Fall. The PGA, meanwhile, has seen a return to its old August date in 2020 and will be contested at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, California, from August 6th to 9th. The event had been moved permanently back to May last season, making it the second major on the Championship schedule most years, but with the Covid-19 outbreak it’s been moved backed to August for the 2020 edition. 

How to bet on the 2020 PGA Championship

The PGA Championship is one of four major events on the golfing schedule each year. It may not have the nostalgia of the Open Championship or Masters – nor is it known for its wicked course setups like the US Open – but it does bring together one of the toughest fields in golf every year, and it’s given us some thrilling moments along with great opportunities for sports betting. It’s hard to forget triple-digit longshot winners like Keegan Bradley in 2012, or Shaun Micheel – who won the 2003 event in heroic fashion for his first and only major title. 

The last major championship on the PGA Tour took place overseas in Ireland when Shane Lowry won the Open Championship in terrible conditions. Now, more than a year later the best players in the world will finally have a shot at playing for another major trophy. After eight straight events that have given us a plethora of tightly bunched, star-studded leaderboards, the 2020 version of the PGA Championship is finally here. 

For betting purposes this week I’ll be going over all the major names and their lead-in to this event, while also trying to break down any trends that may help us find a winner for betting purposes in both the outright and secondary markets (top-10/20, first-round leader, etc).

Breaking down the PGA Championship field

The PGA Championship is no different from the other major championships in that it has its own unique qualifying criteria. Players can qualify in multiple categories but only need to fit in one to play. Often sportsbooks will put out lines on players who have yet to qualify, so ensuring your player is in the field is important:

Who Qualifies?

  • All past winners of the PGA Championship
  • The last 5 winners of the US Open, The Masters, and The Open Championship 
  • The last 3 winners of THE PLAYERS Championship
  • The current PGA Senior Champion
  • The top 20 finishers and ties from the 2019 PGA Championship
  • The top 20 finishers from the 2020 PGA Professional Championship
  • The top 70 players who have earned the most PGA Championship Points from the 2019 AT&T Byron Nelson through to the 2020 3M Open, ending July 26th, 2020
  • Playing members of the last-named U.S. and European Ryder Cup teams (2018); must remain within the top 100 on OWGR as of July 27th, 2020
  • Winners of PGA Tour co-sponsored or approved tournaments from the 2019 Charles Schwab Challenge to the 2020 PGA Championship
  • If necessary to complete the field, players beyond the top 70 who have earned the most PGA Championship points from the 2019 AT&T Byron Nelson through to the 2020 3M Open, ending July 26th, 2020 (in order of their position on the list)

One of the most intriguing aspects of this year’s PGA will surround two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka in his quest for a third straight title. No man has accomplished the three-peat at this event – not even Tiger Woods – since Walter Hagan did it in the 1920s, so it would certainly put Brooks in rarified air. 

The event will also maintain a good International flavor as players like Erik van Rooyen, Jazz Janewattananond and Matt Wallace are all in the field again, having achieved a top-15 finish at the Championship last season. The recent Champions status for the majors and THE PLAYERS will also bring in veterans such as Zach Johnson (2015 Open Champion), Jimmy Walker (2016 PGA Champion) and Henrik Stenson (2016 Open Champion) – who might not have otherwise qualified. Additional players who will be relying on their past PGA Championship wins to play again this year include the likes of Martin Kaymer (2010) and Padriag Harrington (2008). 

March 12, 2020; Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, USA; Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, and Justin Thomas on the 17th green during the first round of the 2020 edition of The Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass – Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Identifying a 2020 PGA Championship winner

Despite being played at different venues each season, the PGA Championship does have some underlying trends that are important to note before we get into a deeper discussion of the field. 

Recent Form

Short-term player form for the PGA Championship has been a great indicator over the past decade or so. Seven of the past eight champions of this major have finished T15 or better in their prior event, with repeat champion Brooks Koepka perhaps providing the best example of this trend. Koepka finished 5th in his lead-up event in 2018 – The Bridgestone Invitational – and 4th in his 2019 lead-up event – the Byron Nelson. 2017 winner Justin Thomas had the worst lead-up prior to his PGA win, but still finished T24 in his last start before winning this major. 

Strength off the tee

Over the past five to six years, a definitive trend has started to emerge in PGA setups, with distance off the tee emphasized as a trait in several recent winners. Looking back at the winners here over the past six seasons, none have averaged fewer than 300 yards per drive for the season in which they won. Eight of the past nine winners have ranked 30th or better in the Tour’s Strokes Gained: Off the Tee metric, so winners here were regularly gaining on their opponents with their tee balls throughout the year. This year’s venue has been lengthened, likely to a longer Par 70 that should play upwards of 7,200 yards, with rough that may play extra juicy since there will be no fans allowed at the site. 

The breakthrough major

One final thing to note: the PGA Championship has often acted as a sort of breakthrough major for many players. Since 2009, the event has showcased seven first-time major winners with the likes of Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Jimmy Walker and Martin Kaymer all hoisting their first – and for many, their only – major championship trophy here. There are several possible reasons for this trend but the variety of courses and setups in play, and an ever-changing date, have seemingly subdued the experience factor a bit, which is more prevalent at the other major events. 

PGA Championship course preview

TPC Harding Park

  • Par: 70, 7,234 yards
  • Greens: Bentgrass
  • Design: Willie Watson and Sam Whiting (1925)
  • Past events: 2005 WGC American Express Championship, 2015 WGC Match-Play Championship
  • Defending Event Champion: Brooks Koepka (2019-Bethpage Black)

TPC Harding Park will host its first ever PGA Championship this week and will become the first TPC (Tournament Player’s Club) course to officially host a major. The venue has undergone extensive renovations over the past 10-years or so, with new Bentgrass greens installed in 2014, and recently the course adding up to 400 yards in distance to make it ready for this week. 

Layout wise, TPC Harding Park doesn’t appear overly complicated. The venue looks set to play as a Par 70 at just over 7,200 yards – according to the Official tournament site – which makes it above average in length. There’s just two Par 5s on the card – one of which is listed at 607 yards – but the venue does boast a couple of shorter Par 4s – including the 336-yard 16th, which should provide some drama late in rounds. 

As mentioned previously though, this course will likely play into the hands of solid drivers of the ball. The routing at Harding Park doesn’t seem too complex, as only a couple of gentle dog-legs line the course. This should keep things open for players like Bryson DeChambeau to use their driver on several holes, and that could provide a big advantage as Harding Park does have seven Par 4s that will play well over 450 yards in length. 

The venue is situated along the shore but water hazards won’t be a huge factor, as this is a true tree-lined parkland course that only ventures near the water late in the round, putting players’ final tee shot at 18 over water. Pebble Beach Golf Links – another West coast venue and site of the 2019 US Open – may be a solid comparison in terms of what to expect, as many of its holes also play inland despite the course being situated right along the water. 

TPC Harding Park will play differently this year than it has when hosting past events but it’s worth noting that, in 2015, two big hitters in Rory Mcllroy and Gary Woodland made it to the finals of the WGC Match Play event hosted here. Some other players that featured in that event include Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen and Tommy Fleetwood, who all made it to the quarterfinals that year. 

From a course fit perspective, it’s hard not to see strong off-the-tee games playing well here again. The PGA committee has set a trend in its setups of late that, benefitting big straight hitters like Brooks Koepka. Driving Distance and – more importantly – Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, could prove to be vital stats to look at once again. Also, the fact this venue is on the West coast should play into the hands of someone like Dustin Johnson, who is one of the best drivers of the golf ball on Tour and has always seemed to perform his best within the state of California. 

2020 PGA Championship picks

Americans have won five of the last seven iterations of the PGA Championship, although international players have featured heavily at this event in stretches. Jason Day was the last non-American to win here (in 2015) and, before him, Rory Mcllroy won twice in three years between 2012 and 2014. As mentioned off the top, this event has seen a huge variety of winners over its history. Several favorites or near favorites like Day (who went off around +1500 to +1700 in 2015), Koepka, and McIlroy have gained wins at this event recently, but players with mid to long odds have also triumphed here of late – Jason Dufner and Justin Thomas both went off in the +3000 to +4000 range in 2016, along with Jimmy Walker at +10000 or better. 

Like all our major previews, we’ll start by discussing the top of the market, but will pay particular attention to values and potential longshot winners in this one. 

Apr 12, 2019; Augusta, GA, USA; Bryson DeChambeau hits his tee shot on the 18th hole during the second round of The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

The Contenders

The odds at the top of the markets have moved around a ton here over the last couple of weeks. The last man standing right now though, and with the lowest odds to win at around +900, is Justin Thomas. Thomas has now finished T3 or better in five of his last 15 starts and deserves the “best player in the world” moniker for at least one week here. He’s downsides include a propensity for simply bailing if everything isn’t clicking early (three MC’s in his last 10 starts) and a bad West Coast record. Thomas missed the cut at a tough Pebble Beach setup for the 2019 US Open and has not typically played on this coast a ton early in the year. 

Right behind Thomas is Brooks Koepka at +1000 who is also going off as co-favorite at many sportsbooks right now. Koepka’s PGA odds shot down quickly after he opened with a 62 last week and even though he semi-blew the win late last week, his prowess and dominance at both the US Open and PGA Championship setups is unparalleled right now. The only question here is whether his form dips again this week after struggling with consistency for much of 2020. 

Behind these two are three enigmatic players who could all rise up or fall flat. Rory McIlroy won the 2015 WGC Match-Play event played at Harding Park in 2015. That stat might have meant something if he wasn’t coming off two or three terrible starts in a row. A T47 finish last week where he lost strokes everywhere but off the tee makes him hard to consider even at +1400 or better. Bryson DeChambeau has a similar feel to him. I wrote him up as an interesting futures target when he was around +2500 in price but after a bad missed cut at the Memorial and a T30 finish in Memphis, where he lost over -7 strokes with his Approaches, his now +1400 price feels fairly avoidable. 

Jon Rahm also didn’t have a great week in Memphis, but there’s more hope from me here for a bounce-back of some kind. Rahm finished well in Memphis, shooting 66 and gaining over +2.5 strokes TTG in round 4. He did something similar at the Workday before lapping the field at the Memorial the following week. No one has handled tougher conditions better than him this year and he feels like the only one among this three-man tier at +1400 worth considering.  

I don’t want to write off Tiger Woods. After all, he is the GOAT and won the last PGA stroke-play event played at TPC Harding Park back in 2005. That result is mostly meaningless now and the colder weather (highs in the low-60’s) and lack of competitive reps seem like it would combine for a bad outcome for a player who complained of back stiffness after his first competitive round since the restart. 

The more attractive targets in the +2000 and above range undoubtedly belong to players like Webb Simpson and Xander Schauffele who have been flashing form all season and seem primed for major championship golf. Schauffele posted a T6 last week at TPC Southwind despite not having his best stuff and that kind of result can oftentimes be a huge confidence builder. He is becoming a popular target at majors, however, and his +2000 number could be bet down to a much lower number at many sportsbooks by Wednesday night. Webb would seemingly be a good target here for me at +2800–he did win his only major on the West Coast in 2012, at a venue not far from Harding Park–but he’ll be without his main caddie Paul Tesori this week which is somewhat of a blow to his chances in my eyes.  

Finally, it’s worth mentioning two players who have been on the comeback trail of sorts lately. Daniel Berger and Jason Day are both available around +4000 and have been top-10 machines of late. Day has the major pedigree and a great West Coast record with multiple wins in California but Berger being almost double the price of Schauffele–a player he bested at Colonial and has outplayed consistently since the restart–feels disrespectful. He flashed with a T5 at Pebble Beach earlier this year and has seen all three of his wins on the PGA come on Par 70 layouts.  

Outright and each-way bets

Dustin Johnson +2000 or better

The PGA Championship is often seen as the “breakthrough major” where younger players, who don’t have to deal with course knowledge and experience deficits like they do at Masters and Open Championship, can swing more freely. However, the event has also been a popular spot for more veteran players to cement their elite status as well. The likes of Phil Mickelson (2005), Padraig Harrington (2008), Rory McIlroy (2012) and, more recently, Brooks Koepka (2018) all won this event after collecting either first or second major championship at another spot. 

Thus, while the event is well suited for the current younger generation of elite ball-strikers, it also seems like the perfect setting for a player of immense talent, like Dustin Johnson, to pick up his second major. The 2016 US Open winner recently picked up a win at the Travelers and then promptly saw his game fall off the face of a cliff for two events, shooting consecutive rounds pf 80-80-78, the last of which prompted an early WD from the 3M Open due to “back tightness”. However, Johnson came out last week and downplayed the issue, stating that he was, among other things, “good to go.” While he didn’t challenge for the win last week, he gained strokes everywhere but on the greens and finished a tidy T12, a result that definitely fits with our recent form narrative for this major.

There’s much more to like about Dustin this week though than just his play from last week. Over his career, the West Coast has often been the best coast for him as he’s picked up wins and contended in several big events along the Pacific. Additionally, while his putter ultimately held him back from contending last week, his career putting stats on Bentgrass and Poa greens (which are in play this week) are far superior to his Bermuda ones and it was only a month ago that he gained over 5 strokes with the flatstick on the Poa greens at TPC River Highlands. 

Having now gained runner-up finishes in two of his last four major starts–including a T2 at last year’s PGA Championship–even the sometimes oblivious Johnson seems to realize that now is the time to strike if he ever wants to break away from the “one-major” crowd he’s been stuck with for nearly five years. At +2000 or better this week, his number looks extremely palatable (driven up by his recent rough patch) and makes for a great way to begin an outright card at the first major. 

Patrick Cantlay +2500 or better (each-way)

Cantlay was a player I targeted for this event prior a month or so ago. While things haven’t gone super smoothly for him over the last two starts, it’s hardly been a disaster either. Cantlay had a horrid start at the WGC FedEx last week, losing over 3-strokes putting in round one. He fought back on the weekend, however, shooting 65-67, the third-best weekend score of the tournament. While his finishing place (T35) may not look so hot, his stats from Sat-Sun do as he gained over four strokes Tee to Green in his last two rounds and over 2 strokes putting. 

Much like Johnson, Cantlay’s also been extremely close in majors of late, landing a T3 finish at this event last year to along with a T9 at Augusta. There’s other factors in play here, like his West Coast ties and propensity to draw the ball on a course that should suit right to left hitters, but his price remains the most attractive part. While contemporaries like Bryson Dechambeau and Xander Schauffele have both been bet down into the teens in many spots, Cantlay’s number remains solidly above +2200 at many spots. For me, the positives still far outweigh the negatives here and he remains one of my favorite each-way targets for betting at the year’s first major. 

Louis Oosthuizen +7000 or better (each-way)

In many ways, Oosthuizen and Dustin Johnson share a lot in common this week. Louis is also looking for his second major win (his first coming 10-years ago at St. Andrews) and, like Dustin, he’s also spent the last couple of years knocking on major championship doors. 

The enigmatic South African has always been a big game hunter, choosing to time his prep perfectly for the big events rather than overly worry about grabbing wins at less prestigious stops. While he’s looked erratic since the restart he had the look of a player perhaps on the verge of putting everything together last week, ending the WGC event in T6 after a bogey-free Sunday. 

Oosthuizen gained strokes in every major category last week and, while he missed the win for us in Memphis, his odds haven’t dipped much here. With a major championship record that includes two top-10 finishes at West Coast venues (T7-Pebble Beach, T2-Chambers Bay). He’s a great each-way target for me again, especially if you can get him at six places or more. 

Emiliano Grillo +17500 or better (each-way)

Enigma is likely a kind way to describe Grillo at times. He consistently strikes the ball at the rate of the best players in the world, ranking third in SG: APP and 15th in SG: TTG stats in 2019, putting him up among names like Cantlay and Schauffele in terms of talent. His on and around the green game is another story but, as we saw in his last two starts where he finished T3 and T9, when he putts and chips even to field average, he can get himself in the mix. 

Whie his results have suffered in 2020, he’s traditionally been great at tougher venues. Grillo picked up a T2 at Beth Page Black in 2016 at the Barclays and has also found the PGA Championship to his liking, making the cut in this event four out of five times–with a T13 in 2016 his best result. While it’s OK to be skeptical of Grillo’s improvement of late, it’s also hard to look away. At +175000 it won’t cost much to find out if his latest improvement on the greens is one that will stick and he genuinely feels like a player who could stick around until the absolute bitter end if the conditions get extremely mucky. He’s a great each-way bet for me at these prices. 

Also consider if you want a bigger card…

Abraham Ancer +6600 or better (each-way)

I wrote up honest Abe in the first draft of this article published in early July when he was still hovering around +10000 or greater in the odds at some sportsbooks. After finishing runner-up to Webb Simpson at the RBC Heritage he suggested that he often prefers a tougher layout and has posted some finishes to back that up statement, the main one being a T16 at Beth Page Black in this event last year. TPC Harding Park isn’t super long but will require elite ball-striking that he can certainly provide. T15 last week in Memphis–where he sneakily posted the same 9-under par weekend score that Justin Thomas did–I still like these odds for an each-way on Ancer which seem to discount the form he’s shown in 2020. 

Daniel Berger +4000 or better (each-way) 

I mentioned Berger’s price above being quite disrespectful this week and it’s definitely worth taking a flyer on if you so desire. A former top-20 player in the world who has outplayed almost everyone in the field since the restart began, he’s also got lots of major championship experience that includes going off in the final pairing of a major before (US Open 2018, where he finished T6). As much as I like Cantlay this week, Berger’s odds are nearly double his and that alone makes him a great bet for the first major of 2020. 

Top-20 bets

Christiaan Bezuidenhout +600 or better

Bezuidehout’s a talented South African (be-zay-den-hote) who has found his way of late on the PGA Tour since coming over in early 2020. While he doesn’t have much major experience, the tougher conditions this week shouldn’t faze him. He won at Valderrama, one of the hardest venues in the world, on the Euro Tour last season and was also in contention at the very tough Bay Hill in March, where he eventually finished T18. A T20 last week could have been better if not for a water ball/double-bogey on the last hole and he flashed some serious form with a third round 64 in Memphis as well. I love the price here for a player who is showing underrated confidence at the moment. 

Emiliano Grillo +600 or better

Ses above… Realistically this is a much better/safer place to bet on the Argentine who is showing a lot of confidence right now and already has two top-20’s in major championships on his resume. He was also T23 at this event last season and should benefit from the straightforward but tough conditions that TPC Harding Park is going to provide. Even if he regresses again with the putter, this bet is still potentially cashable if he strikes the ball like he has his last two starts.

Tournament matchups

Updated on 8/5 10:15am ET

Patrick Cantlay over Webb Simpson -110

Targeting this match-up again. We lost this one last week by targeting Webb but Cantlay played much better than him over the weekend, beating him by five strokes in the last two rounds. We get a better price this week as a result though. Cantlay also goes off early on Thursday, while Webb goes off late in the afternoon when the worst wind is set to arrive. 

Louis Oosthuizen over SungJae Im -120

Im has lost strokes on approach in five straight starts now and has a late Thursday tee time, while Louis goes off early Thursday. SungJae hung in for three rounds last week by gaining over 8-strokes putting on his preferred Bermuda putting surface. The greens at TPC Harding Park are Bentgrass though and the major championship conditions here favour Louis who gained strokes in every major area last week and has five top-20’s in his last eight major championship starts. 

Shane Lowry over Marc Leishman -110

Lowry’s another player I’m targeting here with a nice early Thursday starting time. The Irishman has been playing well tee to green of late gaining +7.2 strokes last week in that area. Leishman has a late afternoon Thursday start and has lost strokes tee to green in three straight events. 

First round leader 

Brendan Steele +9000 or better (each-way)

Steele has flashed some very solid form at times in 2020, already recording three top-6 finishes  on the year. A big hitter off the tee, he’s shown more consistency than normal in the rest of his game of late, gaining multiple strokes on his Approaches in three straight starts. He’s performed well in this event before too, and was the 54-hole leader back in the PGA back in 2011 before finishing T19. He’s likely a savvy top-20 bet too, but with his early tee time on Thursday he should stay out of the worst wind in round one and sets up as a nice betting target for the first round leader market as well. 

Erik van Rooyen +8000 or better (each-way)

An elite ball-striker who has proven himself to be quite adept at gathering solid finishes in these elite field events. The South African has never missed a cut in any of his four major appearances and shot a 62 this year at the WGC Mexico event where he eventually finished T3. It’s pretty clear the stature of these major fields don’t intimidate him much, and while it’s likely asking too much of him to bag the win this week, a fast start with his early Thursday tee time is certainly possible.

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