We are officially two rounds in on the first major championship in the 2020 golf season, and the unique COVID-19 schedule realignment with the PGA Championship being the first major of the season hasn’t produced much difference in the traditional scoring.
TPC Harding Park has played a bit easier than expected. Round 1 saw a field scoring average of 71.12, the lowest ever for an opening round of the PGA Championship, per Justin Ray. It’s a bit of a long course when there’s wind, but it’s still a municipal course. There are some scorable short holes that provide chances for low scores if a golfer wants to be aggressive. This course isn’t playing like a US Open, with golfers barely scoring under par. It’s playing like a traditional PGA Championship.
The way the two first rounds have played, betting the PGA Championship this weekend has potential to be both exciting and profitable. This tournament is wide open, with 25-year old Chinese national Haotong Li (+1400) sitting atop the leaderboard by a full two strokes at -8 under, followed by a group of seven golfers at -6 under, and three golfers at -5 under.
There are a handful of golfers worth firing on outright from -4 under to -6 under, but we’ll first look at the conditions for the weekend.
The wind has been the biggest weather factor in San Francisco. In Thursday’s Round 1, the afternoon golfers got hit with 15-20mph winds, which led to a majority of the leaders being in the morning tee time group, who faced more tempered 6-8 mph winds. Ten of the eleven rounds of 66 or lower came from the morning golfers, and as a whole enjoyed a scoring average of almost nearly a full stroke lower than the afternoon groups.
Friday was a different story, with winds only reaching 10mph in the afternoon. While earlier golfers posted some low scores, like Tommy Fleetwood (+900) and Cameron Champ (+4000), who posted field-best Friday scores of 64 and sit at -6 under and -5 under, respectively, the afternoon groups were able to post respectable scores.
Saturday and Sunday’s weather looks to be almost identical to Friday’s Round 2, with partly cloudy and sunny skies mixing with some increased winds to 10 mph in the afternoon.
While golfers playing earlier on Saturday could go lower than normal to put themselves into contention on Sunday – world’s no. 2 and no. 3 Jon Rahm (+5000) and Rory McIlroy (+4000), who have both struggled with their putters but have a potential to explode for low scores come to mind – I wouldn’t fire away on more than one of these “longshots” more than 5 strokes behind the contending group of -6 under.
Let’s take a look at some of my favorite outright contenders.
Best outright bets – best value
Before we get into recommending bets for the weekend, I have to note that bankroll management is key in weekend PGA betting. If you have already spent the majority of your bankroll pre-tournament, I wouldn’t advise firing away at a ton of outright bets. If you have some of the contenders and want to hedge, sure. If you only bet one or two outright bets and have some capital to spend, by all means, pick one or two and fire away.
My recommended value plays here are centered around just that – value. There’s no sense, in my opinion, betting on Brooks Koepka (+400) when he’s two shots back and in a group of about five or six golfers that really have similar chances of winning this tournament at much better odds. I get that Koepka is seeking his third straight PGA Championship win, but in 2019 he had a seven-stroke lead heading into Saturday, and in 2018 he was in the midst of becoming the number one player in the world. I’m looking elsewhere in my outrights.
Jason Day at +900 will also likely be a popular play due to his prowess as a former PGA Championship winner, but a bet on Day is a risky one due to his health and his recent poor play. Day just isn’t the same player as he was in 2015 when he was the world’s No. 1, and in such a crowded field, at under 10/1 odds is not a good play.
Tommy Fleetwood +900 (or better)
Of the golfers in the crowded group of contenders,Tommy Fleetwood is my favorite based upon his Round 2 performance. Fleetwood shot a Round 2 best 64 on Friday, and had +3.31 strokes gained off-the-tee and +4.93 strokes gained from tee-to-green. These are two of the most important statistics at a TPC Harding Park course that rewards great driving and driving distance. Fleetwood was able to shoot such a low round because he was able to put him in easier approach shots, and still only gained +0.27 strokes on approach. Fleetwood’s low round also puts him in good company – the Friday scoring average of the last seven PGA Champions is 65.3.
Fleetwood is a firecracker waiting to happen, and I think he still has room to shoot low again. In a tournament that will likely see a winner in the -12 to -14 range, Fleetwood has the raw talent to get there and has the most potential to score low in a tournament that sees the favorite (Koepka) still two shots behind the leader. While Daniel Berger at +900 could happen, I think Fleetwood is the better golfer in this setting to go low.
Fleetwood also gets paired with Li in the last twosome to tee off on Saturday, which should give him a taste of what it’s like to play in a high-stakes situation in a major. While Fleetwood still doesn’t have a PGA Tour win (despite eight other professional wins in international settings), he’s finished second in majors twice – in the 2018 US Open and the 2019 Open Championship. The 29-year old will likely win a major in his career, and he’s got a great chance in a wide-open field to play aggressive and go low.
Xander Schauffele +1400 (or better)
Xander Schauffele sits four shots behind Li at -4 under, only two shots behind the odds-leaders Koepka, Jason Day, Daniel Berger and Tommy Fleetwood. Schauffele is a bit underrated, in my opinion, being the 11th ranked golfer in the world according to the Official World Golf Rankings, while he is 4th overall in the Data Golf Rankings, which gives more weight to recent rounds. Schauffele is only two shots behind the group of golfers that are the current favorites – but still has the same chance of winning this tournament per Data Golf’s Live Predictive Model as Justin Rose at +1000, who is also in the -6 under group.
A bet on Schauffele is a bet on analytics, and it might be his time to win a major. Schauffele has five top tens in twelve major championships in his career, and like Fleetwood, is in the crop of newer golfers to the PGA Tour scene that will likely win a major and has a great chance to do so here.
Haotong Li +1400 (or better)
I know everyone is discounting Li despite his two-stroke lead, but would it be that surprising if he won this tournament? Li is 25-years old and emerging onto the PGA Tour, leading a major that has seen the likes of Jimmy Walker (2016), Jason Dufner (2013), Martin Kaymer (2010), and Y.E. Yang (2009) raise the Wannamaker trophy to a surprised public. Interestingly enough, Kaymer was also 25-years old and had never won on the PGA Tour before winning the PGA Championship in 2010.
Li has also performed well in majors – he’s participated in eleven majors in his career, and has made the cut in all but three of them. He has one 3rd place finish – the U.S. Open in 2017. While I understand making the cut is not winning the tournament, Li winning this tournament would not be unprecedented, and having a two-shot lead at a course which can be punishing aggressive play, I would take a look at Li at these odds, and keep him in mind in some other top ten, top twenty, and matchup plays.
Dark horses and potential matchup plays
Cameron Champ’s game fit this course well before the tournament, and sits in the top 10 at -5 under heading into Saturday. Driving distance was the number one statistic to look for according to datagolf.com, and Champ was 4th ranked in positive adjustments based on course fit heading into the tournament. Champ is leading the field in driving distance, averaging 330 yards, and could surprise with more low scores on Saturday and Sunday. I wouldn’t necessarily bet him to win at +4000, but I’d keep an eye out in matchups.
Matthew Wolff (+8000) has the worst putting performance of anyone in the top 25, losing -1.08 strokes this tournament. He sits at -3 under, not out of reach by any stretch of the group sitting at -6 under. This tournament is so wide open that someone like Wolff – who is young, aggressive, and long enough to post a very low round – could surprise with two back to back 65 and lower scores over the weekend and be competing right there at the end. Wolff leads the tournament in strokes gained tee-to-green at +3.80, and is third in strokes gained off-the-tee at +2.05, right behind Champ and Fleetwood.
In matchups, keep an eye out for Luke List, Louis Oosthuizen and Emiliano Grillo. All of these golfers have lost more than -1.25 strokes gained putting, despite being quite capable off the tee. I like to fade hot putters in weekend rounds, and buy low on guys that are shooting well but just not putting well.