It may be in slightly unusual circumstances and long overdue, but the first major championship of 2020, the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, has finally arrived.
Arriving in style too, the first major of the season comes off the back of a shootout between new world number one Justin Thomas and defending PGA champion Brooks Koepka last week at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, where the former just about got the job done on Sunday.
With that in the forefront of everyone’s mind, viewers are incredibly excited for what promises to be an enthralling week in San Francisco.
Similarly to the fans, plenty of players will be chomping at the bit to compete on Sunday in a major championship, a feeling that has been missing for over 12 months now since the Open at Royal Portrush last July.
Koepka (10/1), last week’s runner-up and the winner of this championship for the past two years, will be both desperate to make amends for missing out on last week’s title and eager to continue to ‘only turn up for the majors’ as some people often suggest.
His game is clearly built around the game’s four biggest events of the year and he is, even if not with some bookies, the resounding favourite this week after an almost flawless display from tee-to-green at the St. Jude.
With some slight concerns over his putting and in the hope that he doesn’t go ahead and whitewash the field once again this time around, Koepka will not be one of my selections for Harding Park though.
PGA Championships are typically wide open and realistically, anybody from Thomas down to Tiger Woods has a very good chance of winning this golf tournament.
But I see the value being outside of those players, with my main selection being Patrick Reed (45/1).
If not for the enforced break back in March, Reed was almost nailed on to make it into my Masters preview after winning at the WGC-Mexico in the build-up to Augusta.
Even despite him being in more out of sorts form in the lead-up to this major, I still strongly believe in the American’s chances at the PGA.
Most of his form came before the PGA Tour’s return, finishing outside the top 20 only twice in eight events from the ZOZO through to the Arnold Palmer, but he’s still shown signs of some good golf since the Charles Schwab.
Additionally, one intriguing factor at Harding Park is how much it favours a right-handed draw. As far back as 2005 at the American Express tournament, Woods was quoted as saying that this course is set up for a right hander’s draw, and who better to listen to than Tiger, right?
It’s no surprise, with that in mind, that the top four in 2015’s WGC, Rory Mcilroy, Gary Woodland, Danny Willett and Jim Furyk, have all been known to play a draw as their stock shot.
The main point from that though is Reed has notoriously only ever hit a draw, even struggling to hit a fade when called upon on some occasions. With the golf course suiting his shot shape, he should be able to build confidence throughout the week in San Francisco.
Equally as good as his ability to shape it right to left, Reed’s putting numbers have been impressive again this year too, and that makes him a dangerous competitor on any week, let alone at a major when his desire to win is undoubtedly heightened.
As his performance at the Memorial goes to show, he is one of those players who seems to raise his game when it is most important, and that can only be a good thing heading into this week despite poor performances at the Rocket Mortgage and RBC Heritage.
As a final side note, he was also unfortunate not to make it to the knockout rounds at Harding Park in 2015, going 2-1 in his group, so he will surely head back to California with some fond memories.
Talking of Reed going 2-1 in his visit to the WGC-Cadillac Match Play here in 2015, who was the man to beat him? Oh that’s right, Danny Willett (125/1), who went on to secure a third place finish that week.
And I fancy his chances here again this week, even if only as an each-way bet for the season’s first major.
Like Reed, the Englishman and 2016 Masters champion has always played with a draw, and that will have played a significant part in his strong outing at Harding Park back in 2015, losing only to Gary Woodland in the semi-final that year.
Respectably though, playing a draw is not the only reason Willett has made his way onto the staking plan this week, as his form both before and after the break has been solid for a 125/1 shot.
A 32nd at the Memorial even after a disastrous final round and a 4th at the Rocket Mortgage in recent weeks, while also finishing 42nd and 18th at the WGC-Mexico and the Arnold Palmer before COVID-19 struck, the Englishman has performed admirably on the PGA Tour.
There have been some missed cuts thrown in there too, as you would expect with his odds, but Willett is more than capable of tuning his game up for Harding Park.
Winner again last year at the BMW PGA Championship while fending off a fairly strong field at Wentworth in the process, he’s shown the mental capacity to win again, even after a tough few years following his 2016 Masters victory.
It’s been a good decision for him to play most of his golf in the US this year too in my opinion, one that should certainly see him reap some rewards in the near future due to the nature of the competition stateside.
All in all, Willett should certainly be able to feed off of his strong performance here in 2015, while remaining confident he can both compete and defeat the big boys; only time will tell whether his game will hold up for four rounds to earn him a place in the top 10.
It seems to be becoming a bit of a theme in this preview of relying on some sort of form from 2015’s WGC-Cadillac, so it will be no surprise to you that my next pick is runner-up from that week, Gary Woodland (50/1).
2019’s US Open champion has shown he has what it requires to win a major championship, and I believe he has all the ingredients to follow it up with another here this week.
Before March, Woodland was playing some tremendous golf, going 3-5-7-MC-40-12-8. Although it has not been quite so rosy on the other side of the PGA Tour’s hiatus, there have still been signs of his game being in the right spot.
Most notably at Muirfield Village, where he finished 5th at the Workday and followed it up with a 22nd at the Memorial, his approach play and putting was sublime. Unfortunately for him, they just didn’t match up on the same week.
This golf course will penalise bad drives, which Woodland will need to rectify this week when factoring in how he has driven it so far this season, but generally speaking his length will be beneficial for him here.
Harding Park isn’t stupidly long in length and is only coming in at a par 70 in comparison to it being a 72 in the past and a 71 in 2015, but there is without doubt some distance to this golf course, which will favour a long hitter like Woodland.
Counting on him playing this golf course like he did in 2015, I make the PGA a fantastic opportunity for the American to add to his lone major title.
Louis Oosthuizen (75/1) comes in at a whopping price for the PGA Championship, and for that reason alone he will be part of the staking plan for this week.
He has had an iffy season to say the least, but based on his results in majors and WGC events over the years, it is notably clear Oosthuizen often brings his A game to the biggest tournaments of the year.
That’s even evident in his performances this year, finishing 3rd at the WGC HSBC Champions and 6th last week at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude, while only breaking the top 50 in two other events.
Most importantly, he seems to have found form at the perfect time. His top 10 last week came completely out of the blue, and that is represented in his price for this week.
However, I’m completely willing to look past his price and back him in blind hope that he can put together the sort of performance everyone knows is possible on his good week and continue on the rich vein of form he encountered in Memphis.
Like Reed, Woodland and Willett, Oosthuizen is another who played well at, you guessed it, the 2015 WGC-Cadillac at Harding Park.
3-0 in the group and a victory over Rickie Fowler in the last 16, Oosthuizen performed very well at this golf course, and should certainly be able to carry that with him when returning to California this week.
There is very little reason, apart from his previous performances in majors and WGC events, to talk up the 37-year-old, but I just get the feeling that something clicked last week and he will be fired up to take that form into a major championship.
Other mentions go to Xander Schauffele (18/1), Jason Day (40/1), Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick (45/1) and tour veteran Matt Kuchar (90/1), who also look like solid bets for the week.
Patrick Reed (45/1) – 2.5 pts e.w.
Gary Woodland (50/1) – 2.5 pts e.w.
Louis Oosthuizen (75/1) – 1.5 pts e.w.
Danny Willett (125/1) – 1 pt e.w.