The PGA Championship is often looked at like the red-headed step child of major golf. It doesn’t have the cachet of the Masters, U.S. Open, or the Open Championship, in part, because it’s usually held at a time of year when golf is waning from people’s minds.
But this year, things are a little different. Because of the Olympics, the tournament has been moved from August to July. The venue for the 2016 edition will add some mystique; Baltusrol, which lies just outside New York City, is a tough course with a great history (seven-time US Open host).
The fact that Phil Mickelson, who’s coming off a second-place finish for the ages at the British Open, won last time the PGA was at Baltusrol only adds to the intrigue.
Should you be wagering on Lefty to conquer the course again? Let’s take a look at Baltusrol’s specs and figure out which tour pros have the best shot.
Baltusrol is an old-fashioned golf course. Obviously being long is helpful, but it also benefits creative players who can think their way through a round. It is not surprising that Mickelson would do well at a venue like this. The tour leaders in ball striking (a combination of total driving plus greens-in-regulation) should also have a leg up.
Open Championship winner Henrik Stenson leads the tour this season in ball striking. Lucas Glover, Thomas Aiken, Keegan Bradley, and Sergio Garcia round out the top-five. Stenson led the pros in ball striking last year, too, with Paul Casey, Justin Rose, and Glover all in the top-ten.
While amateurs play two par fives on Baltusrol’s front nine, the pros play the first and seventh as par fours. That means the only two par fives come at 17 and 18. Scores have typically been low at the course, but that doesn’t mean forcing the issue is the best way to contend; you can make up ground headed to the clubhouse.
There are four players on tour this year managing a birdie or better on at least 20-percent of par fours. Dustin Johnson leads the way. He’s followed by Graham DeLaet, Brooks Koepka, and Rory McIlroy. With four par threes on the course, it is worth noting that Garcia, Mickelson, and Stenson are among the players who most frequently birdie short holes.
Coming in Hot!
It is always good to be playing well prior to a major championship, but at a course that requires shot-making, patience, and creativity, confidence is all the more important. Those who don’t panic in dicey circumstances will prosper.
U.S. Open-winner Dustin Johnson and defending PGA champ Jason Day have been the most consistent players this season. Johnson has two wins and has hit the top-ten in 11 of 16 events. Day has three victories and eight top-tens in 14 tries. The top birdie-to-bogey ratio on tour belongs to Johnson by a significant margin, with Mickelson, Day, Stenson, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth just behind.
Over the years, a lot of pros have claimed their first major at the PGA Championship. But Baltusrol is not a typical PGA course. While it is among the easier U.S. Open layouts, it is difficult by PGA standards. That favors top players who are hot right now. Johnson, Mickelson, Stenson, McIlroy, and Day all make a lot of sense. At 35/1, Garcia is worthy of a bet too.
Photo credit: Corn Farmer (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/].)