Fantasy Golf Picks: PGA Championship Sleepers & Strategy
Defending Champ: Rory McIlroy
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PGA Championship Preview
This. Is. ITTTTTTTT.
The PGA schedule continues almost every week until the end of the year, keeping Fantasy Golf relevant with it, yet general interest won’t peak like this again until Jordan Spieth lands in Augusta next April to defend his Green Jacket.
What about the FedExCup, you say? No one cares. Ryder Cup? Sure, that I’ll give you. Ohhhhh… wait, 2015 is an odd number, making this a Presidents Cup year, and, frankly, I think I speak for everyone (Except the Steven Bowditch Eyebrow fan club. Maybe) in claiming we’d all be fine if the Presidents Cup went all polio, dinosaurs, and capitalism and ceased to exist.
However, I’ve got good news. No, that gum you like not coming back in style. But, this PGA Championship is going to be the nuts. Whistling Straits rules. Rory McIlroy is lacing up the spikes despite destroying his ankle five weeks ago. Oh, he’s also paired with Spieth and Zach Johnson too. Dustin Johnson returns to the scene of his highest profile meltdown, with a chance for the ultimate redemption. Its two previous PGA Championships (2004 & 2010) produced a playoff. Plus, whenever my buddy hears Whistling Straits he sends me a text that just reads, “CURVY STRAIGHTS!!!!!” Outside of tailgating, trolls, and
Chris Farley, Whistling Straits is the best Wisconsin has to offer.
Basically, everyone should be FIRED UP, this week’s going to be awesome.
PGA Championship Key Skills
Bubba, Dustin and Rory all powered their way onto the first page of the leaderboard in 2010. That doesn’t make Whistling Straits merely a bomber’s haven, though. Distance will always be an advantage, per usual, but seeking out shorter, accurate hitters who gain a lot of strokes tee-to-green will be how you separate your squad. Accuracy may not be as memorable as distance, but ZJ, Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar, Simon Dyson and even OLD MAN Steve Elkington all cashed big paydays at the 92nd PGA Championship through a mix of hitting fairways and glorious iron play.
There are many ways to attack this layout. Keeping clear of the danger lurking just off the short grass is one way to accomplish that, but for those who veer off the fairway and are forced to play from one of the 1000 plus bunkers or Euro style fescue or rough thicker than Kiradech Aphibarnrat, they must possess elite ball striking and scrambling skills to avoid giant numbers.
I’ll be targeting both styles of golfer (especially in the Milly Maker), along with players that traditionally do well on Pete Dye courses. Instead of PGA Championship event history, it’d be smarter to glance at the results from THE PLAYERS, Heritage, Zurich Classic and Travelers to see which common names keep popping up. Before that, though, obviously the leaderboard from the 2010 PGA Championship is worth a peek, but the 2012 PGA Championship, played on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, is a good comp tournament to look at too. It’s another Dye layout featuring many of the design tricks, and boasts comparable length and sandy conditions.
PGA Championship Picks
Bubba Watson & Rory McIlroy - I hope Fantasy players only research Bubba Watson’s performance in Majors so far this season, or want to conserve starts, and decide to pass on the bombing lefty’s services at Whistling Straits. Unfortunately, I don’t think a high enough percentage of Fantasy golfers suffer from the required amount of brain damage to make that a reality. Our loss. Beyond his results this season (Two wins, six T5s in 14 starts), recent form (Win, two solos 2nd in last five starts), and 2010 playoff loss; Bubba rates highly in almost every pertinent stat this week: Distance (3rd), SG: Putt (27th), SG: T2G (2nd), birdie or better conversion rate (4th), Ball Striking (31st), and Scrambling (32nd). Plus, the longer holes won’t phase him. Watson’s tops on Tour in going for the green and second in “Hit green percentage” when going for the green. Factor all that in with his history at other Dye designs (Watson’s won the Travelers twice, the Zurich once and finished T11 at Kiawah) and you have a must-start. Your second player… that’s where things get dicey. In a good way, though; there so many solid options to choose from that narrowing it down to one makes life difficult. If you want safety, taking Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia or Jim Furyk is likely the best call, but I’ll be gambling Rory McIlroy’s ankle holds up through the weekend. The logic is simple: You’re never going to have a chance to use Rory when his ownership is so low. Perilous? Certainly. But ripe with dividends, and pairing Rory with Bubba provides enough security to make it a calculated risk.
A-List Alternates: Brooks Koepka & Henrik Stenson
Dustin Johnson & Jason Day - In a field this deep, while it’s never a recommended strategy, fading Jordan Speith and Justin Rose affords you the opportunity to make chalk picks that will be less common than the majority of your opponents. And despite everything Speith’s accomplished this season, I believe he has about an equal chance to win the year’s fourth Major as Dustin Johnson & Jason Day, so you may as well pick those two instead and use their upside to fuel your ascent to the top of the standings.
Rickie Fowler & Matt Kuchar - It’s strange, statistically speaking, Will Wilcox is twice as good as Rickie Fowler. Now, we know that’s not true, but there aren’t many numbers where Rickie outclasses the rest of the field, except attacking pins from the rough. For the season, the reigning PLAYERS champ is best in proximity from the key distance of 200-225 yards (from the rough) and rests inside the Top 25 out of the long grass from 175-200 (8th), 150-175 (23rd), and 75-100 (16th). We know Rickie isn’t going to nail every fairway, but at least we know that won’t be too detrimental to his game. Matt Kuchar dominates at two places: Jack Nicklaus designed courses and Pete Dye designed courses. Seriously. Kuch's recent play has started to mirror his usual consistency (T25, T7, T58, T2, T12, T26) and his top level sand (7th) and scrambling (10th) should help him scratch out another T10 at Whistling Straits. I doubt he’ll be a popular pick this week either with so many hotter names surrounding him - Always a good thing.
B-List Alternates: Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose & Paul Casey
Jason Bohn & Tony Finau - If you’re not familiar with Jason Bohn, now’s the time to educate yourself. Bohn’s playing a lot like 2013 Jason Dufner at the moment; he’s short off the tee (182th), but doesn’t allow it to hinder his results. He makes it up with extreme accuracy (3rd), elevated GIR rate (22nd), SG: T2G (41st), ball striking (42nd) and a shockingly high birdie rate (15th). Sometimes accuracy can be overrated, but a deeper dive into his stats reveals how good he is at hitting his exact spot. Bohner Jam’s ninth in distance from the edge of the fairway, meaning, he’s not just hitting fairways, he’s placing it in the middle of the fairway, which is leading to minuscule proximity from the short stuff (9th). This, plus his “Good Drive Percentage” has resulted in not just a lot of scoring opportunities, but quality ones. Additionally, he’s derived his meaty GIR% with sturdy iron play. He ranks 13th in GIRs from beyond 200 yards and 11th in pin seeking ability from 125 yards and in. Toss in his recent form (T4, T12, T13) and Bohn is the sleeper of the week. Tony Finau, he’s the exact opposite player. Where Bohn oozes consistency, Finau is Mr. High Variance. Still, the rookie is exactly the type of long-driving, high-volume scorer that translates well to this course. Yes, Finau seems to be immune to stringing together four solid rounds, but that doesn’t mean he can’t. Finau is second in carry distance (Trailing only DJ), eighth in driving distance, ninth in birdie average, and, like Bubba, goes for the green a lot (5th) and gets it on (10th). His scrambling, sand play and putting may bury him, but Finau fits a mold that has had success on this layout before, and I doubt the stage overwhelms him. His experience is lacking, but managed to eke out a T14 at Chambers Bay in his Major debut.
C-List Alternates: Charl Schwartzel & Danny Lee
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