US PGA Championship Betting Tips: Four selections for second Major of the season
Six weeks removed from Scottie Scheffler’s sensational victory in the first major of the year at Augusta National, it’s now time for our second instalment of 2022, of golf’s most prestigious events. As the attention of the golfing world turns to Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the PGA Championship.
US PGA Tips
Originally designed as a matchplay event in 1916, the PGA Championship converted to strokeplay in 1958 and has seen many of the game’s greats lift the Wanamaker Trophy. Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen are the winning most players in the event’s history, with five apiece, though all of Hagen’s wins came exclusively in the matchplay era.
Tiger Woods has tasted success in this event four times and is joined by other notable names such as Gary Player, Lee Trevino and last year’s champion, Phil Mickelson, who became the oldest major winner of all time when picking up the title at Kiawah Island.
Since 1969, the PGA Championship had been held almost exclusively in the first couple of weeks of August and would typically be the final major championship of the season. This all changed in 2019, as it moved to its current slot as the second major of the year on the schedule at the end of May. However it did briefly switch back to its original August slot in 2020, an enforced change due to the pandemic.
This year represents the 5th occasion that Southern Hills Country Club has hosted the PGA Championship. Having previously staged the tournament in 1970, 1982, 1994 and most recently in 2007, where Tiger Woods picked up the 13th of his 15 majors.
This high-class championship course also having hosted three US Opens, in 1958, 1977 and 2001, amongst many amateur events and was most recently seen hosting the Senior PGA Championship in 2021.
Originally designed by Perry Maxwell in the 1930s, this superb course has been through an extensive renovation recently at the hands of Gil Hanse, one which means any players that played here in 2007 or previous, will find a course much changed to the last time they visited.
The most striking change on paper is that the course can play significantly longer now. Back in 2007, it played as a 7131 yard par 70. Whilst it’s still a par 70, it can now stretch out to a whopping 7556 yards. Very long, even by modern standards.
In addition to this, Hanse and his team created much more room off the tee by removing trees and widening the fairways, with new bunkers placed to trouble the new landing areas. Also restoring the creak that runs around much of the property, meaning water could well be in-play on all but three holes.
Perhaps the most important changes, as detailed by Hanse himself will come from around these relatively small, sloped putting surfaces. Where they removed much of the rough that had come to surround the greens, redefining the false edges and run-off areas that require the most precise iron play or else face a tough up and down from a tight lie. All of these changes intended to bring the course back in-line with how Maxwell had originally set the course up to be played.
The course was always a tough one to get to grips with in the past. Nick Price’s -11 winning score in 1994 the best score in the years it hosted the PGA Championship, though he won by 6 shots and -1 was good enough for a 9th place finish that year.
How those changes will impact the scoring is yet to be seen, with many of the comments I’ve read about the course since the renovation speaking of a course which remains tough but fair.
There’s no doubt it will be kinder off-the-tee, even more so when you consider the rough isn’t too tricky and with over 400 yards added in distance, it’s easy to assume these changes will benefit the bigger hitters. Having said that, you will still need to drive it relatively straight, hitting these greens will be tough from the fairways, even more so from off them and with many doglegging holes, if you’re driving it waywardly as well as on the wrong side of the fairway, you’ll be left with a nigh on impossible shot to hold these greens.
You won’t need to be overly inaccurate to find yourself tumbling off these small greens and I expect the short-game to prove to be just as important as the long game.
There are few really standout scoring opportunities around the course. As mentioned, there are just two par 5s and they are monsters, both measuring over 630 yards and will play as three-shotters for much of the field.
The par 3s all look tricky and whilst some of the shorter par 4s may appear to be the best scoring opportunities, uneven lies on the undulating fairways and the severe slopes on many of the putting surfaces mean it will be difficult to get it close to the hole just about anywhere.
Not a particularly ground-breaking opinion but the event promises to produce the type of tough all-round test that major championships should, and I think the golfer who finishes up holding the trophy on Sunday evening will have had to do virtually everything well.
PGA Championship Trends
The nature of every major outside of The Masters means we’re not blessed with an abundance of recent, year-on-year course form to go off and with the changes made to this course, I find it pointless to spend time looking over stats from the event 15 years ago. Instead I think it’s not just important to simply focus on players golfing their ball well at the moment but actually look at what makes a PGA Championship winner and major winner in general.
There has been a strong recurring theme over recent years of first-time major winners, with 15 of the last 23 majors going to players claiming their first. The PGA Championship used to be one of the standouts in this regard, indeed from Martin Kaymer’s win in 2010, to Justin Thomas’ victory in 2017, six of those winners were winning their first major, with the other two going to Rory McIlroy.
Though over the last four runnings of the event, we’ve seen three of them go to players who were already major champions. Brooks Koepka in 2018 & 2019 and Phil Mickelson last year, with the generationally talented Collin Morikawa the only one picking up his first in 2020. Giving a bit of a mixed bag of results to that old adage that the PGA Championship is the easiest one in which to make your major breakthrough.
There’s also the fact that most of those first time winners were hardly novices and had shown something in majors prior to their victory. The only players not to have recorded a previous top 10 in a major before winning this event in recent years are Collin Morikawa in 2020, who was playing in just his 2nd ever major championship, his first a 35th place finish in the 2019 US Open and Keegan Bradley’s remarkable victory in 2011, which was his first ever major championship appearance.
Every other winner in the last 12 years was either already a major champion or had previously recorded a top 10 finish. Winning majors is painstakingly difficult, and it usually takes players a good few years of gaining quality experience in them before they can taste victory.
Further to this we can look at form in the build up to the event and in the year as a whole. Of those last 12 winners, 8 had recorded a top 10 in their three most recent starts prior to winning the PGA Championship. With 3 of those possessing a victory. Showing a generally high standard of form going into the events for the winners.
The main outliers in this regard would be Phil Mickelson last year, who’d been in poor form all year and arrived at Kiawah Island with form figures of 21-MC-69 in his three starts prior. This reminiscent of his year up until that point where he had a best of 21st in 2021 before winning the PGA Championship. Him being able to do this needing little explanation, he is Phil Mickelson after-all.
The other would be Justin Thomas in 2017, who entered the week at Quail Hollow off the back of going MC-MC-28 on his three previous starts. Though had shown excellent form earlier that year, picking up two titles.
This year long form angle doesn’t just apply to Thomas, as eight of those last twelve winners had recorded at least one victory in the year they won. Of those that hadn’t, outside of Mickelson we have Brooks Koepka, who may not have won in 2019 before the PGA Championship but had recorded two 2nd place finishes and a further two top 10s. Jimmy Walker in 2016 had one top 5 to his name, along with two top 10s and an additional six top 25s, showing a player who’d shown solid form for the year. Whilst Jason Dufner in 2013 had two top 5s, two top 10s and a further four top 25s, similarly solid form to that shown by Walker.
Full list of form for winners from 2010-2021 below:
Year– Player – Recent form / Best performance(s) that year
2021 - Phil Mickelson: 21-MC-69 / 2 top 25s
2020 – Collin Morikawa: 1-48-20 / 1 win
2019 – Brooks Koepka: 56-2-4 / 2 times a runner-up
2018 – Brooks Koepka: 39-MC-5 / 1 win
2017 – Justin Thomas: MC-MC-28 / 2 wins
2016 – Jimmy Walker: 16-MC-14 / 1 top 5
2015 – Jason Day: 4-1-12 / 2 wins
2014 – Rory McIlroy: 14-1-1 / 3 wins
2013 – Jason Dufner: MC-26-4 / 2 top 5s
2012 – Rory McIlroy: 10-60-5 / 1 win
2011 – Keegan Bradley: 22-43-15 / 1 win
2010 – Martin Kaymer: MC-7-22 / 1 win
It comes as no surprise to see that being in good form, for the most part translates to being able to win a major championship and though there are a couple of players who had shown less than others in the most recent results, they’d predominantly shown quality at some point during the year.
One note of caution in terms of many of those results would be that from 2007, right up until 2018, the PGA Championship immediately followed the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. Not just an elite event in which most of the top players turned up but a limited field, no-cut event meaning for most of those players on the above list, a MC wasn’t possible.
Indeed this all changed in 2019 when the event adopted this new slot following the Byron Nelson, with Koepka coming 4th there, though because of the pandemic, the 2020 edition was rescheduled to follow the WGC-St Jude Invitational, another elite no-cut event. Going back to this slot last year.
This is what enabled Mickelson last year to become the first winner since Tiger in 2006, not to play the week prior and it’s why I expect that going forward, many more players will be able to win the PGA Championship having not had a tune up the week before.
In an event where the host moves about every year and to a course which although familiar is hugely different this year than any year previous, it’s tough to weigh up courses/events to follow.
The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village stands out somewhat, as a long championship course with bent greens and some steep run-off areas. It plays incredibly tough around-the-greens, something I’m expecting to be the case this week.
I would also recommend checking out form at the likes of Riviera, which stages the Genesis Invitational, Torrey Pines, home of the Farmers Insurance Open, Bay Hill, host the Arnold Palmer Invitational and form in the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow. Though not identical setups, these are all championship tests of golf at courses that have either hosted a major champions or play similarly in terms of difficulty, putting strain on every aspect of a player’s game.
I also think it can’t harm to look into courses where either original architect, Perry Maxwell, or renovator Gil Hanse have had a hand. Instantly standing out is The Masters. There Maxwell is said to have played a big part in the design of the green complexes and though not quite as difficult as what we find at Augusta, they certainly play similarly. Also looking at the lengthening of the course and widening of the fairways brings it more in line with Augusta’s suitability to bigger hitters.
One final one I would mention is TPC Sawgrass and THE PLAYERS Championship. Again, not a hugely obvious test from a ball-striking perspective but it’s an elite, prestigious event and more to the point, plays as one of the toughest around-the-greens. With many winners there having to produce quality with the short-game to get over the line.
We’re set for a warm, dry week with plenty in the way of wind, particularly at the start of the tournament. Thursday and Friday are set to be the windiest days of the event, with winds of around 15-20mph, before it is forecast to die down over the weekend. Though still maintaining a constant, strong(ish) breeze.
As is always the case, a major championship means a strong field, with some of the world’s best players mingling with qualifying PGA professionals. World #1 Scottie Scheffler will play his first major as a major champion, whilst Tiger Woods will once again tee it up following his hugely commendable return at The Masters.
We have, however, had a few high profile withdrawals. The most high profile of all coming from reigning champion Phil Mickelson, with the whole LIV Golf saga showing no signs of slowing. In addition to this we are missing Sungjae Im, who unfortunately caught covid last week on a rare return home to play an event in his native Korea and Paul Casey withdraws once again because of ongoing issues with a back injury.
Major Championship markets are amongst the most difficult to decipher during the year. These events are often won by a select group of elite players and though that reduces the group of potential winners, all of these players are the shortest prices in the field and it is not always easy to decide which elite golfers to side with.
World numbers 1 & 2, Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm lead the way at 12/1. Scheffler an obvious chance with the way his game is looking right now and Rahm once again looks dangerous following that confidence boosting win in Mexico, coupled with the fact that his short-game has looked in much better shape in his latest starts. Having said that, there’s enough quality at the top of this market and players who are not just in good form but look to have the right type of game for this test, that I don’t feel inclined to jump in on either of the two market leaders.
Rory comes next at 14s, followed by Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas at 16/1. Without stating the obvious, I would do little to dissuade people from backing any of these guys this week. Though I have decided to steer away from them.
Instead I start my selections in this second major of the year in the next group of players in the betting. Jordan Spieth makes plenty of appeal but there was enough fallibility in his putting during the final round of the Byron Nelson, which ultimately stopped him from winning back-to-back titles last week, for me to avoid him and instead I start with a player of whom I expected to have a big year in these tournaments in 2022, Patrick Cantlay.
I tipped Cantlay up in my Masters ante-post preview this year. In that preview I stated he was a player who I expected to win a major this year, due to what looked like a newfound confidence and steely determination in contention in 2021. This saw him claim victories in the Memorial Tournament and in the BMW Championship, both times winning playoffs, particularly memorably in that BMW Championship, in which he ground Bryson DeChambeau into submission, holding his nerve to hole putts from all over the greens and win that marathon playoff.
He started this year in excellent form, reeling off finishes of 4-9-4-2 in his opening four starts of 2022. Looking every bit a player who would have a strong chance by the time Augusta came around. Though following that 2nd place finish, where he lost in a playoff to Scottie Scheffler in the Phoenix Open, his form tapered off and he was only able to put up an underwhelming 39th place finish in The Masters.
The main area of Cantlay’s game that was resulting in these poor performance was his iron play and in truth, it has been off the boil all year, even in that strong early season form, losing strokes in approach in both his 9th place finish in The AmEx and 4th place finish at Pebble Beach.
With that, it can’t be a surprise that on his two most recent starts, where Cantlay has shot back into form with a 2nd place finish in the RBC Heritage and a victory in the Zurich Classic, teamed with Xander Schauffele, that it has coincided with a return to form with his irons.
Cantlay actually showed improvements in this area at Augusta, ranking 13th in approach in that 39th place finish, an unusually poor week on and around the greens the cause of his troubles. Carrying that quality over into the next week when leading the field in approach in his 2nd place finish at Harbour Town. Once again the short-game not co-operating and ultimately what cost him victory, though such was the quality of his ball-striking that week, he was still able to finish just a shot behind Jordan Spieth.
This quality Cantlay has shown in all areas at some point this year is indicative of his game, in which he’s proven himself to be one of the very best all-round golfers on the PGA Tour over the last five years. Possessing little in the way off weaknesses. This is shown by an all-round ranking of 7th in 2017, 16th in 2018, 17th in 2019, 5th in 2020, 11th in 2021 and is currently 11th for 2022. He simply does everything well.
Cantlay’s best major finish to date came courtesy of a 3rd place finish at the 2019 PGA Championship. With his only other top 10 coming in that same year in The Masters. I find just two top 10s underwhelming for a player who possesses the game that Cantlay does, though he still manages to tick the box for this event of either having won a major or finishing top 10.
That Masters top 10 also serves as a good piece of correlating form. Though I’m more taken by his superb record in the Memorial Tournament. An event he has won twice, including last year.
Cantlay looked a major champion in waiting by the end of 2021. It didn’t happen for him at Augusta but with the resurgence of his approach play to levels we’d typically expect of the Californian, I think he’ll make up for The Masters disappointment this week in Oklahoma.
If a quality short-game is indeed going to be a huge factor this week then I can’t ignore Cameron Smith. He can follow Scottie Scheffler’s lead in turning a superb year into major success this week at Southern Hills.
Following a hugely consistent 2021, Smith has managed to turn quality contending performances into victories in 2022. Starting off by winning the Tournament of Champions at the start of the year, Smith added to that with the biggest win of his career in the “5th major” at TPC Sawgrass in THE PLAYERS Championship.
Since then, Smith put up an excellent performance in The Masters, finishing 3rd. One smacked with disappointment following a triple bogey 6 on the 12th hole on Sunday, at a point when he’d got to within three shots of Scottie Scheffler and may have fancied his chances at putting some pressure on down that closing stretch. Though I get the feeling Scheffler would’ve always had too much for everyone regardless. It was just his week.
Smith has followed this with a MC at the RBC Heritage, very much forgivable considering his Masters exertions the week prior and we last saw him finish 21st in the Zurich Classic, as part of the defending champions team with Marc Leishman.
His form this year has been engineered by quality in approach, where he ranks 7th on tour and of course that typically strong short-game, ranking 4th in putting and 40th around-the-greens. Also hugely efficient at hitting greens, ranking 8th. This combination of quality iron play but also an enviable ability to get out of trouble should he miss the putting surfaces is a hugely attractive one this week.
The driver is the weak spot, as is so often the case with Smith. He possesses decent enough distance but is low on accuracy. However he should be benefited by the more forgiving fairways this week.
Smith has an exemplary record at The Masters, finishing in the top 10 on four of his six visits. In addition to this is a top 5 at the 2015 US Open and a generally strong recent record in majors, where he’s missed just 2 cuts in his last 16.
A good record at Riviera in the Genesis Invitational, where he finished 4th in 2021 adds to the encouragement for this type of test and of course the win at THE PLAYERS Championship gives further confidence.
This has been a breakthrough year for Smith, not just with that career best win at Sawgrass but the general quality he’s showing in his game, particularly that elite iron play, meaning he looks at home at this area of the betting. Added to his superb short-game and his ability to play in the wind, he looks set to feature high on another high-class leaderboard this week.
There can be few golfers currently playing better without managing to win than Shane Lowry at the moment. He has yet to finish outside of the top 25 this year (excluding the matchplay) and has picked up three finishes inside the top 3, including that first major of the year at Augusta, where he finished 3rd. Coming into this week with every part of his game firing, he once again looks a big contender.
We last saw Lowry finishing 13th in the Zurich Classic four weeks ago, teamed with Ian Poulter. The week prior to that he’d finished 3rd at the RBC Heritage, which was his second 3rd place finish in a row following the excellent showing in The Masters. His best finish of the year coming when he was 2nd in the Honda Classic in rather unfortunate circumstances.
This phenomenal form that Lowry has been able to maintain right from January until now has been down to brilliance across the board. The standout area of his game this year has been his irons and sees him rank as the 4th best approach player on the PGA Tour this season. Though the most encouraging area of his game would have to be the putter, where he’s gone from ranking well outside the top 100 the previous four years, to being the 13th best putter on tour this season.
Lowry is renowned for his excellent short-game, which we expect to be huge this week. Ranking 2nd on tour in both scrambling and sand saves this year. With a ranking of 64th off-the-tee perfectly respectable considering the shape the rest of his game is in, possessing a solid combo of distance and accuracy. In addition to this is his highly respected ability to play not only a tough course but a tough course in windy conditions.
Shane has been there and done it as a major champion, winning The Open Championship in 2019 in facile fashion by six shots. In addition to this, that 3rd place finish at Augusta six or so weeks ago means that Lowry has now recorded top 5s in each of the other majors to go with that Open victory. The others coming with a 4th place finish in the PGA Championship last year and a 2nd place finish in the 2016 US Open.
Further to this he’s recorded top 10s at regular tour stops like Torrey Pines, in the Farmers Insurance Open and last year finished 6th at Muirfield Village. He’s a player who just relishes tough, championship golf.
Lowry has looked a winner in waiting for much of 2022 and I see little reason why he can’t once again go close this week at Southern Hills.
Finally, I’m going to take a chance on Patrick Reed at a huge price for a player of his calibre. He’d been showing some better signs of late before a terrible 2nd round at the Wells Fargo caused him to miss the cut. With a short-game as good as anyone when firing, I think he may be sparked into life this week and at 140/1 I’m more than happy to roll the dice.
That recent improvement in form from Reed started at THE PLAYERS Championship, where he finished 26th and with the exception of the driver, looked good with every club in the bag. He then played well enough in the Matchplay, where his standout performance was a 3&2 victory over Jon Rahm. Before another solid week at the Masters, finishing 35th and showing some quality in every area throughout the week.
This mini-resurgence saw Reed go off as short as 25/1 on his next start in Mexico, though he finished a disappointing 42nd in the end, he actually played well in the first 3 rounds, succumbing to a final round 75, which caused him to slip down the leaderboard.
Positive signs were once again on show at the Wells Fargo during the first round, where he hit the ball solidly and showed quality in the short-game. Though a poor 2nd round 79 put paid to his chances there, resulting in that missed cut.
Reed at his best is pretty solid all-round but undoubtedly excels on and around the greens. We have seen this on show in those most recent starts, where he’s gained strokes with the putter in 4 of his last 6 and around-the-greens in 3 of his last 5. Also showing better signs with the driver, where the misses are getting smaller, and he’s gained strokes in 2 of his last 3 events. The approach play is inconsistent, with solid rounds followed immediately by really poor rounds and that would be the biggest concern this week.
Reed is a major winner, having picked up that Masters title in impressive fashion in 2018. He’s since picked up two further top 10s at Augusta and in addition to that has recorded top 10s in each of the other three majors. With a 2nd in the 2017 PGA Championship, 4th in the 2018 US Open and 10th in the 2019 Open Championship his best in each event.
His major credentials are enhanced further as a winner of the Farmers Insurance Open, as well as other top 10s at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow and the Memorial Tournament.
There can be no illusion that we’re backing a Patrick Reed at the height of his game, hence why we’re getting a large price on a such a gifted, natural golfer. Though there’s enough encouragement in recent performances, belief that this type of test will suit him and plenty of evidence in his proven ability to win, that I think he’s worth chancing this week at a price we rarely see for him.