We are less than 24 hours away from the start of the 103rd PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. The Pete Dye design should present an excellent challenge for the world’s best as 99 out of the top 100 players in the world will be teeing it up at the Ocean Course.
There has been plenty of discussion leading up to this major championship questioning how exactly the course will play. At 7,900 yards it’ll surely be a brute and while your first reaction may be to back the bombers and fade the plotters, I find myself somewhere in the middle.
In a perfect world, we would identify those players who have the perfect blend of distance and accuracy to go along with a superb short-game and timely putter. Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world and even though we have gone unbeaten over the last two tournaments, this week still brings a bit of an unknown.
It is of my belief that those who are both strong off-the-tee and from around-the-green will rise to the top of the leaderboard. With this in mind, by week’s end, those who are accurate will outperform those who strictly bomb it. While maybe a bit unpopular, I am confident we are on the right path and that our target players can outperform their opponents in these head-to-head matchups.
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Head-to-Head Matchups (Odds via PointsBet Sportsbook):
Patrick Reed (-125) over Patrick Cantlay
I find myself between a rock and a hard place, as a Patrick myself, I have become a true fan of both of these players. But cooler heads will prevail as we will side with the Patrick of the Reed variety. We were on this matchup at Quail Hollow for the Wells Fargo Championship and it was wrapped up by Friday evening. Based off that tournament, there aren’t any signs indicating that this week will be any different.
Reed thrives in difficult conditions on difficult courses. Just look at his track record at venues such as Torrey Pines, Doral, Quail Hollow, Winged Foot, the list goes on. I’m not too concerned with Reed being a shorter hitter as his short-game more than makes up for it. Players will be missing greens at a higher rate than they are accustomed to and that only plays into Reed’s hands.
This is normally a spot where I would try to buy low on a player like Cantlay, but there isn’t anything to suggest that this will be the week he turns things around. He’s lost strokes on approach in four straight starts and has been cycling through different putters faster than the local laundromat. He’s clearly in the midst of some serious struggles and while I do like him to return to his long-term form eventually, I don’t see it happening at the Ocean Course.
Marc Leishman (+115) over Sergio Garcia
After nearly grabbing a share of the first-round lead at last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson, Garcia stumbled in Round 2. It was a surprising missed cut for the Spaniard who now calls Texas his home. It marked the third consecutive start that Garcia has failed to play over the weekend.
Some may flock to Garcia, believing that paspalum greens hide poor putters, but it’s not necessarily the putter that has me worried. The irons have not been up to par for the 2017 Masters champion, losing strokes on approach in three straight starts. Combine that with a dip in his major championship form and it’s more than enough for me to go elsewhere.
This week has the potential to set up perfectly for the big Aussie. He’s been striking the ball beautifully and is coming off a win at the Zurich Classic and a top-5 finish at The Masters. Leishman has been quoted as saying that this may be his best opportunity to capture an elusive major victory.
I typically don’t put too much stock into something like that, but it’s reassuring to know Leishman feels comfortable around the Ocean Course. He’s shown the ability in the past to play well in difficult conditions when looking at his wins at both Torrey Pines and Bay Hill. If he is able to find the short grass with regularity, he will be a threat to contend.
Bubba Watson (+140) over Joaquin Niemann
While I do love Niemann to start fast, over the course of the week, I believe that his short game will inevitably let him down. Not only that, but while on paper it appears that the ball-striking has been superb, when diving into his numbers a bit more, it shows that his driver has been wild at times. With winds at 10-20 miles per hour for most of the week, gusting to potentially 25 miles per hour, anything slightly mishit or off line will only be magnified.
When it comes to major championships, Niemann has yet to find himself in the thick of things. If this is one of those head-to-head matchups that comes down to the final round, there is always the potential that nerves get the best of the young Chilean and he slips down the leaderboard.
As for Watson, he’s quietly been playing some really good golf. A top-30 at The Masters was followed up with top-20 finishes at both the Valspar Championship and Wells Fargo Championship. When it comes to long Pete Dye designs, Watson should always be a consideration. He’s done great work at TPC River Highlands over the years, boasting two victories there. Then at Whistling Straits at the 2010 PGA Championship, Watson lost in a playoff to Martin Kaymer.
He now comes to the Ocean Course in the midst of some of the best driving of his career. He’s long enough, he’s creative enough, and he was one of the few Americans to perform well in the 2012 PGA Championship having finished T-11.
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