Today's Free Picks for
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Posted at 12:30 PM EST.
PGA Championship Field
The PGA Championship typically rolls out a 156-man field each year, and that looks set to be the case in 2022 – albeit with some top-ups. Phil Mickelson’s ongoing spat with the PGA TOUR sees him refuse to defend the trophy he won 12 months ago, although the good news is that it seems likely that Tiger Woods will tee it up.
Sungjae Im picked up Covid during a trip home to Korea and is forced to miss out. Other than that, this is as strong a field as you would expect for a major, and that means the best in the business will hit the tee along with former PGA Championship winners like Rich Beem and John Daly, plus a host of talented amateurs, qualifiers and Asian Tour stars looking to make their name Stateside.
This Week's Course Preview
So here’s the key question – how will Southern Hills Country Club play this week? As well as hosting four previous editions of the PGA Championship (1970, 1982, 1994 and 2007) and three US Opens (1958, 1977 and 2001), Southern Hills was famously the site of one of mobster Whitey Bulger’s slayings….so, there’s that.
The past doesn’t always inform the present, of course, but it’s noteworthy that when Tiger Woods won the 2007 PGA here, he did so with a score of -8 – with just five players ending the tournament under par. Tiger did shoot a round of 63 here, but that’s something of an anomaly for a course that tends to play on the tough side – the 2001 U.S. Open was won by Retief Goosen with a score of -4….on that occasion, only four players finished the event under par.
So that already helps to build a profile of what to expect from Southern Hills, and the only thing that might make it somewhat easier to play is that there has been some rain around Tulsa. Any softening of these lightning-fast surfaces will be welcome.
Designed by Perry Maxwell back in 1936 and given the Gil Hanse restoration treatment in 2019, Southern Hills looks in images to be a fairly typical parklands course. But the aerial view confirms just how many bunkers there are – some remarkably deep, while there are a few considerable water hazards to navigate as well (water genuinely looks to be in play on maybe 13 or 14 holes).
Despite its undulations, Southern Hills will play long too and its Bentgrass greens, which are smaller than average, look to be pretty complex to the naked eye with ridges, false front and edges and some dramatic run-off areas spewing errant approaches 20 yards or so from the green. With fair landing zones, good drivers will have the edge this week – but even then, their approaches will have to be precise to navigate the variety of hazards that are present at Southern Hills CC.
Weather Forecast for Tulsa, OK
Before we launch into the weather forecast for Tulsa, the most important thing to note straight off the bat is the wind – we’re talking in excess of 20mph, give or take, on all four days of action. That will be exacerbated by a kind of dry heat on Thursday and Friday, with temperatures up around 90˚F but humidity at around 55%....it will feel stiflingly hot, and the ball won’t travel as far as it might in more humid climes. As for the weekend, the wind remains up but there looks likely to be some rain around – when, and how much, is as always a guessing game, but with thunderstorms mentioned, there could be some delays on Saturday in particular.
What We’re Looking For
There’s always the risk that when we suggest how difficult we expect a course to play that somebody will come along and tear it up – making us look rather foolish, but even so, we DO expect Southern Hills to be an almighty test this week, and that’s due to the melting pot of reasons we have already identified – it’s super long, there are stacks of different hazards, the greens are small and uniquely contoured and it looks likely to be crazy-windy in Tulsa.
That latter point could be the most pertinent of all. There simply aren’t going to be many opportunities to club down, you wouldn’t think, and so players are going to have to take out the big stick and hit fairways even with a mad breeze blowing. That will also be felt on approach, with high lofted shots likely to be taken off-course by the zephyr, and so those with a low ball-flight that can keep it in play – think Links and British Open style specialists – could come to the fore.
As ever, hitting long-range approaches into small, complex greens is a tough task, and so there will be plenty of chipping and recovery required too. And then we have the Bentgrass green factor – some players, as we know, favor these surfaces more than others. Perhaps with a little luck, we can identify a couple of longshots to be on the leaderboard this weekend and give us a great shot at a cashout.
Xander Schauffele 22-1
When we’re shaping up to analyze what we consider to be ‘hard’ golf courses, Xander Schauffele often comes into the conversation. And so we were pleased to see that he found some excellent form at the Byron Nelson, where he played his last 50 holes in a staggering -26 with zero bogeys on his card. TPC Craig Ranch and Southern Hills couldn’t be any more different as golf courses go, but form tends to travel despite differing conditions and there aren’t many in golf as adept as Schauffele at grinding out a score – this is a guy with top-five finishes in The Masters, U.S. Open and British Open after all. A player at his best when keeping bogeys off your card is the difference-maker, Schauffele’s long, straight and risk-free shooting really could come to the fore this week. He ranks 3rd ON TOUR in Par 4 Scoring Average, 13th in SG: Tee-to-Green and 32nd in Driving Distance (Risking 0.5 units to win 11 units).
Matt Fitzpatrick 40-1
Matt Fitzpatrick is the kind of guy we like to have on side when the wind is up. The Brit’s best wins around the world have come in breezy conditions, and he has an unusually low ball-flight that helps him to get underneath the wind and retain control of his shots. In fine fettle of late, Fitzpatrick has banked top-10s in the Arnold Palmer, Wells Fargo and Valspar Championship since the start of March, finished T14 in The Masters and has a career resumé of top-25s in all four of the majors. He is a big-time player in strong form that ranks 22nd ON TOUR in SG: Around-the-Green, 22nd in SG: Putting and 24th in SG: Approach (Risking 0.4 units to win 16 units).
Mito Pereira 175-1
It’s looking increasingly as if Mito Pereira is the real deal, and going forward there might not be that many opportunities to get him at a price like this. Play him weekly because he’s going to pop at some point and when he does, the price should be significant. The Chilean is already the purest of ball-strikers, and while we haven’t seen how he will fare in tough major conditions, it’s interesting to note that he ranks better on the PGA TOUR for Scoring Average than Birdie Average – a sure sign that he grits his teeth and keeps bogeys off his card where possible. Chipping better at the Byron Nelson, it is the short game of Pereira that is of most concern this week – hopefully, his relentless green hitting will mitigate some of those issues but regardless he's worth a wager, especially considering that he ranks 6th ON TOUR in Par 4 Scoring Average, 8th in Greens in Regulation and 18th in SG: Approach. (Risking 0.2 units to win 35 units to win outright and 0.4 units to win 12 units (30-1) to finish TOP-5).
Total Risk - 1 unit
PGA Wagers (Risking 1 units - To Win: 0.00)