PGA Championship ⏤ Picks & Analysis

Fantasy Golf

Tpcharding Park5

The first major championship of the season is finally upon us as the world's best players assemble at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, CA for the 2020 PGA Championship. This public-access gem (and Forelinx Network course) will challenge the players with stout rough and slender tree-lined fairways. Advantages this week should go to players who can shape the ball through the encroaching cypress trees and spend most of the week playing to the pushed-up green complexes from the short grass.

The field is as one might expect for a major championship. Ninety-five of the top one hundred players in the world will be in attendance with just a few notable absences. Francesco Molinari, Lee Westwood, Charles Howell III and Padraig Harrington join a group of roughly a dozen players who opted out of the trip to the Bay Area due to COVID-related considerations. Tiger Woods will make his second post-COVID start and Adam Scott will appear for the first time since the PGA TOUR shut down. In all--the entirety of the top 25 players in the world will be competing and this week's title will be hard-earned against the very best of the best.

Brooks Koepka enters the week defending the 2019 PGA Championship title he won last year at the brutish Black Course at Bethpage State Park in New York. The ingredients he put together to win there should come in handy this week as the two courses share a generally similar style. It certainly shouldn't hurt his chances that he nearly won last week as well (a T2 finish at the WGC Fedex St. Jude Invitational) and seems to be rounding into form in the wake of a nagging knee injury.

Group A

Group A (as usual) consists of this week's leading contenders who break out rather easily into two categories. The first are the guys who appear to be playing their way into shape and the other includes the big names who arrive at TPC Harding Park with some questions to answer. 

The latter group is composed of Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and (to a lesser extent) Bryson Dechambeau. It's hard to imagine that DJ wouldn't be considered a form choice in the wake of his win a month ago at the Travelers Championship, but some injury-influenced sloppy play at the 3M Open (78-WD) and the Memorial (80-80) is definitely cause for concern. Rory McIlroy continues to search for the form he had going into the COVID pause while Bryson Dechambeau is yet to demonstrate success with his newfound length at a truly difficult golf course.

The form options include Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka and our pick Jon Rahm. If there were a golf course that we've seen post-COVID that we feel would be most predictive of success at a major championship setup, we'd have to go with what he faced to win the Memorial at difficult Muirfield Village Golf Club. He's got the confidence that comes with having reached #1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with the win and his prowess with the driver should put him in good stead at TPC Harding Park.

Group B

Xander Schauffele seems like a home run choice to us from this crop of next-level championship contenders assembled in Group B. For starters, he's always been a great fit on difficult golf courses thanks to his tidy short game and accurate driving of the golf ball. He seems to be among those guys poised to break through and win a major sooner rather than later. More importantly, he's shown enough form as of late that he should enter this event feeling awfully good about his game. His last four events have all resulted in top-20 finishes with improvements from 20th to 14th to 13th to 6th last week at TPC Southwind.

Tiger Woods is always difficult to ignore and he has a history at TPC Harding Park. He won the 2004 WGC American Express Championship here (in a playoff over fan favorite John Daly) and put up an incredible performance en route to a 5-0 record at the 2009 President's Cup. However, he's only made one mediocre start since the reboot in the wake of the COVID pause and it's hard to get a sense of what his form will truly look like. Moreover, the cool temperatures expected during championship week will likely make it tough to keep the back loose and that is easily the biggest factor these days when it comes to the game of Tiger Woods. 

Group C

Group C is a very eclectic mix of international players that range from up-and-comers like Sungjae Im and Tyrrell Hatton to major contenders like Hideki Matsuyama and Tommy Fleetwood. While Sungjae Im was hitting his stride pre-COVID, he's cooled off significantly since then and his inclusion in this group feels more about his ranking points off his earlier play and not his recent form. Matsuyama is forever a wild card who could easily rattle off a high finish but just as easily send your entry cascading down the leaderboard with a missed cut.

While Abraham Ancer and Tommy Fleetwood have games that should suit the narrow fairways at TPC Harding Park, we're going to make another form pick and run with Tyrrell Hatton. While he may have had a tough week at the WGC Fedex St. Jude Invitational (69th in a field of 78), his play leading into that event had been exceptional. He finished in the top-six (including a win) at the two events going into the COVID pause and then backed that up with a third at the RBC Heritage and a fourth at the Rocket Mortgage Invitational. Tough courses seem like they should suit him and if the notorious hothead can keep his wits about him he may find himself contending for his first major championship on Sunday. 

Group D

Group D might be the toughest of the bunch this week as the gap between the top performer and the bottom half of the group could run awfully wide. It's not hard to envision a few missed cuts from some of the players not quite on form (e.g. Spieth and Kuchar) but you also wouldn't be shocked to see a winner of this major championship emerge as well. Woodland certainly merits some consideration (having won at nearby Pebble Beach) and Tony Finau has been sniffing around the top of the leaderboard lately.

We're going to go risk-averse with our choice here and select Patrick Cantlay. While he may lack the firepower of a Woodland or Finau, his precision iron play and accurate driving make him an excellent fit for this golf course. Moreover, it's not tough for us to picture this California native having a good week on the poa greens at Harding Park and if he putts well you'd have to think he'll be in the top quarter of the field come the end of the week. Most importantly, he seems like the most surefire made cut among the six players and you aren't like to hate having picked him come Sunday.

Group E

The European Ryder Cup grouping features some out-of-form major champions (Garcia and Lowry) as well as our form-driven selection of Matthew Fitzpatrick. He's only missed one cut post-COVID and has seemingly taken strides forward each and every week. His last two outings include a third-place finish at the Memorial and a sixth-place finish at last week's event at TPC Southwind. He may not kill you with length, but he fits the mold of a tough-course player who keeps the ball in play and avoids the danger that lurks at a tough test like TPC Harding Park.

Group F

The final group this week features a number of veteran players half of whom (e.g. Mickelson, Watson and Glover) have bagged major championship titles. If you're going to go with experience among those more pedigreed players, we'd probably be inclined to take a flyer on Phil Mickelson. His short game gains value when the majors roll around (and pars become more valuable) and he managed a strong performance (T2) at last week's WGC event. It would be a thrill to see him contend post-50 and you know Phil hasn't written himself off just yet.

Nevertheless, our pick in this group is going to be the red-hot Daniel Berger. While he struggled at the tough Memorial (his only post-COVID missed cut), he's finished in the top-ten in the other three events both before and after the COVID pause. He joined Phil Mickelson in a tie for second last week and won just six weeks ago in a playoff over Collin Morikawa at the Charles Schwab Challenge. Nobody else in this group has sustained that level of golf lately and that makes him a no-brainer selection among these six options.