Just four weeks after a thrilling Masters it’s time for golf’s second major of the year. It may take some getting used to, but the PGA Championship makes it’s May debut this week, as Bethpage Black gets a third shot at hosting a major championship.
“The People's Country Club” has previously hosted two U.S. Opens, and at close to 7,500 yards can play as an absolute beast. Case and point, the scoring averages for both championships—won by Tiger in '02 and Lucas Glover in '09—were above par. Though remember, this is not the U.S. Open. While the USGA prides itself on testing the best golfers in the world, the PGA of America prefers to “showcase the best golfers in the world.”
The PGA field of 156 will feature all of the top 100 players in the OWGR (except those who WD) as well as 20 club professionals who qualified through the 2019 PGA Professionals Championship.
Brooks Koepka heads to Long Island as the defending PGA champion after outlasting Tiger Woods a year ago at Bellerive for his third major title in 14 months. He also arrives at the PGA with two things in place, his game and a giant chip on his shoulder as he continues to get snubbed in the best player in the world conversations.
When it comes to scoring and what to expect, a good point of reference may be the 2012 and 2016 Barclays, which were Fed Ex Cup playoff events. Not major championships, but certainly not stress–free walks in the park either. Patrick Reed won the 2016 version at –9 and Nick Watney hoisted the trophy in 2012 at –10.
The length of the golf course combined with the insane amount of rain recently in the New York area have created soft conditions, making the driver key this week. Keep an eye on Shots Gained Tee to Green, as well as Shots Gained Approach and players who have success on long approach shots. Approach shot 175-200 yards will be critical.
Nuts and bolts
Course: Bethpage State Park-Black Course, (7,459 Par 70)
Defending Champion: Brooks Koepka (–16, 264 at Bellerive CC)
Weather Forecast: Temperatures in the mid 60’s. Chance of showers Thursday and Friday.
Players We Like
Rory McIlroy (10/1, $12,100): Now that the annual pressure of trying to win at Augusta has come and gone, Rory can continue his ridiculously good season. McIlroy hasn’t finished outside the top 25 in an event in 2019, with his worst finish being a T-21 at the Masters. His recent run includes a win at The Players, a T-9 at the WGC Match Play and a T-8 at the Wells Fargo. He also has a decent track record at Bethpage Black finishing T-10 at the 2009 US Open prior to two top 35’s at the Barclays in 2012 and 2016.
Bethpage’s relatively flat putting surfaces will allow for a mediocre putter to contend this week, which is another factor in McIlroy’s favor. Rory leads the PGA Tour in Shots Gained Tee to Green, ranks No. 6 in Shots Gained Approach and will use his length to combat a soggy golf course. Think the 2011 US Open at Congressional.
Tiger Woods (11/1, $11,700): What should we expect from Tiger following one of the most monumental wins in golf history? I’m not sure anyone knows, including Tiger, who’ll be playing in his first event since last month’s Masters. Because of the unknown you try to lean on track record and statistics.
A win at the 2002 U.S. Open and T-6 at the 2009 version show the course suits his eye and his game. No, Tiger isn’t the same player, but he’s still plenty long off the tee and can dominate with his iron play, which we saw at Augusta.
He ranks No. 8 in Shots Gained Tee to Green, No. 5 in approach shots 175-200 yards and No. 14 in Shots Gained Approach. Will Tiger tie Sam Snead's all-time wins record of 82 in front of the raucous New York crowd?
Matt Kuchar (40/1, $10,100): When the statistical numbers talk, as they do with Kuchar, you have to listen. Kuch’s season will forever be remembered by his caddie fiasco in Mexico, though his play has shown the Tour veteran has moved on from Mayakoba. He’s finished in the top 12 in all of his last four events including second-place finishes at the RBC Heritage and the WGC Match Play and already has two wins, two 2nds and six top 10s this season. He also ranks in the top 12 in the Big Three Statistical categories (SG Approach, SG Tee to Green and Approach Shots 175-200 yards). Kuch may just get that elusive first major title at Bethpage and reconcile with the golf world to become a fan favorite again.
Sergio Garcia (40/1, $9,700): Despite a rocky relationship with the New York fans, there may be no player in the field that has experienced more success at Bethpage Black than the Spaniard. Sergio has played at Bethpage three times, never finishing outside the top 10. The combination of success in Farmingdale, strong iron play and 40/1 odds makes him a factor when handicapping the field.
Jason Kokrak (100/1, $8,900): Talk about a player waiting to break through. In the midst of the most consistent season of his career, Kokrak is a perfect 15 of 15 in cuts made this season. He has nine top 25s, and four top 10s, including a second-place finish at the Valspar. The one thing missing is that first career victory. Kokrak finished T-7 in his lone appearance at Bethpage during the 2016 Barclays and statistically he checks all the boxes. Expect the bomber to be a factor this week.
Keegan Bradley (150/1, $9,500): The 2011 PGA Champion is in the midst of a career rejuvenation stepping up his game for the season’s big events. Bradley finished T-10 at the WGC Mexico, T-16 at The Players and made the cut at this year’s Masters. The 33-year-old played college golf nearby at St. John’s and knows the Long Island track very well. Keegan can credit his success this season to his iron play as he ranks No. 4 in SG Approach, while an impressive No. 15 in SG Tee to Green.
Patrick Reed (70/1 $10,400): We hate to beat a dead horse here, but something is just off with Reed. Despite winning at Bethpage Black at the 2016 Barclays, Reed has struggled mightily this season failing to lock down a top-20 finish over his last eight events. A T-63 at last week’s Byron Nelson is disturbing for a player of his caliber, but more concerning is his score of 6 under par. On a course that yielded 1,839 birdies, Reed managed to tally just 13 over four rounds. Reed currently ranks No. 89 in SG Tee to Green and No. 124 in SG Approach.