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DraftKings PGA: PGA Championship

Len Hochberg

Hochberg covers golf for RotoWire. A veteran sports journalist, he contributes to Sports on Earth and was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years.


PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Purse: $10.5M
Winner's Share: $1.89M
FedEx Cup Points: 600 to the Winner
Location: Charlotte, N.C.
Course: Quail Hollow Club
Yardage: 7,600
Par: 71
2016 champion: Jimmy Walker



Tournament Preview

The 99th PGA Championship will have a familiarity to it unlike most majors. The tournament will be played on a regular PGA Tour course, and that completely changes the dynamics for both real golf and fantasy golf. The final major of the season won't be held on a course that's never hosted a tournament before (Chambers Bay, Erin Hills, etc.) or on a course that comes around every decade or so (i.e. Royal Birkdale). Yes, this will be Quail Hollow Club's first major, but as the annual site of the Wells Fargo Championship, it is very familiar to the golfers and provides significantly more data than gamers are accustomed to for majors (outside of Augusta). It's the first regular course hosting a major since Congressional for the 2011 U.S. Open. These gifts don't come along too often, gamers, so take advantage.

There are similarities between last week's Firestone and Quail Hollow: Both are immensely long and favor big hitters and solid ball strikers. In the past, there has been a heavy focus on par-5 scoring at Quail Hollow, but now that it's been reduced to a par-71 -- one of the prime birdie chances is gone. So on a course where the top guys traditionally devoured the four par-5s, all under 600 yards, they'll now get only 12 tries instead of 16. That's enough to make a difference in the outcome. There are nine par-4s of 450-500 yards and three par-3s in excess of 200, including the whopping 249-yard 6th hole. There have been significant changes to the track since we last saw it at the 2016 Wells Fargo. Nos. 1, 2 and 5 are completely new holes and 11 has been modified. But the Green Mile is still the Green Mile. It's one of the most brutal finishing stretches in golf: two par-4s of roughly 500 yards sandwiching one of those long par-3s. Golfers who merely play those three holes in par will pick up some serious ground on the field. The uphill 18th was the fifth-toughest hole on the entire Tour in 2016 (out of 900 holes), averaging nearly a half-stroke over par. It will be harder this time around.

Now, on to the field. Everyone in the top-100 in the OWGR is here save Brandt Snedeker and Martin Kaymer (both injured) and Scott Piercy (undisclosed). All the top guys don't normally play the week before a major, but because of the WGC-Bridgestone, we do get to factor in up-to-the-minute form. DraftKings also gave us a head start by releasing its board before the WGC ended; some prices look inflated while others appear to be bargains. It's only a one-tournament difference, so most values are true, but when seeking out any edge, this might be able to help us find one. There is a correlation between the Bridgestone and the PGA: Every PGA winner since 2007 had been at least T22 at the Bridgestone. Take that for what it's worth, and most of the usual suspects to win this week -- Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama -- were in the top-22 at Firestone.

Weather-wise, there was some rain during practice rounds. The forecast said Thursday will be dry before thunderstorms move in on Friday and beyond. So a long Quail Hollow course will play even longer.

Key Stats to Winning at Quail Hollow (in order of importance)

Ball striking (total driving + greens in regulation)/strokes gained tee to green
Putting average/strokes gained putting
Scrambling/strokes gained around the green
Par 4 efficiency scoring 450-500 yards

Past Wells Fargo Champions at Quail Hollow

2016 - James Hahn
2015 - Rory McIlroy
2014 - J.B. Holmes
2013 - Derek Ernst
2012 - Rickie Fowler
2011 - Lucas Glover
2010 - Rory McIlroy
2009 - Sean O'Hair
2008 - Anthony Kim
2007 - Tiger Woods

Past PGA Champions

2016 - Jimmy Walker
2015 - Jason Day
2014 - Rory McIlroy
2013 - Jason Dufner
2012 - Rory McIlroy
2011 - Keegan Bradley
2010 - Martin Kaymer
2009 - Y.E. Yang
2008 - Padraig Harrington
2007 - Tiger Woods

Champion's Profile:

Long, long and long. Did we mention long? At 7,600 yards from the tips, Quail Hollow favors the big hitters. Fairways there are hard to hit. Greens there are hard to hit. Naturally, hitting greens is more important than hitting fairways, though hitting fairways makes it easier to hit greens. (That's deep, right?) Looking at the recent Wells Fargo winners, J.B. Holmes and Rory McIlroy both led the field in driving distance but were far back in accuracy. Accuracy will surely play a larger role this week. Three of the last five winners were top-3 in GIR. James Hahn and Holmes were not, but that won't sway us in our belief that GIR is paramount this week. That said, the greens are hard to hit, so scrambling will also factor in. And putting likely will be the difference between finishing on the first page of the leaderboard and victory. The last three winners were all top-7 in putting average. If McIlroy can come anywhere close to top-7 on the greens, look out. A final tip, much like we offered last week for the Bridgestone: Don't discount the shorter hitters. It may be hard for one of them to win, but some can and will be important lineup components. Zach Johnson (137th in driving distance), Russell Knox (T130) and Adam Hadwin (T90) all finished in the top-5 at Firestone.

DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)

Tier 1 Values

Jordan Spieth - $12,000 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 8-1)

Spieth couldn't sink a dang putt last week and he still tied for 13th. He was 45th in strokes gained putting at the Bridgestone and was negative SGP all four days. Do you think he'll do that again this week? No, we didn't think so. ... With a win, Spieth, 24 last month, would become the youngest golfer to complete the career grand slam, overtaking Tiger Woods. That offers both motivation and pressure.

Rory McIlroy - $11,800 (7-1)

One way for Spieth to relieve some of that pressure was to say that McIlroy is the favorite. That's smart of Spieth, and calculating, but also probably true. McIlroy has won at Quail Hollow twice with six top-10s in seven career starts there. He's shot 61 there, he's shot 62 there, he won in 2015 by seven strokes. We can go on and on, but you get the picture. It will all come down to McIlroy's putter. He tied for fifth at Firestone despite being only 34th in strokes gained putting.

Rickie Fowler - $10,700 (15-1)

McIlroy was denied a third Quail Hollow victory by this man. Fowler bested McIlroy for the 2012 title in a playoff. He doesn't have quite the track record there as McIlroy, but Fowler has two other top-6s, including T4 last year. He's 13th on Tour in ball striking, 11th in strokes gained tee to green, 9th in scrambling, 1st in strokes gained putting, eighth in par-4 450-500. Does that sound like someone who should win a major? It sure does. But something has always been lacking with Fowler.

Hideki Matsuyama - $10,500 (12-1)

As we said last week, Matsuyama's putting has been vastly improved the past month or so. And that's why we discounted his track record at Firestone. If he can keep it going on the greens, he very well could win a second week in a row. Like Fowler, Matsuyama has never won a major, but he doesn't carry nearly the baggage that Fowler does.

Tier 2 Values

Matt Kuchar - $8,800 (50-1)

While we picked four of the top-5 guys on the DraftKings board in Tier 1, we're dropping way down in price for Tier 2, bypassing the low-$10,000 and all the $9,000 guys, including Brooks Koepka. Koepka of course has had a breakthrough summer, but his game began to leak a little last week (53rd out of 76 in strokes gained tee to green), so we'll sit this one out. Kuchar, on the other hand, just keeps on keeping on. He has finished top-17 or better in seven of his last eight starts, the only blip being what we'll call a Canadian Open hangover the week after his agonizing near-miss at the Open Championship. That was Kuchar's second top-5 in a major this season. Very simply, he's almost always in the mix, and at a nice price.

Adam Scott - $8,600 (35-1)

Scott hasn't played Quail Hollow a lot of late, but he was T17 there last year. And he was rock-solid at Firestone, with a bogey on the 72nd hole costing him a top-10. Still, he notched his ninth top-25 in 14 starts this season. He's also cashed top-20 in five of the past six PGAs. With Scott, it's always been about his putting. At the Bridgestone, he was 27th in strokes gained putting and without a three-putt bogey on the week. Like Kuchar, this is a very favorable price for someone with an outside chance of winning the tournament.

Phil Mickelson - $8,500 (40-1)

All we have to do is type "Phil Mickelson" and our hands start to shake. On the one hand, he has a fantastic track record at Quail Hollow (seven top-10s in the past decade), he hasn't missed a cut at the PGA in more than 20 years (Twenty! That's almost Spieth's entire life!), he's 32nd in strokes gained tee to green, 36th in par-4 450-500 and he has a manageable price. On the other hand, some of his drives could end up in the Great Smoky Mountains clear across the state, But it's fun to root for Phil, so there is that.

Paul Casey - $7,800 (35-1)

Casey is Kuchar-like in his consistency (and in his inability to win a big tournament, sigh). Seriously, if the guy didn't finish T26 at the U.S. Open he'd have a top-25 in every tournament he's played since March, including T5 last week at Firestone. He's not the longest hitter, but he's not the shortest. He's not the most accurate, but he's far from inaccurate. What he is is second on Tour in GIR, third in strokes gained approach, fifth in scrambling and ninth in SG tee to green. Even his weakness, putting, is not that weak.

Tier 3 Values

Daniel Berger - $7,700 (50-1)

As we all know, Berger is enjoying a very successful summer, and he's coming off a T17 at Firestone. He's played Quail Hollow twice, improving from T28 two years ago to T17 last year. Statistically, he's top-30 in ball striking, strokes gained tee to green, strokes gained putting and par-4 450-500. Plus he's sixth in strokes gained approach.

Charley Hoffman - $7,600 (40-1)

This is one of the bargains we were talking about earlier. The thing is, Hoffman should be a very popular pick. He's been top-25 in all three majors this year, plus he's coming off a solo third last week at the Bridgestone and a runner-up in his previous start in Canada. And all this is happening in his age-40 season. Driving accuracy is a bit of a concern with Hoffman, but the numbers show he recovers to get the ball on the green in a timely fashion. He's 25th in par-4 450-500. He's somehow only 50th in driving distance, but he electrified the crowd at Firestone by reaching the 667-yard 16th in two, going for it against the wishes of his caddie.

Brendan Steele - $7,300 (100-1)

Steele is up to 16th on Tour in strokes gained tee to green and 20th in ball striking after a quality week in Akron, where he tied for 24th. Until the Open Championship (MC), Steele had more than held his own with the world's best in the biggest tournaments. He was T27 at the Masters, T6 at The Players and T13 at the U.S. Open. He's also been top-15 the past two years at Quail Hollow. Plus, he has two top-20s in four trips to the PGA.

Jamie Lovemark - $7,200 (150-1)

The concern with Lovemark on a course such as Quail Hollow is driving accuracy. He's 147th on Tour this season. But in his past three starts, he's improved significantly, from 57 percent to almost 64. And in those three tournaments, he's finished T3 at the Greenbrier, T25 at the John Deere and T22 at the Open Championship. Outside of the Zurich team event, the man also hasn't missed a cut since ... wait for it ... February. Lovemark is T49 in ball striking (and undoubtedly much better the past three starts), 31st in strokes gained tee to green, 16th in strokes gained around the green and 15th in par 4 450-500. He's played in only five majors, but that's more than enough to take the jitters off. He's top-30 in both his major starts this year.

Long-Shot Values

Xander Schauffele - $7,000 (100-1)

Schauffele is making a late-season run at Rookie of the Year with some very impressive play, and if the Tour Championship started today, he'd be in it. Since winning the Greenbrier, Schauffele tied for 20th at the Open Championship and 13th at the Bridgestone, so playing against the big boys doesn't faze him. Schauffele is 15th in ball striking, top-25 in both GIR and strokes gained putting, and 10th in par-4 450-500.

Tony Finau - $7,000 (80-1)

Finau has had an awfully hard time getting into the biggest tournaments, but when he's done so he's performed quite well. He's been in six majors with four results of T27 or better, including T10 at the PGA two years ago (he missed the cut last year). As we say almost weekly, Finau is among the best in the world tee to green. Repeat after us: fourth in strokes gained off the tee, fifth in GIR, sixth in strokes gained tee to green.

Zach Johnson - $6,800 (60-1)

Johnson is another bargain. He's one of the shortest hitters, but that didn't prevent him from finishing runner-up at Firestone, where he was 10th in strokes gained off the tee and 18th in tee to green. Oh, and first in strokes gained putting. Johnson traditionally plays well in the John Deere, Open Championship and Bridgestone, where he just finished T5-T14-2. His record at the PGA is more spotty, but Johnson is simply playing too well to bypass, especially at the this price.

Francesco Molinari - $6,800 (80-1)

As a member of the PGA Tour this season, the Italian has 12 top-25s in 17 starts and sits an impressive second in strokes gained approach, third in tee to green. Molinari is eighth in driving accuracy, and usually you have to be a real short hitter to rank so high. But he's middle of the pack at 104th in distance off the tee. Therefore, putting is what has held Molinari back. That's odd, because he used to be an elite putter. He was only 64th in strokes gained putting last week in a field of 76, and still he tied for 24th. Molinari was fifth in the field tee to green.

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