PickGuru Golf: PGA Championship

PickGuru Golf: PGA Championship

This article is part of our PickGuru Golf series.

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PGA Championship

Southern Hills has been a staple of major championship golf for the better part of 50 years. It will host the PGA Championship for a record fifth time in 2022, and it has hosted three U.S. Opens as well. Tiger Woods picked up his fourth PGA Championship victory at the last major contested at Southern Hills in 2007. Since then, the course underwent a complete restoration, which was done by Gil Hanse in 2018.

Profiling the Winner

Southern Hills is now an absolute beast as a par-70 at 7,556 yards. Numerous trees were removed, bunkers were added, hazards are more prevalent, and the edges of the greens are more severe. The expected weather conditions should make this a firm and fast test for the best players in the world and also make ball striking of the upmost importance.

The fairways are pretty generous, and despite the length on the scorecard, we should see a lot of variety off the tees. The second shots should really tell the story, as the greens are much trickier than they were in 2007. With firm conditions, the penalty for an average shot will be much higher than we see at a regular PGA Tour stop. Slopes on the edges of the putting surfaces will carry golf balls well off the greens and set up challenging shots from the closely mown areas. With less rough, that will play right into the hands of those that fare well in scrambling categories. The bentgrass greens should be pretty slick, and the gusty Oklahoma winds should only increase the challenges with the putter.

There's not a ideal comparison for Southern Hills on the PGA Tour schedule, but Riviera may be the closest. All in all, I will be targeting players who rank near the top in both approach play and in the short game statistics.

Category Picks

Hot Favorites

Players Included: Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas

Guru Verdict: This is about as loaded a category as you will see. You could very easily talk yourself into any of the five major champions listed here. I'm going to lean toward the player who has the most confidence in big events right now, and that of course is Scheffler. The world No. 1 is a fantastic iron player, ranking 17th in SG: Approach and third in GIR percentage, and he also has the best combination of short game and putting of any player in this group. Scheffler has said that he absolutely loves Southern Hills, and he shot a 64 in a practice round here recently.

World Elite

Players Included: Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith, Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry

Guru Verdict: Smith leads the PGA Tour in birdie average and scoring average, and he came oh-so-close at the Masters before being done in by the infamous par-3 12th hole. Prior to that he outshined the best field of the year at THE PLAYERS Championship. The expected firm and breezy conditions should suit Smith's game perfectly, as the Aussie ranks seventh in SG: Approach, fourth in SG: Putting and eighth in GIR percentage.

US Stars

Players Included: Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Will Zalatoris, Daniel Berger, Brooks Koepka

Guru Verdict: After an incredibly frustrating missed cut at the Masters, Spieth bounced back with a win at the RBC Heritage and a solo second at the AT&T Byron Nelson. Now he has perhaps as much momentum as anyone as he looks to complete the career Grand Slam. The PGA has not suited Spieth's game as well as the other majors over the years, but Southern Hills appears to be an exception, as he will be playing on familiar grasses and in familiar conditions. Spieth has struck the ball as well as he has in a while over the last handful of months, and we know his short game is magical. The key for the Texan will be staying sound on his short putts.

Great Britain and Ireland

Players Included: Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Robert MacIntyre

Guru Verdict: By the numbers, this is the easiest category to call. Fitzpatrick is leading the PGA Tour in SG: Total and ranks top-25 in all measured categories. The Englishman is coming off a runner-up finish at the Wells Fargo Championship – his fifth top-10 in just 11 PGA Tour starts this season. The firm conditions should benefit Fitzpatrick, and the challenges for him will come on approach and in the short game.

International Stars

Players Included: Joaquin Niemann, Corey Conners, Abraham Ancer, Si Woo Kim, Marc Leishman, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Sebastian Munoz

Guru Verdict: I think this category will likely be a two-horse race between Niemann and Conners. Both players are strong ball strikers, but I will lean toward Niemann because he has some extra pop off the tee and his short game and putter are much better. The Chilean found himself in the final group at the Byron Nelson, but a poor Sunday round left him T25. As noted above, Southern Hills is not all that different than Riviera, and on that course earlier this year Niemann topped an elite field and ran away with the title.

Major Champions

Players Included: Jason Day, Tiger Woods, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen

Guru Verdict: There are a lot of big names in this group, but also quite a few question marks. How does Woods hold up at a renovated Southern Hills? Is DeChambeau even healthy enough to make it through 72 holes? Can Reed hit a fairway or a green – or anything – right now? The player I'm going to select from this category is no lock, as this will be Oosthuizen's first start since withdrawing from The Masters with a neck injury. If he is anywhere close to 100 percent, though, he warrants consideration in all formats because he is an elite course fit. Oosthuizen ranks 17th in SG: Off-the-Tee, 16th in SG: Around-the-Green, fifth in total driving, 32nd in GIR percentage and 21st in proximity to the hole. He is doing all that even in a letdown season after a stellar 2020-21 campaign.

US Contenders

Players Included: Sam Burns, Tony Finau, Max Homa, Talor Gooch, Webb Simpson, Billy Horschel, Keegan Bradley, Gary Woodland

Guru Verdict: This is another strong set of players. They are all a bit under the radar, but any of them could claim a major championship this week. I'm just really locked in on Gooch at this golf course. He is both an elite iron player and short game player – the two key components for success at Southern Hills. Gooch ranks 21st in SG: Approach, seventh in SG: Around-the-Green and 26th in GIR percentage. Bradley would probably be the second golfer I'd look at here. He recorded a top-10 in each of his last three starts and owns an elite iron game.

European Challengers

Players Included: Sergio Garcia, Thomas Pieters, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Bernd Wiesberger, Nicolai Hojgaard, Seamus Power, Francesco Molinari

Guru Verdict: There are some unknowns in this category, as some of these golfers are in poor form and several have been playing regularly on the DP World Tour. Noren is the most consistent player in this group, and that's why I'm leaning toward the Swede. He made the cut in nine of his last 10 PGA Tour starts and notched six top-26 finishes over that span. Noren is on the plus side in every measured Strokes Gained category, and he checks in 34th in SG: Total and 32nd in scoring average.

(Editor's Note:  Here are a few more opinions from RW's Len Hochberg and PG's Matt Hardy)

Ryan's Selections

Hot Favorites: Scottie Scheffler
World Elite: Cameron Smith
US Stars: Jordan Spieth
Great Britain and Ireland: Matt Fitzpatrick
International Stars: Joaquin Niemann
Major Champions: Louis Oosthuizen
US Contenders: Talor Gooch
European Challengers: Alex Noren

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan  Andrade
Ryan has covered golf and college basketball for RotoWire since 2016. He has also written articles for ProGolfNow.com.
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