Fantasy Golf Cheat Sheet: PGA Championship Picks, Preview

Rickie Fowler

The Cheat Sheet provides fantasy golf players with course information, player history and the most noteworthy trends of the week to help them with their roster selections.

The Field

The second major of the year is upon us. The PGA Championship moved its date from August to mid-May this season but remains a highlight event of the year. This major honors PGA club professionals by inviting the top 20 PGA club pros every year into the event (determined by a qualifying event in June). This is a nice side story for the week, but these players rarely, if ever, are a factor in the actual tournament. A couple injuries to monitor this week leading in are Marc Leishman (back-withdrew from Byron Nelson last week), Charles Howell III (hip-withdrew from Byron Nelson last week) and Jason Day (back-recurring). On the flip side, elite players like Brooks Koepka (fourth last week), Rickie Fowler (T4 Wells Fargo) and Jon Rahm (win-Zurich team event) are coming in with good momentum.

The first couple months have seen big-named winners in the big events with Tiger Woods (Masters) and Rory McIlroy (PLAYERS) taking home big trophies and given that golf has never been deeper, we should expect another major full of elite contenders. For sweat purposes, it’s important to note the cut this week is the same as a traditional PGA event with the top 70 and ties making the weekend, with the caveat being there is no secondary MDF cut Saturday no matter how many ties there are.


The Course

Bethpage Black, Farmingdale, New York
Par 70, 7,400-7,500 yards

Bethpage Black was designed by AW Tillinghast, the same designer who was behind Baltusrol, site of the 2016 PGA Championship. The much-lauded public course has hosted the U.S. Open twice (2002 and 2009) and hosted the Barclays back in 2012 and 2016. The venue is often played as a Par 71, but for majors the seventh hole is turned into a Par 4 from a Par 5 and the course is played as a Par 70.

Bethpage is notorious for its long, grueling par 4s and fast Poa/Bentgrass greens. This week will see six of the 11 par 4s on the course measure in at 460 yards or greater and all will require good drives and long approaches from the players just to make par. And while there is some shorter par 4s on the course, several of them will feature smaller, elevated greens and narrow fairways, making par an achievement in most circumstances there as well.

As for scoring holes, the par 5s undoubtedly will present the best opportunities most days for birdies as both of them measure in at less than 560 yards and will be reachable in two by many of the longer hitters. As for the par 3s, three of the four on the course come in between 200-230 yards in length, and players who are adept at this range should have some advantage.

The PGA of America likely won’t have the rough setup as thick as the USGA did in past US Opens, but it’s notable that the past two major winners at Bethpage achieved victory with exemplary ball-striking. Tiger Woods was fourth in Driving Accuracy and first in Greens in Regulation when he won here in 2002, and Lucas Glover was fourth and 13th, respectively, in those categories in 2009. As badly as length is needed, players cannot be wild off the tee or miss a ton of greens as the rough and large links-style bunkers all but will ensure a poor week.

2019 Weather Report: The move to May means this championship will see much cooler weather than when it was held in August. That difference will be evident this year as the highs for the week will top off in the 60s each day, with lows in the low-50s in the a.m. The cooler weather could mean players get a little less distance than usual this week, and that could play a big factor on a long course like Bethpage. The good news is there’s no rain in the forecast as of now, and the sun is expected to be out for all four days. There will be some wind, too, with gusts starting at 4-5 mph in the a.m. but approaching 10-11 mph in the afternoon each day. It’s a decent forecast, but the cool weather and constant wind could make an already tough course play tougher this week.


Past Five winners

2018 — Brooks Koepka -16 (over Tiger Woods -14)
2017 — Justin Thomas -8 (over Patrick Reed and Louis Oosthuizen -6)
2016 — Jimmy Walker -14 (over Jason Day -13)
2015 – Jason Day– 20 (over Jordan Spieth -17)
2014 – Rory McIlroy -16 (over Phil Mickelson -15)


Winning Trends

— Six of the past seven winners of the PGA Championship finished T15 or better in their previous start before winning this event (Justin Thomas finished T24 in his prior start in 2017).

— Five of the past eight winners of this event ranked ninth or better for the year in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee in the year of their win (Jason Dufner was 46th in SG:OTT in 2013; Justin Thomas was 30th in 2017).

— The past five winners of the PGA combined to average over 308 yards in Driving Distance for the year of their win.


Statistics

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee
Strokes Gained: Approach
Proximity 200+ yards
Par 4 Scoring, Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 yards

While we don’t have Strokes Gained data from the past two US Opens at Bethpage, it was evident the players who won there had fantastic weeks ball-striking. Both Glover and Woods ranked inside the top 15 in fairways hit and inside the top five in greens hit in regulation as well. As such, emphasizing both recent Strokes Gained: Approach stats and Strokes Gained: Off the Tee stats seems vital.

From a setup standpoint, Bethpage is going to play as a long Par 70, and that means players will be tackling plenty of longer par 4s. Players with both strong Par 4 Scoring stats and good Efficiency from the 450-500 yards range should prosper from this setup as a result.

Finally, the longer holes and skinny fairways all but assure some longer approaches will be in order, too. Three of the four Par 3s also come in at more than 200 yards in length as well, so taking a look at approach proximity from greater than 200 yards in length should be a good indicator this week.


Finding Values

Odds to win are one factor to think about when picking players (but not the only thing, so be careful of putting too much weight on them). This section is going to detail a few of the players who have the best fantasy value comparative to their odds of winning this week.

PlayerOddsDK PriceComparables
Sergio Garcia40-1$7,900Bubba Watson $8,000 and 60-1
Phil Mickelson $8,000 and 70-1
Paul Casey $8,300 and 50-1
Patrick Cantlay45-1$8,200Jordan Spieth $8,600 and 45-1
Matt Kuchar $8,700 and 50-1
Patrick Reed $8,400 and 60-1


HORSES FOR COURSES

The PGA Championship is a rotating group of courses, so we’ll be looking at overall performance in past PGA Championships, plus some players who have history of good play at Bethpage Black in previous events (2002/09/12/16).

1. Tiger Woods (win-2002 US Open; T4-2009 US Open): Woods is coming off a solo second-place finish at the PGA Championship last season, an event he has won four times. He’s had no issues with Bethpage Black over his career, winning dominantly here in 2002 at the US Open. Woods ranks first in GIR for the season and is a deserving favorite this week.

2. Patrick Reed (win-2016 Barclays): Reed has played well at the PGA recently, posting T13 and T2 finishes at this event in 2016-17. He also is the most recent professional to win at Bethpage Black back in 2016 at the Barclays. His form has been spotty this season, but he’s got course experience and a solid major championship record of late.

3. Sergio Garcia (T4-2002 US Open; T10-2009 US Open; T3-2012 Barclays): Garcia has more experience playing at Bethpage than most of the field. He’s posted Top-10s at this venue in each of the past two US Opens it hosted, plus a T3 finish in 2012 at the Barclays. Garcia will be looking for his first PGA Championship win this week.

4. Phil Mickelson (T2-2009 US Open; T13-2016 Barclays): Mickelson finished runner-up to Tiger back in 2002 at the US Open and also finished a solid T13 at Bethpage back in 2016. The 2006 winner of the PGA won his only PGA title on another New York, Tillinghast-designed course (Baltusrol).

5. Adam Scott (T4-2016 Barclays): Scott has finished T15 or better in five of his past seven PGA Championship starts, including a third-place finish last season. He also finished T4 at Bethpage back in 2016 and has been a solid start in major championships of late.


Recent Form

1. Brooks Koepka: Koepka made his first start last week since finishing runner-up at Augusta and looked no worse for wear, finishing in fourth and sixth in SG: Tee to Green stats. He’s made the cut in 19 straight majors coming and should be a force to be reckon with this week.

2. Jon Rahm: Rahm’s coming off a win at the team event in Zurich with Ryan Palmer, as well as a T9 finish at Augusta, his second straight top-10 finish at that event. His experience is starting to catch up with his talent, and his recent form suggests a win might be close, too.

3. Rickie Fowler: T17-T9-T4 finishes over his past three starts, Fowler has shone with better-than-normal consistency off the tee in this span. He’s trending perfectly for the year’s second major and has experience on this week’s venue to perhaps help him break through.

4. Patrick Cantlay: He’s coming in hot after his past two starts netted him a T9 at Augusta and a T3 at the RBC Heritage. Cantlay was out of his mind over the weekend at the Masters, even briefly taking the lead Sunday and then landed his best finish of the season a week later. He likely will be a popular play this week given the price tag of $8,200.

5. Scott Piercy: He’s playing under-the-radar solid golf of late with T2 and T3 finishes over his past two starts. Piercy ranked first in tee-to-green stats last week at the Byron Nelson and went the entire event without recording a bogey. He enters this week in great form.


DFS STRATEGY

Cash Games: Starting cash games with Brooks Koepka ($10,400), a player who has made the cut in 19 straight majors and won two of the past four seems like a good idea. After him there’s plenty of targets in the $9K range that make sense as cash-game targets, including Xander Schauffele ($9,100), Rickie Fowler ($9,300) and Tommy Fleetwood ($9,200). Below them are a ton of cash-effective targets, but the best value might be had in the likes of Sergio Garcia ($7,900) and Patrick Cantlay ($8,200), who have a solid blend of recent form and course history. Cheaper value targets for this format include Joel Dahmen ($7,300), Aaron Wise ($7,100) and Scott Piercy ($6,500).

Tournaments: At the top, Jason Day ($9,000) might garner less ownership than many in his range given his injury issues this season. He finished T4 at Bethpage in 2016, however, and is coming off a T5 at the year’s first major. Bubba Watson ($8,000) also has a chance of being lightly owned and is coming off a solid stretch (T12-T4) of golf. He’s finished T18 or better in three tournaments at Bethpage over his career. Besides these two, other possible boom-or-bust targets for big tournaments on DraftKings this week include the likes of Si Woo Kim ($7,200), Emiliano Grillo ($7,100) and Ryan Fox ($6,600).


MY PICK: Rickie Fowler ($9,300)

It truly wouldn’t be a golf season without me featuring Fowler as my main pick for at least one major. Fowler has come agonizingly close in majors over the past five seasons — seven finishes of T5 or better since 2014 — and comes into this year’s PGA Championship in great form for another run. Coming in, 11 of Fowler’s past 12 rounds have been par or better, and that run includes play on some of the tougher courses on tour, like Augusta and Quail Hollow.

Rickie’s off-the-tee play is what has elevated his consistency over this run, as he’s ranked eighth and 13th in SG: Off the Tee in his past two regular PGA starts and was also T6 in Driving Accuracy at Augusta. That kind of consistency will be needed at Bethpage Black, a venue he’s played well at in the past. Fowler shot a 67 at Bethpage at the Barclays in 2012 (T24) and was the 54-hole co-leader at this same event at Bethpage in 2016, when he finished T7. Fowler’s got form, momentum and now experience on his side, and he’s my pick to win the 2019 PGA.


MY SLEEPER: Si Woo Kim ($7,200)

Si Woo comes into the week off a missed cut at the RBC, but his previous form showed promise. A career-best T21 at Augusta this year was preceded by a T4 finish at the long, tough TPC San Antonio, his third top-five finish of 2019. This will be Kim’s first time taking on Bethpage as a professional, but he’s proven in the past to have the tools to take on tougher venues. Ranked 15th in Par 4 Scoring this season and fifth in Par 4 Efficiency from 450-500 yards, his ability to handle longer Par 4s should come in handy this week as should his ability around the greens, where he’s ranked 10th on the season in both around-the-green stats and Scrambling.

Kim’s a proven big-game hunter (2017 PLAYERS champ) who has finished inside the top 25 in three of his past seven majors and has shown much better consistency this year as a player overall. A good week off the tee here and Kim easily could find himself challenging for a top 10 or perhaps even his first major win.


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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is wavegoodbye) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.