Springfield, New Jersey, USA
28-31 July 2016
Baltusrol, Lower Course
The final Major of the year is here, a little earlier than usual with the ill-conceived Olympic tournament stealing space from the main tour schedules.
The pre-tournament buzz is potentially all about Phil Mickelson and his 2016 renaissance! Fresh off a wonderful runner-up in the Open Championship, he returns to US soil and his favourite hunting ground – New York and its surrounds – to a course designed by a guy (Tillinghast) whose courses Phil has professed he very much likes.
He also fronts having recently turned 46, the same age as Jack Nicklaus when he won his final Major, and in an event where he’s amassed a terrific record over the years: 9 Top10’s incl a win.
The past four Majors have each produced first time Major winners: Day, Willett, Johnson & Stenson and that trend could persist. Baltusrol will deliver a tough test and I think a tenacious warrior, rather than a flashier talent, will prevail.
I started out thinking a Furyk, Rose, Keegs, GMac type of grinder would win, but the critical stats eventually dissuaded me from all of them, and some others.
Baltusrol is a private club near Springfield, New Jersey, 20 miles from New York city. It contains a classic pair of challenging courses (Upper & Lower) designed by arguably the greatest golf course architect of all, AW Tillinghast. More on Albert Warren below.
The Lower Course, though possessing no memorable visual features, will provide a great test; a place where the Major winners in the modern professional era have been: Phil Mickelson (2005), Lee Janzen (1993) in a travesty of justice over the late, great, Payne Stewart, and Jack Nicklaus (1980 & 1967).
The members’ par 72 morphs into a tough and brutally long 7,428yd par-70 for the PGA Championship, including just two par-5s – interestingly, holes 17 & 18. Live traders, and punters with selections near the lead, will be especially interested in these two holes!
The course requires long, accurate driving owing to its extensive and strategic fairway bunkering and rough that is sometimes cruelly penal for those who miss fairways. The bent grass greens are expected to be slick, trickily contoured and tough to read – as usual.
As I type, the long range weather forecast for Springfield is for gentle winds (6-8mph) and comfortable temperatures (70-85) – though with a 60% chance of rain or thunderstorms forecast for all four days of the tournament.
Tillinghast is the legendary designer of challenging championship courses such as: Bethpage Black, Firestone, Medinah, Winged Food & Ridgewood.
To assist those who believe in course architect correlation, here are the recent (past 10 yrs) winners and runners-up on those above-mentioned Tillinghast courses. Plenty of ‘Tillinghast success’ playing this week!
Bethpage State Black
2009 US Open: Lucas Glover, Phil Mickelson
2012 Barclays: Nick Watney, Brandt Snedeker
Firestone Country Club
2006 Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink
2007 Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Rory Sabbatini
2008 Vijay Singh, Stuart Appleby, Lee Westwood
2009 Tiger Woods, Robert Allenby, Padraig Harrington
2010 Hunter Mahan, Ryan Palmer
2011 Adam Scott, Luke Donald, Rickie Fowler
2012 Keegan Bradley, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker
2013 Tiger Woods, Keegan Bradley, Henrik Stenson
2014 Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia
2015 Shane Lowry, Bubba Watson
2016 Dustin Johnson, Scott Piercy
Medinah Country Club
2006 PGA: Tiger Woods, Shaun Micheel
1999 PGA: Many will recall a young Sergio challenging Tiger down the stretch
Medinah also hosted the Ryder Cup in 2012; the best records belonging to: Rose, Keegs, Dufner, both Johnsons (Dustin & Zach) & Phil Mickelson.
2006 US Open: Geoff Ogilvy, Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson
2008 Barclays: Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia, Kevin Sutherland
2010 Barclays: Matt Kuchar, Martin Laird
2014 Barclays: Hunter Mahan, Stuart Appleby, Cameron Tringale
Top of the Market
Rory McIlroy won this in 2012 & 2014 and also owns two 3rd placings among his seven PGA Championship appearances, so he plays well at this time of year. He’s finished Top5 in five of his past seven starts and is overdue to string four good rounds together. He’s almost tempting at 10.00 but his putting still worries me.
Dustin Johnson is in wonderful form and Baltusrol will perfectly suit his long game but, as I wrote in previewing the Open Championship, I simply can’t recommend a player at as short a price as 9.00 who has faltered so many times in the heat of Major battle.
Jason Day has also been in great form though his 22nd at Royal Troon was ordinary by his standards as was his play at Glen Abbey last week. His long game, like Dustin’s, is ideally suited to Baltusrol and I therefore can’t deter punters who are prepared to take short prices in a field of 156. He’s available at 10.00 or so.
Jordan Spieth continues to underwhelm, but that’s only a cruel by-product of his phenomenal 2015 and the unrealistic expectations it raised. He’s in good form but just the one win since early January suggests to me that he can be skipped at a price as short as 13.00 Further, I think Baltusrol’s driving demands will suit him less than any other Major venue this year.
Henrik Stenson surprised most with his stellar Open Championship win, though nobody would have been at all surprised had it been another near miss! Whether that will turn out to be the one great Major week of his life or the beginning of an ascent to the elite level in world golf remains to be seen, but I won’t be taking any of the 17.00 or so on offer this week. Or ever in a Major! Especially on a guy with questionable putting ability.
Phil Mickelson, as suggested earlier, could be the main storyline all week; it’d be a fairytale win. Many thought when he ditched Butch Harmon it was a desperate gesture from an aging star on the slippery downward slope to the Champions Tour.
However, he has since produced a swag of great 2016 performances, none better than his 2nd at Troon, including 5xTop5’s. Given his well-publicised love affair with the New York area and its fans, who could completely discount his chances this week? However, I think he’s priced too short for a 46-y-o who is wayward off the tee and I will be ignoring the 23.00 – 26.00 available this week.
After the ‘big six’, the next ranked in betting are: Sergio, Rose, Scotty, Rickie & Bubba.
My top selection is Russell Henley for a Top5 or Top10. He’s a juicy win price of 201.00; 400.00 on Betfair as I type, though it’s the prospect of some 40/1-50/1 the place that excites me.
Henley is playing his first home Major of the year and my logic is solely based on his price relative to his high rankings in what I regard as two critical statistical categories for Baltusrol: Total Driving (#6) & Total Putting (#18). In fact, if you combine the two he ranks #1 in this field!
After exceptional early success, winning the 2013 Sony at his first Tour start & the 2014 Honda at PGA National soon thereafter, he is winless since. However, this does not deter me. His form fell away after a great 12th in last year’s PGA, but he’s posted a few good Top10’s this season – most recently 7th at TPC Southwind in the FedEx St Jude – another long par 70 albeit with bermuda greens. He does have bentgrass form though, including TPC Boston & The Old White TPC – another long par 70.
My second value pick is Emiliano Grillo, the man I successfully tipped for a Top20 in the recent Open Championship. My logic then was his steady upward career progression and I’m tipping him to continue it for a Top10 placing here on a quality driver’s track. Back him at any price better than 8.00. He ranks 2nd on tour in total driving and only needs a decent week with his weakest implement, the flat stick, to be capable of contending.
My other tip is Andy Sullivan for a Top20 at any price better than 5.00. Like Grillo, he is on a strong upward career progression, drives it long enough (290yd avge), is a terrific putter and in top recent form in good company; 12th in the Open Championship following a 5th in the French Open and 6th in the Scottish.
Cheers and good luck with your golf punting!