This week's action over in the US is a cracker! With or without spectators, a Major golf tournament is always a must-watch event... and this year is no different. And despite the various delays, and re-scheduling issues, the game of golf has endured (no different to many other sports) it's great to focus our attention on a real top-quality tournament.
So it's all eyes on San Francisco for the 102nd USPGA CHAMPIONSHIP.
Here's a full preview of the action in, where else, the "Golden State"...
Known as the "USPGA", "US PGA" or "PGA Championship" the event is run by the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) of America. It started out as a matchplay tournament in 1916, switching to the current, and standard, strokeplay format in 1958. And although it's not played at the same course each year, the custom with the PGA is that it's usually staged towards the East of the mainland US - with New York State hosting the most renewals (13). And to date only 7 times has the tournament been held "out West" - this year being the 8th time on the Pacific coast.
The field is the normal 156, made up of the game's leading players, past champions and special invites. There are also 20 places for players drawn from the Professional National Championship (a competition for club professionals), so there's always a fair share of unknowns in the line-up. To date there have been 101 PGA champions - mostly US players! To date 83 times the trophy has been lifted by an American, then Australia (5), England, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Fiji & Northern Ireland (2 each) and Ireland, South Korea & Germany (all 1). Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus (5) have won the PGA most times, followed by Tiger Woods (4).
Formerly billed as "Glory's last shot" - because it was the last Major of the calendar year - 2019 marked a new place in the schedule for the PGA Championship as it slotted in between the US Masters and the US Open in the month of May. But this year, as we know, with a disrupted schedule, and a delayed US Masters, the USPGA finds itself as the first cab in the rank of major tournaments.
TPC Harding Park is this year's venue. Set around Lake Merced within the city of San Francisco, Harding Park GC was originally designed by the renowned course architects Willie Watson and Sam Whiting in 1925 - but, as you can guess, the course has undergone several upgrades over the years. Notably before the WGC-Amex Championship was held here in October 2005. It has also staged the Presidents Cup in 2009, WGC-Match Play in 2015 and several events on the Senior Tour. The course usually plays as a par 72, but for the USPGA it'll set-up as a par 70, laid out over 7,234 yards. A tough, but fair, test for the players this week.
264, Brooks Koepka (2018)
63, Brooks Koepka (2019) - recorded many times, most recently in 2019
Last 10 Winners (and Top 5 places) -
(2019) Brooks Koepka (Johnson - Cantlay, Spieth, Wallace)
(2018) Brooks Koepka (Woods - Scott - Cink & Rahm)
(2017) Justin Thomas (Molinari, Oosthuizen & Reed - Fowler & Matsuyama)
(2016) Jimmy Walker (Day - Summerhays - Grace, Koepka & Matsuyama)
(2015) Jason Day (Spieth - Grace - Rose - Koepka & Lahiri)
(2014) Rory McIlroy (Mickelson - Fowler & Stenson - Furyk & Palmer)
(2013) Jason Dufner (Furyk - Stenson - Blixt - Piercy & Scott)
(2012) Rory McIlroy (Lynn - Bradley, Pettersson, Poulter & Rose)
(2011) Keegan Bradley (Dufner - Hansen - Karlsson, Toms & Verplank)
(2010) Martin Kaymer (Watson - Johnson & McIlroy - Dufner, Elkington & Johnson)
It is a Major, but it's standard PGA Tour numbers this week in terms of field-size. Double defending champion Brooks Koepka is the favourite.
A dry week is in store for the players with just a 10% chance of rain on each of the four days. Temperatures will also be very comfortable in the low 70s. The only problem the field will face is a gusting wind, up to 20mph, on what is a fairly exposed layout.
Here are four chances at the event as provided by the Golf Insider
Schauffele is in very steady form at the moment with figures of 3-64-20-14-13-6 and is certainly trending the right way. Even his low placing in the RBC Heritage wasn't without note (shooting 66 in both Rounds 2 and 4). As a native of California he'll be right at home this week, and as a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, including a WGC event and the Tour Championship, I've no doubts about his ability to step-up to the mark and land a first Major championship at the age of 26. Schauffele has already posted several high finishes in the Majors (a total of five Top 10s across the US Masters, US Open and the Open Championship) so his temperament seems reliable. Added place terms this week really favour some of the guys at the top of the market, and whilst I can make cases out for several high on the lists, it's Schauffele who comes out best on my pricing model and so makes the list for Harding Park.
Woods has only played once since the resumption of golf and that event was Jack's tournament, The Memorial. Despite only finishing 40th, Tiger's iron play was once again top class, with the GOAT ranking 5th in Approach - which was pretty impressive considering this was Tigers first competitive event for five months. There were signs of rust on and around the greens, but this was to be expected after such a long break. Tiger won the last strokeplay event that was hosted at Harding Park, so this has to be a big plus in the Woods box, despite the event being played 15 years ago. There's no doubt Tiger is planning his schedule around the Majors this year as he goes in search of his 16th Major title. Tiger will be well prepared, and well-rested, ahead of the year's first Major, and if he continues to hit his irons as flush as he did at Muirfield Village, I'm confident that we'll see a upturn in putting, and he'll be there at the business end come Sunday. There's always a slight risk selecting him due to his back issues.
Berger is a pretty straight forward choice when you consider his recent form figures read 5-4-1-3-MC-2. Berger was playing superb before the enforced COVID-19 break, and it remained to be seen whether Berger could continue where he left off when play resumed. He answered that question emphatically by winning the Charles Schwab Challenge the first week back (beating Colin Morikawa in a play-off!). He followed that up with a third place finish at the RBC Heritage, and last week at the WGC-Fedex St.Jude he finished tied 2nd. His stats are class, as you'd expect, ranking highly in all four major categories, which bodes well for this week, and you'll need all parts of your game firing. Berger finish 6th at the US Open in 2018, and 10th at the Masters in 2016. His best finish at the USPGA Championship was a solid 12th in 2018 and he looks set to improve on that as he's coming into this week's event in the form of his life. With such great place terms on offer Berger is too hard to resist.
Matsuyama is continually playing much better golf than his results suggest. Since the resumption, Matsuyama hasn't finished higher than 20th, but his ball-striking has been of a much higher standard. Matsuyama has gained 13 strokes on his approach shots from five events, which is up there with the best, but so often his putting and short game has let him down. In contrast, he's lost a whopping 16 strokes on the greens for the same five events, and now we can see why he hasn't finished higher than 20th. It was last week in fact when he recorded his best finish post-lockdown, and his putting was better than previous weeks, with the Japanese player only losing half a stroke to the field on the greens. His long game was in good shape, and Matsuyama definitely has the game suited for the Majors. Matsuyama has seven Top 10 finishes from 28 starts in Majors as a professional. His PGA Championship record he excellent having made seven out of seven cuts, and finishing no worse than 37th. He finished 4th and 5th back-to-back in 2016 and 2017, and is long overdue a big victory. He's playing very nicely right now, much better than his form suggests, and he's going under the radar which is usually a good thing for players looking for their breakthrough win.
Jason Day looks to be injury free for the first time in forever and is playing his 8th event from nine since the re-start. I thought fatigue might be a factor with Day, but his results just keep getting better, which is a really positive sign. Day has finished 7-4-6 on his last three starts which is as good a form as any right now. Like Berger, all four parts of his game are working well and he's gaining strokes on the field in driving, approaches, around the green and putting. Jason Day has a very solid Major record with nine Top 5's and a win from 33 starts. Day won the USPGA Championship in 2015, which was his solo major win, but it certainly won't be his last if he remains fit and healthy. Day has a good record in California with four Top 10's, and a win, from his last eight starts in the state. These are exciting times for Jason Day fans with his game, and more importantly his physical condition, in great shape, both of which make him a huge danger man this week. Everything points to Day having a strong week.