2016 PGA Championship
Defending Champ: Jason Day
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2016 PGA Championship Field
156 Players | Top 70 and Ties Make the Cut
With the Olympics tossing a monkey wrench into PGA scheduling, here we are, less than two weeks removed from Henrik Stenson’s triumph at Troon, gearing up for the year’s final Major. No, the PGA Championship doesn’t hold the the distinction of being a National Open or bestowing the victor with the sport’s most coveted sartorial prize, but it’s still a fairly big deal. Shaun Micheel, Keegan Bradley, Y.E. Yang and Rich Beem will always be in the history books under “Major Champions.” The same way Mike Weir is etched in winning the Masters. As much as THE PLAYERS talks itself up as “The fifth Major,” and demands to be spelled in arrogant CAPS, it’s no Major. Winning the Wanamaker Trophy comes with a place in the annals, a victory at Sawgrass merely gets you in NBC promos for a year.
Like the US and British Opens, the field size for the 2016 PGA Championship sits at a robust 156 players. All but three of the world’s Top 100 players will convene on, ugh, NEW JERSEY!!! Ian Poulter and Charles Howell III are sitting out because of injuries while South African Jaco Van Zyl is skipping his second straight Major to prep for the Rio Games. I mean, when you make the Olympics because the three elite players from your country pulled chute, you gotta take that honor seriously. As of now, Brooks Koepka (Ankle), Daniel Berger (Shoulder), Chris Wood (Neck) and Charley Hoffman (Illness) are expected to lace up the spikes at Baltusrol. Pay close attention though, since the PGA TOUR doesn’t release an official injury report like the NFL. These guys could easily pull out of the event the morning of, while us Fantasy golfers live in oblivion and wake up with find a big WD in our lineups. For all we know, Berger is going to rise early Thursday morning, feel some pain in his upper arm, glance at the other side of the bed, and say, “SNOOZE IT IS!!!”
Beyond the all the names you’re overly familiar with, the low 20 scorers in the last PGA Professional National Championship have earned an invite, as have all previous winners of the PGA Championship. This is how the field gets to 156. Think of taking a kilo of cocaine, cutting it with baking soda, and selling a kilo-and-a-half of nose candy; that’s what the PGA Championship does to the strength of its field every year.
Oh, Jhonattan Vegas grabbed the final spot with his win at the Canadian Open over the weekend. I like Jhonny Vegas. He won’t make the picks, but if you play in a giant pool where you have to take long-odds players or pick from tiers, Vegas sets up well for Baltusrol.
2016 PGA Championship Key Stats
2016 PGA Championship Course
Baltusrol GC | 7,428 Yards | Par 70
In the US Open rotation until 1993 (Seven times), the 2016 PGA Championship returns to Baltusrol for the second time this millennium. Phil Mickelson won in 2005. The first thing that pops out from the Lower Course’s scorecard are the closing holes: Both Par 5s, the only two on the layout. Hole 17 is a daunting 650 yards. John Daly remains the only player to ever hit it in two shots. Tiger actually put it over the putting surface in 2005, but he shan’t be doing that again this time around. Unlike basically every other Par 5, it’s not a scoring hole. It’s one of the few Par 5s in the world that generates more bogeys than birdies. Still, it remains one of the easiest holes on the course, which speaks to the challenge Baltusrol presents this week. In 2005, Mickelson needed a Monday finish to claim his second Major. The winning score: -4
Playing over 7,400 yards as a Par 70, length is expected to be the trump card at Baltusrol. Four-under seems like a good barometer to repeat itself, but in the past decade the majority of the field has gained a lot more distance as a whole. Since the course has only been extended by about 30 yards for this year’s iteration, we could see the total creep closer to double-digits below par. Now, if conditions worsen, the entire leaderboard could be painted black. There’s little margin for error.
This isn’t to say the non-bombers shouldn’t be considered as legit contenders. Distance is certainly an advantage, as it is at most courses, and can cover up mistakes at a higher rate, but course management and long-iron approaches will separate the cream of the field. With 138 bunkers spread across the layout, knowing how to attack the course is just as important as possessing the proper skill set. Going back to the 650-yard No. 17, there is a grouping of sand traps acting as the meat of the fairway sandwich, and it’s very much in play off the tee. There are plenty of players who can carry said sand traps, however the risk of not clearing them on the fly may not be worth the gamble. Poor course management can turn par into a double bogey with one bad decision. Thinking back, it’s kind of shocking 2005 Phil was able to win here.
With obstacles forcing players to lay up more often than they’re used to, a high volume of approach shots are going to come from around 200 yards. And, if things go off the rails, a lot of scrambling will be from around 100 yards and in. Bogeys are unavoidable, and players have to be willing to take their medicine, which means a lot of strokes can be saved from that distance. A few crooked numbers on the card, and you’re finished. Nine of the 12 Par 4s measure over 440 yards placing an even greater emphasis on long-iron play. Of course, putting is always going to be a determining factor, but it’s also the most random week-to-week. Baltusrol sports Bentgrass (with a mix of Poa) greens, so taking a gander of the players that generally perform strongly on these specific surfaces should lend an edge.
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2016 PGA Championship Picks
Dustin Johnson – Spitting an abundance of HOT FIYA at the moment, DJ has posted six consecutive Top 10s, with a pair of wins, including his breakthrough at Oakmont. There’s no question he has the enough length (First in Driving Distance), but it’s his improved flat stick (34rd SG: Putting) and top grade from the key Par 4 range that push him above the other favorites.
Rickie Fowler – No, Rickie hasn’t really been good since March. That’s no secret. However with the safety of DJ already slotted into my lineup, I’ll gamble on Fowler’s skills overcoming his poor form. I mean, he looked OK finishing T10 at Bridgestone a few weeks back. Despite the struggles, Rickie’s just outside the Top 10 in SG: Off-The-Tee (11th) and SG: Around-The-Green (12th), while remaining within reach of the bogey avoidance summit. Looking back on the past Major winners, it’s been all about class. Ernie Els’ hoisting of the Clarlet Jug in 2012 was the last time a player ranked outside the Top 30 in the world rankings took down a Major. The Big Easy was ranked 40th at the time. It’s easy to forget Rickie still sits No. 7 in the world.
Rory McIlroy – Nine T10s in 15 2016 events, and it seems like no one’s talking about Rory anymore. I’ll bite. McIlroy’s the best player in the world off the tee, makes the most birdies, and has the best weighted scoring average of anyone. Rory’s my pick to win.
JB Holmes – JB’s results are all over the map. Yet, he sneakily holds down the No. 16 slot in the world rankings. He’s certainly not scared to miss a cut or two, but the bomber finished T4 at Augusta, collected solo 3rd at The Open, along with eight T15s in 16 starts overall. He’s a capable Bentgrass putter, and a poa specialist, and ranks among the elite in driving distance, SG: OTT, birdie average, and Par 4 birdies or better.
Webb Simpson – A pure stats play. Webb shockingly showed up fifth in scoring average from the key range and second in gaining strokes around the green… when you remove putting from the equation. Basically, if putting wasn’t a required part of the “sport,” Webb would be Tiger Woods. The good news? As explained earlier, putting is the most unpredictable aspect of golf. And, over the past month, Webb’s flat stick hasn’t been an anchor. He’s been posting quality results – T39/6th/MC/T11/T3.
Justin Rose – Again, I’ll side with class over form. The No. 11 player in the world has been dealing with a back injury, but the form is slowly returning. On the surface, his T22 at The Open doesn’t seem inspiring, but many will overlook he got stuck in the shit end of the draw all four rounds and grinded through it. Always a long-iron aficionado, Rose is an excellent contrarian selection to help create a points gap in the standings.
Branden Grace – I’ll round out my squad with a side of South Africans. Grace has been my guy for every non-Masters Major, and I’m not tapping out now. Twice a winner in 2016, the week of rest between the The Open and the PGA should get him back closer to the guy that went 1/T9/T57/T5/T10 post-Augusta than the T29/T72 disappointment who struggled in Scotland.
Charl Schwartzel – It took everything I had not to put Jamie Lovemark as my pick in this spot. Fortunately, off-shore books and DraftKings exist to satisfy that urge. It’d be easier if Charl wasn’t so damn good. Another two-time 2016 champ, Schwartzel enters the year’s final Major with T25 finishes in six straight events with just a lone missed cut in his past 21 starts. He’s fifth in SG: Approach, and particularly deadly from 200-225 yards (second in proximity). Tack on his Par 3 (24th) and Par 4 (28th) birdie rates with his affinity for lag putting (8th), and Charl could be in line for career Major number two.
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