Somehow, we’re in Major Season. In the midst of the COVID-19 plague (is it officially a plague? I say yes!) that has swept the world, the PGA does seem to be keeping it together and will tee it up in San Francisco at Harding Park this week for the first major of the season. And yes, the fact that the PGA has somehow become the FIRST major of the year says a lot about how crazy this year and PGA season has been.
For those who haven’t figured it out, I live in the Bay Area, and have been fortunate enough to play Harding Park many times. I’m personally not really quite sure it’s a championship level course — and I think even the PGA agrees, because they’ve tricked it up quite a bit. The fairways have been narrowed considerably, and then the rough has been grown out to levels that will be incredibly punitive to all but the strongest folks in the field. The holes themselves are – generally, not always – fairly straight shots. The setup, therefore, favors guys who bomb it off the tee but can also muscle themselves out of rough. Which would lead us to my picks for this week…but first, let’s recap last week’s wonderful picks at the Fed Ex St. Jude.
Actually … let’s not. It was a train wreck, highlighted by the fact that what wasn’t even stated in there was that I went out of my way NOT to take eventual winner Justin Thomas and also Brooks Koepka, who competed until the last moment. It was a disgusting effort, and yet also a perfect summation of why this column exists – I’m terrible at this, so my own picks should be used as a contra-indicator for you and your picks.
We’re onto San Francisco.
So, back to Harding Park — they are doing what they can to toughen it up for the best players in the world. As an example, this photo was taken in mid-May of a ball measured about six feet off the fairway in the beginning of the true rough:
Let’s be clear, when I play Harding, this ball would actually still be in the fairway. For guys who are less than perfectly accurate off the tee, this is penal. But a Brooks, Rory and others can fight through that rough while others may need to club down and take their medicine.
So, that leaves a few obvious choices here – but because DraftKings smartly forces us to have a budget, we can’t take them all. Those choices – our big bomb-and-gouge hitters who can also recover well and putt decently. In that group, I’m including Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy. Yes, others in the field COULD belong in this group, but they are either not quite at this elite level yet or I don’t think they have the stones to win a major until they prove me wrong. This group – which I’m not choosing anyone from, includes Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Dustin Johnson (way too inconsistent of late), Tony Finau.
Then, we have our really solid ball strikers — the Webb Simpson, Collin Morikawa, Rickie Fowler, Tyrrell Hatton and even, when he’s right, Jordan Spieth. I’d include Tommy Fleetwood, Abe Ancer, Sung Jae Im and a few others in there. While I MAY choose someone from this group, the problem for all of them is that if they miss a fairway, they’re not as likely to be able to rip it out of that rough and still get on in regulation as the gym rats above are.
And then, we have the young guns – the guys who may belong in one of the above groups, but haven’t quite cracked the code … yet. To me, the PGA Championship has always been the major that is the best place for someone to clear the “never won a major” hurdle. This includes Finau, Morikawa, Ancer, Fowler (no longer much of a youngster on tour) as well as guys like Viktor Hovland, Matthew Wolff, Joaquin Niemann, Scottie Scheffler and Max Homa. Do I think any of these guys are going to win this week? No. Would I be psyched if literally any of them did? Absolutely. (Note: I’m not including Cameron Champ in this group simply because I don’t think he has the game to win anywhere right now. Fight me.)
Finally, there’s a slew of professionals who are always sort of in the mix. These guys tend to make their bones at a PGA Championship, and many former winners like Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and the like swim in these waters. For the 2020 Championship, I think the following guys are looming who might just make some noise: Mark Leishman, Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey, Kevin Kisner, Ian Poulter, Brandt Snedeker, Joel Dahmen, Rory Sabbatini, and the inevitable winner who I’ve forgotten to name. (See how I cover my bases?)
So, how does that shake out into a $50,000 DraftKings lineup? Here’s how:
The stars are too expensive to get three of them into the lineup, so I’m taking two. While I love how Brooks has been playing and the chip he has on his shoulder, winning three consecutive PGA Championships is so unprecedented I can’t do it. And while in my other league I’ve taken Justin Thomas, I can’t afford him here. That leaves me with two European studs:
Rory McIlroy ($10,700)
Jon Rahm ($10,500)
These guys are playing as well as anyone, though Rors hasn’t quite closed things out. Still, together they are cut machines and finish in the top-10 as well as anyone. They’re on my squad.
For my mid-tier guys who are accurate off the tee and great irons players, I’m taking these youngsters:
Collin Morikawa ($8,600)
Abe Ancer ($7,700)
If they can avoid the rough then they could easily rip up Harding Park. Both of them play with ice in their veins, and I think they’re fantastic adds. This leaves me with a very small budget left for the bottom of the roster. That means it’s time to be smart here. (Dangerous territory.)
Sebastian Munoz ($6,400) – Long off the tee, Sebby Munoz has played well this year including at the Memorial Tournament which had one of the deepest fields of the year. If he can keep it between the mayo and the mustard, he’s got a good chance to make the cut.
Benjamin Hebert ($6,100) – OK…I’ll admit something. I’ve never heard of Hebert. I was actually hoping that the “B. Hebert” might just be Bobby Hebert, former Cajun QB of the New Orleans Saints. No such luck. The other guys available here at this price are all coming back from an injury (Vaughn Taylor, Nate Lashley, etc.) or way past their prime. Hebert is a European golfer who has good distance off the tee and makes cuts with regularity. It’s a gamble, but he seems as good as anyone at this bargain basement price to help out my lineup.
In order to have my cake and eat it too, here are my TWO lineups I’m actually entering this week:
|Rory McIlroy||$10,700||Justin Thomas||$11,300|
|Jon Rahm||$10,500||Brooks Koepka||$11,100|
|Collin Morikawa||$8,600||Matthew Wolff||$7,500|
|Abe Ancer||$7,700||Scottie Scheffler||$7,300|
|Sebastian Munoz||$6,400||Lanto Griffin||$6,500|
|Benjamin Hebert||$6,100||Keith Mitchell||$6,300|
You have been warned.