Who is going to win the PGA Championship?
The long-awaited beginning of the major championship season is the perfect time to introduce a new predictive tool for golf fans and analysts alike.
Using a formula that combines player performance trends, course characteristics and hole-by-hole data, 15th Club has created a system to analytically rank every player in this week’s PGA Championship field. This performance forecast can tell us who is likely to overachieve (or underachieve) this week, and hopefully paint a clearer picture of what is to come at TPC Harding Park.
The numbers the forecaster generated will cause plenty of discussion. First, let’s look at…
Gary Woodland: Based solely on course history, this one makes perfect sense. Woodland nearly won the 2015 WGC Match Play on this golf course, finishing runner-up to Rory McIlroy. Consistently one of the better drivers of the ball in the game, Woodland ranked in the top-20 on Tour in strokes gained off the tee three of the past four seasons. He’s got a couple of nice finishes since the season restarted, too: 5th at Workday and 9th at Colonial. Woodland’s course fit statistics move him from 26th in our pre-tournament player rankings up to 14th.
Matthew Wolff: On a power-prejudiced course, the explosive young Wolff is a perfect fit to perform well this week. Wolff is ranked 8th on the PGA Tour in driving distance and 15th in strokes off the tee. Nearly 38% of his drives this season have gone more than 320 yards, the 8th-best percentage on Tour. Incredibly, this is the first major championship start for Wolff – he never competed in one as an amateur. Our model projects Wolff as among the best fits to succeed this week at Harding Park.
Justin Rose: Those who have kept a keen eye on the game the last month might be shaking their heads at this one. After all, Rose has missed three straight cuts, the last two coming at Muirfield Village, a course where he had won before. But while Rose currently sits at 24th in the 15th Club Performance Index, his statistical fit for Harding Park is exemplary, moving him up to 13th in our pre-tournament rankings overall. Rose has finished in the top-20 in six of his previous eight major starts.
Forecast: The Fit Isn’t There
Jordan Spieth: Our model says this won’t be the week Jordan Spieth breaks out of his victory dry spell and completes the grand slam. Spieth has one of the worst course fit ratings of any player in the field this week, something that isn’t encouraging considering his inconsistent ball striking numbers. Harding Park is expected to be more beneficial to players who take advantage of superior performance off the tee.
Matthew Fitzpatrick: The most significant, repeated approach shot range at TPC Harding Park is expected to be between 175-200 yards. That’s not great news for Fitzpatrick, who currently ranks outside the top-150 on the PGA Tour in proximity to the hole from that range. Fitzpatrick could be a popular pick for many – he’s finished third and sixth in his last two starts – but the numbers suggest this won’t be a perfect fit for the former U.S. Amateur champion.
Henrik Stenson: A stalwart in the majors over the last decade, Stenson has a propensity to hit less than driver off the tee and take advantage of his excellent approach play skills. This strategy has won Stenson a ton of tournaments and money over the years, but it likely will be a detriment to him at Harding Park. As the third overall seed in the 2015 Match Play, Stenson failed to advance beyond pool play.
Tracking the Favorites
Rory McIlroy: Rory gets a mild bump upwards by course fit this week but would have led our pre-tournament rankings without it. McIlroy won all seven of his matches at Harding Park in the 2015 Match Play, winning 38 holes and losing just 19 along the way. Rory will likely need better iron play this week than he’s shown recently if he’s going to contend - since the PGA Tour season restarted, he hasn’t ranked in the top-25 in strokes gained approach in any event.
Brooks Koepka: Koepka sits at 15th in the Performance Index rankings entering this week, a reflection of his inconsistent play since returning from knee surgery, but there are numerous reasons to be bullish on about Brooks this week. Koepka gets the biggest course fit increase of any of the tournament favorites according to our data. Plus, there’s that whole four-majors-in-three-years thing he has going for him, and a runner-up finish last week in Tennessee. Koepka led the field at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in strokes gained approach, something he also did in two of his four major championship victories.
Bryson DeChambeau: While the course analytics say DeChambeau is basically a neutral fit this week, his performance index numbers suggest he’ll be a force to contend with at Harding Park. Only three players are above him in the pre-tournament ranking: McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay. That’s high numerical praise for a player who has not finished better than 15th yet in his major championship career. DeChambeau is likely to better that in California this week.