Mears: Don’t Sleep on These Under-the-Radar PGA Championship Matchups

Mears: Don’t Sleep on These Under-the-Radar PGA Championship Matchups article feature image
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Photo credit: Steven Flynn-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Thomas Pieters

  • I created a golf model based on past PGA Championship data to identify head-to-head betting opportunities for this week's tournament.
  • Below are my five favorite under-the-radar matchup bets, including Thomas Pieters vs. Alex Noren and Jhonattan Vegas vs. Billy Horschel.

Using the FantasyLabs Trends tool, I backtested historical PGA Championship data to create a model for this week’s tournament. Using that data, I’ve handicapped the 100-plus head-to-head matchup props, with the ones I’m most interested in betting listed below.

I’ve already offered thoughts on five heavyweight matchups here.

Jhonattan Vegas (-140) over Billy Horschel

Vegas is one of the more intriguing longshots in this loaded field given his recent play, which I found based on past data has historically been predictive of PGA Championship success. He has been inside the top 30 in each of his last six events, including an impressive third at the Players in March.

Further, he’s a pretty decent fit for Bethpage Black given his distance off the tee and hot ball-striking currently. In fact, he currently ranks 21st in the world in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green; Horschel, for reference, ranks just 137th.

Horschel is at a sizable disadvantage off the tee, and he hasn’t been particularly great with his second shot irons of late, either. I’ll take the hotter golfer in Vegas, especially since he’s a better fit for the course. I would bet this to -160.

Matthew Fitzpatrick (-130) over Cam Smith

This matchup is less about buying Fitz, who has been good this season but isn’t a perfect fit for Bethpage, and rather fading Smith, who enters this week in terrible form.

He’s missed two of his last four cuts, and the others weren’t inside the top 50. The underlying metrics are even more concerning: He’s hit only about 50% of his greens in regulation over that span, which is one of the worst marks in this huge field.

Fitzpatrick likely doesn’t have the upside to really contend at the long Bethpage — he sets up better for the Opens — but his play is much more steady with his irons and short game. A simple made cut could give him the win in this matchup with how Smith is playing right now. I’d bet this to -150.

Thomas Pieters (-105) over Alex Noren

Pieters has history of getting up for big events, including a sixth-place finish at the PGA last year and a fourth at his first Augusta trip in 2017.

He seems like an ideal fit for the PGA and this course specifically with his all-around game. He’s long off the tee, good at hitting greens and his short game remains very solid. His weakness is usually accuracy off the tee but 1) that’s less important here than other majors and 2) he’s been awesome in that regard lately anyway.

Noren, meanwhile, is shorter with his driver, which will put him in harder spots to hit his long second shots into greens. Further, he’s been shaky in the bigger field events lately: He was fine at the Byron Nelson and Heritage but really struggled at the Masters and Players, finishing 62nd in the former and missing the cut in the latter.

There’s somewhat of a theme in the bets I’m looking for this week: Players with better form and better fit. Pieters qualifies over Noren, and I think -105 is way too low. I’d bet this to -130.

Dylan Frittelli (-105) over Cameron Champ

This one is a bit scary because Champ, on the surface, should be a fit for Bethpage. The PGA Championship always favors bombers, and Champ’s 329.6-yard average driving distance doesn’t just lead the field — it smashes the field.

The problem is that’s the only potential positive for his game currently. He has missed the cut or withdrawn in each of his last five tournaments, and his iron play and short game have been nothing short of egregious. Further, while he’s smashing the ball still, he’s putting very few of them actually in the fairway, which has led to even more struggles with those second shots.

Frittelli has a length disadvantage, but he’s not necessarily short. But more importantly, he’s a much steadier ball-striker, and his irons and short game have been very solid lately. I’m not expecting Frittelli to contend, but I do think there’s a solid chance Champ doesn’t find his form and burns out in glorious fashion again. I would bet this to -110.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello (+100) over Marc Leishman

My model currently has Rafa over Leishman, and that doesn’t even factor in Leishman’s withdrawal at last week’s Byron Nelson with a back injury. He said this last week looking ahead to Bethpage: “I’ll get it more thoroughly checked out and worked on but I hope it just needs some rest and I’ll be okay for next week.”

With Leishman a decent favorite here, I don’t think that injury has been fully adjusted for in the head-to-head market. He’s been playing below expectations of late anyway (potentially due to that back), missing the cut at the Players and finishing just 49th and 58th at the Masters and Heritage.

Rafa, meanwhile, remains one of the more steady players on tour. He likely doesn’t have the elite distance to truly contend here, but he’s playing well right now and doesn’t really have any weaknesses. His iron play and short game should let him hang around on the weekend, something I can’t confidently say for Leishman with that WD hanging over his head. I would bet this to -110.