2021 PGA Championship Final Round Buys and Fades: Back Brooks Koepka to Win Fifth Major
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images. Pictured: Brooks Koepka.
The third round of the PGA Championship was one of the most compelling rounds of golf I can remember in quite some time.
As I mentioned in the Round 3 preview, there was no shortage of storylines entering Saturday, and the biggest one grabbed hold of the day right out of the gates.
Phil Mickelson, pursuing the opportunity to become the oldest major winner ever, came out with four birdies in his first seven holes. He stretched his lead to five strokes on the back nine before the wheels got a little wobbly on the 12th and 13th holes. Mickelson dropped his first shot on 12 before putting a tee shot in the water on 13 that led to double bogey, which brought much of the field back into contention. Lefty closed the day with a 2-under 70 and one-shot advantage over Brooks Koepka.
Koepka is the next best storyline and probably the closest player to the Tiger Woods type of mentality of this era, making for an epic final pairing on The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. Koepka also posted a 2-under round, but he seemed to leave a lot on the putting greens despite a positive strokes gained number.
The penultimate pairing will be made up of 36-hole co-leader Louis Oosthuizen, who finished even par on the day despite losing more than three strokes on the greens. He also put one in the drink off the tee on 13, which makes it a bit remarkable he’s only two shots back going into Sunday. Oosty will be joined by a bit of a surprise in Kevin Streelman, who shot a couple strokes under par himself on Saturday.
While Moving Day at the PGA Championship was great, we are set up for a monumental golf day on Sunday. Heavy winds are expected throughout the afternoon, but this time from the west. The change in wind direction would make every hole flip from what the players dealt with the first two days, making the hard holes easier and the easy holes harder. This could come down to the player who handles that change the best being the one who ends up with the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday evening.
The strokes gained data from the round on Saturday should give us a good view into who is ready to handle the pressure of Sunday at a Major Championship.
Strokes Gained Explanation
Strokes Gained can give golf bettors, DFS players and fans way more detail on how a golfer is truly playing by measuring each shot in relation to the rest of the field.
Using the millions of data points it collects, the TOUR calculates how many shots on average it takes a player to get the ball in the hole from every distance and situation. If a player beats those averages, he’s gaining strokes on the field.
Every situation in golf is different — Strokes Gained measures how players perform relative to the situation.
In this piece, we’ll touch on a variety of Strokes Gained metrics…
- Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee
- Strokes Gained: Approach
- Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green
- Strokes Gained: Putting
- Strokes Gained: Ball-Striking (which is Off-the-Tee + Approach)
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (which is Ball-Striking + Around-the-Green)
In general, ball-striking and tee-to-green are the most stable long term, while putting is more prone to volatility.
You can often find live-betting advantages by identifying golfers who are hitting the ball well, but just not getting putts to drop. Likewise, players with high SG: Putting numbers may regress moving forward.
3 Golfers to Buy in Round 4
I made a decision last week in watching Koepka that I was off of him this week because it didn’t seem he could transition in his swing off of his surgically repaired knee. He has proven me wrong every step of the way. While I’ll be playing it hat in hand, there is no way I can go any other direction than with the man who just simply piles up the major wins.
Brooks is the guy who is closest to Tiger from a mentality standpoint, certainly in this new golf era, and he gets his chance to be the one to leave Mickelson behind on Sunday.
Koepka hit it great again on Saturday, gaining more than three strokes on the field with his ball striking. He has averaged more than 3.5 strokes gained ball striking in each round this week, and there is no reason to believe that will slow on Sunday.
I honestly thought I would see a big negative number next to Koepka’s putting stats from Saturday, but somehow he was essentially average. He just seemed to miss every makable birdie putt down the stretch, and I wouldn’t expect that to continue in the final round.
I hate that I missed big numbers before the tournament and was stubborn to his success through the first two rounds but as they say, better late than never. I’m in at +150 and frankly I’ll be pretty shocked if it’s anyone, but Brooks lifting the trophy on Sunday.
The guy who best fits the mold of buys that I normally will make from a strokes gained perspective is Oosthuizen. He ranks as the best player in Strokes Gained Putting on TOUR this season but was far from that on Saturday. He lost more than three strokes to the field with his putter in the third round and still managed to stay in shouting distance.
As I mentioned he also drove one in the water on 13, which makes up a good bit of his 1.69 strokes lost off the tee on Saturday. He made up for both deficiencies with more than five strokes gained on approach and around the green, allowing him to remain just two shots back going into the final round.
I love that he was able to scrape out a decent round without his best stuff on Saturday, and at +600 on FanDuel he can be a contender in the wind on Sunday.
I truly can’t commit to many others being involved in deciding this tournament on Sunday. I feel like it’s a pretty tight group between those at four shots back or better. If I had to stretch it out, Joaquin Niemann could be worth a long shot look.
Similar to Oosthuizen, Niemann shot a solid score despite missing some of the strengths of his game. He actually gained more than three strokes putting, which made up for the full strokes he lost both on approach and around the green on Saturday.
Since I am already on Bryson DeChambeau and Gary Woodland, Niemann would be my next play with an opportunity to shoot a 6-under type of round and see if it was enough to win the title.
3 Golfers to Fade in Round 4
I truly want to be wrong here, only to see Mickelson make it a storybook week on Kiawah Island. My issue is that I’ve seen this movie too many times before. Even while he was playing his best, I knew the bogey-double bogey stretch was in the cards at some point in the round on Saturday.
While Mickelson has been great all week and was phenomenal to start the third round, I just can’t buy that he’ll be there with a real chance to win on Sunday. It feels like this Cinderella story turns into a pumpkin at some point during the final round, and I’ll trust that gut feeling for my first fade.
I’m doubling down on Phil, and I’ll go back to do the same on Christiaan Bezuidenhout. He simply can’t continue to ride his short game and putting to a high finish in a major that requires ball striking in part due to the high winds.
The South African has lost strokes to the field off the tee this week and been field average on approach. Somehow, he still finds himself within a few shots of the leaders, although I am predicting an end to that on Sunday. I just don’t see a scenario where in increasing winds and pressure, the lack of ball striking doesn’t catch up with Bezuidenhout in the final round.
Now that I get to my final fade, I am realizing that I’m quite the wet blanket on these nice stories. Sometimes it’s just part of the job to call it like I see it and unfortunately, I don’t trust Rickie Fowler to keep his positive momentum on Sunday.
There is no question it has been a struggle over the past year for Fowler, who needed a special exemption to play in this event. He has certainly made the most of it, going into Sunday in a tie for 12th. Fowler will play the final round with his good friend Jordan Spieth, but Fowler is the guy who sticks out for my last fade.
Fowler has lost strokes off the tee in two of his first three rounds but has still held it together enough with his scoring. My issue is that he is the one of just three players in the top 22 averaging less than one stroke gained tee to green per round. We know he has troubles as the pressure rises and with his lack of form this season, it’s hard to see a Sunday result that doesn’t involve him falling down the leaderboard.