2021 PGA Championship Preview & Picks: The Stats Point to Big Weeks for Hovland, Grillo & Niemann at Kiawah

2021 PGA Championship Preview & Picks: The Stats Point to Big Weeks for Hovland, Grillo & Niemann at Kiawah article feature image
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Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Emiliano Grillo

The week we have been waiting for has finally arrived as the PGA TOUR heads to the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island to play the 2021 PGA Championship. Located on the coast of South Carolina, The Ocean Course should prove to be a difficult test for the world’s best golfers as they compete for the glory of a major championship.

At the 1991 Ryder Cup hosted by The Ocean Course, there was a famous match that was famously dubbed “The War on the Shore.” We may be in store for another “War on the Shore” this week with how difficult this track seems to be setting up for the 2021 PGA Championship.

Playing 7,849 yards, the course will play the longest of any major championship in PGA TOUR history.  The greens are comprised of Seashore Paspalum and wind should play a major factor in determining the difficulty of the event.

There are 156 players in the field this week, with the top 70 and ties making it to the weekend. As expected, all of the world’s top players will be in attendance seeking a highly coveted major championship.

Past Winners at the PGA Championship

  • 2020: Collin Morikawa (-13)
  • 2019: Brooks Koepka (-8)
  • 2018: Brooks Koepka (-16)
  • 2017: Justin Thomas (-8)
  • 2016: Jimmy Walker (-14)
  • 2015: Jason Day (-20)
  • 2014: Rory McIlroy (-6)
  • 2013: Jason Dufner (-10)
  • 2012: Rory McIlroy (-13)
  • 2011: Keegan Bradley (-8)
  • 2010: Martin Kaymer (-11)

7 Key Stats For Kiawah Island

Let’s take a look at the six most important metrics at Kiawah Island Resort’s Ocean Course and determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds. This should give us a good starting point for building out a betting card.

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee

The most important statistic this week is Strokes Gained: Off the Tee. Playing almost 7,900 yards, it will be crucial for golfers to have a combination of length and accuracy. While fairways may not be overly difficult to hit at Kiawah, golfers who do miss may be rewarded with a 200+ yard approach shot from the rough.

Looking at prior events at the course, distance may not be an absolute requirement to compete at Kiawah but it will certainly be a massive advantage.

Total Strokes Gained: Off the Tee in past 24 rounds:

  1. Bryson DeChambeau (+25.1)(+1600)
  2. Sergio Garcia (+20.2) (+9000)
  3. Viktor Hovland (+19.3) (+2200)
  4. Sungjae Im (+17.3) (+7000)
  5. Corey Conners (+16.7)(+7000)

Strokes Gained: Approach

At a course that should play extremely difficult, golfers must have an all-around game to compete. Approach shots will be made more difficult by wind and elevated greens, highlighting the importance of strong iron play.

Total Strokes Gained: Approach in past 24 rounds:

  1. Collin Morikawa (+38.9) (+2800)
  2. Justin Thomas (+31.7) (+1400)
  3. Jordan Spieth (+30.4) (+1600)
  4. Corey Conners (+29.4) (+7000)
  5. Charley Hoffman (+28.0) (+15000)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images. Pictured: Collin Morikawa

Strokes Gained: Ball-Striking 

Even though we already have Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach in the model, I still want Strokes Gained: Ball-Striking included to emphasize the importance of a superior tee-to-green game in this type of event.

Historically, the more difficult an event plays the more likely we are to see an elite ball-striker reign supreme.

Total Strokes Gained: Ball Striking in past 24 rounds:

  1. Collin Morikawa (+49.6) (+2800)
  2. Corey Conners (+46.2)(+7000)
  3. Viktor Hovland (+38.2) (+2200)
  4. Justin Thomas (+34.6) (+1400)
  5. Jon Rahm (+33.7) (+1400)

Strokes Gained: Total (Courses over 7,400 yards)

Surprisingly, it isn’t just the bombers who thrive on long golf courses. Including this statistic brings into play the grinders that know how to manage a long golf course and find a successful strategy to compete.

Total Strokes Gained: Around the Green in past 24 rounds:

  1. Justin Thomas (+52.6) (+1400)
  2. Rory McIlroy (+42.4) (+1100) 
  3. Brooks Koepka (+46.1) (+4500)
  4. Jon Rahm (+45.7) (+1400)
  5. Xander Schauffele (+45.7) (+2200)
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Strokes Gained Total: Paspalum

Paspalum grass is spongy and tends to grab the ball more than other surfaces, preventing significant run out on approach shots and chips. Back in 2012, Rory McIlroy was one of the few players in the field who had any significant experience with Paspalum, as he was a member at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla. and that seemed to give the Northern Irishman an advantage, as he went on to win the 2012 PGA Championship by 8 shots.

While still uncommon, Paspalum is used on a few TOUR courses like TPC Kuala Lumpur, El Camaleon and Corales Golf Club.

Total Strokes Gained: Total on Paspalum in past 24 rounds:

  1. Hideki Matsuyama (+58.2) (+4000)
  2. Justin Thomas (+57.4) (+1400)
  3. Billy Horschel (+44.3) (+12500)
  4. Keegan Bradley (+43.4) (+9000)
  5. Emiliano Grillo (+38.9) (+16000)
emiliano-grillo-safeway-open-buys-fades-round-4-sunday-september-13
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images. Pictured: Emiliano Grillo.

Strokes Gained Total: Pete Dye Designs

Another major factor that will impact on the PGA Championship is the late, legendary course architect, Pete Dye. Dye courses are known for their distinctive features including long fairway bunkers, tricky angles on approach shots and small greens.

Typically, players who play well on Pete Dye tracks tend to do so consistently throughout their careers.

Total Strokes Gained: Per round on Pete Dye Designs

  1. Abraham Ancer (+2.1) (+5000)
  2. Bryson DeChambeau (+2.0) (+1600)
  3. Webb Simpson (+1.9) (+4500)
  4. Adam Scott (+1.9) (+9000)
  5. Dustin Johnson (+1.8) (+1800)

Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (Windy Conditions)

With the course being right on the coast, wind will certainly play a factor this week. Golfers will need to control the golf ball through the wind while also trying to get the ball to elevated greens, which will be no easy task.

Total Strokes Tee to Green: Windy Conditions in past 24 rounds:

  1. Jon Rahm (+60.1) (+1400)
  2. Dustin Johnson(+53.5) (+1800) 
  3. Corey Conners (+50.0) (+7000)
  4. Emiliano Grillo (+49.9) (+12500)
  5. Collin Morikawa (+47.3) (+2800)

Statistical Model

Below, I’ve reported overall model rankings using a combination of the seven key statistical categories previously discussed.

These rankings are comprised of SG: OTT (23.8%); SG: APP (20%);SG: Ball Striking (19%); SG: Total Over 7,400 (9.3%) ; SG:Total Pete Dye (9.3%); SG: Total Paspalum (9.3%)and SG:Total Wind (9.3%).

  1. Viktor Hovland (+2200)
  2. Abraham Ancer (+5000)
  3. Corey Conners (+7000)
  4. Jon Rahm (+1400)
  5. Rory McIlroy (+1100)
  6. Emiliano Grillo (+16000)
  7. Justin Thomas (+1400)
  8. Daniel Berger (+3000)
  9. Bryson DeChambeau (+1600)
  10. Collin Morikawa (+2800)
  11. Keegan Bradley (+9000)
  12. Paul Casey (+7000)
  13. Charley Hoffman (+15000)
  14. Tony Finau (+4000)
  15. Patrick Cantlay (+4500)
  16. Xander Schauffele (+2200)
  17. Sergio Garcia (+9000)
  18. Brooks Koepka (+4500)
  19. Chris Kirk (+20000)
  20. Joaquin Niemann (+7000)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images. Pictured: Joaquin Niemann

2021 PGA Championship Best Bets

Viktor Hovland (+2200)

Viktor Hovland checks all of the boxes for me this week.

Coming off of back-to-back third-place finishes, the young superstar enters the PGA Championship in immaculate form; and the stats back that up as well. In the two aforementioned starts, Hovland gained 8.7 and 8.8 strokes on the field from tee to green.

The 23-year-old Norwegian is also a perfect fit for Kiawah Island. He has the length and driving ability to tame The Ocean Course’s 7,849 yard scorecard, ranking third in the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee in his past 24 rounds.

Hovland also has had amazing success on golf courses that feature Paspalum greens, which we will be seeing this week. Vik has two career PGA TOUR victories and both of them were on Paspalum (Puerto Rico Open and Mayakoba Classic).

Throughout TOUR history we have seen many golfers get their breakthrough victory at the PGA Championship, and I believe this young superstar is next in line.

[Bet Viktor Hovland at DraftKings and get a $1,000 sign-up bonus.]

Joaquin Niemann (+7000)

Joaquin Niemann is a really nice fit for Kiawah Island Resort’s Ocean Course. Ranking fifth on TOUR for driving distance, he has the necessary firepower off of the tee to make the course a bit more manageable. “The Wonder Kid” is also a solid wind and gains over a half of a shot on the field per round in windy conditions.

He has the ability to create a low ball flight that pierces through the wind of his tee shots and that should play nicely at Kiawah. Niemann is another golfer who has a chance to have a major breakthrough on the PGA TOUR by adding a major championship to his resume at just 22 years old.

That may be a tall task for such a young golfer but historically the PGA Championship has been the most likely major for a young player to come out on top.

[Bet Joaquin Niemann at DraftKings and get a $1,000 sign-up bonus.]

Keegan Bradley (+9000)

Hopefully you jumped on the 200-1 number for Keegan after I wrote this article last month, but this is still a big enough price. While there have been some disappointments for Bradley in between then and now but there is no doubt he is playing well.

He is an elite ball-striker who has great success on paspalum greens in his career and excels on Pete Dye tracks. That is plenty of reason to bet Bradley as a longshot this week.

[Bet Keegan Bradley at DraftKings and get a $1,000 sign-up bonus.]

Emiliano Grillo (+16000)

Despite being one of the most infuriating golfers to bet on a regular basis due to his horrific putting, Emiliano Grillo offers a great deal of value this week. On paper, he is a perfect fit for the course.

In this field the Argentine boasts impressive ranks of: 16th off of the tee, 16th in total ball striking, sixth on courses longer than 7,400 yards, sixth on courses that feature paspalum greens and fourth in strokes gained in windy conditions.

In what should be a difficult test at Kiawah, elite ball-strikers have a big advantage and putting prowess may not be as big of a factor with the velcro-like paspalum greens. It’s true that the stats are always impressive for Grillo and he can never get it done, but at +16000 it’s worth taking a shot on this week.

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