Sobel: Recent Trends Show Clear Path to Picking Outrights for This Week’s PGA Championship

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Rickie Fowler is 35/1 to win the Shriners Open. Credit: Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

Only the best players win major championships.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to think? Isn’t that the narrative at these big events, where preparation and talent mean that only the big names can pick off major titles?

Well, it’s only partially true.

Looking at data for the past 20 majors, we can see that 13 of these winners were ranked inside the top 10 on oddsmakers’ boards entering that week, but only two – coincidentally enough, Jordan Spieth on both occasions – were the favorite or co-favorite.

That means more players have won in the past half-decade from 80/1 or higher odds (Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Shane Lowry, each of whom were at least 25th on that week’s board) than pre-tourney faves.

Here’s the entire list over this period:

Tournament Winner Odds, Rank
2015 Masters Jordan Spieth 10/1, 1st
2015 U.S. Open Jordan Spieth 8/1, 2nd
2015 The Open Zach Johnson 80/1, T-25
2015 PGA Jason Day 12/1, T-2
2016 Masters Danny Willett 50/1, T-16
2016 U.S. Open Dustin Johnson 12/1, 4th
2016 The Open Henrik Stenson 25/1, T-7
2016 PGA Jimmy Walker 125/1, T-36
2017 Masters Sergio Garcia 30/1, T-9
2017 U.S. Open Brooks Koepka 30/1, T-11
2017 The Open Jordan Spieth 12/1, T-1
2017 PGA Justin Thomas 35/1, T-10
2018 Masters Patrick Reed 40/1, T-17
2018 U.S. Open Brooks Koepka 25/1, T-9
2018 The Open Francesco Molinari 25/1, T-9
2018 PGA Brooks Koepka 18/1, T-4
2019 Masters Tiger Woods 12/1, T-3
2019 U.S. Open Gary Woodland 60/1, T-24
2019 The Open Shane Lowry 80/1, T-29
2019 PGA Brooks Koepka 10/1, T-3

(odds via golfodds.com)

So, how can we use this info to our advantage for this week’s PGA Championship, the first major being contested in more than a year?

Right off the bat, it’s bad news for Justin Thomas backers, who are hoping this week’s favorite can buck that recent pattern. Even though conventional logic suggests he owns the best chance of winning based on his odds, this five-year trend shows that the favorite only wins majors 10 percent of time.

Now let’s dig a little deeper.

What we can discern is that winners have come from an average price of just a tick under 35/1 during this time. They also rank just a notch above 11th on oddsmakers’ lists.

As of right now, once again according to golfodds.com, there are no players listed at exactly 35/1 this week, but there are three at 30/1, which puts them in a tie for ninth on the board.

Those players: Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler and Collin Morikawa.

If you want to look just below those recent averages, we find a half-dozen players at 40/1, in a large share of 12th place on the board.

Those players: Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama, Tony Finau, Jason Day, Viktor Hovland and Daniel Berger.

Does it mean one of these nine players has the best chance of winning this week? Of course not, but it does suggest that each of them are closest to the average over the past five years.

And if nothing else, if you’re only looking at the favorites right now, it yet again proves that these players are very much in play as outright selections for this week’s major.

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