The second major championship of the 2023 calendar year is upon us. This iteration of the PGA Championship takes us to Rochester, New York where Oak Hill Country Club will test the best golfers in the world.
Oak Hill was designed by Donald Ross in 1926, but underwent a massive restoration in 2020 to return the course to some of its original golf course designs. The greens have been reshaped, the bunkers carved out anew, and the fifth and sixth holes have been completely redone.
Prior to the restoration, Oak Hill hosted the 2013 PGA Championship. Jason Dufner won at 10-under par, beating out American Jim Furyk and a pair of Swedes in Henrik Stenson and Jonas Blixt. None are known for distance off the tee, but the redesign has opened up the course a bit and distance should play more of a role this time around. Even so, with complicated green complexes, deep bunkers, and tricky runoffs, hitting fairways and getting a good clean shot at these greens is going to spell success on course that Tiger Woods, who will sadly be missing from the action this weekend, described as ‘the toughest, fairest course I’ve ever played’ 10 years ago.
The East Course at Oak Hill is a par 70 with limited opportunities for scoring. With the redesign, we can’t know for sure how the course will play, especially with more than 175,000 square feet of new bentgrass installed on the putting surfaces and approaches, but several holes have not been radically changed and we can still use the 2013 tournament to glean something about how it will play in 2023.
The course will almost certainly play difficult, although maybe not Bethpage Black difficult, and much of that is the lack of scoring holes. The last major featured four holes with a birdie or better rate of 40% or higher and Oak Hill has just one that cracks 30%. This alone will make Thursday’s first round a must watch as the likes of Jordan Spieth, Tommy Fleetwood, Max Homa and Adam Scott adjust to the golf course.
As is the case with most PGA Championships, the field is strong and deep to about 132 golfers. The remaining 24 spots are PGA sectional champions and a handful of international spots. With top 70 and ties making the cut, most of the top players will play all four rounds. Combine the extended cut line with a par 70 that doesn’t feature scoring holes and the likely outcome is a bunched leaderboard with some surprises at the top.
Over the last 10 PGA Championships, five have been held at par-70 courses. Two of the winners came from a “favorite” class of player, one from a “midrange” class, and two from a “longshot” class. This will be a trend as we set our sights on who will win and our value plays.
FRACAS PGA Championship Picks
After 100,000 simulations of the tournament, Jon Rahm once again sits atop our FRACAS modeled win percentage. He was our favorite for the Masters, and we noted he was a bit of a forgotten man among the elite group of players. Now an owner of a green jacket, he is no longer forgotten.
Most of the top players in the world will be hurt by the lack of par-5 scoring opportunities, but Rahm is so good with his short game that he shines through when things are long and difficult. He is head and shoulders above the field in projected scoring on both the long and variable par 4s and the difficult par 3s.
In both cases his projected birdie rate is more than 5% above field average and projected bogey rate is more than 4% better than field average.
Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy are virtually tied for second in our win probability. Scheffler’s performance feels disappointing since his win at The Players, but only a top golfer in the world can feel disappointing with finishes of 10th, 11th and fifth over that span. He’s still in top form and if his putter cooperates at all he’ll be right there at the end. Though Scheffler might feel like he’s coming in under his best form, McIlroy truly is. After a second-place finish at the API, McIlroy is coming off two missed cuts and a 47th, and he withdrew from an elevated event citing mental health rest. His game is a question mark right now, but when McIlroy catches fire, he can dust the field.
Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele occupy the next level of projected finishers. Both are top-10 golfers who could be a bit hurt by Oak Hill. They are first and second in the field in projected par-5 scoring this week, but with only two par 5s on the card, they will have to compete above their baselines on the rest of the course. Cantlay’s biggest weakness is the type of grind-it-out par 3 that Oak Hill has aplenty. He’s projected to score only slightly better than field average this week on such holes, though his projected birdie rate of 11.3% better than field average on the two par 5s should give him some room to work with. For Schauffele, it’s the par 4s – and particularly the long and difficult ones. His projected par-4 scoring as a whole is above field average, but how he fares on the sixth, 17th and 18th will dictate his week.
Justin Thomas looks to defend his title after finding a bit of form with a 14th-place finish his last time out at the Wells Fargo. He has just one top-five finish in 2023 and hasn’t been quite the same player he was leading up to his win last year at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Collin Morikawa gets our biggest course boost of the week. He trails only Rahm in projected par-3 scoring and his projected birdie rate of 5.7% better than field average on the par 3s is best in the field. Unlike the other top players, it’s the lack of scorable par 5s that boosts Morikawa up our rankings this week. He’s not the longest off the tee, but he finds every fairway and is money with his long irons. While the other players are chopping it out of the rough 30 yards ahead of him, he could be using his pinpoint iron accuracy to give himself ample birdie putts.
Tyrrell Hatton is a similar story to Morikawa. He excels when things get tough, but can lose strokes to other top players on those scorable par 5s. He’s projected to be one of the most variable players among the leaders, so if he’s on TV in a featured group it might be a good idea to tune in.
The FRACAS Value Plays
As with most majors, the books are doing us no favors with what they’re currently offering. At the moment there is nothing we like at the top, but the golfer to keep an eye on is Morikawa. As the chatter about the need for length off the tee intensifies, Morikawa could slide down the PGA Championship odds. If he gets to 40-1, we really like him to win. With the weather projected to be dry but chilly and dewey in the mornings, his experience as a young golfer in San Francisco should only help from tee-to-green.
Though our projected top 10 is absent any LIV Golf stars like Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Smith and Phil Mickelson, but there’s one we really like this week. Our model gives Chilean Joaquin Niemann a better chance of winning than fellow LIV golfers Cam Smith and Brooks Koepka, and anything 75-1 or better is our target zone. Despite his length off the tee, he’s another golfer that struggles to separate on scorable par 5s, but is excellent when the par 4s play tough thanks to his ball-striking abilities. He won’t light up the scoreboard with strings of birdies, but he could shoot four consecutive rounds in the upper 60s and avenge his countryman’s 18th hole woes from last year.
In most majors, golfers over 100-1 are to be avoided at all costs. With the 2023 PGA, and for all the reasons we’ve highlighted, there are a handful of fairway-finders between 100-1 and 300-1 who could be worth backing. Russell Henley is the shortest of the lot and can be found around 125-1. Henley is particularly good at long and not-variable par 4s, where his accuracy off the tee leads to some unexpected birdies. Tom Hoge, Paul Casey, Chris Kirk and Aaron Wise at anything better than 150-1 are other longshots who could replicate the success of Keegan Bradley and Jimmy Walker as longshots to win PGA Championships on par 70s.
Even further down are Brendan Todd and Alex Noren. Like the five names listed above, both find fairways and make pars. At 200-1 and 300-1, respectively, both could find their way into the top 10 come Sunday.
PGA Tour Winners since the Masters (in reverse order, starting from last week)
- AT&T Byron Nelson: Jason Day
- Wells Fargo Championship: Wyndham Clark
- Mexico Open: Tony Finau
- RBC Heritage: Matt Fitzpatrick (reigning U.S. Open champion)
Enjoy this? Follow us on Twitter!