The first round of the USPGA Championship takes place on Thursday as the entire field has the chance to play the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island for the first time in a competitive scenario this week.
Everyone will tee off with the same ambition – to place themselves nicely for a charge at the Wanamaker Trophy over the course of the weekend. We also get to see the course setup for the first time and it will be interesting to see exactly what awaits the players.
First Round Leader
As ever when a major comes round the first market we look at in the daily previews is the First Round Leader market. Whenever we do that we need to take stock of the format for the day. The USPGA Championship is a major which uses morning and afternoon waves off both the first and tenth tees. That makes the weather forecast important but really there isn’t too much difference throughout the day.
With that in mind, I’ll take a couple of players who didn’t quite make my outright portfolio for one reason or another but who might well be able to fire up a good start and see how they go from there. The first one out is Charl Schwartzel who went well on a Pete Dye design alongside Louis Oosthuizen in the Zurich Classic and comes in here off the back of a perfectly solid effort last week where he was killing it with the short game. At a decent price I’ll pay to see if he can keep that momentum going.
The other bet I like is Abraham Ancer to go well. He has a strong record down in Australia where the conditions are firm and the wind blows strongly. He will also be naturally suited to paspalum grass as most of the courses in Mexico, or at least the championship ones, use this grass. Ancer goes in here in excellent form having recorded successive top fives in his last two outings and he has been hitting the ball really well for a while. He was second not far from here at The Heritage last year so this area of the country has been good to the Mexican. I think he’s overpriced in this market.
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Thursday 3 Balls
The field go out in three balls off the first and tenth tees on Thursday with the pick of the morning wave being the groups which contain Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka who go off the tenth tee at 13.33 BST, and the major winning trio of defending champion Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau and Hideki Matsuyama who are off the same tee 11 minutes later. The afternoon is headlined by the 18.58 BST group of Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth and Will Zalatoris and the 19.09 group containing world number one Dustin Johnson, Open champion Shane Lowry and Sergio Garcia.
When it comes to betting on this tournament there are some three balls which have the club professionals or past champions in them which we can whittle down to two balls if they are in with stronger opponents. This can often be a profitable way of making money on three balls. I’ve found a couple of those sorts of groups plus one where a veteran is involved for my three three ball bets.
Byeong-Hun An/Derek Holmes/George Coetzee
Match tees off at 12.22 BST
The first group which catches my eye is the third one off the first tee as the former BMW PGA Championship winner Byeong-Hun An goes out alongside the club professional Derek Holmes and the European Tour stalwart George Coetzee.
This immediately looks like a two ball to me because if the professionals are going to struggle as much as plenty are expecting then the club pro’s have no chance of being competitive around here which takes Derek Holmes out of the equation. It is hard to get excited by An’s chances either when you think he has missed five of his last six cuts and finished outside the top 65 in the other. As it turns out there is a lot to like about Coetzee here. Firstly he has a wonderful record in the Qatar Masters which isn’t too dissimilar a setup to this one in terms of the exposed nature of the track. The other thing to like about the South African is that he has a very good record with his irons – both long and short – and that is significant here. I’d have probably taken An on anyway but Coetzee is a more than competent player to do it with.
Frank Bensel Jr/Robert Streb/Kurt Kitayama
Match tees off at 17.30 BST
The first group off the first tee in the afternoon wave on Thursday is another group that I like with the RSM Classic champion Robert Streb out alongside our outright bet Kurt Kitayama and the club professional Frank Bensel Jr.
As with the above bet I’m immediately taking Bensel Jr out of the equation. This isn’t a golf course that amateurs are going to fare well on. That leaves Streb and Kitayama and I’m siding with my outright pick here. Streb did win the RSM Classic at the back end of 2020 but he’s only achieved one top 35 finish since then and has missed seven of his last nine cuts which is a concern. I’m not convinced he’s long enough either. Kitayama has no issues on the length department, he’s been in pretty good touch on the European Tour recently and has proven himself in the wind which is possibly the most important thing of them all. I think he’s the one to come out on top in this three ball.
Steve Stricker/Billy Horschel/Daniel Berger
Match tees off at 18.47 BST
One of the later groups to tee off the first tee in the later wave sees three Americans setting out on their journey as the Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker goes out alongside two men who might be relying on him to pick them to be on the team in Billy Horschel and Daniel Berger.
Let’s take Stricker out of the equation. He can still contend at this level on certain tracks but they are not ones as long as this. This is a big couple of days for Horschel who has a chance to impress the captain at first hand but that might lead to him trying a little too hard. We know how desperate Horschel is to play in the Ryder Cup. The other concern I have with Horschel as well as his length is all too often he has a shocking swing and any of them around here are getting heavily penalised. I think Kiawah Island suits Daniel Berger better and he should be feeling good about his game after ploughing in a bunch of birdies in the Byron Nelson on Sunday. He is one of the better players in the world now with no massive weakness in his game. His ball striking consistency should see him come out on top in this group.
Back C.Schwartzel First Round Leader (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with Betfred (1/5 1-7)
Back A.Ancer First Round Leader (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back G.Coetzee to beat B-H.An & D.Holmes for a 3/10 stake at 2.25 with Betfair
Back them here:
DEAD HEAT – Back K.Kitayama to beat R.Streb & F.Bensel Jr for a 3/10 stake at 1.83 with BetVictor
Back him here:
Back D.Berger to beat S.Stricker & B.Horschel for a 3/10 stake at 2.00 with Coral