PGA Championship Preview: Predicting a Winner at Bethpage Black

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May 13th, 2019

It’s difficult enough to forecast the winner of the PGA Championship with its ever-rotating course location. But this year the challenge is far greater, as the Tour revamped its schedule, moving the former fourth and final major of the year to second, behind the Masters.

On May 16 the PGA Championship will tee off in Long Island, New York, at Bethpage Black for the first time in the event's history. The A.W. Tillinghast-designed venue has hosted the U.S. Open twice, in 2002 and 2009, and The Barclays (now The Northern Trust) in 2012 and 2016. One of the favorites to win the 2019 PGA Championship, Tiger Woods (+1200), won the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage, while Phil Mickelson (+6600) placed second in 2002 and 2009.

Past PGA Championship Trends

Despite the PGA Championship’s yearly change in scenery, you could still point to a few key trends to help predict the tournament outcome in the past. Back when the event was played in mid-August, eight of the last 10 champions had won a tournament previously that season, with the exception of Jimmy Walker in 2016 and Jason Dufner in 2013, whose best result each was a fourth-place finish.

This year the field has had less time to collect a win heading into the PGA Championship, so it’s better to reference a few other statistics in order to pick the prizewinner.

Eight of last 10 PGA champions registered a top 20 finish in the event previously, while the same number ranked in the world’s top 50. The last 10 winners were between the ages of 23 and 37, which would eliminate Woods. However, at 43, Tiger defied the odds at the Masters as the first winner over the age of 40 since 1998, so we’ll keep him in the running.

Evolution of the Course

The ultimate indicator of who should win Sunday, though, is whose skillset best matches the challenges of Bethpage. The 7,459-yard par-70 course is considered one of the most difficult in the U.S. The Black Course comes with a warning sign that it’s recommended “only for highly skilled golfers” and features narrow fairways, elevated greens, a difficult rough and menacing bunkers.

In 2002 Woods won the U.S. Open at Bethpage as the only player to break par. In 2009 he came in sixth at even par, while the winner, Lucas Glover, finished just 4-under.

Before 2009 the course was lengthened by 250 yards, benefiting longer drivers. At the 2016 Barclays, the last notable event hosted at Bethpage, 30 players shot under par, with Patrick Reed the winner of the tournament at 9-under. Players who gained strokes off the tee with length instead of accuracy more often comprised the leaderboard as well.

Who Should Play Well

Looking at past performances at Bethpage in 2012 and 2016, expect Jason Day (+2200), Rickie Fowler (+1575), Bubba Watson (+5000) and Dustin Johnson (+1000) to all succeed on the course. Each of the pros finished in the top 20 at least once at Bethpage, with Day coming in fourth in 2016 and Fowler tying for seventh. Johnson last finished 18th on the course but landed third on the leaderboard in 2012.

Other names to look for are Justin Rose (+1800), Hideki Matsuyama (+4000) and Patrick Cantlay (+4000), who each excel in driving distance, strokes gained tee to green and scrambling from the rough.

Who to Pick

If you were to combine past experience at Bethpage, relevant player statistics to the course and recent form, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose stand out as excellent choices to win. However, Rose has finished worse at Bethpage, with T-31 and T-46 finishes. Thus, Johnson is the best option to put your money on in the tournament.

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