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Fantasy Golf Picks — 2021 PGA Championship Picks, Preview, Predictions

Pat Mayo makes his 2021 PGA Championship picks while previewing the course, key stats and trends for this week’s event.

Pat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg preview the course and run through the odds while making their 2021 PGA Championship Picks. The guys give their fantasy golf picks, provide their one and done strategy for the event from Kiawah Island. Plus, TIM ANDERCUST drops in to reveal who is ANDERCURSED at the 2021 PGA Championship.

PGA Championship Wednesday Update: Picks, Ownership, Stats

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2021 PGA Championship — Picks & Preview | Course & Research | Stats/Tools

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2021 PGA Championship — DraftKings Picks | Podcasts | Own Projections

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2021 PGA Championship: Field

2021 PGA Championship
156 Players | Top 70 & Ties Make the Cut
First Tee: Thursday, May 20
Defending Champion: Collin Morikawa

Back in its, now, normal spot on the schedule, the world’s best are congregating in South Carolina for the 2021 PGA Championship. We’re getting a jam-packed field of 156 players in the year’s second major, but that is a soft 156. Most events on the PGA TOUR have had the exact same field sizes the last month, and we’ve witnessed a staggeringly low six-of-six percentage with DraftKings lineups — it’s been hovering around five percent. However, while the field strength is one of the strongest all year at the PGA Championship, there’s a clear line of demarcation in terms of talent.

Since the elements play a key factor at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course in determining how difficult it will play each day, you can certainly expect a few top-end, popular picks to miss the cut. I’ve lost enough over the years to know this is an inevitability. Only one or two of the chalky plays packing their bags after 36 holes will keep the perfect 6/6 lineup percentage down. But, outside of that, the PGA Championship should be easier to get your players through to the weekend.

Each Major has its own unique flair in terms of who gets to play, and with the PGA Championship, there are actually a few. First, there are 20 PGA Professions in the mix. These are all excellent players, but there’s a reason they aren’t on the PGA TOUR. At best, one or two will make the cut, and none are going to win. So there are 20 names to cross off immediately. No need to strain yourself researching them. Second, there’s a bunch of dead-weight former winners and random international players from weaker-talent tours who are essentially write-offs. If the REAL DEAL Shaun Micheel is the one who sinks me this week, it was never meant to be to begin with.

There will always be an urge to gamble on one of these names at the low end of the pricing list, with so many people harping on making sure your DraftKings teams are “contrarian” enough in terms of ownership percentage. Picks like this aren’t contrarian, they’re stupid. Want to make sure your team is unique the DraftKings Millionaire? Use $49,900 instead of $50,000 in your salary cap.

When you subtract all those players who have far less of a chance to make the cut than the remainder of the field, the field is really like a 130-player event, resembling more of invitational PGA event like The Genesis or Memorial.

Finally, there’s the cutline itself. For, reasons, the PGA Championship has held onto the Top 70 and ties. A normal PGA event is Top 65 and ties, the US Open is Top 60, and the Masters is Top 50. To the uninitiated, those extra five spots don’t seem like much, but ask any DraftKings player who sweats the cut week in and week out. It’s just some more wiggle room to try and wedge your players into the weekend.

Back to “contrarian” picks and “fading ownership” for a minute. Even in a field of 177,000 lineups, like in this week’s DraftKings Millionaire contest, it’s pretty unlikely you’re going to find yourself in a situation sharing a lineup with anyone else — unless you’ve gone out of your way to populate your lineups with every single popular play, there’s a chance it happens. Like I mentioned, though, leave $100 of salary cap on the table and it’s no longer an issue.

The real reason to care about ownership is simply the massive amount of other lineups you need to beat to win the million dollars. If you can pick the low-owned hoister of the Wanamaker Trophy (whose empirical unit of measurement is a half-Rory in case you were wondering), the path to actually winning is much more clear. And I’m only talking about DraftKings tournaments where you’re competing against tens of thousands of lineups. In a small tournament, a single entry, or three-max entry, don’t concern yourself with any of this. I’m guessing you want that million, though.

Rory McIlroy, the winner of the PGA Championship the last time it was held at the Island Course in 2012, is going to be a very popular pick this week. McIlroy is a great pick, he’s the betting favorite entering play (+1000 on DraftKings Sportsbook), and the highest-priced player on DraftKings. And if McIlroy wins, yes, you’ll need him on your roster in order for an opportunity to win. But if he’s 25% owned, that means 44,250 lineups in the Millionaire Contest also have McIlroy. Let’s assume you got all six of your golfers through the cut line, and the 6/6 percentage is 10%, you’re now in a situation where your five other golfers have to beat 4425 other lineups in order to win. The odds are much better than pre-tournament, but that’s still a tall order.

Now, take someone like Dustin Johnson. His odds to win are around close to the same as McIlroy (+1400 on DraftKings Sportsbook). But because of his recent play, coupled with a withdrawal due to a “knee injury” from last week’s Byron Nelson before it began, he’s not going to be a popular pick. To make this an easy example, we’ll give DJ a 10% ownership percentage in the Million, 2.5x less than McIlroy. You now have to ask yourself, even though all signs point to McIlroy beating DJ, do you think he’s 2.5 times more likely to beat him? The odds don’t suggest that whatsoever. Sure, McIlroy is favored in that matchup, but he’s not a massive favorite.

Look, this isn’t a rant to talk you out of Rory. If you think he’s going to win, play him. That simple. Here’s the rub. I think I have a beat on who is going to win every week. Turns out, I lose a lot. Picking golf winners is exceptionally difficult. The point is, if you pick DJ and he wins at 10% ownership, with that same 10% 6/6 percentage, your five guys now only need to outlast 1770 other lineups to secure the bag full of cash. It’s still not likely to happen in that scenario, but the chances are significantly better.

So, when you hear someone say “I’m not playing him because of ownership,” this is what they’re actually talking about. And, really, most weeks, the winning lineup features four or so popular picks, and two sort of off the beaten path. Usually good players, for whatever reason, the masses didn’t have interest in that week; not absolute jabronis with almost no chance to make the cut.

On the injury side. Dustin Johnson passed on the Bryson Nelson with a knee injury. Webb Simpson pulled out of the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago before hitting a ball with a neck problem. Brooks Koepka returned to the course for the first time since The Masters in Dallas this week and looked a lot like the guy who struggled at Augusta. The knee is still causing him issues getting down and reading putts. Much like his Masters number, he was fine off the tee and around the greens and couldn’t putt or hit an iron at his regular level.

Tiger Woods and Matthew Wolff will not be competing in the 2021 PGA Championship due to injuries.

2021 PGA Championship: Key Stats

SG: Approach
SG: Around the Green
Par 4s Gained 450-500 Yards
Fairways Gained
Proximity 200+ Yards

Mayo’s Key Stats powered by

2021 PGA Championship: Course

Course: Ocean Course at Kiawah Island
Yardage: 7,876
Par: 72
Greens: Paspalum

2021 PGA Championship: 2012 Leaderboard

1st Rory McIlroy -13
2nd David Lynn -5
T3 Keegan Bradley -4
T3 Carl Pettersson -4
T3 Ian Poulter -4
T3 Justin Rose -4
T3 Blake Adams -3
T8 Jamie Donaldson -3
T8 Peter Hanson -3
T8 Steve Stricker -3

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2021 PGA Championship: Notes

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The overarching narrative you’re going to hear this week is about length. The Ocean Course, at 7,876 yards, is the longest set up in Major championship history. So, we’re just giving Bryson DeChambeau the Wanamaker, right? Why even play the tournament? Not so fast.

2012, the last time the PGA Championship was held at this venue, tells a slightly different story. Now, officially, it played 7,562 yards that years, so it could have contributed to this, but the top of the leaderboard was littered with accuracy mavens over those who would really be something in a long-drive competition. The outlier of the bunch was the winner, McIlroy. Whenever a superstar plays at their peak, at almost any course, they’re going to dummy the field. With an eight-stroke victory, it’s probably smarter to chalk that up to “Rory hit his 99th percentile outcome,” instead of saying, the McIlroy skill set is what we should be targeting. The next 10 on the final leaderboard were comprised of a lot of Europeans and a lot of players who keep the ball out of trouble off the tee and an abundance of top-ranked accuracy players near the top of the leaderboard.

Tim Clark, Graeme McDowell, Ben Curtis, Justin Rose and Blake Adams all finished inside the Top 11 in the 2012 PGA Championship and all ranked inside the Top 30 in driving accuracy for the 2012 PGA TOUR season. And those stats don’t consider David Lynn, Jamie Donaldson or Peter Hanson, who didn’t have enough rounds to qualify for PGA stats that year, and the EURO TOUR numbers from that era aren’t exactly easy to locate. I can confirm that both Donaldson and Hanson gained on the field hitting fairways that week, however.

On the Ocean Course in 2012...

Greens in Regulation from the Fairway - 68.3%

Greens in Regulation from missed Fairways - 39.1%

Designed by Pete and Alice Dye, they adapted characteristics of famed links-style tracks of Scotland and Ireland to the subtropical climate of the low country, resulting in a course that boasts the most seaside holes in North America. Since it’s placed directly on the Atlantic, swirling wind acts as the primary defense for the course. That means keeping the ball low under the wind and using the bank to run the ball up to the greens on longer approach, pretty much British Open-style golf.

Like other Dye courses, primarily THE PLAYERS and Heritage, there is ample opportunity to putt from off the green over opting to chip. Stewart Cink just Texas-wedged his way to victory at Harbour Town a few weeks ago. It’d be amazing to see which players benefit the most from this type of choice. Besides Martin Kaymer, I really can’t tell you. And there’s no way to really quantify. You’d have to go back look-by-look and calculate it by hand and observation. If any of you have dedicated your time to that, bless your heart. Also, give me that info.

This is a roundabout way of saying how important scrambling will be to the top of the leaderboard. Problem is, it’s just an incredibly unhelpful stat to use in prognostication. There’s very little context to scrambling percentage.

What is Scrambling Percentage? It’s the ratio a player successfully saves par after missing a green in regulation.

Sound like a great stat, right? And it is, to tell the story of how a result was accomplished. But it provides very little context to how saving par was accomplished. One player could be scrambling from 176 yards after hitting it out of bounds off the tee while another could be an inch off the green after two shots on a Par 4. Turns out, one of these scrambling scenarios is far easier to accomplish than the other. The first player hit a bad drive; it really speaks nothing to how they can scramble. And that’s before you factor putting into the situation.

A hot putter can cover up bad scrambling in a hurry if a player makes a handful of putts over 20 feet. The thing is, regardless of how good a putter someone is, even if they make a few from that distance in a round, those are misses at a much higher rate than you may realize. The PGA TOUR average on putts made from 20-25 feet in 2021 is 12.5%. Paddy Harrington leads all players at a 28.6% make rate, but that’s very much skewed by only having 28 attempts from that specific range. If that wasn’t enough, this isn’t the NBA or NFL, it’s a different course every week. Some are easier, some are far more difficult. Not every 85-yard scrambling attempt is the same.

I’m not here to argue there aren’t a lot of context issues with the main Strokes Gained metrics — Off the Tee, Approach, Around The Green and Putting — but they are far more helpful in identifying how players are accomplishing their scores. Look at a larger sample of those numbers and they can begin to be more predictive. Now, that means nothing if a player has a bad week. Collin Morikawa has been the best iron player in the world over the past year, that doesn’t guarantee he’s a lock to gain on his approaches, but it gives him a big head start over those who don’t ever come close to his peak numbers.

In terms of scrambling, what we’re really talking about is getting it up and down from close to the green. For that, there is scrambling data from intervals starting at 30 yards and in. That’s better than overall scrambling percentage. It still uses putting, though. If a player posts a better scrambling percentage from 30 yards and in for an event than another, but their average leave for the par putt was 11-feet against the other player’s four-feet, I’d rather take the player leaving it five feet from the cup every time despite what that number may tell me. Those putts are simply made at a higher percentage over time.

Putting, of all golf’s primary skills, is the most unpredictable. Yes, there are good putters and bad putters — over time — but on a round-by-round basis, the worst player in the field can have the best putting day while the best could come in last. It happens. Brendon Todd is never going to outdrive Bryson DeChambeau, however; that’s why there’s more of a focus on driving, approach and chipping over putting, they’ve shown to be more consistently repeatable skills over longer periods of time.

That’s essentially the most complicated way of saying you likely want the better Strokes Gained: Around the Green players instead of simply looking at scrambling percentage. If you want to up your research game, the Fantasy National database has the Strokes Gained: Short Game stat which fuses both Around The Green and Putting together in one number to prevent you from thinking Byeong-Hun An is someone you HAVE to play. Spoiler: You don’t want to do that. Over the past 36 rounds. Louis Oosthuizen, Brendon Todd, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Patrick Reed, Cameron Smith, Brian Harman, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Carlos Ortiz, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Jordan Spieth are the leaders in that category over the last 36 rounds.

Will the winner be the one who makes the highest percentage of their par putts from 10-20 feet? More than likely. Since trying to predict that is a fool’s errand, let’s take the path of least resistance and try to find the player who leaves themselves with the fewest amount of those putts in order to save par.

Now, all this analysis may be rendered inert of the wind doesn’t pick up. If there’s nary a breeze, the Ocean Course could go full Erin Hills. If you don’t recall, wind was the primary defense for the 2017 US Open, too. It was expected to be a very difficult test for the field. However, the wind was like your deadbeat dad who told 11-year-old you there was nothing that could keep him from coming to your little league game tonight. It was a no-show. And it turned out, with the gusts, Erin Hills is a pretty easy course. There’s a chance that could happen this week and all of a sudden it’s a birdie fest for the biggest bombers.

If you’re someone who plays multiple lineups, constructing some teams thinking there will be benign with a certain pool of players, and others with tougher conditions may be the move. You may think you know what the weather is going to be like, but if there’s one thing tougher than predicting golf winners, it’s soothsaying the forecast.

I just moved back to the Atlantic Ocean. There are wind gusts throughout the course of the day out of nowhere. There’s a Par 3 I played a hundred times growing up, about 156 yards, directly on the ocean that I’ve seen a sand wedge and driver used on equally. The ability to adapt to the different directions and gale force of the wind is a skill not all players share equally. Plus, despite the lengthening and minor tweaks to a few holes, the biggest difference for the Ocean Course this time around is the date. We’ve seen a Ryder Cup in September here, along with a PGA Championship in August. Straight from the source at the course, “The wind blows harder in the spring and sometimes from different directions on the same day.” Fun!

With three Par 3s over 200 yards, and another at 198, coupled with six of the 10 Par 4s measuring over 450 yards, long iron play and around the green work are going to be the most relevant stats to target regardless of conditions. But I’m going to put a heavy lean onto Euros/Internationals in many tie-breaking situations, which expands the pool of players on DraftKings since there are many names buried in the $6,000-range from overseas who are simply unknown to the average American golf fan.

For you turf heads out there, there will be paspalum greens this week. From Jeff Stone, the course superintendent, “We’re starting to get good weather. It’s starting to warm up, and our summer grasses are starting to green up. We did overseed bentgrass, but for the tournament, we should have predominantly paspalum greens. We overseed wall to wall here anyway. The only caveat is watching our fertility, getting the rough thicker. That’s not something we normally do. For us to have the rough here at the heights we want to have, we have to have that ryegrass. There’s no way to get three inches of Bermuda in May.”

This is not a putting surface familiar to many in this field, as it’s only used in alternate-field events against WGCs in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico or during the Swing Season at Mayakoba. It was also used at TPC Kuala Lumpur for the now-defunct CIMB Classic and at the host course for the Zozo Championship when it was held in Japan in 2019. The only relevant instance paspalum was used for our purposes was in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

2021 PGA Championship Picks

Cameron Smith $8,900

Seemingly overpriced on DraftKings at first glance, but then you look at the results and then you realize he is in an excellent position to win his first Major. Smith possesses one of the world’s most immaculate short games, has plenty of experience in the wind and enters in far and away the best form in his career. Since missing the cut at Torrey Pines the last week of January, Smith doesn't have a finish worse than T17 with a win and three Top 10s over his six starts. The ball striking can be erratic, especially off the tee, but if his results at The Masters have shown us anything, Smith’s ability to adapt to a situation — be it wind, bad break or horrible lie — and persevere is close to the best in the world. He’s flashed elite upside in almost every facet of the game. If he can put it all together for one week, he’s very live to win.

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Bubba Watson $7,500

Few will want to click next to Watson’s name this week. I will be one of those few. He enters the PGA Championship playing his best golf since last year’s run-up to The Masters, mainly by lapping the field off the tee and correcting his putting woes. We expect Watson to dominate in distance, which he’s doing, but he’s also hitting fairways well above the field average the last six months, and that can scare. And if you’re ever going to unleash Watson, do it at Pete Dye courses. Of his 12 career wins, five have come at Dye tracks, and in the three Majors contested at Dye-designed course — 2010 & 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straights and the 2012 PGA Championship at the Ocean Course — he’s posted three finishes of T21, T11 and T2. Plus, he also churned out a Top 10 on paspalum greens in the 2016 Olympics.

Matt Wallace $7,400

Matt Wallace is too cheap. That simple. Especially with the balanced approach that generating these results. Toss in his familiarity with multi-directional winds from his time on the Alps, the Challenger and the European Tour (where he won 10 times between those Tours, by the way), and he’s the perfect template of a sleeper we want to target at this specific course. He just solid across the board from tee to green. In his last four starts (Valero, The Masters, Heritage and Wells Fargo) he’s gained in SG: OTT, SG: APP and SG: ATG all four times. If we can catch a hot putting week, he’ll have an opportunity to replicate his T3 from the 2017 PGA Championship… or maybe more.

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Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was a finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting), genre (Humor), and game formats (Daily Fantasy and Traditions Season Long). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at and the best will be addressed on the show.

I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is ThePME) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.

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