PGA Championship 2021 picks: Why our experts are betting on Jordan Spieth to make history
To bet on history, or not to bet on history. That’s the question facing prospective Jordan Spieth backers this week at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
Should Spieth go on to raise the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday evening in South Carolina, he would become just the sixth player in golf history to complete the modern career Grand Slam. Given how good he is and how much time left he has in his already Hall of Fame career, there seems to be little doubt he will eventually get it done.
But the same has been said about Rory McIlroy, who is missing a green jacket, and Phil Mickelson, who is still missing a U.S. Open. If you had bet on those two to complete the grand slam each time they’ve had an opportunity, you’d be 0-for-13. Add in Spieth’s missed opportunities to seal the deal at the PGA, you’d be 0-for-17.
The point being, making history, and we are talking very serious history here, ain’t easy. Only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have ever accomplished this historic feat. It’s the elite club to end all elite clubs in professional golf.
So, yeah, that’s what you’re betting on at 16-1 this week at Kiawah. History. Three of our experts are not afraid of betting their hard-earned bucks on history, and they’ll explain why.
This week, we have a caddie for a major champion reporting live from Kiawah Island. He sent his thoughts to us from the course on Tuesday—and has some strong leans (spoiler: He's on board with the Spieth bets). We also have some of the most talented data scientists in golf: Pat Mayo of Mayo Media Network and DraftKings; Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel; Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com and Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports.
PGA Championship 2021 picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions (Odds from William Hill)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Justin Thomas (16-1) — I’ve walked during practice rounds the past couple days. The most important skill sets to playing well this week will be: Having precision with your irons and deft touch around the greens. Justin Thomas is not only one of the best iron players but one of the best chippers on tour.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Cameron Smith (35-1) — He’s flirted with a breakthrough win long enough. Like John Cena, his time is NOW. Since missing the cut at Torrey Pines the last week of January, Smith doesn’t have a finish worse than T-17 with a win and three top-10s over his past six starts. Everything is firing at an elite level except for his driving. It’s not like he can’t drive it well, it’s just been erratic. Figure that out for four rounds and the Aussie is live.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Dustin Johnson (18-1) — Johnson withdrew from the AT&T Byron Nelson due to what he cited as knee discomfort, but if was just precautionary, there’s a lot to like about the World No. 1. He has named Kiawah’s Ocean Course as one of his favorites in his home state, he thrives at Carolina and Pete Dye Courses courses overall, and he has been bogged down by a cold putter recently, which isn’t that uncommon for recent major winners entering their victory.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Jordan Spieth (16-1) — The sentiment for Spieth is growing by the minute, and it’s well-deserved. Since the start of 2021 he is gaining 2.03 strokes per round, the best mark on tour—and it’s not close. To put it into perspective, the gap between Spieth and the second-best golfer is the same gap from No. 2 to No. 10. He’s combining the approach play of Collin Morikawa with the short game of Matt Fitzpatrick. If you were to create the best golfer for the Ocean Course, it would be Jordan Spieth.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Jordan Spieth (16-1) — The creativity needed around Pete Dye courses and the Ocean Course plays into Spieth’s hands. And he can hit the shots he needs—it seems like he’s fully back. He has six top-10s in 2021, plus the win, and just a few big numbers cost him at the Masters. The three-time major winner has a great chance to complete the career Grand Slam this week.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Viktor Hovland (22-1) — My quick Viktor Hovland checklist for this week: Is he playing well? Yes (back-to-back third-place finishes). Does he play hard courses well? Yes. Those two thirds came at Quail Hollow and Innisbrook. He also finished second at Concession, fifth at Riviera and second at Torrey. Speaking of Torrey, is that a seaside course? Yes! So is Pebble, where he won a decent little amateur event a few years ago. Kiawah Island is tough, it’s seaside, and it’s paspalum grass, a surface Hovland got both of his two PGA Tour wins on. The knock - short game woes, but to that I’d say his short game has dramatically improved during this recent hot stretch for him, and if it’s sharp this week he will absolutely contend for his first major title.
Golf Digest's Best Bets for the 2021 PGA Championship
Our experts discuss their favorite wagers at Kiawah Island.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jordan Spieth (16-1) — Spieth’s game is absolutely where it needs to be right now to complete the career Grand Slam. He comes into this event ranked seventh for strokes gained/tee to green over the past two months and 12th for SG/putting over the past two years. He ranks 23rd in SG/total on courses that FanShare Sports has marked as comparable. It’s Spieth’s time.
Results from last season: Golf Digest's betting panel has been red-hot the past two seasons. Our experts have now predicted five of the past 14 winners—after going up 225.30 units last season. Our Stephen Hennessey predicted Jordan Spieth (11-1) at the Valero Texas Open. At The Players, Christopher Powers and Rick Gehman called Justin Thomas’ victory (18-1). That’s each of their second accurate predictions of 2021, with Powers hitting Koepka (50-1) and Gehman calling Daniel Berger at Pebble Beach (14-1). Pat Mayo nailed Collin Morikawa at the WGC-Workday three events ago at 33-1 in addition to Koepka at the WMPO. And Brandon Gdula also called Berger’s win at Pebble Beach. We’ll stop there! Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!
Listen to Golf Digest's weekly betting podcast, "Be Right," where we interview the industry's leading experts (and sometimes tour pros) to help you make your bets and pick your fantasy lineups. And be sure to subscribe to "Be Right" wherever you get your podcasts!
PGA Championship 2021 picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win (Odds from William Hill)
Caddie: Cameron Smith (35-1) — The Aussie has it all: Strong off the tee, really good approaches and one of the best short games out of all the game’s elite. And he knows how to play these windy, links-style types of courses.
Mayo: Matt Wallace (80-1) — Just scan the leaderboard after Rory from 2012. It’s just a whole bunch of feisty Euros. And of the Brits in the field, none are playing better than Wallace. The results have been excellent, and his tee to green numbers are top 10 in the field over the past two months. And it wouldn’t be the first time he popped at a PGA Championship. At the daunting Bethpage Black in 2019, Wallace was sneakily T-3 behind Dustin and Brooks for the week.
Gdula: Matt Fitzpatrick (50-1) — Fitzpatrick lacks distance but still gains strokes off the tee because of how accurate he is, a recipe that did lead to some top-end finishes at Kiawah in 2012. He is also fourth in adjusted strokes gained over the past three months, per my database. The number is just too long for someone golfing as well as he is.
Gehman: Corey Conners (60-1) — This year has been magnificent for Conners, who is gaining 1.54 strokes per round since the start of 2021, per the RickRunGood.com golf database. There are only a handful of golfers who can match that mark. Those numbers have resulted in six top-25 finishes in his past eight starts. And he’s doing it in a way that is very sustainable, with ball-striking. He will certainly need the putter to cooperate at Kiawah, but Conners should be able to make some noise this week.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Abraham Ancer (40-1) — You can find Ancer at other books at a much better price. Apparently, William Hill is scared of him. Rightfully so. You think of Ancer as someone who plays better on shorter courses, but he nearly won at Quail Hollow—one of the longest courses on tour. He’s 15th in SG/off the tee over the past 36 rounds per Fantasy National, which is really good for someone who doesn’t hit it a long ways. Ancer’s elite iron game should be in the middle of the fairway—and if that’s the case, he has a good chance to contend this week.
Powers, Golf Digest: Keegan Bradley (66-1) — When you bet on Keegan, you’re in for some serious heartbreak because of how woeful he can be with the putter. But Keegan’s actually been pretty solid with the flat stick over the last two months, having gained strokes on the greens in five of his last six starts. As a result, he’s posted strong results, including a runner up at Valspar and an 18th at Wells Fargo. People also forget he tied for third here in 2012 as the defending champion, and, surprisingly, has only had one major top 10 since. You know he desperately wants to change that, and desperately wants to be back in the conversation as a top 20 or 30 player in the world. Feels like a good spot for him to do that this week at Kiawah.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Matt Wallace (80-1) — In the 2012 PGA, seven of the top 10 were European players. There is obviously something about it that suits the Europeans. Wallace, as well as being European, comes into this event ranked second for SG/tee to green over the past two months and 18th for SG/total on similar setups.
PGA Championship 2021 picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Collin Morikawa (33-1) — After walking this course the past couple of days, I’ve come to the realization: This course is just too much for Morikawa. TPC Harding Park was more in the 7,000-yard range … this could be an extra 800 yards. And his short game can be iffy when he finds himself out of position. This isn’t the course for him.
Mayo: Bryson DeChambeau (18-1) — Even I don’t love this fade. If the wind stays down, he’s probably going to win, but at Kiawah the wind swirls at different speeds from different directions randomly. Bryson is like Andy Reid on a bye week prepping for his opponent. When he has prep time and constant variables, he’s going to dominate. The more random the conditions, the less time he has to adapt his game plan.
Gdula: Jordan Spieth (16-1) — It’s hard to go against Spieth’s momentum, but all indications are that gaining strokes off the tee will be vital at Kiawah. Of all the studs at a low number on the odds board, Spieth is the only one who is close to neutral off the tee, even if we look at a more recent sample. Based on that alone, he’s the least likely golfer I’d bet.
Gehman: Brooks Koepka (33-1) — I certainly respect the 2019 and 2018 champion, but there are way more questions than answers for Koepka at this point. He played last week, his first start since the Masters, as he’s been nursing a knee injury the past few months. Those tune-up reps didn’t go well. Koepka lost 2.13 strokes on approach and another 4.54 with the putter and missed the cut. We use the phrase “flip the switch” probably too often, but Koepka will need to do exactly that to contend this week.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Rory McIlroy (11-1) — There’s a ton of pressure on McIlroy this week. As our Alan Shipnuck put it on this week’s episode of “Be Right,” this week has the potential to define the second act of his career. Or, it’s indicative of how far his game fell since that second major title in 2012 (scroll up to listen to our betting podcast this week). Yes, Rory won at Quail Hollow, but that wasn’t the kind of field we have this week. He will need to play like elite Rory McIlroy, and I don’t think those swing changes with Pete Cowen are 100 percent there yet.
Powers, Golf Digest: Jon Rahm (14-1) — Even when Rahm has shown some form I rarely bet him because the odds are always too short. This week, he’s still at his usual short price and he’s coming off a missed cut and a 34th-place finish at a borderline pitch and putt last week. I will continue to stay away.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jon Rahm (14-1) — Rahm’s form of late is very un-Rahm like. Usually a great ball-striker, Rahm ranks 99th in the field this week in Fantasy National's Opportunities Gained stat over the past two months. He also doesn’t have great results in similar courses, ranking 47th for total strokes gained on similar courses.
PGA Championship 2021 picks: Matchups
Caddie: Daniel Berger (-120) over Collin Morikawa (William Hill) — I talked about why I’m fading Morikawa earlier on. And I like Berger. I follow a guy @PGASplits101 on Twitter, and he has a model gauging off-the-tee stats including distance from the fairways’ edge and lower ball flights. Berger is No. 1 in that model—including ranking sixth in SG/off the tee over the past six months. That will help him contend.
Mayo: Will Zalatoris (-114) over Corey Conners (DraftKings) — Zalatoris disappointed at Byron Nelson, but only due to his putter. He still finished inside the top 20 while leading the field in approach. Stay the course.
Gdula: Xander Schauffele (-112) over Viktor Hovland (FanDuel) — Two of the best ball-strikers in the world are separated by Schauffele’s superior short game and bogey avoidance tendencies.
Gehman: Shane Lowry (-125) over Charl Schwartzel (DraftKings) — If there was ever a time to invest in Lowry, it’d be right now. He gets to play on a links-style course, and his game is rounding into form. Per the RickRunGood.com golf database, Lowry has gained strokes on approach in six consecutive events. That has led to an eighth-place finish at The Players and a T-9 at the RBC Heritage. Now he gets to play the Ocean Course, which should fit his skill set.
Hennessey: Justin Thomas (-105) over Rory McIlroy (PointsBet) — Our caddie makes good points on Justin Thomas: he’s the best iron player and one of the best short-game players in the world. Keep the ball in the ballpark (which has been tough at times), and he should contend. And you read above why I’m fading Rory … I think there’s good value based on Rory’s odds shift.
Powers: Stewart Cink (-125) over Brendon Todd (DraftKings) — Todd’s approach game as of late has been pretty brutal, but he’s still managed to make a bunch of cuts because of his driving and his putting. But I think you’re going to need at least some decent iron play to be in the mix this week, and Cink has been cooking with his irons. If he executes his game plan this week this matchup is a no-brainer bet.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Bryson DeChambeau (+100) over Jon Rahm (Bet365) — Rahm’s form coming into this event is poor, as is his course fit. DeChambeau on the other hand ranks 22nd for strokes gained/tee to green over the last two months and fifth for strokes gained/putting over the past two years.
Matchup results from the AT&T Byron Nelson: Powers: 1 for 1 (Ryan Palmer (+105) over Brooks Koepka; Caddie: 1 for 1 (Keith Mitchell (+100) over Jason Day; Gdula (Scottie Scheffler (-112) over Matthew Fitzpatrick); Gehman: 1 for 1 (Sam Burns (-114) over Harris English); Jordan Spieth (-125) over Hideki Matsuyama; Mayo, Alldrick: 0 for 1.
Matchup Results this season (Wins-Losses-Pushes): Hennessey: 17-11-1 (up 5.35 units); Alldrick: 18-12-1 (up 4.43 units); Gdula: 17-13-1 (up 2.83 units); Powers: 13-14-4 (down 1.71 units); Mayo: 13-16-1 (down 4.02 units); Gehman: 12-17-2 (down 4.79 units); Caddie: 11-17-3 (down 5.58 units).
Golf Digest's exclusive drone footage and hole-by-hole narration of the Ocean Course
PGA Championship 2021 picks: Top 10 (Odds from William Hill)
Caddie: Jon Rahm (+150) — This is a really good course for Rahm. He’s a world-class ball-striker who can pierce it through the winds. He always seems to be close in the majors, and so even if he doesn’t win, this ticket can cash.
Mayo: Matt Kuchar (+1200) — It’s a coastal, Pete Dye course with paspalum greens that puts an emphasis on accuracy and short game. And Kuchar is suddenly back in form.
Gdula: Daniel Berger (+333) — Berger has no holes in his game, rating in the 94th percentile among this field in adjusted SG/tee to green over the past year, per my data. He’s a good bogey-avoider and is pretty long off the tee. He should fit any course, and that applies to Kiawah.
Gehman: Viktor Hovland (+200) — Hovland is one of the few players on TOUR who can find their name inside the Top 25 of both SG/off the tee and SG/approach. That skill-set has allowed him to pile up top 10 finishes to the tune of eight such finishes in his past 13 starts. I worry about his short game but his ball-striking prowess is too good to pass up.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Xander Schauffele (+200) — One of my sneaky favorite stats from the past couple months, which doesn’t get enough attention, is Schauffele’s elite record in majors—he has eight top-10 finishes in his first 15 starts. That’s just incredible. I’m not second-guessing this one.
Powers, Golf Digest: Brooks Koepka (+400) — You can tell me all about the injury issues, but I’d follow this man through fire in a major championship whether the body is at 50 percent or 100 percent. He wouldn’t be teeing it up if he didn’t think he could contend, and +400 to top 10 is plenty of value for a guy who has top-tenned in nearly half of his career majors. He got his reps in last week, now he’s a full go. There’s still a 50-1 number on him at one book to win, by the way.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Adam Scott (+700) — The length and difficulty of this course will certainly play into Adam Scott’s game. He is an excellent ball-striker, especially with his long irons. He comes into this event ranked second for Opportunities Gained over the past two months and has not missed a cut in his past 14 events.
Top-10 results from the AT&T Byron Nelson: Powers: 1 for 1 (Jordan Spieth, +100); Everyone else: 0 for 1.
Top-10 results from this season: Gehman: 7 for 28 (up 13.85 units); Hennessey: 4 for 28 (down 5 units); Powers: 4 for 28 (down 5.5 units); Gdula: 3 for 28 (down 9.5 units); Mayo: 2 for 28 (down 13 units); Tour caddie: 4 for 28 (down 12.35 units); Alldrick: 1 for 27 (down 21.5 units).
PGA Championship 2021 picks: One and Done
Gehman: Collin Morikawa — Our defending champion is rounding back into form, coming off a T-7 finish at the RBC Heritage in his last start. He hasn’t missed a cut in any of his previous 13 events and he’s earned six top-15 finishes, including a win, in that stretch. He’s the best iron player on the planet and that will work at any course, especially the Ocean Course.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Joel Dahmen; U.S. Open: Jon Rahm; Corales: Denny McCarthy. Sanderson: Sebastian Munoz. Shriners: Matthew Wolff. CJ Cup: Xander Schauffele. Zozo: Bubba Watson. Bermuda: Rasmus Hojgaard. Houston: Lanto Griffin. Masters: Rory McIlroy. RSM: Webb Simpson. Sentry TOC: Patrick Reed. Sony: Abraham Ancer. AMEX: Patrick Cantlay. Torrey: Jon Rahm. Waste Management: Webb Simpson. AT&T Pebble Beach: Jason Day. Genesis Invitational: Rory McIlroy. WGC-Workday: Tyrrell Hatton. The Players: Bryson DeChambeau; Honda Classic: Sungjae Im. WGC-Match Play: Patrick Reed. Valero Texas Open: Jordan Spieth. The Masters: Dustin Johnson. RBC Heritage: Daniel Berger. Valspar: Paul Casey. Wells Fargo: Viktor Hovland. AT&T Byron Nelson: Sam Burns.
Hennessey: Xander Schauffele — Maybe not the winning upside you'd like, but you'll be happy with a top-five finish.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Phil Mickelson; U.S. Open: Hideki Matsuyama; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Harris English. CJ Cup: Kevin Na. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Doc Redman. Houston: Russell Henley. Masters: Tyrrell Hatton. RSM: Brian Harman. Sentry TOC: Justin Thomas. Sony: Ryan Palmer. AMEX: Scottie Scheffler. Torrey: Sungjae Im. Waste Management: Daniel Berger. AT&T Pebble Beach: Francesco Molinari. Genesis Invitational: Tony Finau. WGC-Workday: Xander Schauffele. The Players: Jordan Spieth. Honda Classic: Adam Scott. WGC-Match Play: Patrick Reed. Valero Texas Open: Chris Kirk. The Masters: Dustin Johnson. RBC Heritage: Webb Simpson. Valspar: Charley Hoffman. Wells Fargo: Max Homa. AT&T Byron Nelson: Will Zalatoris.
Powers: Rory McIlroy — I won’t be betting Rory in any capacity this week, so this feels like a good way to use him in case he does win.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Brendan Steele; U.S. Open: Louis Oosthuizen; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Jason Kokrak. CJ Cup: Daniel Berger. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Denny McCarthy. Houston: Russell Henley. Masters: Bubba Watson. RSM: Brian Harman. Mayakoba: Corey Conners. Sentry TOC: Harris English. Sony: Zach Johnson. AMEX: Matthew Wolff. Torrey: Tony Finau. Waste Management: Sungjae Im. AT&T Pebble Beach: Jason Day. Genesis: Hideki Matsuyama. WGC-Workday: Tyrrell Hatton. The Players: Tommy Fleetwood. Honda Classic: Adam Scott. WGC-Match Play: Matt Fitzpatrick. Valero Texas Open: Chris Kirk. The Masters: Jordan Spieth. RBC Heritage: Kevin Kisner. Valspar: Patrick Reed. Wells Fargo: Patrick Cantlay. AT&T Byron Nelson: Will Zalatoris.
By The Numbers:
Courtesy of Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com:
7,876 — The distance in yards of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, making it the longest course in Major Championship history.
8 — The winning margin by Rory McIlory at Kiawah Island in 2012, the largest margin in PGA Championship history.
4.54 — The number of strokes that Brooks Koepka lost while putting at the AT&T Byron Nelson last week. It was his fourth-worst putting total over two rounds dating back to 2015.
28 — The number of consecutive events that Jon Rahm has gained strokes off the tee. That’s every measured event of both this season and last season.
About our experts
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, owner of the Mayo Media Network and host of The Pat Mayo Experience. (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 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 is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.
Brandon Gdula, managing editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year *(congrats, Brandon!)*. Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.