Who will win the 101st PGA at Bethpage Black? PDF Print E-mail

 

As I sit here in the media center at Bethpage State Park on the eve of

round 1 of the second major championship, the big question is - Who

will win on the Black Course.

 

I took this question with me to the course early this morning. It's a

layout that I know pretty well (having played it more than half a dozen

times), the latest journey was a birdie-less 75 while in town for the 2016

PGA at Baltusrol. By far my best showing on Tillinghast's masterpiece

known as the "People's Country Club". I bring up my experiences here

only as a point of knowledge on the place, and that every once in a while,

I know how to play a bit. More importantly, I wanted to see if anything

had changed on the Black since my last visit. Not much has, it's just an old

fashioned grind it out golf course. It's not a fun track, it's not one that is

all that thought provoking (in terms of strategy). With zero OB, and just one

water hazard (pond that fronts the par 3 eighth), it's not a design that will

cost you numerous penalty strokes, it just simply tests your ball striking.

The green complexes are not tricky, they're flatish with subtle breaks (except

for the severely uphill par 4 fifteenth). Are you starting to get a picture now

of who will contend? If not, then here's a bit more food for thought . . .

 

The Black will be contested at just under 7500 yards and a par of 70. Meaning

just two par 5's, The fourth and the thirteenth. Add five straight days of rain

(before today) and chilly temps, and you're talking about a track that will play

more like 7700-7800 yards. The forecast is for more chilly temps with the

possibility of more rain, so the likelihood of the ball traveling far in the air or

getting any significant roll is nil. When I walked all 18 earlier today (it took

me 2.5 hours to walk the course without hitting a single shot), my impressions

were: a bomber who's striking it well (and straight off the tee) will be able to

keep his total score around even par. A medium length hitter will need for

everything to go his way, and a short hitter has ZERO chance.

 

So let's look at the top 20 Official World Golf Rankings.

1. Dustin Johnson

2. Justin Rose

3. Brooks Koepka

4. Rory McIlroy

5. Justin Thomas (Out w/injury)

6. Tiger Woods

7. Francesco Molinari

8. Bryson DeChambeau

9. Xander Schauffele

10. Rickie Fowler

11: Jon Rahm

12: Paul Casey

13: Matt Kuchar

14: Jason Day

15: Tony Finau

16: Tommy Fleetwood

17: Patrick Cantlay

18: Bubba Watson

19: Webb Simpson

20:Patrick Reed

 

 

 

 

 

Out of those 20, roughly half can be considered long hitters (J.Thomas

injured): DJ, Koepka, Rory, Tiger, Rahm, Day, Finau, Fleetwood and Bubba.

 

Players like Xander, Bryson, Casey, Cantlay, Fowler and Reed certainly

are plenty long enough. So the only players to eliminate from a length

standpoint is Kuchar and Webb Simpson. Bubba plays big curves on every

shot, that doesn't match with long wet unplayable rough. Bubba out.

 

In the OWGR 21-50 rankings a few players standout - Louie Oosthuizen,

Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Henrik Stenson, J.B

Holmes and Lucas Bjerregaard. Jordan Spieth at no.39 is interesting, but

I'm just not buying.

 

In the pure wildcard category Thorbjorn Olesen, Keith Mitchell and 2009

U.S Open Champion at Bethpage - Lucas Glover are all intriguing enough

to give them a fighting chance. But Bethpage Black ultimately comes down

to supreme ball striking prowess, and specifically greens in regulation. Only

Tiger, Rory and Koepka are ranked in the top 15 in the overall GIR stat - with

Tiger leading the tour at 75.56%. Since there won't be many wedges into

the greens here this week, lets delve in a bit deeper with GIR % from 150-

175 yards.

 

Only Paul Casey and Rory from the OWGR top 20 rankings are near the top

of this key stat with Casey 2nd at 76.09 percent. McIlroy comes in 74.23 in

7th. in the 175-200 yard stat. Tiger leads at 80% with McIlroy 5th, Rose 7th

and Koepka 8th at 67.35%.

 

In the 200+ yard GIR stat, Henrik Stenson leads with Koepka 5th, Lucas

Bjerregaard 6th and McIlroy again in top 10 (9th) at 57.81%. DJ plays

the longer approaches well also, coming in 11th at 56.86%.

 

The one constant here is Rory McIlroy, also the best driver of the golf ball

who plays his best in wet soft conditions on greens that aren't treacherous.

So there you have it, DJ, Tiger, Rose and Koepka should contend, but the

Ulsterman named Rory has the best chance to walk off with the Wannamaker.