The PGA Championship at Kiawah Island: Full preview, betting breakdown and analysis

Back in 2012, the PGA Championship was held at Kiawah Island. Rory McIlroy obliterated the field, and won the tournament by 8 strokes. After a recent funk, which lasted several months, Rory McIlroy returned to the winners circle at the Wells Fargo, finding some form just in time to defend his PGA title this week. I think you can tell who my pick’s gonna be, but that should be no surprise if you listen to the Twilight 9 podcast every week.

However, I don’t think he’s gonna win by 8 this time around. Some of the best golfers in the world are coming into this week with great form, which should make for an absolute showdown come Sunday afternoon.


Dustin Johnson, who still holds the World No. 1 title despite his recent struggles, is in the field, for now. He withdrew from the AT&T Byron Nelson last week noting a knee injury. Who knows how bad it is, who knows that if it was a bigger tournament if he would have played.

As I’ll go over later, this tournament will be about driving the ball well, and controlling the spin with your wedges. When I think of those two attributes, it screams Justin Thomas. The World No. 2 is in great form. Since missing the cut at the Genesis, JT won the PLAYERS, T21 at the Masters, T13 at the Valspar, and finished T26 at the Wells Fargo. He hasn’t won a major since 2017, which for some reason is something golf media doesn’t talk about, but his loan major trophy is a PGA.

Other big names in the field. Everyone. Everyone besides Tiger.


Kiawah Island, the Ocean Course

Par 72

7,876 yards. The longest course in major history. (135 yards longer than the old record holder, Erin Hills (2017))

Pete Dye design, 1991

Seashore Paspalum grass


Key Stats

Earlier I mentioned a few things that I’m looking at in the stats category.

Driving ability. I put ‘ability’ in there to hint at a few things. I don’t just mean distance. I know this course is an absolute beast, but if you’re consistently hitting your drives off-line, you’re gonna lose balls and make some massive scores. Players that are gonna be successful around this track are gonna combine solid distance, with great accuracy.

Wedge play. Around Kiawah, you’ll have wedge in your hand for a few reasons. You were in a shit spot so you needed to punch out and now you have a wedge. A few short Par 4s will put a shorter club in your hand. And players who are unable to go for Par 5s in 2 will have loads of wedges. You need to be money with theses clubs. The greens are elevated, any ball spinning too much is gonna run off the green, or find the wrong tier.

Finally, short game. In all major championships, the winner, at some point in the week, has to show some short game magic. And around Kiawah, where you can find some dodgy spots, short game will be needed.

Data Golf Information

Course Fit: 1. TPC Scottsdale, 2. Keene Trace Golf Club, 3. Memorial Park Golf Course

Trending (of the players in the field): 1. Brian Harmon (Last 3 starts: T12, T13, T18), 2. Cameron Smith (T17, T10 T9), 3. Jordan Spieth (1, T3, T9)

% Chance to Win (Baseline, Course History and Fit): 1. Jon Rahm (5.5%), 2. Viktor Hovland (3.9%), 2. Justin Thomas (3.9%)

Betting Odds

Twilight 9 – Best Bets

Such a gross week for us at the AT&T Byron Nelson, not hitting a single bet. Putting that behind us, let’s have ourselves a week down at the PGA. Let’s get into it…

I mentioned driving accuracy, with solid distance as a key stat earlier. Abraham Ancer came to mind right away.

He averages 290 off the tee, which isn’t long by any means, but it’s enough to keep up. He’s 3rd this reason in driving accuracy, hitting 72.31% of fairways.

In 2019, he finished T16 at the PGA Championship – which was held at Bethpage Black, a MONSTER golf course where you need to hit fairways. Sound familiar?

Since missing the cut at the Genesis, he’s finished outside the Top 25 once (T26 at the Masters). He’s coming off his best start of the season, finishing solo runner-up to Rory at the Wells Fargo. And the week before that, he was solo 5th at the Valspar.

Top 30 (+125) Fanduel

Matt Wallace is another guy to consider when the big-stick is important.

In his last 5 stroke play events, his worse finish is a T34 at the Masters. In that span he had 4 Top 25s, 2 Top 6s, his best being a solo 3rd at the Valero Texas Open. His most recent start was a T6 at the Wells Fargo.

Back in 2019 at Bethpage Black, he finished in third. He had a Top 20 at the PGA in 2018 (Bellerive).

He’s 8th on TOUR this season in SG: Tee to Green, and 29th in SG: ATG – his short game is solid.

Top 40 (+160) Fanduel

Patrick Reed is becoming a great major championship player. He has 4 straight Top 20s in majors. He thank his short game and putting for that.

He has one of the best, if not the best, short game on Tour. He ranks 2nd in SG: Putting this year.

Including the US Open, he’s played in 13 tournaments since the start of the new season. He’s missed 3 cuts. In his other 9 stroke-play events, he hasn’t finished outside the Top 22. Unreal.

His last 3 starts: T8 (Masters), MC (Valspar), T6 (Wells Fargo).

Sand saves will be a key around this course as well, it’s loaded with bunkers. Reed is 9th on Tour in sand save %.

Top 20 (+170) Fanduel

When it’s windy, it’s always a good idea to go with an Aussie. Cameron Smith is my next pick.

We haven’t seen him for a bit, but the last time he played on Tour we won the Zurich classic with Marc Leishman. His 2 starts before that? Two Top 10s at the Masters and RBC Heritage. Since missing the cut at the Farmers, Cam’s made 5 stroke play event starts, he hasn’t finished outside 17th.

I brought up the importance of bunker play earlier. This season on Tour, Cam ranks 4th in SS%. He’s also in the Top 15 this year on Tour in SG: ATG and Putting.

He’s been solid in majors, with 4 Top 20s since 2018 (3 of those are at the Masters).

Top 20 (+170) Fanduel

Xander Schauffele. The big game hunter is looking for his first win since the very beginning of 2019.

His 2021 season has been fantastic. He’s only had 2 finishes outside the Top 20, and they came at back to back starts at the PLAYERS and Concession.

His 2 solo starts since a MC at the PLAYERS: T3 at the Masters, and T14 at the Wells Fargo.

He can struggle to find fairways, ranking 129th on Tour this season in FIR. But, he’s averaging 306.3 off the tee, which ranks 26th on Tour.

This year on Tour, he’s the best bunker player getting it up & down 69.35% of the time.

Since the start of 2019, Xander has played in 8 majors. He’s finished outside the Top 20 once, and has 4 Top 5s.

Top 10 (+210) Fanduel

Jordan Spieth. Wedge game. Short game. All of sudden confident with driver. This makes a lot of sense.

Jordan needs the PGA to complete the career grand slam.

29th on Tour in SS%.

Last 50 rounds, in difficult scoring conditions, on courses longer than 7,400 yards…

Top 10 (+155) Fanduel

Justin Thomas. Wedge game is incredible. 4th on Tour this season from 50-125 yards. 2nd in SG: APP this year on Tour. 10th in SG: ATG. Decent out of bunker, 54th in SS%.

The driver is going to be the difference maker. This season when JT hits more than 60% of fairways, he doesn’t have a finish worse than T13. Averages 301 off the tee, which is plenty long.

Last 50 rounds, in difficult scoring conditions, on courses longer than 7,400 yards…

Top 10 (+165) Fanduel

Rory McIlroy. Get a drink, we may talk about Rors for a bit.

The last time the PGA was played at Kiawah Island Ocean Course, Rory was the only player to reach double digits under par, and won the tournament by 8 strokes.

In his most recent start, he grabbed his first win in over a year and a half. One of his stats from that win does worry me though, he only hit 34% of fairways for the week. That can’t happen again this week, he’ll have to be much more accurate.

He one of the best bunker players on Tour, and we saw that at Quail Hollow a few weeks ago. He got up and down in multiple spots on Sunday, helping him seal the win. This season, Rory ranks 23rd in SS%.

Distance, obviously, won’t be a problem for Rory. He ranks 2nd on Tour is driving distance (318.8), and 5th in SG: OTT.

Couple things from Fantasy National. In his last 50 rounds, on course longer than 7,400, in moderate wind (what’s projected for this week), in difficult scoring conditions…


Proximity #s

At the Wells Fargo, Rory showed signs of improved wedge play, which was one of the big reasons for the new partnership with Pete Cowen. Now that he has a few more weeks under his belt practicing with Pete, it’ll be even better this week. He was 65th from 100-125, 1st from 125-150, and 6th from 150-175 at Quail Hollow.

Top 10 (+130) Fanduel

Cover via (Photo By: Jamie Squire)

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