PGA Championship Picks 2016: Dark-Horse Candidates to Win

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJuly 27, 2016

PGA Championship Picks 2016: Dark-Horse Candidates to Win

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    The top players in the world will once again descend upon Baltusrol Golf Club this week for the 98th playing of the PGA Championship.

    Baltusrol is a 121-year-old A.W. Tillinghast design that has played host to 11 professional majors and six amateur championships.

    Willie Anderson won the first of his three consecutive U.S. Open titles at Baltusrol in 1903.

    Jack Nicklaus claimed two U.S. Open titles at this historic gem in 1967 and 1980.

    Baltusrol last hosted the PGA Championship back in 2005 when Phil Mickelson won in dramatic fashion with a birdie on the 72nd hole on Monday morning. Heavy rains had halted play Sunday evening.

    As a major championship host, Baltusrol has rarely disappointed and will more than likely provide yet another memorable tournament this week.

    As is the case with most majors, the favorites are quite easy to identify.

    But here are nine players entering this week’s PGA Championship at least somewhat under the radar who may shock the world by hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday evening.

    Unless otherwise specified, all odds are from Odds Shark (as of July 27), and all statistics are from the PGA Tour.

Andy Sullivan (125-1)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Last We Saw Sullivan: T12 at The Open Championship

    2015 PGA Championship Finish: Missed Cut

    Best PGA Championship Finish: Missed the cut in his only PGA Championship appearance

    Andy Sullivan will enter the 2016 PGA Championship in the midst of a hot streak.

    He has finished within the top 25 at each of his last six events, including two top-10 finishes in his last three events.

    Sullivan won multiple times on the European Tour last year and is currently ranked 11th in the 2016 Race to Dubai.

    Although the 30-year-old Brit has recorded just two top-25 finishes at the majors, both have come this year at the U.S. Open and Open Championship.

    Sullivan is trending in the right direction and is undervalued at 125-1 odds.

Scott Piercy (125-1)

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Last We Saw Piercy: Missed cut at The Open Championship

    2015 PGA Championship Finish: T48

    Best PGA Championship Finish: T5 in 2013

    Although Scott Piercy missed the cut in his last start at The Open Championship, he entered the major with two consecutive top-two finishes.

    And these were no ordinary second-place finishes.

    Piercy tied for second at the U.S. Open, finishing just three strokes behind Dustin Johnson, and then went on to post a second-place finish in his next start at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

    How Piercy could be given 125-1 odds to win the 2016 PGA Championship after having recently posted second-place finishes at big-time events held at traditional American golf courses similar to Baltusrol is nothing short of baffling.

    Piercy, who could even be viewed as one of the favorites heading into the final major of the year, is being undervalued at 125-1 odds.

Bill Haas (125-1)

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    BEN STANSALL/Getty Images

    Last We Saw Haas: T9 at The Open Championship

    2015 PGA Championship Finish: T65

    Best PGA Championship Finish: T12 in 2011

    Bill Haas has two top-10 finishes in his last three events, including a T9 finish at The Open Championship.

    The 34-year-old ranks 19th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green and is hitting over 63 percent of fairways off the tee.

    Haas’ Achilles' heel for most of the past two seasons has been the flat stick. He currently ranks 149th on Tour in strokes gained: putting, which is almost exactly where he finished the 2015 season.

    That being said, as flawless as Haas is from tee to green, he is almost always just one strong putting week away from capturing virtually any title in the game.

    And Haas’ putting has been improving in recent weeks.

    He ranked 37th in the field in strokes gained: putting at the Quicken Loans National where he tied for third, ranked 47th in strokes gained: putting at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational where he tied for 38th and was solid on the greens once again less than two weeks ago at The Open Championship where he also led the field in driving accuracy and greens hit in regulation.

    If Haas can combine his ball-striking skills with a hot hand on the greens, he will be a force to be reckoned with.

Jhonattan Vegas (125-1)

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Last We Saw Vegas: Won the RBC Canadian Open

    2015 PGA Championship Finish: DNP

    Best PGA Championship Finish: T51 in 2011

    Few players in the field will enter this week’s PGA Championship as hot as Jhonattan Vegas.

    In his last two events, Vegas has recorded a T4 at the Barbasol Championship and a win last week at the RBC Canadian Open.

    Vegas has always been one of the longer hitters on tour and has ranked about average in strokes gained: putting during the past two seasons.

    But Vegas’ 2016 success has come from a dramatic improvement in the percentage of greens he has hit in regulation.

    During the 2015 season, Vegas was hitting only 65.4 percent of greens in regulation, which ranked 120th on tour. So far this season, Vegas has hit over 70 percent of greens in regulation, which ranks fourth on tour.

    At 125-1 odds, there is a lot of value in a red-hot player who not only hits the ball long but also ranks near the top of the PGA Tour in GIR.

Steve Stricker (100-1)

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    Marco Garcia/Associated Press

    Last We Saw Stricker: 4th at The Open Championship

    2015 PGA Championship Finish: T30

    Best PGA Championship Finish: 2nd in 1998

    Steve Stricker has been semiretired for a few years. But don’t make the mistake of completely counting him out of ever winning a professional major.

    Stricker has had two top-five finishes in his last three events, including a T2 at the FedEx Cup St. Jude Classic and a fourth-place finish at The Open Championship.

    Since dramatically reducing his playing schedule in 2013, Stricker has posted six top-25 finishes in the nine majors he has attended. That is a level of consistency seen by few “non-retired” players over the past three years, let alone a player who is attending an average of just 11 PGA Tour events per year.

    Stricker currently ranks second on tour in strokes gained: putting. Combine that with his accuracy off the tee, and the 49-year-old Wisconsin native might be a perfect fit for Baltusrol’s narrow tree-lined fairways and fast, sloping greens.

Shane Lowry (100-1)

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Last We Saw Lowry: Missed the cut at The Open Championship

    2015 PGA Championship Finish: Missed Cut

    Best PGA Championship Finish: T46 in 2014

    Shane Lowry is coming off two consecutive missed cuts, but we should not discount his chances this week at Baltusrol.

    After all, Lowry had missed the cut just prior to this year’s U.S. Open, where he had a chance to win late on Sunday and ultimately wound up finishing in a tie for second.

    Lowry is a streaky player whose game seems to fit traditional-style American golf courses.

    The 29-year-old Irishman’s top finishes in the U.S. have been a win at Firestone Country Club and a T2 finish at Oakmont. Both are traditional American golf courses, and Firestone in particular is quite similar to Baltusrol.

    Lowry’s ability to come out of nowhere and perform on golf’s biggest stages should make him a fixture on any list of dark-horse contenders.

Gary Woodland (80-1)

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    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Last We Saw Woodland: T12 at The Open Championship

    2015 PGA Championship Finish: DNP

    Best PGA Championship Finish: T12 in 2011

    Gary Woodland will enter the 2016 PGA Championship coming off a T12 finish at The Open Championship and seven top-25 finishes in his last nine events.

    Woodland is one of the longest hitters in the game, which will give him a distinct advantage at a course such as Baltusrol that contains two par fours measuring over 500 yards, two par threes that can max out at over 200 yards and a 649-yard par five.

    While Woodland has been solid from tee to green for much of the year (ranking 14th in tour in stokes gained: tee-to-green), he has struggled on the greens, where he is currently ranked 112th on tour on strokes gained: putting.

    That being said, Woodland’s putting has improved in recent events. The 32-year-old Kansas native has not ranked worse than 52nd in the field in strokes gained: putting at any of the last three events he has attended.

    There is some value in 80-1 odds for a player who has been trending in the right direction on the greens and has the power to completely decimate Baltusrol.

Lee Westwood (80-1)

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    Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press

    Last We Saw Westwood: T22 at The Open Championship

    2015 PGA Championship Finish: T43

    Best PGA Championship Finish: T3 in 2009

    Lee Westwood has six top-25 finishes in his last seven events, including a T2 finish at the Masters earlier this year.

    Westwood was also in contention for most of the week at this year’s U.S. Open before inexplicably posting an 80 on Sunday, which landed him in a tie for 32nd.

    The 43-year-old Brit struggled for most of last season while admittedly being distracted by a difficult divorce.

    "I'm going through a divorce and found it nearly impossible to concentrate on golf, so I understand what happened in terms of my results last year," Westwood told ESPN.com's Gordon Simpson in February. "How I played didn't really concern me, but now I'm back living in the UK permanently and trying to factor in when I see my kids and which events I play around that."

    However, with those off-the-course issues now seemingly behind him, Westwood appears to be on the verge of regaining the form he enjoyed from 2009-14 when he posted 11 top-10 finishes at the majors.

    Westwood was undervalued at the U.S. Open earlier this year when he was given 80-1 odds to win the title. And despite coming within one solid round of having a realistic opportunity to hoist the U.S. Open trophy, Westwood once again appears to be undervalued heading into the PGA Championship.

J.B. Holmes (60-1)

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Last We Saw Holmes: 3rd at The Open Championship

    2015 PGA Championship Finish: 24th

    Best PGA Championship Finish: 24th last year

    J.B. Holmes has two top-five finishes in his last three major championship appearances, including a third-place finish at The Open Championship.

    As such, the 60-1 odds he has been given to win this week seem rather steep.

    At 7,428 yards, Baltusrol may not be the longest major championship venue players have faced. But with two par fours playing over 500 yards and the 649-yard par-five 17th, the longer hitters will enjoy a distinct advantage, which is so often the case at the modern-day majors.

    While Holmes is known for his immense power (currently averaging 307 yards off the tee), his putting has improved dramatically this season, and for the first time since 2010, Holmes is gaining strokes over the field on the greens.

    If Holmes, who already has nine top-25 finishes this season, can manage to keep his ball out of Baltusrol’s lush northeastern rough, he will have as good a chance as any to add a major championship title to his resume.

Zach Johnson (50-1)

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    BEN STANSALL/Getty Images

    Last We Saw Johnson: T12 at The Open Championship

    2015 PGA Championship Finish: Missed the cut

    Best PGA Championship Finish: T3 in 2010

    Zach Johnson is a two-time major champion coming off four consecutive top-20 finishes that includes a T8 at the U.S. Open and a T12 at The Open Championship.

    With 12 PGA Tour wins, two majors, four Ryder Cup appearances and four Presidents Cup appearances, Johnson may be the most underrated player of his generation.

    And that appears to be the case once again this week.

    While the 40-year-old Iowa native should be entering the 2016 PGA Championship as one of the clear favorites, he is currently being given 50-1 odds to win the event.

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