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Don’t limit your FRL search to just long hitters at chilly Oak Hill

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Don’t limit your FRL search to just long hitters at chilly Oak Hill

    Written by Brady Kannon @lasvegasgolfer

    The 105th PGA Championship expects to be a very challenging one. However, if there is one day of the four that the players ought to have an easier time, it appears that day will come in the opening round on Thursday.

    The weather forecast is often a part of our handicap here when trying to land on a First Round Leader. It is a bit of a mixed bag of what to expect this week in the Rochester area at Oak Hill Country Club. Thursday appears that it will be full of sunshine and almost entirely absent of wind, with the temperature topping out at about 65 degrees. The temperature is expected to spike on Friday but so is the wind - into the neighborhood of 10-20 mph.

    One thing's for sure - with this championship being played now in May and with the weather that is being forecasted, it does not look like we will get a firm and fast golf course. It will be chilly in the mornings, the grass will be wet and the rough will be dense - the greens ought to be very receptive but also running at championship speed.

    We've been given a little bit of a prep course for Oak Hill over the last three weeks on the PGA TOUR. Vidanta Vallarta, Quail Hollow, and TPC Craig Ranch are all big, long, golf courses in the 7,400 to 7,500-yard range, that tend to cater to the longer hitters and place a premium on what a player is able to do off the tee. Certainly, Oak Hill will be more difficult. The fairways are narrower for one, the rough more penal and the bunkers are going to present some serious challenges - the whole ball game, as this is a major - but there are quite a few statistics that we have employed in our handicap the past few weeks that I used again this week.

    Beginning from the tee box on out, I looked at Total Driving, Driving Distance, and Strokes Gained: Off the Tee. Moving down the fairway, I looked at Strokes Gained: Approach, Greens in Regulation Gained, and Hole Proximity from 175-225 yards. Around the greens, I took into account Scrambling, Sand Saves, Bogey Avoidance, and Strokes Gained: Putting (Bentgrass).

    Last week at the AT&T Byron Nelson, we were specifically looking for some excellent iron play and a hot putter on Thursday. This week feels much more similar to the entire championship's handicap rather than just finding a couple of key hot areas to get us home in Round 1. Someone is going to have to do all of what we noted above, at a very high level, for all four days let alone in just the opening round. Is Superman in the field? Well, who at least is our Superman on Thursday?

    Let’s take a look at some potential pace-setters, with odds via BetMGM Sportsbook:

    Russell Henley (+8000)

    Henley does not fit the bomber profile in the least, but he is No. 1 on TOUR in Driving Accuracy. If he is hitting from the short grass all day long, his chances of putting together a good round increase mightily. In three of his last four starts, he has finished top 20 and top 5, with the latter coming in the way of a fourth-place finish last month at the Masters – another golf course that caters to the longer hitters. Henley was your First Round Leader at the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines – a similar test to Oak Hill, in my opinion, and was again in 2018 at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock – another venue in the northeast. Over the last eight tournaments played on both the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour, Henley is eighth in this field for SG: Approach, 18th for SG: Around the Green, and second for SG: Putting.

    Taylor Moore (+9000)

    Moore burst onto the scene in March when we won the Valspar Championship. He did that by ranking third in the field that week for SG: Off the Tee, fifth on approach, 10th in SG: Putting, and fifth in Scrambling. In other words, he can dial up both the off-the-tee game and be spot-on around the greens. On four separate occasions since THE PLAYERS, Moore has shot rounds that gained four or more strokes on the field and he is 49th on TOUR in First Round Scoring Average.

    Hayden Buckley (+12500)

    Buckley comes off of four straight starts in which he has made it onto the weekend and that includes a 10th-place finish at the Valero Texas Open and a fifth place at the RBC Heritage – where he shot all four rounds in the 60s. He is both long and straight off the tee, ranking seventh for Total Driving on TOUR. He is also ninth on TOUR in Greens in Regulation. The putter can be his downfall but all we need here is one good day with the flatstick – and if he is finding fairways and greens, he’ll have a good chance. He ranks 21st on TOUR in First Round Scoring Average and is 48th in Bogey Avoidance.

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