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PGA Championship First Round Leader Picks & Predictions: Back Spieth for a Fast Start

Another major, and another First Round Leader article from Tom Jacobs, as he looks at who could start the fastest at the 2022 PGA Championship!
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PGA Championship First Round Leader Picks & Predictions: Back Spieth for a Fast Start

Major season is back upon us this week, and we head to Tulsa, Oklahoma where wind could play center stage throughout the 2022 PGA Championship. Southern Hills play host this year and is likely to test all facets of a golfers' game, with an emphasis likely on the short game, around these tough greens and run off areas.

PGA Championship First Round Leader Strategy

While this event rotates courses every year, let us see if there has been any pattern over the past three years, since the tournament has moved to May, as we establish whether a certain wave has the advantage.

A lot will depend on weather, but it is worth seeing if morning or afternoon starters have generally prospered in this tournament on Day One, or whether there is no definitive split.

PGA Championship First Round Leaders 2019-2021

All tee times are EST

2021 - Corey Conners shot a 67 (-5) to lead after Round 1, and he teed off at 1:03 p.m.

2020 - Jason Day and Brendon Todd both shot a 65 (-5) to lead after Round 1. Day teed off at 10:38 a.m. but Brendon Todd teed off at 5:15 p.m.

2019 - Brooks Koepka opened with a 63 (-7) to lead after Round 1. Koepka teed off at 8:24 am and his nearest challenger Danny Lee (-6) teed off at 12:10 p.m.

There is literally no bias to be drawn from recent PGA Championship renewals, so it will purely be down to the weather as to whether there is any obvious advantage this Thursday at Southern Hills.

Looking at Wind Finder, there appears to be strong gusts both early morning and late afternoon, so most players should have to deal with a decent amount of gusts. The general wind speed looks to be between 11-14 kts from 10 am until 4 pm but it looks like the gusts drop fairly significantly around 1pm. Maybe later morning starters could enjoy a good period then, but like most weeks, the weather is too unpredictable this far out. Whichever wave you are in, constant winds and gusts look likely!

Who Are The Fastest Starters In This Field?

Here are the 10 fastest starters on the PGA Tour this season, where they rank in Round 1 Scoring Average, along with their lowest Thursday score of the season.

For the first time, we have all players ranked 1 thru 10 in this field, starting with Patrick Cantlay and ending with Daniel Berger. #1 Patrick Cantlay

Number of Round 1 Leads This Season: 1 (Co-led American Express)

Lowest Opening Round This Season: 62 (American Express)

#2 Joaquin Niemann

Number of Round 1 Leads This Season: 1(Genesis Invitational)

Lowest Opening Round This Season: 63 (Genesis Invitational)

#3 Cameron Smith

Number of Round 1 Leads This Season: 1 (Tournament of Champions)

Lowest Opening Round This Season: 64 (RSM Classic)

#4 Russell Henley

Number of Round 1 Leads This Season: 1 (Houston Open)

Lowest Opening Round This Season: 62 (Sony Open)

#5 Matt Kuchar

Number of Round 1 Leads This Season: 0

Lowest Opening Round This Season: 64 (Sony Open)

#6 Billy Horschel

Number of Round 1 Leads This Season: 1 (Farmers Insurance Open)

Lowest Opening Round This Season: 63 (Farmers Insurance Open)

#7 Patton Kizzire

Number of Round 1 Leads This Season: 0

Lowest Opening Round This Season: 63 (Sony Open)

#8 Jon Rahm

Number of Round 1 Leads This Season: 1 (Co-led at Mexico Open)

Lowest Opening Round This Season: 64 (Mexico Open)

#9 Scottie Scheffler

Number of Round 1 Leads This Season: 0

Lowest Opening Round This Season: 63 (RSM Classic)

#10 Daniel Berger

Number of Round 1 Leads This Season: 0

Lowest Opening Round This Season: 65 (Honda Classic)

What Score Is Required To Lead After Round 1?

This is going to be a unique test, so it is not really worth averaging out season scores, as it is a major, and a tougher course than many. 67, 65, 63 have been the last three leading scores at the PGA Championship since it moved to May, and while it is unlikely it gets to 63 this week, a 65 looks a suitable target. 65 and 67 generally seem to be the opening-day leading scores at majors, unless a much easier test, and while I think it can creep over the 67 mark, I do not think it will go much lower. Anyone shooting 65/66 should be sleeping on a lead or close to it come Thursday evening!

PGA Championship: The First Round Leader Favorites

Scottie Scheffler +2500

I am going to remain pretty firm on this take until it is no longer true. Scheffler might have one of the best Round 1 Scoring Averages on Tour, but that is more a model of consistency as opposed to him generally threatening the Round 1 lead too often.

12 times so far in his career, Scheffler has been within two of the opening-day lead, but only once has he led (2019 Bermuda). This will likely to change at some point, but until it does I won't bet him in this market as favorite.

Jon Rahm +2500

I stated in this article the last time Jon Rahm played, that his First Round Leader odds were huge in comparison to his outright odds, and while that is not necessarily the case this time, he is a fast starter generally.

Rahm has led or co-led 9 times in his career after round 1, dating back to 2016 and obviously the most recent came in Mexico.

In total he has been within two of the first-round lead 33 times, which is a monstrous amount for someone still relatively young in golfing terms.

He was two back after Round 1 of last year's US Open, which he won, and was also two behind going into Friday of the 2019 British Open. That is twice then that he has started majors relatively fast, and he will be looking for a fast one this time.

Not for me, but better value than Scheffler in this market for me.

Rory McIlroy +2900

We know Rory McIlroy loves a fast start, and while he wasn't the fastest out the blocks at the Wells Fargo last time out, his opening 67 was more than respectable, as were his pair of 68's over the weekend in tough conditions.

He is playing well, is a two-time winner of this event, and has all the necessary skills to succeed here, so can he get off to a fast start?

History says yes, as he's been within two of the first round lead 64 times since 2008, converting almost half of those (31) into leads or co-leads.

Rory has led after round one of the British Open twice (2010, 2014), and both The Masters (2011) and the U.S. Open (2011) once. So this is the only one he hasn't led going into Friday. He has been within one of the lead twice (2012 and 2014) so there is no reason to think he can't complete the Grand Slam of first round leads here.

Tough to ignore.

Justin Thomas +3100

Justin Thomas has already held 11 leads or co-leads going into Friday, and in total has been within two an eye-catching 34 times, so he starts fast on Thursday's.

One of his 11 leads came at the U.S. Open in 2020 when he led by one going into Friday, and he was also one back after day one of the 2020 Masters and two back after day one of the British Open in 2017.

A lack of faster starts is ironically what has held him back in recent majors, so here looks like the best place to turn it around, in a major he's already won.

He will hope to set the pace early in Oklahoma and it would be brave to bet against that, even if I am not rushing to the window at the same time.

Collin Morikawa +3300

Morikawa has still not started a tournament this season with a round better than 67 on Thursday, and that hinders him in this market.

He is the type to make us look foolish if we dare rule him out, but with his lack of length, he needs to be absolutely perfect here to post the lowest round on any given day, and while he is capable, I won't bet him to do so.

If he is going to win, which he most certainly can, I think it will be a progressive scoring week, rather than a protection of a round 1 lead.

Like Scheffler he tends to grow into an event, but with that said, while he has only been within two the first round lead 6 times since 2019, when he has got in the hunt he has converted three of those into leads.

Like the rest of these favorites, the case is obvious which is why they are there, it is just not eye-catching enough for me to bet at 33-1.

PGA Championship First Round Leader Selections

Jordan Spieth +3500

Spieth has been within two of the opening-day lead 35 times in his career, and while he didn't add to that tally last week (thanks Sebastian Munoz) his 14 first round leads in his career stand out to me.

He has led The Masters three times after round 1, the British Open once and while he has yet to start this event in fast fashion, I think he can this time around.

Spieth has only broken 70 once on day one of a PGA Championship, but his tee-to-green game is unbelievable right now, and if he can keep bogeys off his card, I am confident he can make the six or seven birdies he probably requires on Thursday.

Jordan Spieth will tee off #10 tee at 8:11 am with Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods

Dustin Johnson +4000

Dustin Johnson has already completed the Grand Slam. Ok well not officially, he's only won the Masters and the U.S. Open, but what he has done, is hold the first round lead at every major.

Johnson has led the U.S. Open twice after day, and neither were the year he won it, although he was one back after day one that year too. He has also led the British Open, The Masters and the PGA Championship once after the opening round.

He was seven back of the first round lead last week in Texas despite opening with a 67, such was Sebastian Munoz's brilliance, but in total he has been within two of the first round lead 58 times in his career, converting 17 of them into day one leads.

Considering 11 of the 58 rounds where he was within two of the opening-day lead, came at major championships and that 5 of his 17 first round leads come at majors, it is fair to say he comes prepared for these big events.

Last week's 59th place finish was disappointing, no doubt, but he was actually within the top-8 for SG: Tee-to-Green in two of his rounds, and inside the top-9 on day one for approach, so he hit the ball reasonably well for the most part.

These events are all that's left to chase now, and he's spent his career starting them quickly, so I will bank on him to do just that again at 40-1.

Dustin Johnson will tee off #1 tee at 1:14 pm with Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay

Brooks Koepka +5000

Koepka is a machine in this event in general, having won it twice, finished runner-up once and posting two more top-5's in just nine starts. But, this isn't an outright betting column, so has he started those PGA Championships fast, I hear you cry?

Well in a word, yes. He led the 2019 renewal after day one, shooting a 63, and sat just one back in 2017 and 2020, and a further shot back in 2021.

His average position after Round 1 in his 9 starts here is 23rd, he is on average just 3 strokes behind over the 9 starts, has never been further than five shots back going into Friday over his past six starts in this event, and has sat 1st, 3rd and 2nd after day one in the last three.

He's risky, based on his volatility over the past couple of years, but that is surely baked into the price and given his current form may be better than given credit for, I think he's worth a flyer.

Just to summarise, these are his positions after Round 1 of his last six starts at the PGA Championship.

2021 - 2 strokes back, 2nd place

2020 - 1 stroke back, 3rd place

2019 - 1 stroke ahead, 1st place

2018 - 5 strokes back, 33rd place

2017 - 1 stroke back, 3rd place

2016 - 3 strokes back, 9th place.

Four times he's been within the top-3 after day one of this event, over the past six renewals, so bet him with the top-5 as well and hopefully he repeats his recent efforts in this major.

Brooks Koepka will tee off #1 tee at 1:03 pm with Adam Scott and Shane Lowry

Sam Horsfield +12500

Sam Horsfield just won the Soudal Open, and while you might not like his chances of going back-to-back in terms of victories, I do think he can go back-to-back in terms of first round leads!

Horsfield opened with a 65 last week to co-lead after day one and that is the third time in his career he has led or co-led after the first day, all of which have come since June last year.

I backed him at huge odds outright for this event last year and after an opening-round of 69, which left him two back of Corey Conners lead, my interest was certainly piqued. He went on to shoot 80 in Round 2 and drop down the leaderboard, but actually held strong over the weekend with rounds of 73-71 in tough conditions.

He is probably not good enough to win one of these yet, but he can certainly start fast, as he has done 16 times since 2018 already.

9 times since the start of 2021, and twice this year already he has been within two of the opening-day lead, and I think he can do it here as well.

Sam Horsfield tees off #1 tee at 7:33 am with Mito Pereira and Nic Ishee

Also Considered:

Hideki Matsuyama, Matt Kuchar and Tom Hoge.


Tom Jacobs is the host of the Lost Fore Words golf podcast and has been writing betting articles on golf for the past decade. Tom also co-hosts the DP World Tour Picks & Bets show on the Mayo Media Network, so has his finger on the pulse on all the major Tours. A long-suffering Nottingham Forest fan, Tom also enjoys watching Soccer at the weekend, and was delighted to see his Forest team win promotion this season!


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