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Tom Jacobs makes 5 picks in the First Round Leader market at this week's PGA Championship.
ANALYSIS

2024 PGA Championship First Round Leader Picks and Predictions: Back Koepka, Bradley in Round 1

It is time for the 2024 PGA Championship and a quick start has been imperative for recent PGA Champions. Sure, Brooks Koepka and Collin Morikawa grew into the tournament the week they won the Wanamaker Trophy, but Koepka went wire-to-wire in 2019, Mickelson was 8th after round 1 in 2021 and was leading after 36 holes, and Justin Thomas was 4th after round 1 in 2022. Jimmy Walker also went wire-to-wire in 2016 and Jason Day was 4th after round 1 in 2014 as well. If you want to win this tournament, a hot start looks to be a big factor.

Many will view this market as too volatile and that is fine, but I am a firm believer that there is a method to the madness that is the First Round Leader market. I enjoy analyzing a player's ability to start fast, and as such, I have found five (yes five!) players that I think can lead after round 1.

We will now look at the recent history of this tournament, to see who has led after round 1, what time they started their round, and whether they potentially showed signs of doing this in the past...

2024 PGA Championship First Round Leader Strategy, Trends

First, let's look at the most recent PGA Championships, and who was leading after round 1 on Thursday. Is there any correlation between start times and scores? Let's find out below.

  • 2023 – Bryson DeChambeau (10:56 am) - 66
  • 2022 - Rory McIlroy (8:11 am) - 65
  • 2021 - Corey Conners (1:03 pm) - 67
  • 2020 - Jason Day (7:38 am), Brendon Todd (2:15 pm) - 65
  • 2019 - Brooks Koepka (8:24 am) - 63

Firstly, it is pleasing to see a player hold the outright lead after day one, in four of the last five PGA Championships. Co-leads suck, and you don't want to share your first round leader winnings with another. So that's one plus right away.

The next thing to note is that four of the last six first round leaders/co-leaders at the PGA Championship have gone out in the morning. For the most part, it is the really early starters that have succeeded on day one, but Bryson started late morning last year, and Corey Conners and Brendon Todd teed off in the afternoon, so you don't have to be dew sweeping!

PGA Championship First Round Leader Trend

Former Major First Round Lead a Pointer: Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, and Brooks Koepka had all led a major on day one before leading here. Jason Day had been 2nd after round 1 of the Open Championship and the Masters before leading here in 2020, and Conners has since started fast in this event again, sitting 2nd after round 1 in 2023. We should be targeting players who know what it's like to be in the mix at a major on a Thursday, even if Brendon Todd is a bit of an outlier.

Former First Round Lead Essential: 5 of the last 6 first round leaders/co-leaders at the PGA Championship have already led on 2+ occasions after round 1 on the PGA Tour. Todd was once again the outlier.

Weather Forecast at the 2024 PGA Championship

The weather looks pretty consistent in round 1 if not a little more favorable in the afternoon, with warmer temperatures. Both waves should enjoy fair conditions, and as a result, I will split my picks across the morning and afternoon.

The latest forecast for Thursday's round at Valhalla Golf Club can be found below.

Valhalla Weather

Who in this Field Has Started Fastest on Tour This Season?

Here are the 5 fastest starters in the field based on their Round 1 Scoring Average during the 2024 PGA Tour Season.

  • Scottie Scheffler (1st overall in 2024 - Scoring Average 67.50) - Low Opening Round - 65 (Houston Open)
  • Patrick Cantlay (2nd overall in 2024 - Scoring Average 68.00) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Amex, Pebble Beach, Genesis)
  • Alex Noren (3rd overall in 2024 - Scoring Average 68.09) - Low Opening Round - 62 (Amex)
  • Collin Morikawa (4th overall in 2024 - Scoring Average 68.30) - Low Opening Round - 65 (Sentry, Heritage)
  • Xander Schauffele (6th overall in 2024 - Scoring Average 68.64) - Low Opening Round - 64 (Amex, Wells Fargo)

What Score is Required to Lead After Round 1?

This is a tough prediction to make when the PGA Championship changes course each year. The leading scores on Thursday in the last five PGA Championships are 66, 65, 67, 65, and 63. Average these out, and you get 65.2, and this would suggest a round 1 65 should be the target this week.

The Favorites in the 2024 PGA Championship First Round Leader Market This Week

Here are the favorites in the First Round Leader market at the 2024 PGA Championship.

  • Scottie Scheffler +1400
  • Rory McIlroy +2000
  • Xander Schauffele +3000
  • Brooks Koepka +3300
  • Jon Rahm +3300

2024 PGA Championship First Round Leader Picks

Here are my First Round Leader selections for the 2024 PGA Championship. Let's get the week off to a hot start at Valhalla!

Brooks Koepka +3300 (BetRivers)

Brooks Koepka is Mr. PGA Championship, and on many occasions, he has got off to a fast start in this tournament.

In 11 starts in the PGA Championship, Koepka has been inside the top 9 on five occasions by the end of play Thursday. He was the first round leader in 2019, in 2020 he sat in 3rd, sitting one back of the lead, and in 2021 he was in 2nd place and 2 back. Go back to 2016 and he was in 9th place in Round 1, sitting three back of the lead.

On all five of the occasions in which he sat inside the top 9 after round 1, Brooks had started his tournament in the morning, showing he likes to get his tournament going early on PGA Championship week. On the three occasions he has started in the afternoon on Thursday, he has sat 55th, 33rd, and 114th after round 1, so he clearly prefers a morning start.

Koepka has held 10 first round leads in his career, 4 of which have come in the major championships. He led The Masters twice on Thursday and also led both this event and the Open Championship by the end of play on Thursday. He clearly enjoys a hot start in these four biggest events of the year, and he can kick off his title defense with a quick start this week.

The last time he returned to this event as the defending champion, he opened his week with a 63 and the first round lead in 2019 and went on to win the tournament... Will he repeat that success on both fronts in 2024?

Brooks is just preferred to his LIV stablemate and my favorite outright this week, Bryson DeChambeau.

Jason Day +6600 (BetRivers)

Jason Day ranks 10th in Round 1 Scoring Average this season, averaging 68.92 in the opening rounds. Thursday rounds of 65 at both The Sentry and the Genesis Invitational show he's been able to start fast in 2024, both of which left him in 2nd place going into Friday.

He returns to the PGA Championship in good spirits after a 4th place finish last week at Quail Hollow, where he again started fast, sitting 5th after round 1.

Jason Day has played in 14 PGA Championships, and in exactly 50% of them, he has been inside the top 10 at the end of Round 1. He co-led with Brendon Todd in 2020 and sat inside the top 5 and within three strokes of the lead in 2013, 2015, and 2018, so he's no stranger to a fast start in this tournament. He was also within two of the lead back in 2010, when he sat 6th after round 1.

Day, like Koepka does prefer an early start at the PGA Championship historically, but the conditions look good in the afternoon this week, and this version of Day may prefer the additional time to warm up and get his body ready for the tournament.

Shane Lowry is a familiar playing partner for Day, as he's played with him 8 times in the past, breaking 70 on his last 6 rounds with him. He shot a 66 in Round 2 of the Amex and Round 4 of the Heritage playing with the Irishman in 2024. This will be his first time playing with Nicolai Hojgaard.

Alex Noren +9000 (BetMGM)

Alex Noren has been one of the fastest starters on the PGA Tour in 2024, ranking 4th on Tour in Round 1 Scoring Average, thanks in no small part to his opening round 62 to lead the Amex and the past two weeks where he's been 2nd at the end of play on Thursday on both occasions.

Back in 2012, Noren sat 2nd after round 1 of the PGA Championship, and more recently he sat 12th after round 1 of this tournament, but he was just two strokes back of the lead. That's twice then that he's started fast in this tournament, and that is certainly encouraging.

On the 6 occasions Noren has had a late Thursday tee time this season, Noren has averaged 68.17, so he should be ok with his afternoon tee time this week.

Noren knows what it takes to start a major fast, given he has been within two of the lead twice here in 2012 and 2020, and in the same position twice at the Open Championship in 2019 and 2023. He's in great form and can get off to a quick start in a major again here.

Keegan Bradley +11000 (bet365)

I am 100% guilty of getting too in the weeds when it comes to picking first round leaders, but sometimes it leads to nuggets of information that I am really glad I found. That is certainly the case this week, as I have unearthed what I think is a pretty useful snippet.

When a player is teeing it up with Tiger Woods, I always want to see if they have experience of doing so in the past. Not only has Bradley played with Tiger plenty of times before, he's been paired with the GOAT three times in the PGA Championship, playing with him on Thursday and Friday in 2012, 2013, and 2015. In 2012, he opened with a 68 playing with Tiger and sat in 6th place going into Friday.

It is Bradley's other playing partner though, that provides the most encouragement, as he clearly enjoys playing with Adam Scott. Bradley has held 10 first round leads on the PGA Tour and Adam Scott has had a front-row seat on three of those occasions, watching him run out to a Thursday lead at the Tour Championship and the WGC HSBC Champions in 2011, and at the 2022 BMW Championship as well. Bradley also shot a second-round 63 playing with the Aussie at The Barclays. Is this his favorite playing partner? The stats suggest it must be one of them!

Three times in his career, Keegan Bradley has been inside the top 6 at the end of play Thursday at the PGA Championship, including when 2nd in 2021, and 6th 12 months ago.

He hasn't been playing that well of late, but his iron play offers plenty of reason for optimism, ranking 6th, 7th, and 6th in SG Approach in his last three events. He will hope to hit it better off the tee this week to compete, but maybe it's watching Adam Scott's silky swing that gets him in the groove...

Ryan Fox +12500 (BetRivers)

Ryan Fox might not be the first player that comes to mind when you think of the PGA Championship, but he's been pretty solid in this event over the years, even if his results suggest otherwise.

54th, 27th, MC, 54th, and 23rd are his finishes at the PGA Championship, but he promised to perform a lot better on more than one occasion.

When Fox finished 54th on debut, he sat 11th going into the weekend and was still in 12th going into Sunday, before falling away. A year later he shot three rounds of 68 to finish inside the top 30, and in his last two visits, there have been further signs of comfort in this major. Two years ago, he was inside the top 27 after each of the first three rounds before a difficult Sunday, and then last year, he posted his best finish so far. He opened with a 68 last year to sit 6th and he enjoys a fast start in general.

Fox was 6th after round 1 at this year's Masters, he's just finished 4th at Myrtle Beach after three strong rounds to close, and he also opened with a 66 to sit 6th after round 1 of the Phoenix Open.

The New Zealander has held 11 first-round leads in his career, albeit all at a lower level, but he did sit 3rd after round 1 of the 2019 Open Championship, where he sat just two shots back.

The course plays into his hands, and he plays with Matt Wallace who he was playing alongside when he shot a 66 last Saturday, and a 3rd round 67 in the 2018 Italian Open.

Article Author

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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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