It feels a bit like the holidays on the eve of the first major of 2020. The 102nd PGA Championship tees off tomorrow from TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, CA. To learn more about the course background and 156-player field, check out yesterday’s 2020 PGA Championship Course Breakdown.
In this article, I will focus on plays for the DraftKings Round 1 Showdown slate, which has posted a $10 entry with a $20,000 prize to first place.
First Round Showdown is unique, because almost anything can happen in a single round of golf. As a result, it offers an exciting opportunity to exercise some DFS game theory. We will look for players that start hot, though they may not be able to handle the pressure to be a winner at the end of the week (see Finau, Tony).
The main focus for this slate will be the weather draw, because there is projected to be a huge wind advantage for the morning wave. Based on the current forecast, it is reasonable to expect a distinct scoring difference between the morning and afternoon groups tomorrow.
Obviously weather can change quickly. But, as I’ve discussed in previous Sunday Showdown articles, I believe in taking a strong stance in my lineups for Showdown contests. In this case, I’m choosing to fade the entire afternoon wave. Instead, I am building all of my lineups with six players that have morning tee times.
Now that I’ve cut the field in half, let’s look at my top plays for tomorrow.
Rory McIlroy $10,000
Admittedly, Rory McIlroy doesn’t come in to TPC Harding Park in his best form. On top of that, he faces strong contenders among the top group of morning tee times, including Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka.
But outside of his slow start at St. Jude last week, he has started really well. McIlroy has also played and won on this course previously — albeit in match play. Nonetheless, his course history inspires my belief that McIlroy will start hot tomorrow morning.
He certainly fits Harding Park from a distance perspective. During his Wednesday press conference, McIlroy commented that you really have to pull driver a lot at this course — a sentiment echoed in nearly every other interview leading up to the tournament.
Bryson DeChambeau is certainly starting to make his claim as an elite long-ball threat, but for now, give me Rory with a driver over anyone else in the field.
Realistically, differentiating between McIlroy, Thomas, and Koepka may be splitting hairs. However, I expect McIlroy to be the lowest owned of the three despite commanding the lowest salary. In a single-round Showdown format with a tempestuous weather forecast, McIlroy’s lower ownership could pay off in spades.
He is the play for me up top.
Collin Morikawa $8,900
Collin Morikawa will be a staple in my lineups this week. To echo Dustin Diez in his PGA DFS preview article, Morikawa is an elite ball-striker fresh off a solid weekend at WGC-St. Jude. After a slow start to the week, Morikawa rallied to shoot 7-under in his weekend rounds in a strong return to form.
His recent play bodes well for his chances at Harding Park — a course that he knows intimately well from his time playing it at the University of California, Berkeley. California played at Harding Park in 2018 for a Stanford-hosted tournament, during which Morikawa posted a bogey-free 63.
He boasts a tantalizing combination of course knowledge, course fit as a ball-striker, and an ability to score in bunches — all of which position him as a great Round 1 Showdown play. I expect him to garner substantial ownership, but he is a core play for me. I will look to diversify my lineup in other spots.
Tony Finau $7,900
I love Tony Finau, and I find myself frequently rooting for him to win on the weekends … though, I mostly come up disappointed.
But the great thing about Showdown is that Finau won’t have the pressure of winning looming over him through his first 18 holes (though my 50-1 First Round Leader bet would appreciate him winning the day).
As I mentioned in my McIlroy discussion, players continue to emphasize the need to drive the ball well in order to excel at Harding Park. Finau fits that criteria as one of the longest drivers on tour.
His driver is solid, but his irons are definitely a concern. He lost 7.5 strokes on approach last week, including a couple of really ugly rounds. But, I’m also willing to give Finau a pass after contenting each of the previous weeks at the 3M and Memorial.
I expect Finau to bounce back Thursday out of a coveted morning tee time and more than pay off his DraftKings Showdown price tag.
Scottie Scheffler $7,300
Scottie Scheffler will be one of the first to tee off at the PGA Championship in the opening 7:00 a.m. tee time. He is a talented young player that has come into form in his past two events — each of which also had strong fields. Scheffler finished 22nd despite tough conditions at Memorial and finished 15th last week at the WGC-St. Jude.
Over the course of those two events, Scheffler clearly dialed in his ball-striking. He gained 5.9 strokes from his ball-striking at Muirfield and followed it up with 8.3 strokes gained last week in Memphis. If Scheffler maintains that form and adds a field-average putter in Round 1, he is capable of setting the pace early Thursday morning.
When his game is on, as it has been coming into this tournament, Scheffler is long off the tee and solid with his irons, which is precisely what players will need to be successful at Harding Park.
Jason Kokrak $6,700
This is where I remind you that we are looking for someone to get hot for 18 holes; that’s it. Jason Kokrak, much like Scheffler, seems to have found his ball-striking last week in Memphis. He gained 2.5 strokes off the tee and 3.5 on approach, but he only managed a 44th-place finish due to 3.9 strokes lost on the green.
As those stats illuminate, his putter is shaky at best. He will need putts to go in for him to be relevant on the Showdown slate, but he does have that ability. Kokrak definitely fits the bomber narrative, and he has had success on the west coast — especially at the Genesis.
I like him as a lower-owned flyer in the morning tee times who can offer you lineup flexibility and the sufficient upside to win the Showdown slate.