PGA Championship First Round Leader Picks, Bets & More (2024)

Welcome to golf’s second major as the best in the world convene at Valhalla for this year’s PGA Championship. There’s a reason why major tournaments are held to a different standard and winners highlighted a little brighter: These aren’t easy, and the pride of Louisville at Valhalla Golf Club is no exception. We see the return of LIV golfers, major names beefing up a field already loaded with the return of Scottie Scheffler. This week has the makings of something special with a loaded field challenging a ridiculously difficult course.

As with most cases in majors, there’s a similar approach in identifying overall winners and first-round leaders. This field is full of golfers who can spike at any moment and go on a run if they are dialed in off the tee and longer approach shots. We expect a Tiger Woods sighting, although it’s been four years since he’s finished 20th or better. Still, he’s bringing more than just his game with an immense amount of coverage on him. From Woods to LIV to Scheffler, the heavy focus on that trio should work for some other notable names.

For PGA Championship first-round leader bets, will look at guys who are strong off the tee, able to manage this long course. Also, long irons will be vital to anyone’s success, especially early in the tournament. We last saw Valhalla in 2014, but that was deeper into the summer. The PGA Championship was moved up to May, allowing for a nice set of 70-degree days this week. Also, the bentgrass remains on the greens, but most fairways have been replaced to keep the ground true to a firm feel. That further helps the longer hitters.

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The strategy is simple, right? Blast the ball off the tee, pinpoint a 215-yard approach shot, then clear the bentgrass for a birdie. That’s our winning formula; now we just need to find the right fit.

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PGA Championship First Round Leader Picks

Interested in converting some first-round leaders in outright bets? Check out recent major trends to see how first-round leaders have finished and also how the eventual winners did in the first round.

The Keys To The Kingdom

We just saw a long course play out last week at the Wells Fargo Championship and should expect a similar overall approach this week. While driving distance is at a premium, there are a handful of scoring holes — including three par 5’s and two par 4’s less than 400 yards. The scoring chances also present themselves on the four par 3’s — each carrying longer than 200 yards — with the proper mid/longer-iron approach. Taking advantage of scoring holes — par 5’s and 3’s — will be huge for anyone jumping out to an early lead.

Winning the PGA — or at least leading after one — won’t be done strictly off the tee. There’s going to be a heavy importance on avoiding bogeys and simply scrambling for par. The rough is unforgiving, so accuracy remains huge, especially with approach shots frequently ranging longer than 200 yards. Sometimes it’s just a matter of flying under the radar and coming out playing great golf. With so much attention on Scheffler and Woods, not to mention the drawn-out drama with merging LIV and the PGA, there’s one golfer who has been on a tear yet still has a buy-low spot. That’s where we begin for our top first-round leader play for the PGA Championship.

PGA Championship First-Round Leader Picks

PGA Championship First Round Leader Picks: Jon Rahm (+3300 at BetRivers)

Talk about a difference in coverage. Jon Rahm was all the rage coming into the Masters, especially in defense of his green jacket. Things have certainly shifted away from the Spanish powerhouse, yet his game hasn’t suffered outside of coming up short at Augusta. We’ve seen (on the CW??) Rahm finish in contention at every LIV event this year. He’s far from disappeared from the game despite being a little — OK, a lot — harder to find on our TV. The reality is few get off the tee with as much power and anger while being able to dial in a 220-yard approach shot to within three or four feet of the cup. He fits the necessary metrics to battle Valhalla and is a major champion — which is huge when dealing with a course like Valhalla and chasing a ghost like Scheffler.

Setting up second shots doesn’t come with just hammering the ball; accuracy off the tee is another major factor. Total driving incorporates both distance and fairway finding, something that Rahm does overwhelmingly better than most golfers in this field. Getting to the green is one thing, but avoiding having to navigate the bentgrass green is another. Carry distance with mid irons is just so important this week, and having Rahm torch a 220-yard approach shot with insane accuracy is going to be tough to beat.

OK, so what happens if he misses? We fall back on his ability to scramble in tough conditions and avoid bogeys. We shouldn’t expect a -10 after one day to lead the field, so not losing strokes will be more valuable than gaining a few overall.

PGA Championship First Round Leader Picks: Viktor Hovland (+5000 at BetRivers)

Despite losing strokes on both the green and around the green, Viktor Hovland grinded a 24th last week at the Wells Fargo. It’s easy to forget Hovland — at least put him on the back burner. Maybe it’s the run that Scheffler is on or simply the addition of the LIV guys, but Hovland is sneaky good at demanding courses and comes in with some of the best total strokes gained at the PGA — rotating venues but still a massive field. Courses like Bethpage Black and Oak Hill provide a similar landscape and approach, two places where Hovland was comfortable with longer approach shots and avoiding bogeys.

He’s a grinder no doubt, but Hovland also has the ability to go on a birdie streak with his putter — yes, Viktor Hovland. When gaining strokes with the flat stick, he’s provided some notable finishes, including back-to-back wins last year, the BMW and the Tour Championship. Beating a top field isn’t going to waver this golfer, as the only thing that will undo Hovland will be his short game. His approach game is on point and deadly as he’s consistently found ways to gain strokes. Where he’s struggled is around the green, which is a demanding area for success at Valhalla. We like Hovland to stay long and straight with both tee and approach shots while his putter does some heavy lifting.

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