The Golf Engine Predicts the Best Bets for the PGA Championship

We take a break from football to bring you a  golf engine which uses machine learning to evaluate 1,500 different statistics for every golfer on the PGA Tour over each tournament since 2004. The analysis of this massive dataset provides an opportunity to predict players that are due to go low. 

The engine looks at how each statistical set contributes to what we can expect from players on this stage, at this tournament. It’s a complex web of information that can only be properly analyzed by a math engine, yet yields some objectively surprising results.

This year’s Championship is no exception as the model is calling for Phil Mickelson (100/1 odds) to break into the top 5, with Kyle Stanley (80/1 odds) and Tony Finau (40/1 odds) cracking the top 10!

Some surprises:

Kyle Stanley (80/1 odds), Tony Finau (40/1) and Phil Mickelson (100/1) inside the top 10.

Zach Johnson (100/1) and Patrick Cantlay (50/1) inside the top 15.

Perhaps just as surprising are the golfers that may underperform this week. Two recent Major Championship winners were projected outside of our top 20 – Francesco Molinari (33/1 ) and Jordan Spieth (20/1).

Notable left-outs:

Tiger Woods (28/1), Henrik Stenson (50/1) and Alex Noren (50/1) finishing outside the top 25!

Rickie Fowler (22/1), Justin Rose (22/1), Patrick Reed (35/1) and Bubba Watson (50/1) all finishing outside the top 10.

A few more points of note:

Top 5

Dustin Johnson (8/1 odds). Getting the top call from both the oddsmakers and the model is not hugely surprising. The TOUR leader in Fedex Cup points and 3-time winner this season is also leading the TOUR in Strokes Gained: off-the-Tee, Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and Overall Strokes Gained. Oh, and he’s fresh off of a dominating win 2 weeks back and a low-round 64 at the WGC: Bridgestone this past Sunday. He is a threat to win anywhere and everywhere.

Justin Thomas (14-1 odds). No surprise here considering his dominating performance at last week’s WGC: Bridgestone Invitational.

Jason Day (20/1 odds). A two-time winner in 2018 (so far) and already a PGA Champion, putting better than 90% from inside 10 feet this season… just let that sink in.

Jon Rahm (25/1 odds). The results haven’t been there of late, but his game appears to be rounding back into form in perfect time for the final Major of the year and with the Fedex Cup playoffs just around the corner.

Phil Mickelson (100/1 odds). I’m not sure which is more surprising… seeing “Lefty” in our model’s top 5 at the age of 43 or the 5-time Major Champion at such long odds. Either way, he looks like a the value at 100-1.

Top 10

Tony Finau (40/1 odds). Finishes in Major Championships this season: the Masters (T10), US Open (Solo 5th), Open Championship (T9). At 40-1 he’d be the steal of this year’s Championship if not for Phil.

Kyle Stanley (80/1 odds). The Gig Harbor, Washington native has been playing sneaky good golf this year, including an impressive 2nd place finish last week at the star-studded WGC: Bridgestone. Can he ride the hot-hand into this week’s equally dense field and finish with another top 10?

The Field

The rest of the projections include some other surprising results like Tiger outside of the top 25 and Aaron Wise in it. Below is the entire list of all the golfers playing in the PGA Championship and their rank according to the engine. 

Projected Rank Player ODDS
1 Dustin Johnson 8
2 Justin Thomas 14
3 Jason Day 20
4 Jon Rahm 25
5 Phil Mickelson 100
6 Brooks Koepka 20
7 Tommy Fleetwood 28
8 Rory McIlroy 12
9 Tony Finau 40
10 Kyle Stanley 80
11 Rickie Fowler 22
12 Justin Rose 22
13 Patrick Reed 35
14 Zach Johnson 100
15 Patrick Cantlay 50
16 Webb Simpson 75
17 Marc Leishman 66
18 Bryson DeChambeau 80
19 Aaron Wise 125
20 Jordan Spieth 20
21 Bubba Watson 50
22 Cameron Smith 200
23 Paul Casey 50
24 Francesco Molinari 33
25 Matt Kuchar 80
26 Ian Poulter 100
27 Tiger Woods 28
28 Hideki Matsuyama 66
29 J.J. Spaun 250
30 Louis Oosthuizen 80
31 Luke List 125
32 Rafa Cabrera Bello 150
33 Kevin Na 200
34 Anirban Lahiri 200
35 Gary Woodland 100
36 Ollie Schniederjans 300
37 Henrik Stenson 50
38 Emiliano Grillo 200
39 Ross Fisher 250
40 Byeong Hun An 125
41 Pat Perez 250
42 Chesson Hadley 250
43 Brendan Steele 250
44 Kiradech Aphibarnrat 200
45 Kevin Kisner 100
46 Charl Schwartzel 150
47 Adam Scott 150
48 Xander Schauffele 50
49 Brian Harman 100
50 Daniel Berger 100
51 Kevin Chappell 125
52 Shane Lowry 150
53 Brandt Snedeker 150
54 Branden Grace 100
55 Patton Kizzire 300
56 Jason Kokrak 500
57 Ryan Moore 150
58 Billy Horschel 200
59 Jhonattan Vegas 200
60 Jamie Lovemark 200
61 Brian Gay 250
62 Charley Hoffman 100
63 Russell Henley 150
64 Jimmy Walker 200
65 Satoshi Kodaira 300
66 Russell Knox 150
67 Austin Cook 300
68 Peter Uihlein 300
69 Charles Howell III 250
70 Keegan Bradley 100
71 Andrew Landry 250
72 Chris Stroud 300
73 Sergio Garcia 100
74 Adam Hadwin 300
75 Bill Haas 500
76 Jim Furyk 250
77 Stewart Cink 200
78 Brice Garnett 300
79 Chris Kirk  
80 James Hahn 250
81 Chez Reavie 400
82 Michael Kim 250
83 Scott Piercy 300
84 J.B. Holmes 200
85 Troy Merritt 200
86 Beau Hossler 200
87 Padraig Harrington 250
88 Nick Watney 200
89 Scott Brown 300
90 Jason Dufner 200
91 Ryan Armour 250
92 Tyrrell Hatton 150
93 Paul Dunne 200
94 Matthew Fitzpatrick 150
95 Thomas Pieters 150
96 Ryan Fox 300
97 Julian Suri 200
98 Dylan Frittelli 200
99 Chris Wood 250
100 Seungsu Han 400
101 Alexander Björk 200
102 Joaquin Niemann 66
103 Brandon Stone 250
104 Ryuko Tokimatsu 400
105 Shubhankar Sharma 200
106 Jorge Campillo 250
107 Eddie Pepperell 200
108 Danny Willett 250
109 Sungjae Im 300
110 Alexander Levy 250
111 Andy Sullivan 400
112 Yusaku Miyazato 300
113 Matt Wallace 250
114 Yuta Ikeda 300
115 Martin Kaymer 300
116 Ted Potter Jr. 400
117 Andrew D. Putnam  
118 Meen-Whee Kim  
119 Jordan Smith 250
120 Thorbjorn Olesen 75
121 Hao-Tong Li  
122 Alexander Noren 50
123 Si-Woo Kim 150
124 Vijay Singh 300
125 Michael Block 750
126 John Daly 750
127 Davis Love III 500
128 Shaun Micheel 200
129 Omar Uresti 2000
130 Johan Kok  

Odds Courtesy of Bovada

How the Golf Engine makes its picks

In golf, a pro matches up as much with the golf course as another competitor. Which is why any attempt to predict the outcome of a golf tournament must account for the nuances of the course. Analyzing past and present data through the use of math can more accurately project future performance.

In this model, we use machine learning to evaluate 1,500 different statistics for every golfer on the PGA Tour over each tournament since 2004. The analysis of this massive dataset allows gives us an opportunity to predict players that are due to go low.

The machine learns how these statistics can become a unique strength or glaring weakness for each golfer by comparing tens of thousands of different combinations and separating the patterns from the noise. The resulting ‘model’ is able to ‘deep dive’ and determine when to expect low rounds from a pro, given their unique style of play. These calculations are next to impossible to do quickly and certainly without personal and subjective biases, until now.

This is the second tournament the golf engine has been used to predict on the site. Here are its predictions for the Open Championship. 

Contributor to National Football Post & sports nut with training in statistics, machine learning, and data analysis from Galvanize – Seattle campus. Alumni of University of Colorado and University of Washington. Occasional boater, skier, and golfer.