Betting the BMW Championship: Closing the PGA season with two head-to-head matchups

As a stats-based analyst, I love to have data to sort through. It’s quite helpful each week when the PGA has a tournament at a course it’s played each and every year. We don’t have that luxury this week in the BMW Championship with the Wilmington Country Club as it hosts a tour event for the first time.

Eliminate one set of data points and it could be tricky. Since RBC Canada in early June, these head-to-head picks are on a 15-1-2 run. It’s not the ideal tournament to keep the fire going with no course history to utilize, however, we still have recent form and history on bentgrass greens to pull from. Here are two full tournament head-to-head matchups I like for the BMW Championship in Delaware.

Will Zalatoris (-120) vs. Patrick Cantlay

The argument could be made that you fade a player the week after a tour win, especially if it’s his first. There are certainly a few players that could be named that have proven otherwise. Cantlay’s strength lies in the short game, both around the green and putting. Making use of the stick could certainly be a benefit but these Wilmington greens are massive. What could be of more importance on a course layout like this is backing the better ball striker and that’s Willy Z.

Not to mention that Cantlay is coming off a T57 in last week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship, losing three strokes ball striking. Though previously Cantlay did have a three-week stretch of top-eight finishes, it was on courses where it proved beneficial to have a strong around-the-green game to combat some of the undulations and hazards. This course is not that. Zalatoris has made progressions in his putting while maintaining the strength of his game in ball striking. I’ll back the better ball striker who has a better track record in these strong-field events.

Jon Rahm follows his tee shot on the 15th hole during a Pro-Am on Aug. 17. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Jon Rahm follows his tee shot on the 15th hole during a Pro-Am on Aug. 17. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Jon Rahm (-105) vs. Rory McIlroy

Fading Rahm has been a profitable play for me, while backing McIlroy has been what seems like a weekly occurrence. Now, it’s a flipped feeling this week. After losing strokes both around the green and putting, Rahm has now gained or been neutral in both categories in the last five tournaments. He’s picking up momentum and heading into a course with bentgrass greens, which happens to be his best putting surface. Coming off a T5 last week, Rahm has now gained six and seven strokes ball striking in back-to-back events, while also seeing the problem area of his game improve.

McIlroy is coming off a missed cut, losing nearly 2.5 strokes off the tee after carding seven bogeys last week, hitting 35 and 43 percent accuracy and averaging just 55 percent greens in regulation through two rounds. He could certainly bounce back. The last time McIlroy lost strokes off the tee was September 2021 and the last time he missed the cut, he followed it up with a solo second in The Masters. Rahm is progressing upward, while McIlroy is coming off a poor performance. I’ll risk the low price of (-105) on Rahm. He finished as the fifth-best ball striker last week, gaining seven strokes total, four of which came from off the tee. A great ball striker who is neutral off the tee — that’s the combo I tend to look for.