The final major of the year is upon us as the USPGA Championship takes place this week although those of us in the UK could be forgiven for not realising that is the case as with no TV coverage the event has gone completely under the radar.
Instead we will be forced to cough up yet more dough if we want to watch Justin Thomas defend the title he won at Quail Hollow 12 months ago. At least those who do pay will be guaranteed the best golfers in the world being on show.
2017 – Justin Thomas
2016 – Jimmy Walker
2015 – Jason Day
2014 – Rory McIlroy
2013 – Jason Dufner
2012 – Rory McIlroy
2011 – Keegan Bradley
2010 – Martin Kaymer
2009 – YE Yang
2008 – Padraig Harrington
Quail Hollow makes way for Bellerive Country Club this week. This course hosts a PGA event for the first time since 2008. It is a par 70 which measures 7,316 yards and after an absolute soaking in the lead up to the event it is a course which is going to be playing very soft.
Initially before the rain this looked like being a tee-to-green specialists course with the rough up and the track playing firm and fast but those characteristics have completely changed and with the course softening up making the fairways wider I’m expecting four days of bombs away with the longer hitters having some good fun attacking a defenceless track.
As ever with the USPGA Championship, the very best in the world are here mixed in with some PGA club professionals and former winners that make this tournament what it is. All four current major champions are here including Justin Thomas who defends the title having warmed up for his title defence with a win last week.
The likes of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Jon Rahm are all here so we are set for a fascinating week. It is a big week for the American stars as their Ryder Cup points are suspended after this tournament and the top eight in the rankings will be guaranteed their spots at Paris.
Dustin Johnson has been getting plenty of support all week and he is the 9/1 favourite to win the tournament. The changing of the course nature will have played into his hands but generally his record on soft courses isn’t what we might expect. That said after a strong finish last week and a win in Canada the week before he is a worthy favourite who sets the standard to beat here.
Rory McIlroy is the second favourite to win a third USPGA title at 14/1. He was in the final group last weekend but couldn’t get the job done – a recurring theme with him at the minute. His major titles have all come on soft courses so much like a mud lark in horse racing it can’t rain enough for McIlroy in the lead up to the start here. On this track he should be a danger.
Justin Thomas was too good for everyone at Firestone last week and on that evidence he is fully worthy of his 15/1 quotes but he defends a major for the first time here and that will be a different feeling for him. I expect him to be in the mix but whether he gets it done is open to debate. Conditions might just benefit one or two others as well.
Jason Day is another one who ran hot last week and he shares fourth favouritism with Brooks Koepka at 20/1. Koepka’s record in the majors in the last few years is incredible and it would be foolish to think that won’t continue here. The rain widening the fairways might just have come at the right time for Day so he can’t be ruled out either. It is 25/1 bar.
I can’t ignore Rory McIlroy here. I think conditions have been primed for him with the amount of rain in the St Louis area and I’m expecting a bold showing as a result. When Firestone played soft last week he was one of the best on show but when it firmed up he was pony. There has been so much rain in the run up to this tournament that the course is expected to be receptive throughout the week and it is in those conditions McIlroy thrives. He’s the one to beat now especially if he can get the irons dialled in a little more.
If you wrote down ideal conditions for Bubba Watson to thrive in you would put something like wide open, right to left courses where length is an advantage. Guess what? He has exactly that at his disposal here! Bubba can cut the life out of most of the holes on this course and now that the rain has come to take away a lot of the trouble I’m expecting the former Masters champion to have a really big week here. Bubba is a creature of habit, a horse for a course and he has conditions to suit big time here.
I like four at bigger prices here and as it is the only tournament I’m betting on this week I’ll take the lot. If I’m honest 80/1 is on the skinny side for taking Thorbjorn Olesen but when the rain came I allowed myself to get involved. He finished in a tie for third at Firestone last week and he won the Italian Open on a soft course in what was a low scoring shootout. You get the feeling one more big week gets Olesen to Paris next month and generally when he runs hot he stays in form for a while. Now that he can let it fly off the tee I fancy him to be there throughout.
Haotong Li is just going under the radar at the minute but I remain convinced he can take one of these things down with him. I think he is another one who will enjoy the conditions now that he can get the driver out of the bag and let it rip. The rest of his came should be nicely suited to this track and at a monster price I’ll pay to see how well he goes here.
JB Holmes has not had the season he would have liked but there are three top fives on his record so when he gets it right he gets it very right. One of those top fives was at Torrey Pines which is no mean effort. He’s offered nothing in his last three events but prior to that he was in the top three at the St Jude Classic and went one better than that at the Travelers Championship. That wasn’t too long ago so at 200/1 I’ll pay to see if he can take advantage of the softer conditions which should allow him to pound it off the tee to his liking.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat will certainly enjoy the freedom off the tee box and we know his game is in good overall order. He is actually in the top 25 in strokes gained off the tee on the PGA Tour this year so now that he can get the big dog out and let her fly he should be in his element. His short game and putting is decent and his irons are generally good too. 200/1 is an insulting price on the capable Thai and he’s well worth backing this week to see how well he goes.
Back R.McIlroy to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 2/10 stake at 14.00 with Betfred (1/5 1-7)
Back B.Watson to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Skybet (1-5 1-8)
Back H.Li to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 176.00 with Skybet (1/5 1-8)
Back T.Olesen to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with Unibet (1/4 1-6)
Back him here:
Back J-B.Holmes to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 201.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-8)
Back K.Aphibarnrat to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 201.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-8)
Back them here: