The second major of the year takes place in New York this week when the USPGA Championship moves from its traditional August slot into May for the first time, where all eyes will be on Tiger Woods to see if he can continue his quest for the Grand Slam.
He beat Brooks Koepka to win The Masters last month and it is his beaten foe who will defend the title this week having won it around Bellerive last year, but he defends on a different course against 99 of the top 100 golfers in the world.
2018 – Brooks Koepka
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
We head to the Bethpage State Park where the Black Course will host tournament golf for the fifth time, the first in this illustrious event. The course is a par 70 which measures 7,432 yards and with plenty of rain in the area in the lead up to the tournament and the hot temperatures yet to hit New York, the chances are it is going to play every one of those yards.
This is an extremely tough test. While it won’t be set up as tough as in the two US Opens it hosted, the winning score is yet to be lower than 274 which means the course stands the test of time. It is a test of tee to green proficiency and given the softness of it you would have to think the longer hitters have a major advantage here. The greens are relatively flat so keeping the ball in play from tee to green is the path to success. Staying out of the deep greenside bunkers are a must. They are genuine hazards this week.
We were due to have the leading 100 golfers in the world rankings teeing it up this week but Justin Thomas has withdrawn from the event with a wrist injury so we are down to 99 in that regard. Tiger Woods heads the field having gone 6-2-1 in his last three majors while Brooks Koepka is looking for a fourth US major in his last five starts.
Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Francesco Molinari are just some of the top names expected to be deep in contention this week while Patrick Reed was the last man to win on this course when he won The Northern Trust. A who’s who of modern golf tees it up here with some club professionals mixed in as ever.
We have joint favourites for the second major of the season with Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka teeing it up as 11/1 shots to land the title. Both men have obvious chances this week. I wonder if the short game of Johnson is up to the level needed to win a major right now but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does win. Koepka defends the title this week but he has won three of the last four US majors he has teed it up in and was second in the other so if the sideshow that goes with defending the title doesn’t get the better of him you would imagine he would be right there.
Rory McIlroy is next in the betting at 12/1. He is a twice winner of this tournament on other courses but it is plainly obvious that he likes the way the courses are set up for this event and throughout the years he has eaten up soft courses so his eyes will be wide open arriving at Bethpage. I think McIlroy could be a massive runner this week so it then becomes a question of whether you are happy taking 12/1 in a field of loaded quality like this one is.
Tiger Woods comes next at 14/1. Woods has already won around here when the US Open was here and if he shows no signs of rust having not played since Augusta he looks to have every chance this week. Woods has been in the top 10 of the last three major championships so that alone would make him an attractive proposition. It is only that lack of a recent spin that is putting me off taking him here.
European pair Justin Rose and Jon Rahm begin the tournament as 20/1 shots. I wonder if the course will play too long for Rose to be fully competitive but that certainly won’t be the case for Rahm. As ever with the Spaniard, we need to monitor his temperament as he would be the Players champion now if he could manage that better. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see Rahm lifting this huge trophy but his mental fragility puts me off backing him.
I’ll go with three main bets this week with one of them a bigger bet than the other two. That is because I’m very keen on Rory McIlroy here. I think he is ready to win again. I say win again, it wasn’t too long ago he held off a field every bit as good as this one around Sawgrass. McIlroy is a two time winner of this tournament and still has many major championships in him. I think too much has been made of his Masters no show. The pressure he’ll be under there is completely different to any other week until he eventually wins it. He has no such problems here. The best drivers will make their way through the field this week. There is no better in that discipline than McIlroy so even at 12/1 he’s my leading bet here.
Xander Schauffele may not have a major to his name just yet but it won’t be long before he gets one and it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to me if that comes along this week. I think he’s a great player and much like Justin Thomas before him, this can be the week he shows it. He has already contended strongly in The Masters, US Open and The Open Championship but at this moment in time this could be his best chance of a major. Schauffele is in the top 20 for strokes gained from tee to green and when you factor in the ease of these greens his long game should do most of the job. He’s a huge runner here in my eyes.
Sergio Garcia has three top 10 finishes around here from the four tournaments that have been held here and I like him to go well in this event as well. Garcia is a very straight hitter of the golf ball which should see him stay out of all the trouble on this course. His short game is up there with most in the game too so if he does leak the odd iron shot then there is no reason why he can’t recover it. Most importantly of all these greens are flat so he won’t be disadvantaged on them. Garcia performs well whenever a major comes round and I expect him to be right in the mix over the course of these four days.
I’ll take a chance with Bubba Watson this week. This course is going to play mighty long and so it is to his advantage that he is one of the longest off the tee. The soft course will make the fairways wider which should further suit the two-time Masters champion. Watson has had a couple of spins around here in which he has a couple of decent finishes. The course is all in front of him here and if he can get in the mix from the start I fancy he could well stay there. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he is a danger on Sunday afternoon.
Jason Kokrak has done pretty much everything this season bar win but I expect him to give a very good account of himself here. He is safely inside the top 20 in strokes gained tee to green and ranks 15 for total driving. I keep on saying that the long game is going to be a big thing this week. Kokrak gets it out there off the tee and as long as he isn’t too wayward, and generally he isn’t, then I expect him to score well. In what won’t be the lowest scoring week known to man I’ll pay to see how well he goes at three figures.
If you hadn’t guessed by now I want big hitters on my side and I’ll go with a couple more from the European Tour. Thomas Pieters is a brilliant driver of the golf ball and is long with it and that is going to stand him in good stead this week. He was sixth in this tournament last year so the way the courses are set up suits him. He also has a top 10 at The Masters so the big tournaments get his juices flowing. He hasn’t been great this year but he hasn’t been terrible either. At the prices he can go well here.
My final pick this week is going to be Thorbjorn Olesen, a man who tends to go pretty well in soft conditions. The cold and wet conditions won’t worry him. He won the Dunhill Links in similar a few years ago and he has the ability with the driver to get the ball out there. If he can find some form on and around the greens then he could come back to form in conditions which should suit him nicely. Obviously he is more of a long shot but at the prices he might not be a forlorn hope given his quality with driver in hand.
PLACED – Back R.McIlroy to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 2/10 stake at 13.00 with Bet365 (1/5 1-8)
Back J.Kokrak to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Bet365 (1/5 1-8)
Back X.Schauffele to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 26.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-10)
Back him here:
Back S.Garcia to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 46.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-7)
Back him here:
Back B.Watson to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 56.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-10)
Back T.Pieters to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 176.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-10)
Back T.Olesen to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 201.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-10)