The second major championship of the year takes place this week when the great and the good of the game of golf head to the coast for the USPGA Championship, which this year comes from the famous Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina.
Collin Morikawa won this tournament around nine months ago when he unleashed that amazing drive three holes from home in San Francisco and the American will attempt to make a successful defence of the title.
2020 – Collin Morikawa
2019 – Brooks Koepka
2018 – Brooks Koepka
2017 – Justin Thomas
2016 – Jimmy Walker
2015 – Jason Day
2014 – Rory McIlroy
2013 – Jason Dufner
2012 – Rory McIlroy
2011 – Keegan Bradley
It is The Ocean Course which is the one this major will be played on. It is an absolute brute at 7,876 yards, a yardage which makes it the longest ever in major history. This is the second time this tournament has been held here after it staged the event in 2012 when Rory McIlroy won by a staggering eight shots. It should be noted that the tournament was still in August then and a band of rain had softened up the course in the lead up to the week.
The conditions are said to be much firmer and faster this week but there still might not be as much run as you would expect because of the type of grass used. The one key feature of this Pete Dye design is the elevated greens so if they are missed then getting up and down will be difficult so scrambling is going to be a huge facet this week. The landing areas off the tee are pretty large around here so there is a premium on second shots and in. The other thing which is an absolute requisite is the need to be able to play in the wind with the Atlantic Ocean running alongside the course.
Most of the top 100 golfers in the world are here along with some former champions who have lost their way a little in recent times. The latest winner of this tournament is here in Collin Morikawa as is the previous winner around this course in Rory McIlroy. Other recent winners teeing it up include Brooks Koepka, Jason Day, Justin Thomas and Keegan Bradley. The most recent major champion is in the field as well in Hideki Matsuyama.
There are plenty of potential winners in the field too including the likes of Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, world number one Dustin Johnson, regular major contender Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth who goes in search of his own Grand Slam this week. Along with McIlroy and Rahm, the European challenge will be spearheaded by Viktor Hovland while the English tilt at the title comes from the likes of Paul Casey, Lee Westwood and Tyrrell Hatton among others.
Rory McIlroy was the winner here nine years ago and he won on his latest start at Quail Hollow and as a result of that he is the 11/1 favourite to land a third USPGA title. It should be said that a lot of the tournaments he wins are on soft and slow tracks. This might be slow but it won’t be soft so that is a huge concern. One area he has an advantage is his length which means he can tame some of the beasts this course offers. He’s plenty short enough for a man who hasn’t won a major since he lifted this title in 2014 though.
Jon Rahm is next in the betting at 14/1. The obvious issue with backing him is that he hasn’t won a major yet but he’ll surely win one at some point so that isn’t really a concern. More of a concern is the equipment change at the beginning of the year and he hasn’t really looked comfortable since then. He’s also a new father which is another issue but the positives are that he’s as long as most on the tour and he is a links specialist after his wins in Ireland. All the same though, he’s a little on the short side for me.
Jordan Spieth is yet to win this title, the only one of the four majors he hasn’t won, but he would look to have a huge say this week if the short game test is as tough as it is expected to be. There aren’t many better than him around the greens so he will be hoping to light it up here but if there is an issue it could be a lack of length. This is a monster of a course and if he is hitting long clubs into the greens it will take away some of his accuracy. I respect Spieth but I can’t back him around here at 16/1.
Two big hitters come at 18/1 in the world number one Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau. The reason why Johnson is this price is because he pulled out of the Byron Nelson last week citing a knee injury but he was seen practicing here at the weekend so who knows perhaps he took one look at the Sunday forecast and didn’t want a piece of it. If he is fit he is a runner but we saw at Augusta that he isn’t in tip top form. DeChambeau did tee it up last week but was pretty ordinary. He doesn’t look in the form to win around here despite his length.
As this is a major championship and the only event of the week I’ll go with three main bets for this tournament with the first of them being a player I took in the last major in Cameron Smith. I really like Australians this week as these are the conditions they grow up playing – firm, relatively fast with tricky greens and plenty of wind and we’ve seen evidence of that. He was fourth when the US Open was held at Chambers Bay in 2015, a similar course setup to this one, and has performed well in a number of Australian events. He also won last time out on a Pete Dye design alongside Marc Leishman in the Zurich Classic and should come here fancying his chances. His short game is known as one of the best in the game and with conditions to suit he should go very close here.
Louis Oosthuizen was second in that Zurich Classic alongside Charl Schwartzel and he is my second main bet this week. He has a decent record in majors and tends to play well in windy conditions. He has a lovely swing which really brings his ball striking to the fore. We saw that last time out at the Valspar where he ranked fifth for the week in strokes gained on approach. That is a big statistic this week as is the short game and there aren’t many better at getting up and down than he is. In the four majors which I think counts for something – this is 2010 and 2015 at Whistling Straits, here in 2012 and the US Open of 2015 he has a record which reads MC-T21-T30-T2 with the T21 being here when a second round 79 out of nowhere killed him. Oosthuizen is a classy operator with great iron play, a wonderful short game and comfort in the wind. He ticks every box going to me.
The last of the main bets comes at a slightly bigger price in Shane Lowry, a man who won when I was on him at The Open in 2019 and who I am hoping does the same here. I have to say I’ve liked Lowry for this for a couple of months now. The obvious reasons are the way he drives the ball and his short game which is arguably the best in the game. Lowry was in the top 10 at The Players Championship, the most famous Pete Dye design that there is and he is flushing irons at the minute. He has been in the top 30 in strokes gained on approach for each of his last four tournaments that records the statistic. He is a wizard around the greens and as we saw at Portrush is perfectly competent in the wind. Lowry was in the top 10 at Chambers Bay, is a major champion and hits the ball exactly how it needs to be hit for this week. He looks another leading runner to me.
I’ll throw darts at four big priced outsiders this week as well with the first of those being Matt Kuchar. Kuchar might lack length around here which is an issue but he isn’t just good with his irons, he has that fairway metal under complete control at the minute and as his short game gets back to where it was his form is improving all the time. He missed the cut here nine years ago but in the two tournaments at Whistling Straits and the one at Chambers Bay he wasn’t out of the top 12 at any stage. Kuchar would have been a major champion at Birkdale had Spieth not performed heroics from the driving range on the back nine on the final day. Kuchar has a pretty good record on Pete Dye designs though, particularly in Austin where his World Matchplay record is strong. He led the field in the all-round stat at the Byron Nelson last week so is hitting it well. If the course isn’t too long he has a sniff here.
Matt Jones was a pretty tidy winner of The Honda Classic and he is another for whom the course might be a little long, but much like Smith he will have grown up playing in these firm conditions with the wind whistling across the course so even with the question mark over length he is still worth a chance here. Jones showed at PGA National that his short game is right up there with anything and we also saw him dialled in with his iron play. He is twice a winner of the Australian Open where the wind always blows and the course sets up not too dissimilar to this. In the first win he saw off Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth by a shot and got the better of Louis Oosthuizen the second time round. He has game this bloke and I’ll pay to see if he has it with him here.
I still have nightmares over Branden Grace not winning the 2015 US Open when I was on him at a monster price when he led with a couple of holes to go only to hit his tee shot onto the an oncoming train and out of bounds on the penultimate hole to allow Jordan Spieth to come through and pick his pocket. Despite all that, I just can’t leave him out of my squad this week. He is back in form after winning in Puerto Rico earlier in the season, a win which further confirmed that he can play in the wind. He can play links golf as we saw at Birkdale when he shot that 62 and he has a brilliant short game like all South Africans do. With the driving accuracy not as important this week Grace ticks every box going and at a three figure price needs to be included in our staking plan this week.
Finally I’ll throw out a complete shot in the dark which will either be inspired or the worst pick known to man in Kurt Kitayama. He is someone who belts it miles and his short game is very good and they are two key features this week. He might be a little too aggressive for a course like this and of course he is massively up in class in terms of what he is used to competing against but he’s won twice on the European Tour, one of which was in Mauritius where the wind obviously blows. In the last six cuts he has made on the European Tour he has been in the top 30 for strokes gained on approach, heading the field at the Abu Dhabi Championship which had a good field, and the Austrian Open. He has also ranked in the top 20 for strokes gained on approach in four of those events including third in the Qatar Masters which is played on an exposed track like this. This is a total shot in the dark but 400/1 shots rarely have those sorts of statistics even if they are at a lower grade. I’ll pay to see if he does anything here.
Back C.Smith to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 41.00 with 888sport (1/5 1-8)
PLACED – Back S.Lowry to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 71.00 with 888sport (1/5 1-8)
Back them here:
PLACED – Back L.Oosthuizen to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 67.00 with Bet365 (1/5 1-8)
Back M.Kuchar to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 141.00 with Bet365 (1/5 1-8)
Back M.Jones to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 141.00 with Bet365 (1/5 1-8)
Back B.Grace to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 161.00 with Bet365 (1/5 1-8)
Back K.Kitayama to win USPGA Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 401.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-11)