Picking a winner, sleepers to place a wager on, guys to stay away from and more ahead of the PGA Championship.
Just three weeks after Francesco Molinari won the Open Championship with flawless play on the weekend, another major has crept upon us. The PGA Championship is this week at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, and the event presents the casual golf fan a final chance to bet on a major championship this year.
Yep—it's hard to believe, but come Sunday afternoon the next major championship will be the Masters, which is eight long months away, on the other side of a (maybe) brutal winter, in the futuristic days of 2019. Players might well be landing flying cars on Magnolia Lane. Who knows?
Back to the matter at hand: Before the tournament gets underway on Thursday morning, we're going to make some predictions and hopefully make all of you some money in the process. Players will be grouped into five categories: The guys I’m staying away from, the long shots worth considering, the high-value sleepers, guys I almost picked and, finally, the winner. First, for reference, here are the most current odds courtesy of Oddsshark.com.
Dustin Johnson +800
Rory McIlroy +1200
Justin Thomas +1400
Jordan Spieth +2000
Brooks Koepka +2000
Jason Day +2000
Rickie Fowler +2200
Justin Rose +2200
Jon Rahm +2500
Tiger Woods +2800
Tommy Fleetwood +2800
Francesco Molinari +3300
Patrick Reed +3500
Tony Finau +4000
Alex Noren +5000
Henrik Stenson +5000
Patrick Cantlay +5000
Paul Casey +5000
Xander Schauffele +5000
Bubba Watson +5000
Hideki Matsuyama +6600
Marc Leishman +6600
Joaquin Niemann +6600
Webb Simpson +7500
Thorbjorn Olesen +7500
Bryson DeChambeau +8000
Kyle Stanley +8000
Louis Oosthuizen +8000
Matt Kuchar +8000
Phil Mickelson +10000
Guys I'm staying away from
Jordan Spieth (+2000) — It's pretty hard to believe Spieth is still listed as co-fourth favorite to win this week, but he's earned that sort of unjustified confidence based on his past performance in major chapionships. Spieth has just one top-20 finish since the Masters—a T-9 at Carnoustie, when he shot a birdieless 76 on the final day. Last week at Firestone, he finished T-60 in a 72-man field. Spieth's game, particularly his putting, is too spotty right now to win a major championship. It's that simple. His quest for the career Grand Slam will carry on.
Tiger Woods (+2800) — I know, I know, major buzzkill. But what we saw from Tiger over the weekend at Firestone, a course he's won on eight times, was troubling. A two-way miss with both the driver and irons, and a gait that suggested fatigue, discomfort or maybe both. Plus, hitting fairways is an absolute must at Bellerive, where the rough will be the chief defense. Not loving Tiger on the second leg of back-to-back starts in 100-degree heat on a tight golf course.
Rickie Fowler (+2200) — Rickie has had a solid-but-not-awesome summer—his best finishes since the solo second at Augusta were a T-6 in Scotland, on a links course that couldn't be more different form Bellerive, and a T-8 at the Memorial on a Muirfield Village track that could host a PGA Championship tomorrow. Last week at Firestone was a roller coaster in the truest sense: 63-74-65-73. That suggests hit-or-miss ball-striking days, and on a soft track that's going to see a ton of birdies, you can't afford to be off for one day this week.
Others I'm staying away from: Francesco Molinari (+3300), Brooks Koepka (+2000), Alex Noren (+5000), Henrik Stenson (+5000), Xander Schauffele (+5000)
Long shots worth considering
Phil Mickelson (+10000) — There's no real results-based justification for thinking Phil can win this—his last top-10 finish came in the first week of May. And like Tiger, his game isn't a terrific fit for Bellerive. But this is a five-time major champion who, despite his age, is still swinging it great and remains one of the best short-game artists in the world. It takes a special type of player to contend in a major with few warning signs. Phil is that type of player. Certainly worth a play at 100-1.
Kyle Stanley (+8000) — The silent assassin—this guy barely says a word on the golf course, and not too many more off it either—has creeped up to No. 26 in the world and is firmly in the mix for a Ryder Cup captain's pick. His T-2 at the Memorial and solo second at Firestone bode well for Bellerive, another Midwest track similar to those two. He's listed at 80-1 because his performance in major championships has been pretty awful. In 15 major starts, his best finish is T-39 and he's missed nine cuts.
Thorbjorn Olesen (+7500) — The Dane is probably unfamiliar to non-diehards, mostly because he plays almost exclusively on the European Tour. Olesen fired a final-round 64 to finish T-3 at Firestone, a course that rewards much of the same things that Bellerive will. And like DeChambeau, Olesen is on the outside looking in for the European Ryder Cup team—he's one spot behind Tommy Fleetwood on the European points list and one behind Paul Casey on the world ranking points list. A good week at the PGA could see him make his first Ryder Cup team, though he's put himself in great position for a captain's pick regardless.
Patrick Cantlay (+5000) — Another fantastic ball-striker with a game that travels anywhere. I love the way he's played at PGA-style courses—namely, a T-6 at Firestone last week and a T-4 at the Memorial. Cantlay's also a guy that not a lot of people are talking about for the Ryder Cup, for whatever reason, but a good finish this week would put him in solid position for a captain's pick.
Tony Finau (+4000) — The big-hititng Utahn is the only player to have posted top-10 finishes in each of the first three majors this season, and he notched a top-10 last week at Firestone. Quite simply, he's become one of the most consistent players on Tour, finding ways to compete on golf courses of all different sizes and styles. The one thing about Finau is that he hasn't proven himself as a closer, mostly because he hasn't really had the opportunity to close out big tournaments on the back nine on Sunday. I'm not sure he's ready to win a major championship—he has just one PGA Tour victory for his career—but there's a good chance he's on the first page of the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon, and that's all you can really ask for out of a sleeper.
Bryson DeChambeau (+8000) — Golf's mad scientist has been in the news for the wrong reasons. At the Open Championship, he was caught throwing a borderline temper tantrum on the driving range. The week later in Germany, he played the final five holes in six-over par—including a triple-bogey 8 on the 72nd hole of the tournament—to blow a lead, then he gave the champion a petulant handshake that many felt was disrespectful. But none of that really matters when predicting future performance, and there are a couple reasons I like DeChambeau this week. He tends to play well on big, treelined parkland courses (he won at Muirfield Village). He's a proper ball striker, which is super important this week—the 24-year-old is 17th in strokes gained off the tee and 18th in strokes gained approaching the green. And lastly: he's ninth in the Ryder Cup points standings and knows his antics don't make him the most attractive captain's pick. This is the last week he can play his way onto the team via points, and he's said it's a big-time goal for him. Love the quirky Californian at 80-1.
Guys I almost picked
Dustin Johnson (+800) — It is so difficult to pick against Johnson in any tournament, and even more so now considering his last two weeks. After a really flukey missed cut at the British Open—the first time he finished worse than T-17 in a stroke-play event since last September—he dominated to win the Candian Open and surged to finish T-3 at Firestone thanks to 66-64 on the weekend. A virtual lock to finish in the top-10 on this layout, which suits his game ... but then again, so does every layout. That's why he's the No. 1 player in the world, and his game is too good to have just one major championship.
Justin Thomas (+1400) — ESPN's Kevin Van Valkenburg summarized Thomas's game perfectly:
If you have a course where everything is right in front of you, where you just bomb driver and hit towering iron shots a mile in the air and stop it near the hole, there is no one better than Justin Thomas. It's boring golf, to me, but he's a Jedi at this kind of golf.— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) August 5, 2018
That's going to be the recipe for success this week. A bunch of drivers that avoid penal rough. High approaches that take advantage of soft greens. Thomas sometimes struggles on courses that force him to hit half or flighted shots—he's missed the cut in two of three British Open starts—but he's really not going to have to do that this week. Oh, and he was sublime in sucking all the life out of the WGC-Bridgestone last week to pick up win number nine. All signs point toward his contending.
Jason Day (+2000) — If he's able to hit fairways, he's the man to beat this week. He hits it a country mile and has one of the best short games in the world, if not the best—that's generally a good recipe for winning golf tournaments. He had a really brutal back-nine on Sunday at Firestone, but for 63 holes his game looked like the 2015 version of Jason Day, a player that was the world's best by a comfortable margin. His game is a perfect fit for the PGA, and that's reflected in his record at the season's final major—he's got three-straight top-10 finishes, including a win in 2015 and a solo second in 2016. Plus, he comes to Bellerive in relatively good form, with three consecutive top-20 finishes in his last three starts. Let's also not forget that this is a gambling column, where the aim is to identify the best bet for winning money. I believe Day has as good a chance as anyone, which makes his 20-1 odds too difficult to pass up. The Australian will pick up major number two and cement himself as a surefire Hall of Famer.