Thanks to the Olympic Games, the fourth and final major of the golf calendar has been rather crudely shoehorned into this week; just a fortnight after The Open. This PGA Championship will still be a festival of outstanding golf, but you can’t help feel that the schedulers have dropped the ball somewhat.
Jason Day is the reigning champion here and the Aussie is amongst a group of five players at the head of the betting market that have a strong claim. The host course, Baltusrol, promises to offer a stern test of credentials this week, and as such we can expect one of the premier players on the planet to come out on top.
Dustin Johnson takes centre stage as the bookmakers’ favourite, and rightly so after a run of eight tournaments where he hasn’t finished outside of the top ten. After breaking his major duck at the US Open in June, he will be looking to add extra silverware to his burgeoning collection. Jordan Spieth and Day are slightly off the pace right now, while Henrik Stenson – fresh from his own maiden major victory at The Open – could be a strong contender should he be focused on the task at hand.
Of the main contenders, however, it is Rory McIlroy who really catches the eye at 10/1.
Irish Eyes to Smile Once Again?
As a four-time major winner, McIlroy boasts all of the credentials we are looking for in a potential champion at the Baltusrol Club in New Jersey this weekend. He generally saves his best performances for the ‘biggies’, and has finished outside the top 20 of the PGA Championship just once in his last seven attempts, lifting the trophy twice. That is a stunning record given that this event is played on a rotational basis at different courses, and highlights the Irishman’s affinity with the tournament.
A quick analysis of Baltusrol reveals a fascinating all-round test of skill. It is long – a 7,400+ yard Par 70 to be precise – and so length off the tee is a premium (a McIlroy forté). But with strategically-placed bunkers and dense rough lining the fairway, accuracy will also be required to navigate ball from tee-to-green with maximum efficiency. Happily, McIlroy ranks first on the PGA tour for Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, so we have no concerns there.
The penal nature of the many hazards that line this course require precision ball-striking, and once again the world number three stands up to the test, ranking 28th for Greens in Regulation. The fact that he finished in the top five at the Open Championship at Royal Troon – despite being in the second half of players so hampered by weather on the first day – indicates he is manoeuvring the ball around tough stretches with ease at the moment.
Par 70 courses feature just two par 5 holes, so an ability to compile a winning score on the shorter holes is essential. McIlroy ranks fourth for Par 4: Birdies or Better, and that could be the single factor that determines the location of the PGA Championship come Sunday.
Odds of 10/1 are short in a major as competitive as this, but Rory has all of the weapons in his armoury to mount a significant challenge.
PGA Championship Each Way Picks
It is likely that the winner of this tournament will come from the elite group of players: Baltusrol is that kind of test. But with most bookmakers paying up to seven places for each way bets these days, there is still plenty of potential for making money for backing those who can challenge towards the top of the leaderboard.
Numerous candidates for such an accolade exist. JB Holmes (66/1), hits the ball a long way and has finished in the top five of two other majors this year. Jason Dufner (80/1), meanwhile, is a former winner of this event and boasts the kind of game that should do well at Baltusrol.
Wily old campaigner Jim Furyk (80/1) finished second at the US Open in June – usually a handy precursor to this event, while tee-to-green merchants rarely get more efficient than Steve Stricker (100/1), who has finished in the top ten in his last pair of outings.
Fans of extreme value will be placing small stakes on Jhonattan Vegas (250/1), who has finished fourth and first in his last two starts, and Vijay Singh (500/1), who finished tenth on this very course back in 2005 and is still playing some sublime golf at the age of 53.