2pts each-way Matt Fitzpatrick @ 25/1
2pts each-way Jon Rahm @ 15/2
1pt each-way Tyrrell Hatton @ 33/1
1pt each-way Cameron Smith @ 28/1
1pt each-way Adam Scott @ 66/1
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The USPGA Championship is regarded by many as the most minor of the Majors and the creation this year of a rash of new elite tournaments carrying the same $20m prize money (or more) seems to have diminished it even more.
But what distinguishes the 2023 Majors from the Players Championship, the Genesis, the Wells Fargo and the rest of those ‘designated’ dollar-fests is that they are not run by the PGA Tour which bars the Saudi-backed LIV breakaways. Thus, as at Augusta, Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and ten more rebels will be doing battle with Jon Rahm and Co. at Oak Hill in picturesque Pittsford this week.
We saw what edge that gave the Masters when LIV royalty Koepka, the evergreen Phil Mickelson and ‘bad boy’ Patrick Reed challenged fiercely for the coveted Green Jacket, only for ‘good guy’ Rahm to keep them all at bay and save the day for the embattled PGA top brass.
For their good sense in inviting 17 LIV renegades to Augusta, the Masters hierarchy got themselves a vastly superior tournament where the winner could truly say he was the world No. 1 and, with DJ winning at LIV Tulsa on Sunday and Open champion Smith shooting 61 to get into a playoff, there’s every possibility this USPGA in way-upstate New York – believe it or not, it’s nearer Canada than Manhattan – will turn into a humdinger too.
Only 16 LIV stars have got the green light this time but the box-office names are there, six Major champions among them, all taking dead aim at the Wanamaker Trophy, at 27lb in weight and 30 inches in height the biggest in the game and currently in the care of Justin Thomas.
Last May JT came from seven back to beat Will Zalatoris in a playoff at Southern Hills after big outsider Mito Pereira dramatically threw it away with a double-bogey six in a final-hole nightmare.
There are great storylines on top of the ongoing PGA-LIV saga. We’ve got the titanic battle between Rahm and Scottie Scheffler for the world No. 1 spot with the Spaniard leading the laid-back American 4-2 in tournament victories in a season they have dominated. Both have been amazingly consistent and if you just wanted to back both each-way and leave it at that, you will probably show a decent profit.
Fitzdares can’t separate them at the top of a vibrant market, making it 15/2 your pick with McIlroy a harder-than-usual-to-lay 11/1 after his Masters flop. Can he bounce back after that embarrassing missed cut, followed by a nondescript performance at one of his favourite ports of call, Quail Hollow?
The media are fixated on McIlroy but there’s so much more going on, Jordan Spieth for example needing this Major to complete a career Grand Slam and past champions Koepka and Day back in winning form after a lull in fortunes … all on a classic Donald Ross layout that has hosted multiple US Opens and USPGAs, a course which the greats (Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino) and the not-so-greats (Shaun Micheel, who never won another tournament, and Jason Dufner) have conquered.
And the East course brings back wonderful memories of a nail-biting away win for Europe in the Ryder Cup of 1995 when forgotten heroes David Gilford and Philip Walton posted unlikely singles victories to turn the tide.
Yet the best player on either side that week was American and the shortest hitter, Corey Pavin. He took down Europe’s finest, Faldo, Montgomerie and Langer, in scoring four points out of five. Does that point us towards the type of golfer needed to win this week, a worker of the ball with a phenomenal short game?
The PGA victories of Micheel in 2003 and Dufner in 2013, neither big hitters but tip-top with the irons, back that up but there’s a potential flaw in this approach as Oak Hill ain’t what it used to be.
It underwent extensive renovation four years ago, hundreds of trees and a pond were removed, fairways widened, even a new short hole, called Little Poison, created. And the course has been lengthened by 231 yards, making it a 7394-yard par 70.
So while the essence of Ross’s 1934 masterpiece remains it is by no means the same golf course. Yet with the rough up after spring rain now that the USPGA is held in May rather than August, hitting fairways could still be more important than lashing the ball 320 yards any old where.
From the list of past winners, I get a picture of a Matt Fitzpatrick type of player doing well. The Sheffield star looked to have as good a chance as any going into the last round 12 months ago but didn’t do himself justice and faded to fifth. Yet he learned from that and six weeks later was US Open champion. More decisive and full of confidence these days, he claimed a recent victory at Heritage and although he’s not as consistent as some, he’s a big-occasion player who could head a European 1-2-3, chased home by Masters hero Rahm and the in-form Tyrrell Hatton.
In Mexico, Tony Finau proved Rahm was beatable even when playing out of his skin but had to play exceptional golf to do so. Fitzpatrick will have to do the same and sink as many putts but he has that strength of mind and capability.
Hatton has been a revelation since narrowly failing to win the Players Championship and watching him the last few weeks he’s surely playing the best golf of his life, following that Sawgrass sizzler with third place at Quail Hollow and fifth at the Byron Nelson. Outside Rahm and Scheffler, nobody is hitting more good irons or putting better. Tyrrell looks tailor-made for Oak Hill but is his temperament?
Oak Hill member McIlroy – his in-laws live in nearby Rochester – had a top-ten on the course in the 2013 USPGA coming in as defending champion and is obviously well capable of winning this but it’s nine years since he won a Major and patience is running out. His demanding role as PGA Tour players’ spokesman seems to have taken the edge off his golf.
As for Spieth’s Slam bid, hard to see it after missing the cut last time out and pulling out late from the Nelson, citing a wrist injury. I’m more concerned about the Aussie triple threat of magical putter and Houdini artist Smith, whose game looks perfect for the new-look Oak Hill, the reborn Day, fresh from triumph in Texas, and Adam Scott, fifth at Oak Hill last time and finally showing confidence in his putter with fifth at Quail Hollow and eighth at the Nelson. At 42 he’s determined to show these smart new kids on the block who Adam Scott is and you can see it in his eyes, the hunger is back.
After Scheffler, the pick of the Americans are Sunday’s LIV winner Johnson and classy Patrick Cantlay but I won’t be backing Thomas or Collin Morikawa as they have problems while Xander Schauffele was woefully unconvincing under pressure last time out. Now we know why he hasn’t won this year.
Apart from some showers on Saturday, the weather outlook looks decent. What we need now is a Matt finish to match the thrill he gave us at the US Open last summer.
1pt each-way Dustin Johnson @ 14/1
1pt each-way Brooks Koepka @ 12/1
1pt each-way Adam Scott @ 9/2
Top South American
1pt Emiliano Grillo @ 3/1
1pt Adam Svensson @ 5/1
Whenever big-time golf comes around you can count on an avalanche of markets from Fitzdares to greet it. The puzzle for punters is to identify which one offers the value, which one should we get involved in.
My view regarding this week’s USPGA is that the LIV contingent has been undervalued just because they are no longer in golf’s mainstream. Yet we saw at the Masters that competing in their own tournaments which the majority of us think don’t matter or mean anything has not dulled their proven talent.
Brooks Koepka, a four-time Major champion, looked as likely a winner as anybody for three days and why shouldn’t he? In the end, mighty Jon Rahm beat them all. But Koepka and 52-year-old Phil Mickelson beat the rest, with another LIV defector Patrick Reed right on their tail.
If they raise their games to similar heights at Oak Hill, the market for Top American at Oak Hill will look skewed. While some of the leading American lights on the PGA Tour such as Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Cameron Young and even Xander Schauffele have struggled to find their best golf, LIV aces Koepka, Talor Gooch and Dustin Johnson have been making hay.
With DJ winning Sunday’s Tulsa playoff, all three have now copped twice for the $4m top prize and while no one disputes Scottie Scheffler has the outstanding US claim, the 12/1 for Koepka for a Major he has won twice and 14/1 for Johnson, for so long world No. 1, simply look too big.
Always remember that form Is only temporary, class is forever. Koepka and Johnson have both. So they are viable each-way alternatives, as is Gooch at 40/1 and Reed at 50/1. Brooks and Reed have rugged, confrontational temperaments unfazed by the noise and pointed comments for which boisterous New York crowds are renowned.
Not that we are anywhere near New York City as I discovered in the seven-hour drive from Manhattan to Oak Hill for the 1995 Ryder Cup, trying to combine a few Broadway shows with a major sporting event. New York was a far bigger state than I thought!
If anybody outside Cammie Smith, Jason Day or Adam Scott wins Top Aussie, there should be a stewards’ inquiry but the relief of breaking a five-year losing spell on Sunday must have drained Day and he could well suffer some reaction.
In contrast, Scott, a top-five finisher when Jason Dufner won the PGA on this course ten years ago and mighty impressive with top-tens on his two most recent outings, could be spurred by his compatriot’s success and ever keener to put the icing on the Aussie cake. Open champion Smith could be a problem so I’ll be backing Scott each-way at 9/2.
Emiliano Grillo is not a man you want on your side in the trenches as he’ll almost certainly let you down but in his comfort zone the mournful Argentinian is a classy operator and there’s no doubt he’s at the top of his game. With ten of his last 12 rounds in the 60s, he’s posted top-tens at the Heritage and in Mexico, with only a weak last round preventing a third at Wells Fargo.
Punt him at 3/1 for Top South American against two Chileans moonlighting from the LIV circuit, Joaquin Niemann, who was expected to have won there by now but has disappointed, and Mito Pereira, who is probably still having nightmares about how he choked after holding the lead standing on the last tee and not even making the playoff.
Since making his breakthrough at Sea Island last November, progressive Adam Svensson has turned in likeable efforts at Phoenix and Sawgrass. At 5/1, he could spring a minor surprise for Top Canadian on a course reconfigured so as not to favour straightshooters like favourite Corey Conners as much as it used to in the days when plodders and plotters like Curtis Strange and Dufner won Majors there.
2pts McIlroy @ 11/8 (1.16pm)
1pt Kim @ 8/5 (6.31)
1pt Hatton @ 21/10 (6.47)
0.5pt treble McIlroy, Kim, Hatton
The Big Three are out early on day one in New York, all partnered with high-class opposition so there’s a TV feast awaiting punters who can tear themselves away from the tip-top racing at York.
Scheffler has dual PGA champion and LIV legend Koepka and dangerous Gary Woodland to beat at 1pm (BST), McIlroy tackles defending champion Thomas and 2020 winner Morikawa at 1.16, and Rahm faces Open and US Open champs Smith and Fitzpatrick, as tough an opening assignment as you could ask for, in the marquee match of the day at 1.33.
Making money out of threeballs is never easy given the margins bookmakers bet to but if forced at gunpoint to punt on any of this trio of A-Level headaches, I’d venture a pound or two on McIlroy at 11/8 as both opponents are having putting problems which show up on their sub-standard results.
Before his Masters flop, Rory was all positive and widely tipped to complete a career Slam. His mindset will be different this week: he’s won two PGAs, is popular locally as he married a girl from Irondequoit, another suburb of Rochester, is an Oak Hill member, and the course changes, with wider fairways, fewer trees and extra length are in his favour.
I see him having a good week, maybe even a winning one, if he can start well and not leave himself too much to do. Over the years day one has been a very mixed bag with Rory. Hopefully for punters, this will be one that hits the headlines for the right reasons.
Other bets later in the day: Tom Kim at 8/5 at 6.31 against Match Play champion Sam Burns (but otherwise disappointing) and LIV man Abe Ancer as the 20-year-old Korean prodigy is more consistent than his partners and has more potential; and Hatton, the outsider at 21/10 against DJ and Schauffele at 6.47 but a live one given the brilliance of his recent play.
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