The PGA Championship has long been the black sheep of the majors family. Lacking the glamour and tradition of The Masters, the history of The Open, and the trademark challenge of the US Open, the PGA Championship has always been the fourth major both in terms of date and relevance.
In an attempt to breathe new life into the tournament, the PGA have moved it to a new part of the season, and beginning this Thursday the world’s best golfers will be aiming to win the second major of the season.
The spotlight has always shone on Tiger Woods, but the focus is sharper than it has been in years after he completed his miraculous comeback by winning the US Masters in April. Can the American go back-to-back after his Augusta heroics?
Woods will face fierce competition from a host of leading contenders with Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and defending champion Brooks Koepka all similarly priced to the 15-time major champion.
Accuracy and length off the tee will be key contributors to victory at the par-70, 7,459-yard Bethpage Black Course, with errant drives likely to be buried in knee-high fescue.
2019 PGA Championship leading contenders
Brooks Koepka (11.00)
Predicting winners for golf tournaments is notoriously difficult, but there is little surprise to see Koepka as the PGA Championship favourite. The defending champion after winning in 2018 at Bellerive Golf Course, Koepka’s recent majors record is nothing short of remarkable.
The 29-year-old American has also won the past two US Opens before finishing tied for second at the Masters last month. Had he edged out Woods, he would have won three major titles on the bounce.
Koepka’s game should suit Bethpage Black Course given his prowess off the tee, strong iron play and solid short game. Plus he enters the tournament in fine form having finished fourth at the AT&T Byron Nelson with rounds of 65, 66, 68, 65.
A big-tournament player, major-winning experience, a game suited to the course setup and in form - Koepka is well-placed to defend his title.
Dustin Johnson (12.00)
As the World No. 1 and one of the most formidable golfers on the PGA Tour, it is quite incredible Johnson has only won a single major.
That could be about to change this week as the American arrives at the PGA Championship in good form following his tied-second at the Masters, while his one tournament win this year came at an elite-field event, the WGC-Mexico.
Meanwhile, the stats back up DJ’s case: he is second on the PGA Tour in scoring average, third in par-four scoring average and - perhaps most surprisingly for a player known for his bombs off the tee –fifth in strokes gained: putting.
Like Koepka, Johnson has the distance and accuracy with the driver to avoid Bethpage Black’s devilish rough, and there are fee players who can hang with him when he finds his groove. His lack of titles at the majors are a cause for concern, though, as he has struggled to display his best at the biggest tournaments.
Rory McIlroy (13.00)
No player is having a better season on the PGA Tour than McIlroy. From nine strokeplay tournaments played, the Northern Irishman has six top-10 finishes and a win, which came at The Players Championship – the so-called fifth major.
McIlroy has decided to largely shun the European Tour this season in an attempt to be ready for the Stateside majors, and he will fancy his chances of winning a third PGA Championship title.
The World No. 4 is first on the PGA Tour in strokes gained off the tee and strokes gained tee to green and second in driving distance. If he can maintain these levels and stay focused for all four days, then major No. 5 could be clinched come Sunday.
A tendency to go cold with the putter has proved an Achilles heel at past majors and how the short stick behaves could prove decisive.
Tiger Woods (13.00)
Such was Woods’ triumph at Augusta National, it has rightly been regarded as one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sport. There were nearly 11-years between major titles, a span of time that comprised career-threatening injuries and a host of personal problems.
At the Masters, Woods displayed his trademark iron will and metronomic brilliance under pressure to slip on a fifth green jacket. While it would be reckless to entirely dismiss Woods from going back-to-back, there are few signs to suggest the 43-year-old American will win this week.
A four-week break without any competitive golf may well prove a blessing in disguise while Woods has won a major at Bethpage - the US Open in 2002. But the damp conditions are sure to play a detrimental role for Woods, who since his return has struggled in cooler conditions due to his fragile back.
Also, Woods was quite wayward off the tee at Augusta and any repeat of driving inaccuracy will be significantly more punished at Bethpage Black. Of course, if anyone can defy the expectations it’s Woods - hence his lower odds - but there seems to be smarter bets to be made elsewhere.
2019 PGA Championship leading long shots
Francesco Molinari (26.00)
It has been a stunning 12 months for Molinari, who won his first major at The Open, claimed a record points haul at the Ryder Cup, won his first PGA Tour title in record fashion and won the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
The Italian World No. 7 is a winner this season, at the Arnold Palmer International, and led the Masters on Sunday before sinking his tee shot in Rae’s Creek on the 12th.
Molinari has proved he can excel in all and any conditions and he has a T2 and T6 in his last three PGA Championships. His form at Bethpage is what puts his price up, with a T27 and missed cut his last two visits to the course.
However, he has become a far more accomplished player since then and odds of 3.24 at bet365 to finish Top-10 looks an enticing offer.
Tony Finau (36.00)
Similarly to Koepka, Finau is a big-hitting American who seems to save his best for the majors. Finau has only had one top-20 finish from seven strokeplay tournaments, but still finished tied-fifth at the Masters.
The World No. 15 is a birdie machine and possesses great length off the tee, while he continues to gain more major experience. Finau may not win the PGA Championship but at this price, he is a tempting 2.88 at bet365 to finish in the Top 20.
Patrick Cantlay (46.00)
If you are looking for an outsider who could do well this week, Patrick Cantlay looks a very attractive option. The 27-year-old American has recorded four top-10 finishes in nine tournaments this season and if he lives up to his stats, his game should suit Bethpage.
Cantlay is third in scrambling, 10th in strokes gained tee to green and 15th in driving distance. A top-20 finish at 3.00 at bet365 (3 units) looks to be well-priced.
Phil Mickelson (76.00)
That’s right: the great Phil Mickelson, the five-time major champion and 2005 PGA Championship winner, is a rank outsider going into this year’s tournament. After winning the AT&T Pebble Beach in February, the American’s form has tailed off and he arrives at Bethpage having missed three cuts in his past four tournaments.
However, amongst all that Mickelson finished T18 at the Masters, but it is his form at Bethpage that makes him worth considering: two of his six US Open runner-up finishes have come at this course and he finished T13 at the 2016 Barclays.
A Mickelson victory this week would, as the odds suggest, seem improbable, but given his fondness of the course and vast experience, a top-20 finish @ 3.75 at bet365 is very tempting.