We are at a bittersweet moment in the golf season—a major championship is upon us, which is always fun, but it’s also the last major, which is sad. Interestingly, this is also the last time the PGA Championship will be the last major. Starting in 2019, it’s moving to May, and perhaps taking a critical step to shedding the “least loved major” label.
For its siren song as glory’s last shot, this year’s tournament takes us to Bellerive in Missouri, which hosts its first PGA Championship since Nick Price’s victory in 1992. As a long-ish par-70, you can expect modest scores, but with green-softening rain expected in the area for the next few days, they won’t be too modest.
That said, the shortest par-3 on the course still clocks in at 213 yards, and the bunkers are allegedly frequent and deep, so depending on how hard the wind blows, the organizers may owe royalties to the sadists at the USGA come Sunday.
Enough foreplay—Paddy Power is paying ten places, so let’s make some money. Below, you’ll find four strictly correct and highly sensible picks, and two longshots that I’m convinced are set to make some noise in Missouri.
Rory McIlroy – 11/1
Confession: I make this pick with some trepidation. Rory is still the fifth-ranked player in the world, and he still has all kinds of weapons, but I’ve been disappointed in how he’s finished major tournaments over the last four years.
It’s a drought nobody saw coming, and it seems like he turned from a clutch closer to a Sunday stumbler almost overnight. But with those negatives out of the way, the greater truth is that he’s playing extremely well.
A second-place finish at the Open followed by a sixth-place showing at the WGC (which he easily could have won with a decent final round) has him poised to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy once more.
I have absolute confidence that he’s going to finish in the top ten, and I have absolute confidence that his form is matched by just one other golfer at the moment. What I can’t predict is whether he’ll remember how to win when the chance presents itself.
Justin Thomas – 12/1
No hemming, no hawing—this is simply the best pick of the bunch. Justin Thomas at his best is pretty much unbeatable, and we saw him at his best this past weekend at the Bridgestone, where he stood up to Rory and the other best players in the world to win by four shots.
If you had a gun to my head and forced me to take one man to win at Bellerive, I would do my best to escape with karate. But once you subdued me, since I’m bad at karate, I would pick Justin Thomas.
Jason Day – 18/1
It’s time for Day to put up a really good major performance. He’s won twice this year, once in California and once in Charlotte, and for a moment last weekend it looked like he might have a chance to catch Justin Thomas at the Bridgestone. He faded badly in the closing holes, but he’s begun to hit his stride.
If he’s outside the top three groups on Sunday, I’ll eat my hat. But I will do it in secret, and you will not have confirmation that I’ve eaten it.
Tony Finau – 35/1
I wish I could get odds on “Tony Finau will finish in the top ten, but he won’t win.”
Did you know he’s managed a top ten in all three majors so far this year? It’s true, and he was tenth last weekend as well.
The problem with Finau is that he hasn’t figured out how to win yet, with his lone victory coming on an off-week in Puerto Rico two years ago. But his game is among the best in the world, especially when he’s driving the ball straight, as he is now.
The great thing about Finau in a “paying ten places” situation is not just that he’s always at the top of the leaderboard, but that he almost never misses a cut. He’s money in the bank at Bellerive.
Thorbjorn Olesen – 66/1
Ladies and gentlemen, your hottest European golfer. In the past few months, he’s won the Italian Open, finished second at the BMW International, sixth at the Irish Open, 12th at the British, and third at the WGC two days ago.
I had a chance to pick him up for my fantasy team before he started this stretch, and I picked Alexander Bjork instead. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself, so don’t make the same mistake. Worth noting also that he’s fighting for a Ryder Cup spot from fellow Dane Thomas Bjorn, so there’s a good deal of added motivation.
Kyle Stanley – 70/1
Consider this: Stanley is ranked 26th in the world, but he’s 34th in the oddsmakers’ queue at the PGA Championship. That’s what I call undervalued, especially for someone who finished second in an insanely strong field last weekend. It’s never a bad idea to ride the hot hand, and Stanley’s hand is scorching. I love this pick at 70/1.
Some free bonus advice: Stay away from Molinari, don’t get suckered in by an increasingly fatigued Tiger, be wary of Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson since they’re both in hugely volatile phases, and realize that until proven otherwise, Tommy Fleetwood really, really can’t function under pressure. Finally, I can’t advise against picking DJ and Koepka, who are always in the mix, but I would strenuously avoid Spieth.