With the revamped PGA Tour golfing schedule rolling on at full steam, no sooner has the dust settled on Tiger Woods’ memorable victory at Augusta and it’s already time for the year’s second Major, The USPGA Championship.
This year’s host venue is Bethpage Black at Bethpage State Park, Farmingdale, New York, a venue which was last seen on tour hosting the 2012 and 2016 editions of the Barclays and the 2009 US Open. A par 70 measuring 7432yds the course, the work of renowned designer AW Tillinghast, is known as one that requires long, straight driving.
Distance off the tee is key here and even more so this week with a wet forecast leading in. But this is not a course on which you can get away with spraying it anywhere – wide means trouble. In fact it’s worth noting that when Lucas Glover won the 2009 US Open here he led the PGA Tour’s Total Driving stats coming into the week.
So, let’s take a look at some of the leading contenders and their chances, starting with Tiger Woods. The first big plus for Tiger is that he won the US Open here in 2002, so you must think he’ll be comfortable on the track. Secondly he also sits highly in two of the key stats this week, Strokes Gained Tee To Green and Total Driving.
From a negative standpoint this will be Tiger’s first start since winning at Augusta and the question has to be whether he can just come straight back out again and ‘flick the switch’ like he used to do, particularly with all the expectation now on him.
Personally I am not convinced on this point and therefore with Tiger installed as the 10/1 joint-favourite I am happy to pass.
Moving on to the other three market leaders – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka – and it has to be said that this long and potentially wet course is potentially tailor-made for all three of them.
DJ and Rory’s lack of really strong course form here, allied with the fact that they currently languish at 185th and 133rd respectively in Driving Accuracy on tour, is enough to put me off them at the prices. Instead, I will start my team with Mr Major, Brooks Koepka.
Koepka’s record in the major championships over recent years is incredible and in addition to the fact that he has bagged three of them he has not finished outside the top 13 in a major on US soil in over three years.
He arrives in New York on the back of a perfect warm up at the Byron Nelson where he finished fourth and having defended his US Open crown last summer he will be desperate to repeat that feat with his PGA title. Take the 11/1.
Next up for me is Bryson Dechambeau. After his stellar 2018, ‘The Scientist’ was at the top of everyone’s list of players who would win their first major this year, but a recent relative slump in form has seen him fall off the radar somewhat.
Interestingly, though, Bryson had a similar mini-slump before winning on another Tillinghast design in nearby New Jersey last August.
Currently ranking third on tour in Total Driving, Bethpage looks a great fit for him this week.
Sticking with my mantra of strong tee to green players, the next two to make my team are Gary Woodland (55/1) and Sergio Garcia (40/1). Woodland featured prominently in the PGA Championship at Bellerive last summer and Bethpage looks a perfect venue for him to have another great run this time around. Fourth on this course in the 2016 Barclays he currently ranks first in Total Driving on Tour and 15th in Green In Regulation. Garcia, meanwhile, played beautifully tee to green last time out at the Wells Fargo and has finished in the top ten in each of his three visits to Bethpage.
Finally I will wrap things up with a big priced each-way play on Kyle Stanley (200/1). Kyle played well at Augusta and followed that up with eighth place at the Wells Fargo last time out. When on song, Stanley’s strength is a great long game and he is fancied to go well at a huge price.
Odds correct at time of posting.