With the post lockdown golfing schedule rolling on at full steam we have finally reached the first Major of 2020, the USPGA Championship.
This year’s host venue is TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. A par 70 measuring 7234 yards, the course is a tree-lined track, set against the banks of Lake Merced.
The course, which last graced our screens in 2015 when hosting the WGC World Matchplay – an event won by Rory McIlroy – features seven 450+ yard par fours, two driveable par fours and two par fives to take advantage of, and with the rough likely to ‘keep the players honest’. The mantra for the week appears to be ‘long and straight’ off the tee.
So, let’s take a look at some of the market leaders.
If you had asked me six weeks ago who I would have been putting up for this Rory McIlroy would have been at the top of my list, however the Northern Irishman has struggled since lockdown and after another lacklustre effort at the WGC last week, I will reluctantly pass him over.
With Jon Rahm – the man who stole Rory’s crown as world No 1 for all of a fortnight – also struggling last week, the market is headed up by Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas who battled it out down the stretch in Memphis.
Koepka has been in the doldrums for a while now, so despite losing out to Thomas on Sunday he should be buoyed by his second-place finish. To me though his performance in Memphis was still very up and down, and with the pressure of trying to be the first player to bag three consecutive PGA titles since the 1920s, he is not for me.
The man I am keen to start our team off with this week though is the man who pipped Koepka to the trophy on Sunday, Justin Thomas.
Thomas, who is now back at world No 1, has gone back-to-back in his career once before so he knows how to stay hot, when he gets there.
First for the week from tee to green in Memphis, his long game is where we need it to be, however despite his victory Thomas struggled with the putter and if he can improve in this department he will be hard to beat in his quest for a second Major.
Another player I am keen to have on side this week is Xander Schauffele. With four top five finishes in major championships the 26-year-old has made a name for himself as a man for the big events and arriving here on the back of four straight top 20 finishes, he looks primed to go well again.
A native of California, he will be comfortable back on the West Coast and with a long game that looks perfect for this week’s set up, this could be the week he bags his first major.
Next up for me is Tommy Fleetwood, who has drifted out in the markets after a fairly sluggish return from lockdown over the past couple of weeks.
It may just be though that Fleetwood, who closed the week in Memphis with an eye catching 65, has timed his run to perfection and on a course that should suit his ball striking prowess I am happy to chance him at the odds.
Finally, in an event where Paddy are paying to 10 places, I shall finish my team with two big priced each-way plays who couldn’t be more contrasting.
The first of these is Cameron Champ. One of the biggest hitters on tour, Champ is a prodigious talent who will certainly go on to challenge for majors and I am happy to chance the Californian native on the back of a strong show last week.
On the other end of the ‘hitting’ scale I feel price quotes around Graeme McDowell are somewhat dismissive.
Gmac, who won his US Open in California, was also second in the 2012 US Open held at the Olympic Club barely a stone’s throw away from here, so he clearly loves his golf on the West Coast. Furthermore, he was sixth at the WGC event held here back in 2005.
Having won on the European Tour already this year, McDowell is certainly no back-marker and I am happy to wrap things up by chancing him to gate crash the bigger hitters party.
To win: Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Tommy Fleetwood
Each-way: Cameron Champ and Graeme McDowell
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