The USPGA Championship lines up as the final major of the year for the last time for the forseeable future as next year we see it tuck in behind the Masters as the years second major. That is difficult to imagine for purists and if you ask me they are fiddling with history and in danger of damaging this major even further.
There is no doubt it is the poorest of the four but nonetheless holds its place firmly in the history of the game. I hope that doesn't change in the future and fingers crossed the move next year will be a positive one.
We plough on in search of another major winner and hopefully Bellerive in Missouri is just another ticket to cash in at your local bookmakers. The Robert Trent Jones design holds no secrets and as far as the dangers on the course are concerned it is all there to view from the tee. A graveyard runs alongside the opening hole just to spook you but I don't think the course will be all too daunting for the majority.
The test is seemingly off the tee with creeks that meander their way throughout the layout. The most recent and relevant tournament to be held here was the 2008 BMW where Camillo Villegas came out on top. A bunch of plodders were in behind with Furyk, Choi, Ames and Clark all making the top 10.
Whether that will play out here I'm not sure but I definitely believe you need to be in the fairway to contend. The rough poses a lot of problems and like last week it will be hard to control approach shots from the taller grass. Villegas, Furyk, Clark, Mahan and Ames who all finished in the top 10 in that 2008 BMW all finished in the year inside the top20 in Strokes Gained Approaching the green. That stat is worth looking at if you can combine it with somebody who hits a lot of fairways.
Rory McIlroy comes here off a runner up at the Open and a 6th placed finish in the WGC last night yet he is struggling to fight off negative press surrounding his lack of victories. There is no doubt he finds it difficult to win these days and it is questionable whether he will get back to the prolific winning that he used to do. With the place terms on offer this week he almost looks like a free each way play and if he can get control of his wedge game he may prove hard to beat. His putting isn't the big issue.
His approach play is sub standard for someone of his calibre and that will be his main focus in practice i presume. Justin Thomas is another who should be right in the mix here. His golf at Firestone was simply stunning for the first few days and he coasted to victory really without having to do an awful lot on Sunday. His approach play was super last week and if he continues in that form he will be a formidable opponent. I would rate Thomas as the biggest threat to my top selection this week.
For the first time in a major this season we will be throwing a lot of our eggs into the favourite basket. DUSTIN JOHNSON (best price $12) could have won a lot more majors in his time but this week he looks primed to land his second. PGA winners almost always have a win earlier in the season and Dustin ticks this first box with three wins this season. The romp in Hawaii in January was followed up by a win at the St Jude and then again a few weeks ago in Canada. He finished very strongly last week at Firestone to finish 3rd.
Firestone is a course upon where he has struggled before, despite having won there a few years ago. A fine performance there over the weekend spells further improvement from his easy win in Canada. I think this event will be won from tee to green. Dustin has a massive advantage off the tee and with I always think his driving is better when there is danger he needs to carry.
Creeks will be in the sight lines of many off the tee this week and I think this concentrates DJ's mind further to squeeze the ball perfectly off the tee. He is lightyears beyond everyone else being 1st in Strokes Gained tee to green being half a shot clear on average over 2nd place.
1st in Strokes Gained off the tee is another positive and quite simply nobody can touch his stats. Results wise he is hard to beat also. His missed cut at Carnoustie can be easily overlooked as it needed a lot more thought and precision than what Johnson was prepared to give. Two wins and two third places in five starts are similar results to what Molinari had going into the Open and given Dustin is world number one the $12 on offer is no doubt the best bet of the week.
It has taken around four years for WEBB SIMPSON (best price $67) to get back into the worlds top 20 after the anchor putting ban, but he is now back where he belongs and shows no signs of slowing down this season. Following his win at Sawgrass he has posted two more major top 20s and now is attempting to finish in the top 20 in all four majors this season.
That is an incredible turnaround for Simpson and all facets of his game are in top shape. 24th last week is a respectable tally for a course usually dominated by the big hitters. He has the win this season which also ticks another big trend (although trends are not for me generally).
He lies inside the top 20 in Strokes Gained Approaching the green which is important if we look back at the 2008 BMW results. Hitting fairways and solid approaches is certainly the big task at hand this week and there was no finer display this season than his at Sawgrass. If he turns in a similar performance he should be right there fighting and looks a tempting each-way option this week.
I was close to leaving TOMMY FLEETWOOD (best price $29) off the list but with the place terms out there and his results this year I think he must be played each-way. I thought his form of last year might not last but he has continued to impress me week after week.
His relentless money making does not look like stopping any time soon. 17th at the Masters, 2nd at the US Open and 12th at the British Open are phenomenal consistent returns from Fleetwood. 6th in Canada and 4th at the Honda this season shows us even in the lesser events on the PGA tour he is performing well.
These displays of golf now spell that he almost deserves a major victory and Bellerive might be the place. Tee to green courses are where Tommy excels, case in point in Mexico last year where he finished 2nd to Dustin. A tree lined course there rewarding precision in Chapultepec is right up Tommy's street.
He does of course have that win in Abu Dhabi earlier this year also. 14th at Firestone was a bit of a disappointment given he went out in the final group on Saturday. Nevertheless it is another solid result to add to the bank and Tommy could well be a major player in this years PGA.
Mickelson and Woods were both NCAA champions before taking to the big tour and winning majors and I think AARON WISE (best price $126) may just be the most exciting prospect to have won it since. He won at his home course in 2016 and has hit the ground running this year on the regular tour.
He went close finishing a narrow second to Jason Day at the Wells Fargo before finishing one better next time out by winning the Byron Nelson. A victory on the web.com tour is another box ticked for this youngster who has done everything right so far. A string of poor performances followed the win in Texas but he bounced back in fine fashion last week with a 6th placed finish at Firestone.
There is a lot to play out in his career but I'll put my neck on the line and say he is a top 5 in the world player in the making. He is a super talent and I think he is a future major winner. I'm more than prepared to bet this week at three figure odds.
Next, I've opted for BUBBA WATSON (best price $71) for a number of reasons. First and foremost this is somebody who had three wins to his name this season. Yes, three. The Genesis, WGC Matchplay and the Travelers are three top events that he has got over the line on this year and he has been massively disrespected in the market.
A missed cut at Carnoustie is of no worry as that test doesn't suit and a 31st spot last week is respectable. A lot of these holes move right to left requiring a draw off the tee and we've all seen the success Watson has had deploying that tactic at Augusta.
Shaping shots may become a big factor here and there is none better than Watson. His putting worries me and that's where the problem lies. Nevertheless three victories this year shows you shouldn't be worried about him getting into the winners circle and I think if this was a normal tour event and not a major we'd be looking at closer to $41. A selection built mostly around value here.
We backed KEVIN NA (best price $201) at a juicy price for the Open Championship and he is sitting at an even bigger number on the exchange this time around for the final major. His win this season came at the Greenbrier and 51st at the Open and 31st at Firestone is not terribly worrying.
I have always considered him on tracks where a solid long game is required and given the amount of shorter hitters up on the leaderboard at Bellerive in 2008 then he has to be considered. As we saw at the Greenbrier it was very emotional for him and I'm gambling on a hunch really that this release of emotion could prove a catalyst to some special results.
They haven't come since but they might not be far away. It's a bigger price than the Open and I think I have to have a few dollars on once again.