Our golf expert has picked out five contenders for the event at Bethpage.
Bethpage enters stage left for the first PGA Championship in the new schedule this week and many consider it a big positive that the event has moved to this time and bridged what was a previously long gap between the Masters and the US Open. I am unfazed (unorthodox, sue me) by its move and if pushed would have probably kept the status quo. I liked after the high of the Open Championship to have one final big event to look forward to going towards Autumn. I think players were able to peak around Open time in July and with it now being the last major of them all there's no doubt some players will be considering the wind down already at that point. Whatever happens Bethpage is a super venue to hold the second major and we have a lot to look forward to this week.
The course is notoriously long and difficult and with recent wet weather in the region could easily play into the bombers pinkies this week. Woods won the US Open here in 2002, followed by Glover in 2009. Bethpage held two more recent renewals of the Barclays where Nick Watney and Patrick Reed won in 2012 and 2016 respectively. For the two major events the par was 70 won in 3 and 4 under. Whilst if we changed the par71 to 70 for the Barclays the winning scores would read -6 and -5. I don't think we will see any crazy scoring here although a lack of rough at this time of year may offer some respite for the pros. Undoubtedly length off the tee looks a powerful tool this week and the contenders will most likely come from this bracket. Poa Annua greens are another aspect worth taking into account as results on those surfaces suggest that poorer than average putters can narrow the gap and a more level playing field is introduced.
Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka fight for the jolly tag and both look set for a bold effort this week. Tiger is especially interesting as it is still hard to gauge how good he actually is these days compared to these guys. There is an argument to suggest he has been the best player in the world for the last 12-18 months and an easing schedule is once again allowing Tiger to peak in Major Championships. There is every chance that he is still ahead of the handicapper and should possibly be strong favourite for this event. Whether a long gruelling test like this once suits the Tiger these days is questionable and a few more powerful types may bypass him this week. Nevertheless if he wins this it will raise a lot of eyebrows as to what price he could and should be for the next couple.
I've tried to talk myself out of backing DUSTIN JOHNSON (best price 11-1) but there aren't many reasons not to wade in again having finished 2nd at the Masters playing the dullest golf of the top 20 there. He barely hit an approach shot inside 10 feet all week and was one putt away from falling into a playoff. His final round capitulation in the Heritage is a slight worry as there have been a number of slightly lacklustre round all year preventing more wins. He has still managed two victories in Saudi Arabia and in Mexico and looks to be cruising to another handful of wins for the rest of season with ease. His only Major win came at Oakmount on poa annua surfaces and he remains the top performer in the field on poa annua finishes wise in the last four years with an average finish of 17th in 16 events played. Many feel he has somewhat underachieved in majors win wise and this may be true but there is no doubt he will add to his tally soon enough. This looks like a fine opportunity and the wet weather and long golf course is absolutely ideal as we've seen DJ win rain shortened events and take apart golf courses with soft conditions. Oakmount was a very tough venue with him winning at 4 under and this is a similar test score wise. Although scores will be slightly better than that it is possible DJ wins his second major on the bridle. He looks the better option to me than Brooks Koepka.
3pts each-way D.Johnson 11/1 (1/5 10)
LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN (best price 60-1) has a very impressive major record and whilst he is usually in the conversation at Augusta he has accumulated a host of solid results in the other majors also. Who can forget his miming rendition of 'Rise Up' after the 2017 PGA when he completed his major grand slam of runner up finishes and there wouldn't be many more popular results than the South African breaking that trend and landing his second major title. That video was an example of his fantastic attitude and a slog on the wet Bethpage may just play into his hands. He would be considered a very average putter at best and currently lies 124th in Strokes Gained Putting this season, so the switch to poa annua greens should be in his favour. Despite those putting stats it hasn't stopped him having an impressive season. It all kicked off so emotionally with him winning his home Open in South Africa in December. On The European Tour those results were backed up with a 7th placed spot in the Alfred Dunhill and a top 5 in Abu Dhabi. He got to the final 8 of the WGC Matchplay and was a shade unlucky finishing one shot behind winner Paul Casey in the Valspar. 29th at the Masters was a disappointment with a final round of 76 dropping him out of contention as he lay 7th heading into day four. At Bethpage he has finished 18th and 5th in two appearances limiting his bogeys per round to an average of 1.88. It has been a fine season for the former Open Champion and to do this with minus strokes gained putting is a testament to how good his long game is. As I say the greens should result in a more level playing field and it certainly renders Oosthuizen a decent each way bet this week.
2pts each-way L.Oosthuizen 60/1 (1/5 10)
Jason Day was next on my list but the tipping world has gone to town on him this week and with the added withdrawal of Justin Thomas at this time looks to be at an unbackable price. He has all the positives this week and I'd be surprised not to see him in the mix but at the time of writing his price just looks to be a bit short for me. Instead I'll dip my toe in the JON RAHM (best price 18-1) major water for the first time. Up until now I've thought he wasn't mentally prepared to win a major and there is a possibility that this still comes a bit early but signs are that he is heading in the right direction. 4th last last years PGA and a top ten at this years Masters suggests he can't be too far away from landing one of golfs biggest prizes. 6 wins worldwide in the last two years is a remarkable haul for somebody so young and there are majors to add to that list in the years to come, of that there can be no doubt. He won at his latest start at the Zurich, a pairs event where he partnered Ryan Palmer to victory. That is his only appearance since the Masters and being lightly raced heading into the slog this week may be an advantage. Slow greens should help the Spaniard as he is prone to being very aggressive which doesn't always bode well in the big four events. However the greens should suit and two wins on Poa Annua (Farmers and Portstewart) surfaces is a huge positive. I think his price is about right and we aren't getting crazy value but Fowler sitting at the same price just doesn't seem right. Big hitters should dominate here and Rahm may just land his first big one.
2pts each-way J.Rahm 18/1 (1/5 10)
A lot of form at Bethpage ties in with Quail Hollow with wins at both courses coming from the two US Open winners at this course Woods and Glover. The two Barclays winners Watney and Reed also have a fine record at Quail so it may pay to look to these results as a pointer to this week. Sergio Garcia finished 4th there a few weeks ago and looks set for a solid effort this week. Despite some mishaps he has posted a fair few impressive results this year. That being said he has missed his last six cuts on the trot in major championships and that is a huge negative. I'll be leaving him off the list a shade reluctantly this week. Another Quail Hollow specialist AARON WISE (best price 150-1) must be punted at three figure prices. He has finished 2nd and 18th there on two appearances and looks one of the brightest young talents to have graced the game in a long time. He got his maiden win at the Byron Nelson a year ago made his first cut at his 4th major championship appearance most recently at the Masters finishing 17th. He has bags of potential and if a youngster is to spring from the pack as a surprise winner Wise looks the most likely.
1pt each-way A.Wise 150/1 (1/5 7)
GARY WOODLAND (best price 66-1) withdrew during the Wells Fargo due to illness but thankfully no injury concerns (that i know of) before teeing it up this week. With only one missed cut in the last 10 months he has become one of the more consistent performers on the tour. He won the Phoenix last year and has had two runner up finishes since and has climbed to 25th in the world rankings. A solid effort at the Masters is just one in a long string of solid but unsatisfying Major results. 6th at last years PGA was his best to date and I'm hoping he can better that this year. Again one of the more average putters at best on the tour but becomes one of the better performers on Poa Annua with an average finish of 29th in his last 12 tournament efforts on the surface. In the Harmon camp is always an advantage and finishing 4th here at the Barclays in 2016 can be seen as positive with rounds of 71-69-68-69. Non Major winners have dominated the big four events down the years and if one were to breakthrough here he looks a likely sort with his elevation in the game in the past few years.
1pt each-way G.Woodland 66/1 (1/5 10)