Cian O’Callaghan previews this weekend’s USPGA Championship at Valhalla. While Rory McIlroy is looking to make it three tournaments in a row, the long shots could prove the best value.
While winning the FedEx play-offs next month- and the $10m pay cheque which accompanies it – or playing a key role in clinching the Ryder Cup would are moments that would last long in a player’s memory, for the game’s elite players the USPGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club represents the final opportunity this season for securing one of the game’s most prestigious prizes, a major title.
For the third time in the event’s history – 1996 and 2000 the other occasions – Valhalla plays host to what the marketing department of the PGA Tour used to call ‘Glory’s Last Shot’, although they have thankfully binned that ugly moniker.
Originally built in the early 1980s, Valhalla is nearly 7,500 yards but with a par of 71 which includes six par 4s measuring at least 460 yards long, it’s suitably long. It has also undergone a number of changes since it was last used for an event with the greens been re-contoured and altered so that the effects of the Kentucky weather are limited and they are sure to run fast. Minor changes have been made to half a dozen holes with most of the bunkers having also been altered.
As with most Jack Nicklaus-designed courses, there is some room off the tee while a premium is put on iron play. However, while there is a little leeway for errant driving, one side of the fairway will be more forgiving and will allow a better angle for the second shot with the rough penal in some parts. While length off the tee will be an advantage, driving strategically will be of more importance.
The hot and humid conditions – temperatures are expected to be in the high 80s – will cause discomfort in some players while if the 30% chance of storms turns out to have been a very optimistic evaluation, then the softer course will benefit the bombers.
Prior to this year 15 of the previous 19 major winners were winning one for the first time while since 1980, 59% of the winners of this event were breaking their major duck at the USPGA, including four in the last five years so a relative outsider could emerge victorious here.
In addition, one crucial stat is that 13 of the last 15 winners of the event had already won that season so looking at the list of this season’s winners will help narrow down the list of potential champions. At the two previous stagings of the event here, Woods unsurprisingly had tasted victory that season (he had destroyed the field at the US and British Opens) while 1996 champion Mark Brooks had won twice that term. Also, since 2007 the WGC Bridgestone Invitational has been staged in the preceding week and since then each of the US PGA winners has finished in the top-22 at Firestone so a good finish last week seems like a prerequisite to picking up the season’s final major.
The only players who meet this criteria of a win this term and a top-22 last week are Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama, Lee Westwood and Kevin Stadler.
However, with red-hot favourite McIlroy (5/1) teeing up at a course that should suit him down to the ground and Adam Scott (12/1), the second favourite, being offered at a parsimonious price we’ve instead picked out five longer odds players who could spring a surprise. With a history of producing first-time winners and with three winners aged 25 and under in the last four editions, and the stat that 10 of the last 15 winners had played the event less than five times, the USPGA could again produce a young and/or inexperienced winner and here are our picks who could represent excellent value.
Patrick Reed caused a furore earlier this season with his claim after winning the WGC Cadillac that he was “one of the top five players in the world”, despite that being just his 14th PGA Tour event. While the Texan’s confidence was not to many observers’ liking, the fact he had just joined Woods, McIrloy, Garcia and Mickelson as the only players to have won at least three PGA Tour events before their 24th birthday hints at his huge talent. A fall-off in results around the birth of his child was expected but Reed has come right back into form with an 11th, 26th and fourth at Firestone in his last three events on American soil. He’ll have no problem with the heat and humidity and his 66/1 price will attract many a wise pundit.
Hideki Matsuyama’s 65-68 weekend at Firestone catapulted him up to tied 12th place and should he carry that form through to this week then he will have a chance. The Japanese star showed his capabilities in the majors with two top-10s and a 19th in last summer’s final three events following it up with steady performances at this year’s US and British Opens. The 22-year-old’s maiden PGA Tour win came at Memorial earlier this season, a course also designed by Jack Nicklaus and bearing more than a few similarities to Valhalla. Matsuyama has all the attributes to contend the game’s biggest prizes and although he may not win on Sunday, his price of 40/1 represents attractive each-way value.
If we extend our criteria about players who have already won this season and finished in the top-22 last week, we will find another three players who represent excellent value and could produce a tasty payout. Marc Leishman has no win this term but his tied fifth at the British Open and third at Firestone point at the Australian rediscovering the form that saw him come close at the Masters last year. Form is always crucial when heading into the USPGA and the 30-year-old is among the players right at the top of their game. Valhalla will hold no fears for Leishman and 45/1 could look very generous come the weekend.
A late stumble on the par-five 16th saw JB Holmes slip down to 26th at Firestone but the 32-year-old will head into his local course full of confidence. Having recovered from the brain, elbow and ankle injuries which decimated his career from 2011-13, Holmes is returning to the form which saw him shine at the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla and he will have no problems with the weather conditions. His driving will be an advantage here and having won the prestigious Wells Fargo earlier this year, his odds of 80/1 appeal as each-way value.
Completing our quintet of each-way value tips is Jimmy Walker (55/1). The 35-year-old has been an overnight sensation 15 years in the making, winning his first tour event at the start of the season before adding another two and producing top-10 finishes at Augusta and Pinehurst to boot. A tied 26th at both the British Open and Firestone hint he’s still on top form and he could be set to cap off a wonderful season with a dream finish.
Reed (66/1), Matsuyama (40/1), Leishman (45/1), Walker (55/1) all each-way
JB Holmes (66/1), Leishman (50/1) to lead after round 1
All prices courtesy of Paddypower.com and correct at time of writing.
Cian O’Callaghan, Pundit Arena,