PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: While the PGA Championship has generally been regarded as the “lesser” major, trailing the Open and the Masters in prestige and tradition and the U.S. Open in difficulty and seriousness, the move from August to May has helped to change this perception and has given this tournament a fresh feel. Players are just starting to find their summer groove and some will use this week as a launching pad to a life-changing next two months. The dust has settled from Augusta, there’s been ample time for retooling and preparation, and the chance at glory awaits: it’s time for a true Major Championship.
The venue this week, Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is an absolute gem that is one of the old warhorses of American championship golf, having first hosted a major in 1946. The list of past champions at Southern Hills includes some legends of the game: Tommy Bolt, Dave Stockton, Ray Floyd, Nick Price, and of course Tiger Woods, who hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy the last time the PGA Championship came to Southern Hills, back in 2007. Tiger will be playing this week and his every move will be watched closely, as always, but his presence has been overshadowed (for once) by someone who is not in the field– defending champion Phil Mickelson. After becoming the oldest major winner in history at Kiawah Island last year, Mickelson seemed to be on a glide path to the golden years, soaking up the applause and adoration at every public appearance, Senior Tour event, or charity golf round. However, some poorly thought-out comments regarding the PGA Tour, the Saudis, and the forthcoming LIV Golf series has made Mickelson persona non grata in the golf world, at least for the time being. He’s decided to remain home this week and his status for the rest of the season is very much up in the air– we’ll see if he’s able to do some image rehabilitation in time for next month’s U.S. Open.
A par-70 that measures a soul-crushing 7,556 yards, Southern Hills can be an absolute bear in certain conditions, and with a forecast that is calling for sustained 20-25 mph winds for most of this week we’re sure to see some carnage. The cut was 5-over when Tiger won in ’07, and though Woods was able to reach 8-under, he needed to shoot his career-low round in a major (63) to get there. Five players finished the week under par.
This is going to be a week for the bombers. The course has been lengthened by 425 yards since 2007 and fairways have been widened in spots so we’ll definitely be seeing some players try to overpower it, and if recent major championship history is any indication you’d have to expect a few to succeed. That said, Southern Hills is full of dog-legs, well-placed bunkers, and tricky green complexes, so there will be some spectacular flameouts among those with aggressive gameplans. If you like to see lots of scrambling and a volatile leaderboard, you should be in for a treat this week.
World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 13.5, followed by Jon Rahm (15.5), Rory McIlroy (18.0), and Justin Thomas (20.0). Something tells me that this new, longer Southern Hills will produce a top-shelf champion, so I’ve taken a hard look at the top of the market while also taking a couple of stabs at the longer odds. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Jon Rahm (15.5)- Majors are generally when Rahm shines the brightest, as his T27 at this year’s Masters was the first time in the last six major championships that he’s finished outside the top-10. With his length off the tee and general ball-striking brilliance (1st on Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green), plus his ability to control the trajectory of his irons and thrive in the wind, Rahm seems like he has the perfect skillset for what awaits him at Southern Hills. Any concerns about a mini-slump (a “slump” that consisted of four top-30 finishes in five starts, but only one top-10) were laid to rest with his victory in Mexico last time out. Scottie Scheffler has earned the top spot in the world rankings, but Rahm is the man to beat this week.
Matt Fitzpatrick (50.0)- I admit to doing a double-take when I first saw this price– Matt Fitzpatrick at 50.0? The same Matt Fitzpatrick who finished runner-up at the Wells Fargo two weeks ago and has been a fixture on leaderboards all season, recording seven top-20 finishes and five top-10s in his last nine starts? This is also a guy with plenty of recent success in major championships, as he’s recorded top-25s in all four majors since 2019. I realize he’s still searching for his first PGA Tour victory (hard to believe), but his seven international wins have given him plenty of experience closing the deal. He’s striking the ball beautifully at the moment, ranking 14th on Tour in strokes gained off the tee and 6th in strokes gained tee-to-green, and he’s always been a phenomenal putter. At a price like 50.0, Fitzpatrick is the best value on the board this week.
Jason Kokrak (140.0)- Kokrak has really come into his own at age 36 and has played the best golf of his career over the last 18 months. He’s won three times in that span and has logged 16 top-25s, finding the consistency that eluded him as a younger player. As one of the longest guys on Tour he will be unfazed by the beefed-up Southern Hills, and he’s very crafty around the greens, particularly from the sand, ranking 9th on Tour in sand save percentage. That may come in handy this week if the wind blows and the greens firm up as anticipated, as there are numerous bunkers guarding the green complexes and GIR percentages are expected to be relatively low. Kokrak comes into this week on the heels of four straight made cuts and a T17 at last week’s Byron Nelson, where he broke 70 in all four rounds and finished at 18-under, so there are no concerns about the current state of his game– he’s playing well and should have plenty of confidence. He’s certainly worth a bet at a price like 140.0.