PGA Championship Odds 2014: Handicapping the Field at Valhalla
It’s the least celebrated of golf’s quartet of majors.
Where the Masters has exclusive scenery, the U.S. Open has diabolical challenge and the British Open has tradition dating back to the game’s infancy, the PGA Championship is, well…the other one.
But that doesn’t mean folks won’t be paying attention this time around.
Whether it’s watching to see if an again-hobbled Tiger Woods makes an appearance or if a streaking Rory McIlroy seizes the sport by the throat the way Woods did more than a decade ago, there are plenty of reasons to take notice when the scenes shift at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.
It’s the third time Valhalla has hosted the PGA—following the 1996 event won by Mark Brooks and the 2000 edition captured by Woods—and the first since a major course renovation that took place after Tom Watson won the Senior PGA Championship there three years ago.
Here are some things to keep an eye on as the 2014 championship unfolds: things like pretenders, contenders and even some players who might come from nowhere to be major factors.
That's just in case you find yourself in a wagering state of mind when play gets going Thursday.
Tiger Woods: OK, golf world, it’s time to say what everyone’s thinking. The best player of the 2000s is long gone. He’s in his late 30s. His body is no longer right. And the youngsters inspired by him have caught and passed his 2014 capabilities. He won’t win here, and major No. 15 is an obsolete fantasy.
Henrik Stenson: A third-place finish at last season’s PGA enhanced optimism that he’d end the “best player without a major” chatter. But his big-stage efforts this year—tie for 14th at the Masters, 10 strokes back at the U.S. Open, tie for 39th at the British Open—don’t exactly inspire Louisville faith.
Matt Kuchar: He’s played seven tournaments in the last two-plus months and not done a whole lot to make anyone think his first major is coming either. In fact, the one missed cut and the five 12th-place-or-worse finishes since late May make a tie for fifth at the Masters in April seem a decade ago.
Bubba Watson: The second-highest-ranked American golfer has won a pair of majors (the Masters in 2012 and 2014) and took second at the PGA in 2010. But he’s missed two cuts and not bettered a tie for 16th in his last five tournaments since a third-place effort at the Memorial in early June.
Jason Day: Though his withdrawal thunder was stolen by Tiger’s Sunday back spasms, it was Day who called it quits a day earlier at the Bridgestone Invitational—just two holes into his third round, thanks to a bout with dizziness. He was eighth behind Jason Dufner at the PGA last year, but the 2014 prep has not been ideal.
Rory McIlroy: Words written here prior to the British Open—“If anyone’s capable of laying the sort of whipping on a field that Martin Kaymer unleashed at the U.S. Open, it’s McIlroy”—are just as applicable now that he’s won the British and the Bridgestone and taken over as No. 1 in the world. It’s his to lose.
Adam Scott: Hard as it might be to believe for a guy who’d been ranked No. 1 in the world and has a Masters win on his resume, Scott has faded into the background behind McIlroy. He can make a statement here, though, especially with momentum provided by five straight top-10 finishes coming in.
Justin Rose: Another of the single-major winners (2013 U.S. Open) looking to add another big trophy, Rose has spent this season on the verge of another breakthrough. A win at the Scottish Open preceded a tie for 23rd at the British, and his PGA outing comes after a tie for fourth at the Bridgestone.
Sergio Garcia: It’s got to happen eventually, right? The Spaniard who reached the radar as an ebullient teen is now in his mid-30s and still without a major. He’s finished alone in or tied for second in three of his last four tournaments—including last month at the British—so it’d be no surprise if he closed here.
Jim Furyk: The Pennsylvanian was a spry 43 when he led after 54 holes at the 2013 PGA Championship, before winding up two shots behind winner Jason Dufner. This season, his three major efforts have gone from a tie for 14th to a tie for 12th to a standalone fourth. It will be no shock if he climbs again here at age 44.
Charl Schwartzel: If it’s based on a season’s worth of results, go ahead and count the South African out of the mix for this week. But if two superb rounds at the Bridgestone—a five-under-par 65 on Thursday and a six-under-par 64 on Sunday—mean anything, he’s playing well enough to bag a big trophy.
Phil Mickelson: Speaking of guys whose seasons have been largely forgettable, Lefty’s missed cut, tie for 28th and tie for 23rd at three majors in 2014 are indicative of irrelevance at Valhalla. But an eight-under 62 over the final Bridgestone 18 might mean a timely return to form for a major veteran.
Lee Westwood: All of a sudden, it’s been nearly four years since the Englishman, now 41, ended Woods’ long run as the world’s No. 1 player. He’s got five top-three-or-better finishes in majors without a victory in his long career, and a 62 in the final round at the Bridgestone might make him a surprise commodity.
Rickie Fowler: Based on his 18th-place standing in the world rankings, Fowler remains a dark horse whenever he competes with the big boys. But based on a tie for fifth and two ties for second in three majors so far in 2014, he’s far closer to the top prize than most long shots.
Beating the Odds
Though at this moment they’re all just names on a list, one of them is already attached to the player who will rise up and lift the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday afternoon.
According to the folks at Vegas Insider (as of Sunday at 11 p.m. ET), that player is most likely to be rampaging Irish standout McIlroy, who is a 17-2 pick in the midst of a season that’s already seen him earn high placements at both the Masters (tie for 14th) and the U.S. Open (tie for ninth) alongside the resounding win at the British.
He's taken over as the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking thanks to a pre-PGA win at the Bridgestone and has a chance to repeat the eight-shot Wanamaker win he earned in 2012.
Three other players join McIlroy at 25-1 or better, including Woods and Scott at 15-1 and Mickelson—who held or shared the lead each round to win the event in 2005—at 25-1.
Who’ll Get a Ticket to Ryder?
The 72 holes at Valhalla will be the final prolonged audition for positions on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
The top nine in the points standings typically get automatic placements, but the selection will go all the way to slot No. 10 this time around, with Dustin Johnson shelved for the rest of the season. Patrick Reed and Mickelson occupied spots 10 and 11, respectively, heading into the Bridgestone event—where Reed finished tied for fourth and Mickelson placed in a tie for 15th.
Assuming he’s healthy, Woods’ candidacy for a spot will rely on a captain’s pick because of his injury-related absence earlier this season. And for the sake of drama this weekend, remember that six players from the 2012 U.S. team were not in position heading into the PGA Championship at the Ocean Course of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort.