USPGA: While some of us are still getting adjusted to the PGA Championship’s move from August to May, it does make for a more action-packed springtime, as we now move from a Signature Event at Quail Hollow to a Major at Valhalla with all of the sport’s big guns ready to square off for the first time since Augusta.

Say what you want about whole LIV situation and the current fractured state of professional golf, but it definitely adds a layer of intrigue to the Majors, and with 16 LIV players set to tee it up this week and a few expected to contend, it will certainly be a subplot that garners some attention throughout the week. And there are other interesting storylines involving the market leaders– World. No. 1 Scottie Scheffler hasn’t played since the RBC Heritage due to the recent birth of his first child… will any rust have accumulated on the unflappable Scheffler? The same could be asked of young phenom Ludvig Aberg, who finished runner-up to Scheffler at the Masters but also hasn’t teed it up since the Heritage due to a mysterious knee issue. And then there’s World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, who is in cracking form after a feel-good team victory with Shane Lowry in New Orleans followed by a dominant 5-shot win at the Wells Fargo last week, when he blew away the field with a Sunday 65. However, it was announced earlier this week that all is not well in McIlroy’s personal life, as he filed for divorce from his wife of 7 years, with whom he shares a 3-year-old daughter. How this will affect his performance this week is anybody’s guess, and I saw someone point out that the last time McIlroy had publicized romantic issues, when he broke off his engagement with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, he went on one of the best runs of his career. If that’s your preferred angle, an in-form Rory probably looks pretty tasty at a price like 8.9.

The venue, Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, has a storied history despite being fairly young by golf standards, having opened in 1986. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, it’s a beefy 7,457-yard par-71 that has played host to three PGA Championships (this being the fourth), two Senior PGAs, and the 2008 Ryder Cup. It’s noted for its rolling hills, elevation changes and undulating green complexes, and with thick rough lining every fairway and water hazards that come into play on several holes, it should present a stiff challenge. That being said, when Valhalla last hosted the PGA a decade ago a young Rory McIlroy made easy work of the course, firing 16-under for the week to edge Phil Mickelson by a single shot. The course has been lengthened since then, but the fairways are wide enough to allow players to be aggressive off the tee. Expect to see a lot of drivers this week.

Valhalla is generally regarded as a ball-striker’s layout, and the two players who have won on the course this century– Tiger Woods and McIlroy– were both at the top of their tee games when they were victorious, hitting it longer and straighter with the big stick than just about everyone. Players who excel in that area… a certain new father with a fresh green jacket comes to mind… might be a good place to start. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:


Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)

Brooks Koepka (19.0)- Always a threat in the Majors, where he admittedly has a shift in mindset that makes him a more dangerous player, Koepka is in top form at the moment after pulling out a victory at LIV Singapore two weeks ago, firing 15-under over three rounds to finish 2 shots clear of Cam Smith and Marc Leishman. He’s a terrific driver of the ball, hitting it both long and straight, and that’s a critical component at Valhalla, where the bombers generally feast. Koepka played the PGA Championship here in 2014, his rookie year on Tour, and finished T15 after shooting 66-67 over the weekend, so the course certainly fit his eye back then. He’ll be tough to beat this week and I have a strong feeling that his current price will feel like great value when Sunday rolls around.

Cameron Young (60.0)- Though he has yet to pick up his first career PGA Tour victory, Young has been knocking on the door with increasing frequency, most recently finishing runner-up at the Valspar three starts ago. It was his second top-5 and fourth top-10 of the season and he’s yet to miss a cut in 11 events, so he’s been playing some great golf and seems primed for a breakthrough summer. Known for his tee-to-green proficiency, Young is a tremendous driver of the golf ball, ranking 7th on Tour in total driving, and he’s been putting well, too, sneaking into the top-25 in putting average this season and ranking 11th in birdie-or-better conversion percentage. He’s got everything you want this week except for the experience closing the deal, but we’ve seen players break through with their first career victories at this tournament before– John Daly and Keegan Bradley come to mind– and Young is a world-class player who knows how to operate in the Sunday pressure cooker. It’s only a matter of time for him, and I won’t be a bit surprised if it happens this week. He’s a terrific value at a price like 60.0.

Dustin Johnson (112.0)- Out of sight out of mind, I guess? That’s the best explanation I can come up with for Johnson’s price here, and that’s after I checked into whether there were any injury issues I hadn’t heard about. Nope, turns out DJ is perfectly healthy, and his game looked pretty darn healthy at LIV Singapore two weeks ago, where he finished T7 after a splendid final-round 66. We don’t have any course history to go on with Johnson because he was serving his mysterious 6-month suspension when Valhalla last hosted the PGA in 2014, but he’s one of the best in the world with the driver in his hand and has always handled long, demanding courses very well, so I expect him to be in his element this week. He’s simply too good and too accomplished for triple-digits odds here… I cannot resist throwing a bet his way.

DAQMAN Mon: Yarmouth NAP
DAQSTATS Mon: Yarmouth NAP
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