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PGA Championship roundtable: Storylines, favorites, betting angles

Jay Busbee
·9 min read
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The PGA Championship is upon us! Time for a little golf roundtable, featuring Yahoo Sports senior golf writer Jay Busbee and Yahoo Sports fantasy impresario Scott Pianowski. Topics today: who’s hot, who’s going to make us some money, and of course, Tiger. Now on the tee ...

Busbee: Scott, it's been more than a year since our last major. Who would've thought Shane Lowry would be the answer to a trivia question: longest-reigning major champion since World War II? But now we're back, starting with the PGA Championship. For too long, the PGA's been the fourth-of-four, but now it's got the stage to itself. Will this be the year the PGA Championship gets the love it deserves?

Pianowski: The PGA has tried all sorts of things to get loved, but nothing's really worked. But this year, it finally lands something as a one-shot deal — it's the first major of the year. That in and of itself assures the 2020 PGA to likely be a special event, no matter what happens in play.

As for the play, I'm excited. I'm pumped. Pre-major events often feature a skimpy field and a forgettable event, but we just had a WGC with a star-studded leaderboard. Ultimately, Justin Thomas stared everyone down on Sunday, and although Brooks Koepka couldn't pull off a miracle on 18, he looks healthy and back in form. It was also fun to see Phil Mickelson back in form. (Complete with the state trooper sunglasses. Did Phil sign his card, or 15 random speeding tickets?)

There's an old saying that golf fans love underdogs on Thursday but stars on Sunday. I think we're going to get plenty of both this week. But Thomas and Koepka deserve the real estate at the top of the favorites list.

Busbee: Absolutely agree on JT and Koepka. It's high time JT takes the next step up the ladder. He ought to vault himself out of the one-major club before too much longer. And Koepka's trying to pull off the almost-unprecedented feat of three-peating in a major. I was wondering about the stability of his left knee after some less-than-Koepkaesque performances, but as usual, he looks like he's tweaking his game to peak during a major. Pretty remarkable routine he's got going here.

Long as we're on the topic of favorites, let's dig back a generation or so. Rory McIlroy hasn't won a major in six years. Six years! How's that possible? (I know how it's possible; he lets one round get away from him every major.) He's turned into golf's version of the 1990s Atlanta Braves — murderous in the regular season, minuscule in the big games. Can Rory rework his narrative this week?

Welcome to Harding Park. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Welcome to Harding Park. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Pianowski: I would love nothing better than for Rory to make a deep run, or Rickie Fowler. They might be my two favorite golfers on the current tour, and it raises a question — is it possible to be too nice? Can an empathic personality be a dominant tour player, or succeed at a maximum level? Is it possible to want greatness too much? Fowler had a quick start Sunday, but quickly fell out of contention. Round 4, so often, is not his friend.

I also wonder about the career path of Dustin Johnson. All the talent in the world, and he has money and trophies from here to the moon. But just the one major. At what point is DJ this generation's Greg Norman?

DJ's current form isn't crisp, either. So I'm not confident saying McIlroy, Fowler, or DJ will be there on Sunday. That's the head talking. The heart wants to be wrong on this one. Maybe I left my heart at Harding Park.

Busbee: If you left your heart anywhere but the middle of the fairway, there's a chance Tiger will stumble across it. I know we say this every time he tees it up, but this feels a bit like a referendum on Tiger 2.0 (3.0? 4.0?). He had that miracle week in Augusta last year, and since then he's oscillated between brilliance and keep-the-kids-out-of-the-room. I had high hopes for him given how sharp he appeared playing Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but he has looked, well, less than immortal since then.

I think Harding Park gives him a very good shot at another major — he had a significant WGC victory there in 2005, and the course isn't going to be as punishing as a U.S. Open track or as weather-dependent as an Open Championship. He'll need to regain some of his old touch on the greens in order to keep pace with the leaders, but I don't think it's absurd to pick him in the top 20. Top 10? Eh, maybe not.

How about you? Tiger or no?

Pianowski: I think Tiger can still do damage on his home courses, which, to be fair, was where the Brady/Manning match was. And Augusta might as well be a home course, too. Jack once predicted Tiger would win 10 green jackets, or something like that. Remember Tiger playing for the Nicklaus par on Sunday at 12 last year (stick it between the bunkers, try to get away with a boring three), while so many others took on the pin and went rinse-and-repeat?

But there's no substitute for the sharpness of playing, and Tiger simply isn't playing a lot right now. I think he can get to the weekend on guts and guile, but this isn't a home game for him. I'll put him in the Top 30, but not on the first page of the leaderboard.

Why is this man smiling? Because he's one of the favorites this week. (Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America via Getty Images)
Why is this man smiling? Because he's one of the favorites this week. (Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America via Getty Images)

Busbee: Enough preamble. Let's talk gambling. If you've got $100 to spend, where are you laying your cash?* (All lines via BetMGM.)

*Provided you are in a state where gambling is legal. Otherwise substitute "100 chicken nuggets" or "100 socially distanced high fives" or whatever.

Pianowski: First of all, if I had to pick a winner or surrender all golfing privileges for the year, I’d tab Koepka. I know that isn’t buzzy or satisfying — he’s a co-favorite for crying out loud. But I don’t think it’s coincidence that four of his seven PGA Tour wins are majors. He works his schedule around peaking here — or he can’t maintain optimal focus at other events — and I think we need to be mindful of that. His step forward last week was the perfect prep for a major. And I’m not concerned about his health.

OK, open the books. Let’s start with some outrights. Patrick Cantlay hits it far enough and has the nerve to believe he can win. I’ll throw 10 jelly beans on him at +2500. Matthew Fitzpatrick has always been a mild underachiever stateside, but his game is in fine form. The first one is the hardest, but he feels overdue. Toss 10 more beans on him at +4500. Patrick Reed (+4500) is good at shutting out all the noise, and can hit it left or right. He can be a weekend factor. And maybe the long-overdue Tony Finau (+5000) can do something with a new caddy. Ten beans on them all (so 40 percent of my budget is spoken for).

Now I need to make up whatever I’ve lost on the outrights.

Let’s try Bubba Watson +130 to miss the cut. If you take out his two Masters wins, he’s done very little in majors. He does have a solo second at the PGA from 10 years ago, but since then he’s miss three cuts and had a couple of cashes +60 and above. If he doesn’t get comfortable quickly, we could see a lot of one-handed swings and frustration by Friday. I’ll devote 20 beans to that cause.

Give me Phil and Tiger to both make the cut, a dual prop that returns +130. Lefty’s Sunday round at St. Jude carried some cred for me; he didn’t make a bogey, despite playing next to his former caddy and JT. It might lose luster when Mickelson shoots one of those 76s on the weekend, but he’ll play four rounds. Tiger will too, strictly on guts and mental toughness. Drop 20 more beans on this.

If I think Fitzpatrick can win, a +160 number at Top 20 feels like an overlay. That’s my final ticket to punch.

The windows are all yours. If you need me, I'll be on the putting green.

Busbee: You snared three of my preview picks in Koepka, Finau and Fitzpatrick, so I’ll cede those to you and back JT (+1000) with a 10 spot. “Due” is a treacherous concept on which to balance your funds, but Xander Schauffele (+1800) is as due as it gets, and the PGA is historically friendly to newcomers. I like Daniel Berger (+4000) coming in hot, and what the hell, I’m going to throw 10 on Rickie Fowler (+4000) on the presumption that he’ll play somewhat better than usual in a major without fans in attendance.

I want a bit of safe money to throw some bigger risks out there, so I’m dropping twenty on Rory finishing in the top 20 (-143). As long as he makes the cut, Captain Backdoor is a stone cold lock to fight his way up the leaderboard. I’ll balance that with a $10 flyer on a Tiger Woods top 20 finish (+140), just because I love the jolt that comes when Tiger’s on the first couple pages of the leaderboard.

So I’ve got $30 left, let’s reach a little. I really like the playoff option at +350; the field is so tight and evenly matched right now that a playoff seems a strong possibility. The weather’s looking chilly and nasty, which could bode well for a European player (+225); 10 bucks there. And I’m certain the winning score is coming in at -11 or better, which pays out a bit — not much, but a bit — at -143.

There we have it! Glory’s first shot is upon us. Enjoy the tournament, friends!

It's major time. (Photo by Christian Petersen/PGA of America/PGA of America via Getty Images )
It's major time. (Photo by Christian Petersen/PGA of America/PGA of America via Getty Images )


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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