The PGA Championship has a lot going for it this year, which is not something you could say in the past when it was played on scorched courses amid dwindling interest in August. The move to mid-May seemingly has juiced the enthusiasm about the tournament, as has Tiger Woods’s return to winning majors after his Masters triumph. Oh, and it’ll be played at Bethpage Black, the Long Island course so fearsome that it has its own warning sign:
When looking for possible winners this week, a big key will be distance and accuracy off the tee. Bethpage Black features the narrowest of fairways and punishing rough, though perhaps not as diabolical as we saw when the course hosted the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens: There’s less time for the rough to grow by mid-May, and the PGA of America’s Kerry Haigh, who is in charge of course setups, said last week that he expects the rough to be between 3½ and 4 inches.
But don’t take my word for it.
“This was obviously the longest one, but it’s also the narrowest U.S. Open I’ve ever played,” Tiger Woods said of his 2002 triumph, when he was the only golfer to finish under par and missed only two fairways in the final round. “The widest fairway was 28 yards. And on top of that you had three holes about 490-plus as par 4s. That’s not a whole lot of room to work with. And it just made for a very difficult test the entire week. You couldn’t just slap it around and play poorly and contend in this championship. You had to play well.”
Said Bethpage superintendent Andy Wilson, in an interview with Golf.com: “Accuracy is going to be just as important as driving distance. I would say that someone who is in the top 10 in accuracy would probably be in much better shape than someone in the top 10 in distance if they’re just spraying it all over the place.
“The rough can be difficult. The fairways are narrow. They’ve been described as bacon-strip fairways. You have to hit them. I’m not sure if we’re gonna have U.S. Open rough, but it’s not gonna be easy.”
Combine all that with the course’s length — 7,459 yards, and it’s a hilly 7,459 yards — and it’ll set up well for the sport’s longest, straightest drivers, along with the golfers who can best clean up their messes on their approach shots and via scrambling.
So in our search for best bets, let’s look at five statistics that could be crucial this week:
Plus, we’ll try to key on golfers who either have fared well at Bethpage Black in the past — in addition to the ’02 and ’09 U.S. Opens, the course hosted the Barclays in 2012 and 2016 — showed good form this season, or both.
All odds via Vegas Insider.
Dustin Johnson (11 to 1)
Johnson has made the cut in five of his past six majors and finished no worse than a tie for 27th in those five, including a tie for second at the Masters last month. At Bethpage Black, he tied for 18th at 2016 Barclays and tied for third at the 2012 event while also making the cut and finishing tied for 40th at the 2009 U.S. Open (just his third-ever major). Johnson ranks seventh in strokes gained tee to green, 11th in strokes gained off the tee, 19th in strokes gained approach and 25th in driving distance.
Rory McIlroy (12 to 1)
The two-time PGA Championship winner ranks first in strokes gained off the tee and strokes gained tee to green, second in driving distance and sixth in strokes gained approach. And while McIlroy hasn’t finished better than 17th at the PGA since winning his last Wanamaker Trophy in 2014, he’s also never missed the cut at Bethpage Black, with a tie for 10th at the 2009 U.S. Open, a tie for 24th at the 2012 Barclays and a tie for 31st at the 2016 Barclays. He also has nine top 10 finishes this year.
Patrick Cantlay (45 to 1)
Cantlay has played in nine tournaments this year and recorded a top 10 in four of them, including a tie for ninth at the Masters. This will be his first tournament at Bethpage Black, and his stats suggest he could do well: 3rd (scrambling), 10th (strokes gained tee to green), 15th (driving distance), 21st (strokes gained off the tee) and 29th (strokes gained approach).
Hideki Matsuyama (45 to 1)
Japan’s top star often plays well on the biggest stages, with seven top 10s at majors since 2013, and he hasn’t missed a cut yet this season (though he didn’t make it to the weekend at the 2016 Barclays). Could we finally see a breakthrough this week? Matsuyama ranks third in strokes gained tee to green, sixth in scrambling, seventh in strokes gained approach, 19th in driving distance and 26th in strokes gained off the tee.
Bubba Watson (60 to 1)
The two-time Masters winner — he finished 12th at Augusta this year, one of his five top 20 results since Jan. 1 — has three top 20 finishes at Bethpage Black: a tie for 18th at the 2009 U.S. Open, a tie for 10th at the 2012 Barclays and a tie for 13th at the 2016 Barclays. He ranks third in strokes gained off the tee, seventh in driving distance, 23rd in strokes gained tee to green, 31st in scrambling and 89th in approach.
Gary Woodland (70 to 1)
Woodland doesn’t have much of a track record at majors, with last year’s T-6 at the PGA Championship his lone top 10 in 29 appearances. But his first-ever major was the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, and he tied for 47th. He also took home fourth place at the 2016 Barclays. And check out these rankings: 7th (strokes gained off the tee), 8th (driving distance), 12th (strokes gained tee to green) and 43rd (strokes gained approach). Woodland also has missed just one cut this calendar year, with three top 10s.
Jhonattan Vegas (150 to 1)
The Venezuelan’s best-ever finish at a major was a tie for 22nd at the 2016 PGA Championship, but he’s coming off a tie for eighth in his last event (the Wells Fargo) and tied for third at the Players Championship. He’s also 8th in strokes gained off the tee, 18th in driving distance, T-21st in strokes gained tee to green and 29th in scrambling. At the 2016 Barclays, Vegas finished in a tie for 22nd.
But what about Tiger Woods (10 to 1)?
At 43, Woods obviously doesn’t have the length he once had — he ranks just 52nd in driving distance — but the tee to green (eighth) and approach (14th) numbers are there, and Woods also ranks third in terms of scrambling from the rough. But he hasn’t played Bethpage Black since the 2012 Barclays (he tied for 38th) and also hasn’t played competitively since his Masters win. Jumping back into the fray at a beast like Bethpage Black is a lot to ask of someone of Woods’s vintage.
And here’s a full look at the top 20 betting favorites, according to VegasInsider.com:
Brooks Koepka: 10 to 1
Tiger Woods: 10 to 1
Dustin Johnson: 11 to 1
Rory McIlroy: 12 to 1
Rickie Fowler: 16 to 1
Jon Rahm: 18 to 1
Justin Rose: 20 to 1
Jason Day: 22 to 1
Francesco Molinari: 25 to 1
Xander Schauffele: 28 to 1
Tommy Fleetwood: 33 to 1
Tony Finau: 35 to 1
Bryson DeChambeau: 40 to 1
Sergio Garcia: 40 to 1
Hidekii Matsuyama: 45 to 1
Jordan Spieth: 45 to 1
Patrick Cantlay: 45 to 1
Matt Kuchar: 50 to 1
Paul Casey: 50 to 1
Adam Scott: 55 to 1
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