PGA of America - PGA Championship - 7-10 August 2014
Valhalla Golf Club, Louisville, Kentucky
This is the final and lowest profile Major of any year, sometimes referred to as 'glory's last shot'.
Unlike recent years, 2014 has thus far seen no first-time Major winners with Bubba, Kaymer & Rory posting convincing wins. At Valhalla, however, I expect that trend to be challenged.
In a Major context, Jack Nicklaus-designed Valhalla is an average length, not particularly difficult, 7,450yd Par 71, located 20 minutes from downtown Louisville.
It opened in 1986 as a private club, hosted the 1996 & 2000 PGA championships, both decided in playoffs incidentally, and was then purchased by the PGA of America. It has since hosted a couple of Senior PGA's and the 2008 Ryder Cup.
Valhalla has been lengthened and toughened several times to try, in the words of the Golden Bear, "to keep up with technology advances" and also perhaps to avoid the embarrassment the course being torn to pieces as occurred here in the 2000 PGA when Tiger & Bob May finished tied on 18-under. Note: the course measured 7,176yds at that time.
A new, more heat-resistant, bent grass has recently been installed on all greens and, combined with altered bunkering and other changes, serves to make irrelevant the sparse course form available for study.
Water's in play on 5-6 holes and there are 60 bunkers but with its broad fairways and large greens Valhalla offers only a modest challenge to golfers on top of their games - in stark contrast to the tracks used for recent PGA's: Oak Hill, Kiawah, Atlanta, Whistling Straits, Hazeltine & Oakland Hills.
What skill-set is required to master this course? Driving falls between strategy and length as most fairways have a good and a bad side, so total driving with a proviso that average length must be 280yds+ is perhaps the most compelling driving stat along with approach precision (GIR) and bent grass putting.
For the reason of lack of serious course challenge, I believe the contemplation of players' winning chances needs to extend deeper than usual into the market.
Early Bookmakers' Market
16/1 Rose & Garcia
22/1 Fowler & Mickelson
28/1 Kuchar & Bubba
33/1 Spieth & Bradley
Rory McIlroy is rightfully the clear favourite after cruising to victory in The Open Championship last month and showing in 2014 a far more consistent game than he did during a transitional and mediocre 2013. He'll come into even shorter favouritism if some rain softens the course.
Adam Scott's relentless consistency, though with only one win (Colonial) this year, merits clear 2nd favouritism while Rose & Garcia have been in superb form recently and thoroughly deserve to sit on the next line of betting. Fowler's in great form too.
All in all, the top of the market looks to me to have been priced about right with no bargains on offer and, accordingly, I've scoured further down the list for some each way value.
For those who are prepared to back favourites, my straight out win selection is Rory McIlroy. He ticks all my boxes, is driving it super long and went wire-to-wire so well in The Open Championship that he simply can't be ignored here. Also, his recent form supports my 'no high profile girlfriend' theory of pro golf!
Among the other favourites, Bubba Watson & Jordan Spieth probably offer the best win price value
But I hate short prices so I won't be backing Rory unless somebody on Betfair offers me 10/1 (11.00).
My top each way selection is Chris Kirk @ 150/1 - 200/1 with the bookies. This might seem a bit of a left-field choice but going through the relevant factors he more or less ticked every single box. Secondly, Kirk had a good showing (4th) at Jack's Memorial Tournament in May and many believe there is course correlation between Muirfield Village and Valhalla. Finally, his supreme scrambling ability swung the pendulum a bit further for me.
Since securing two wins in 2010 on the WebCom Tour, in 101 PGA Tour starts the 29-y-o has had two wins and three 2nd's. Against the best he's finished 20th, 28th & 19th in this year's three Majors - thus affirming his readiness to contend in a Major sometime soon.
Finally, for this Kentucky event I like the 100% 'Southern aspect' to his career wins. Born, raised and schooled in Georgia, his two Webcom wins were the Fort Smith Classic (Arkansas) and Knoxville Sentinel Open (Tennessee) while his PGA wins have been the Viking Classic (Mississippi) and the McGladrey (Georgia). If that lot doesn't demonstrate a southern bias I don't know what does!
For my second each way bet I'm persevering with Jimmy Walker @ 50/1 - 60/1 in the early markets. He let me down in The Open Championship following an 8th at Augusta & 9th in the US Open but was not disgraced when 26th on his first UK visit.
Back on more familiar territory, this birdie machine (PGA rank 2nd) will surely threaten this field with his long driving (18th), GIR percentage (29th) and top notch putting (strokes gained putting rank 6th).
My Top10 recommendation is Paul Casey who has been playing superbly tee to green. His strong scoring average (rank 29th) has been wondrously achieved despite distinctly average putting performances, so he only needs a decent week with the putter to contend for a Top10 here.
He's had 8 Top25's in 2014 on the PGA Tour without a Top10 but I'm picking that Valhalla's carpet greens will give him a chance of improvement. He won't melt in the heat of battle either. Grab any 12/1 (13.00) or longer!
My Top20 selection is Scott Brown who has found form in recent months and who also went well (13th) at The Memorial in May. Jump on any 11/1 (12.00) or longer!
Cheers and good luck with your golf punting!
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