Betting longshots have a big chance

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LAS VEGAS — On a challenging course where only the longest, strongest hitters are expected to survive, Dustin Johnson recently figured to be the favorite at this week’s PGA Championship in his home state of South Carolina. The storyline fits.

Johnson’s current form, including a missed cut at the Masters in April, tells a different story.

“DJ is just in a funk right now and he’s not doing anything,” SuperBook Sports golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said.

Bryson DeChambeau has not set the golf world on fire lately, either, and two-time PGA winner Brooks Koepka has fallen off the map after knee surgery.

So, who’s the favorite on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island? A player who just stopped an 18-month winless streak and has not won a major since 2014, of course.

Rory McIlroy tops the BetMGM odds board at 11/1. McIlroy won the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow two weeks ago and is a horse for the course at Kiawah Island, where he blew away the field to win the PGA in 2012.

“That’s why he’s the favorite, coming off a win and going to a course where he won by eight shots,” Sherman said. “That’s the narrative, so it’s natural people are looking to bet Rory. He’s like the flavor of the week.”

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot during a practice round.
Rory McIlroy is the betting favorite in South Carolina.
Getty Images

The Ocean Course is the longest track in major championship history at 7,876 yards. Perched alongside the Atlantic Ocean, it has the most seaside holes (10) of any course in North America, so it’s a beauty and a beast, especially in windy conditions.

DeChambeau (16/1) ranks No. 1 on the PGA Tour this season in driving distance, with McIlroy a close second. Johnson (16/1) ranks in the top 10. But Augusta National also favors big hitters, and McIlroy missed the Masters cut while DeChambeau tied for 46th, so the size of the drive is not what matters most.

“The last time the PGA Championship was held at the Ocean Course, seven of the top 10 players on the leaderboard were European,” VSiN golf handicapper Brady Kannon said. “The wind is not expected to be brutal this week, but I do believe it will be steady enough, so along with the links style of the golf course, many Europeans should find success again.”

Americans have won five straight PGA Championships. Collin Morikawa was last year’s PGA winner in San Francisco. It was his first major win, and that’s a trend. Fifteen of the past 21 majors were won by a first timer, most recently Hideki Matsuyama at this year’s Masters.

With no elite players in especially dominant form, look for longer shots. These five are capable of surviving four grueling days at the beach (BetMGM odds):

Justin Thomas (14/1)

Of the favorites, Thomas appears to be the best bet. His lone major win was the 2017 PGA at Quail Hollow, and he’s in decent recent form after winning the Players Championship in March.

Thomas and Morikawa have similar all-around games. Thomas typically ranks well in most key categories — driving distance, strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained tee to green, strokes gained approach to the green — but his putting has been erratic. If his flat stick gets hot, he’s the most likely champion this week. He’s also due for another major win.

Justin Thomas of the United States plays a shot as his father Mike Thomas looks on
Justin Thomas can provide plenty of betting value at the PGA Championship.
Getty Images

Daniel Berger (25/1)

After winning the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, Berger faded from contention. He resurfaced last week at the Byron Nelson in Texas, where he shot 21-under to tie for third, so he’s suddenly hot and trending the right way. Berger’s odds are as high as 38/1 at Circa Sports.

“If Berger were to win this week, it wouldn’t surprise me at all,” Sherman said.

Cameron Smith (40/1)

Australian and European players tend to fare well in the wind, so Smith is an Aussie to watch along with longer shots Marc Leishman and Adam Scott. Smith flies under the radar despite tying for 10th at the Masters in March and tying for second at Augusta in November.

Tyrrell Hatton (50/1)

Kannon’s search for European players with odds value leads him to Hatton, a 29-year old Englishman ranked ninth in the world.

“Hatton has won in extreme wind before at Bay Hill in Orlando, and has performed very well on paspalum grass surfaces, notching a top-10 finish at the Saudi International in January,” Kannon said. “He can scramble, hit it long and straight, and is one of the best in the world in strokes gained approach. Since winning in January, Hatton has five top-25 finishes, including 18th at the Masters. This just might be the course and conditions for him to return to the winner’s circle.”

Joaquin Niemann (66/1)

In the first tournament of 2021, Niemann deftly handled the wind at the Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. He probably should have won the Tournament of Champions, but missed a short putt on the 72nd hole and lost to Harris English in a playoff. (Justin Thomas was one stroke back in third.) The 22-year-old from Chile is grinding for a win, and his odds are drifting in an attractive range.

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