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Speith, Thomas looking at big targets


Five men have captured all four of the modern majors, one of them being South Africa's legendary Gary Player who secured the final leg of his slam in the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in 1965. 

Bellerive at that time was only five years old. It will be a stately 53 this week when it hosts the 100th PGA Championship and it will give three-time major winner Jordan Spieth the opportunity to become the next man to emulate Player's feat - and yes, in what might well be the last time the PGA is staged as the final major of the year. 

This because the PGA next year, set to be played at Bethpage Black, is to be moved to May and will thus become the second major of the year with the US Open and the Open Championship shifted back to the third and fourth majors respectively. 

It all sets the 25-year-old Texan, who won the Masters and the US Open in 2015 and the Open Championship last year, a great target. The question is can he hit it? 

He has the game, certainly, but this season he has mixed too much inconsistency with brilliance just as he did in the final round of the Open at Carnoustie. And that's not the only question mark against him winning. 

He split a nail at Carnoustie when he caught it on a bush and it seemed to impact on his game in the WGC-Bridgestone last week. It might still be a problem this week. 

In the circumstances his good friend and rival for top young gun of the globe might be Justin Thomas who came to Bellerive this week with so much going for him after an excellent win in the Bridgestone at Firestone Country Club last week where he ranked third in total driving, T2 in greens hit and first in proximity. 

Not so good for his chances are the stats that show that reigning champions like he is this week seldom successfully defend their titles and winning back-to-back in PGA Tour events is also a rarity. 

Perhaps this is why the British bookmakers have given lower odds this week to the World No 1 Dustin Johnson (8/1) and Rory McIlroy (12/1). 

Thomas is their third choice at 14/1 followed by Brooks Koepka and Jason Day at 20/1 and Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Spieth at 22/1. 

It is noticeable that both the bookies and the fantasy tipsters have selected a large number of big-hitting, attacking players as their favorites, partly, I believe, because the PGA Championship and the way it is set up has produced a series of recent winners in this category. 

Of the last six, Thomas, Day, McIlroy, Jimmy Walker and Keegan Bradley have all been a good fit for it with shorter-hitting Jason Dufner (2013) being the odd man out. 

Bellerive Country Club's par-70, tree-lined championship course with water on 11 holes can be set to play at anything between 7200 and a lengthy 7400 yards, but it is not overly long. 

The key to winning this week might well be hitting the course's massive, sloping bent grass greens in the right place, especially if they are allowed to dry-out and speed up in the hot and steamy Missouri weather that has been forecast. 

In these conditions, long and accurate tee shots are going to be a big advantage on a layout with a lot of dog-legs and difficult, strategically-placed bunkers. 

Here's what Jim Furyk has had to say about Bellerive: "You know, the penalty here on this golf course is that the greens are severe. There’s a lot of slope, there’s a lot going on, a lot of ridges, a lot of swales, huge humps, and bumps. When greens are soft, we can fire at the flags and stop the ball. To be quite honest, you can’t allow the greens to get too firm and fast or they won't be playable." 

Clearly putting, especially from a distance, on these big, rolling greens will also be key factor, but Thomas probably spoke for most this week when he called it a "great driving course" and suggested that the longer hitters would find it easier to over-fly the course's many unforgiving fairways and green-side bunkers which Tom Watson has described as being "very tricky to play out of." 

So yes, everything is pointing away from a US Open-type birdieless battle of attrition towards a daily series of exciting duels by players seeking to use power and aggression and greenside cool and touch to triumph. 

And you can be sure that Johnson and McIlroy will not be the only big bangers Spieth and Thomas are going to have to beat to reach the special goals each is seeking this week. 

Koepke has been relatively quiet since winning the US Open earlier this year, but he clearly took a big step up towards the big time at Firestone last week when he finished 5th after co-leading the stats in driving distance and topping them in strokes gained; tee to green, GIR and par-five scoring. It gives him an especially threatening look. 

Jason Day is another the field should be wary of. He is also a big hitter, but his strength lies on and around the greens - and he has already won the PGA once before. 

McIlroy has won it twice, but until the 28-year-old Northern-Irishman can find more consistency and focus and stops bombing out as he did in the final rounds at Carnoustie and Firestone, he is not going to add any more majors to his four. 

A dangerous 30/1 outlier who cannot be ignored this week is Francesco Molinari. 

This man who became Italy's first winner of a major when he made the recent Open Championship his third win in just seven starts, has been rock solid for months. He won't outhit the big bombers, but if he can hold on to his recent momentum and cool head, he is going to take a lot of stopping. Back to back Majors for him is something that is not out of the question. 

And the list of possibilities goes on. In a championship that changes venues every year and in which the seasoned old hands do not have the advantages they have at say, Augusts National, it can sometimes extend all the way down to complete outsiders who were pretty much unknown until they put up their hands and won the PGA. 

Rich Beem in 2002 was one of them, Shaun Micheel in 2003 another and South Koreas first major winner YE Yang (2009), yet another. 

So yes, with all the class and talent in this week's field and all the possibilities that could come of it, the milestone 100th US PGA Championship could be a real standout we'll never forget. 

(Tuesday am, Aug 7, 2018)

Dustin Johnson 8/1
Rory McIlroy 12/1    
Justin Thomas 14/1
Brooks Koepka 20/1    
Jason Day 20/1    
Justin Rose 22/1
Rickie Fowler 22/1    
Jordan Spieth 22/1
Jon Rahm 25/1
Tommy Fleetwood 28/1
Tiger Woods 25/1
Francesco Molinari 30/1
Patrick Reed 40/1
Tony Finau 40/1
Henrik Stenson 45/1
Patrick Cantlay 40/1    
Marc Leishman 55/1
Alexander Noren 45/1    
Paul Casey 55/1
Bubba Watson 60/1    
Xander Schauffele 55/1
Hideki Matsuyama 60/1
Webb Simpson 70/1    
Louis Oosthuizen 70/1
Bryson DeChambeau 66/1. 

To place a bet on the upcoming tournament visit, BetWay

Neville Leck

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