Max Homa
Max Homa

Ben Coley's golf betting tips: PGA Championship preview and best bets

Max Homa can take the next step forward in his career by winning the PGA Championship according to golf expert Ben Coley.

Golf betting tips: PGA Championship

4pts e.w. Jon Rahm at 16/1 (Betfred, BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)

2pts e.w. Max Homa at 28/1 (Paddy Power, BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)

2pts e.w. Joaquin Niemann at 33/1 (Paddy Power 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)

1.5pts e.w. Patrick Cantlay at 40/1 (Paddy Power 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)

1pt e.w. Sam Burns at 70/1 (Paddy Power, Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

For years, the PGA Championship struggled to create and cultivate its own identity. Without the permanent home of the Masters nor the romance and prestige of the two opens, it was simply a major championship by definition and default. Perhaps the answer was to lean into the calendar and how long it would be until Augusta in April – this was Glory's Last Shot – but that went with the move to May. Since then, it has often been thrilling, but never quite sure of what exactly it is. When people talk of changing men's majors, it's often been the PGA that is up for sacrifice.

By chance, it has landed on something never more valuable. The ground once occupied by The PLAYERS Championship, which could justifiably claim to be the strongest tournament in golf, now belongs to the PGA. By inviting the world's best players almost without exception, even if Louis Oosthuizen declined the offer, the PGA of America has created the best field we'll see all year. In some ways, this is a damning indictment of the sport's guardians but it also means that the PGA can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the majors which surround it.

There's a second aspect to this tournament that actually might help capitalise on the quality that assembles in Kentucky, and that's the courses it visits. This is no comment on what is preferable, but the Open always has the potential to blow the world's best off track, just as it allows for brilliance to separate itself. The US Open, particularly when it is at its most brutal, can achieve the same thing in a different way, and so can the Masters. The PGA Championship is almost entirely resemblant of a PGA Tour event and, coupled with the size and strength of the field, potential for a blowout is limited.

This year's edition takes place at Valhalla Golf Club, designed by Jack Nicklaus. It was here, a decade ago, that Rory McIlroy overcame the tag-team of Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson to capture his fourth major and second in the space of a month, thinning the tournament-defining shot at a time when he felt close to unbeatable. It was also here that Tiger Woods, even closer to unbeatable, completed the third leg of the so-called Tiger Slam at the beginning of the century, adding the Masters the following year to hold all four majors at once.

Valhalla is a big and unremarkable golf course. At an extended 7,609 yards, it will be the third-longest played on the PGA Tour this year, fourth if you include LIV Golf given that they visited Doral last month. That length comes from the meat of it: five par-fours top 470 yards, another three over 450, and there's one of those aggravatingly long par-threes, too. As you'd expect, rough is pretty thick and lush, cut to four inches. The main change from a decade ago is that these wide fairways are now zoysiagrass, a mere footnote to all bar the diehards, while small and sometimes strange greens are bentgrass, like Augusta but not nearly as terrifying despite running fast.

It's the length of the course and the way it should play that ought to shape analysis. Valhalla is long enough as it is, but it's set to rain throughout the run-up and into the tournament itself. Last week, Kentucky's own Justin Thomas replied to a question about whether it might be soft by stating categorically that it will, and having been for a couple of rounds in the days prior to that statement, he ought to know. McIlroy made the most of such conditions and while much has changed in the world of golf since 2014, much here remains the same now that the PGA Championship circles back to Louisville.

Driving it long and reasonably straight should be important because that club will be in use a lot – there's even a short par-four to go at. If that sounds a little like another long, championship par 71 played just last week, it should: McIlroy loves Quail Hollow for that reason, Fowler has won there, and Mickelson ought to have. For once, it has to be said, the PGA Tour schedule makes sense, and those who played nicely in the Wells Fargo may feel like they can pick up where they left off once the PGA Championship begins.

McIlroy's victory in Charlotte was exceptional, winning by five despite a closing double-bogey, with another three back to third place. Only two members of an elite field got within 10 shots of him. This is not the first time in recent memory that he's won on the eve of a major championship, but never has he been more impressive, looked more comfortable with a swing that Butch Harmon has helped put right.

With favourite Scottie Scheffler absent since making it four wins in five starts by taking down the Heritage after he'd dominated the Masters, the world number one having become a father at some unspecified time over the past few days, it can be said that everything has come right for McIlroy. That applies to the course and the weather and it applies if you drill down into the data, which tells you he arrives on the back of his best tee-to-green display since 2015.

Max to take it to them

McIlroy gets the vote among the favourites but he can go and win at 7/1 and I'll side with a selection of the key dangers each-way, starting with MAX HOMA.

Sure to be popular this week, Homa's career trajectory makes him an appealing candidate. For years, we've talked about him as a prolific PGA Tour champion who can't figure out majors, but having been 10th at Hoylake and third in the Masters, he only has one thing left to prove.

That Masters performance was all the more impressive given a miserable record at Augusta and I felt he handled himself really well, doing precious little wrong until he was just a fraction long and left with his approach to 12, a shot for which he paid heavy price.

Homa was typically introspective and wholly convincing when discussing the experience at length and it's hard not to be taken by what he had to say, which I hope you'll forgive me for including almost in full.

"I thought I handled myself great, didn't make any putts, really didn't feel like I blinked. I just feel like I learned. I feel like I took a big leap," he said in the immediate aftermath of the final round.

"The rhetoric on me, and this is from myself, as well, is I have not performed in these things, and I performed for all four days. I didn't throw a 65 in there and sneak my way in. I had to sleep on this every single day, this feeling and kind of this monkey on my back.

"I actually think it might calm me down. I don't feel like I need to prove anything else to myself. Obviously I would love to prove I can win, but I know I can play in these things well now. The last two majors I've played quite well.

"Obviously I need to prove that I can win one, but winning is fickle. I know the way I played is good enough to win. If the putts don't go, the putts don't go. I actually think it'll put me at ease a little bit for the majors to come.

"I did absolutely nothing special on the weekend and had a very good chance, minus a bad bounce on the 12th.

"So that's kind of what I've taken going into the other ones, that I didn't have any magic on the weekend. I didn't chip in. I didn't make a putt outside of 12 feet for two days, and standing on 12 tee I'm about to be one back of Scottie, best player in the world and one of the best players I think we'll ever see."

The only gripe I had with his Masters display would be with some of his decision-making, his inability to recognise that to beat Scheffler would require something more aggressive than he was at times willing to risk, particularly at the 13th hole where he chose to lay-up when in need of an eagle.

That was another thing he addressed, adding: "As much as I thought I did my best job mentally last week, one thing stuck out to me at times throughout the weekend is I just wish I would have backed myself on certain golf shots a little bit more.

"I think that hopefully the next step for me is to trust how good I am, especially when I'm playing good and take some things on. It might work and it might not but let's put the chips behind ourselves a little bit and then go see what my golf game has got."

Max Homa can make a strong bid for Masters glory
Max Homa can build on an excellent Masters performance

Clearly, I've rather fallen in love with what he had to say and the idea that he can put these lessons to use quickly. So often, major championships are won by those who had recently had a chance that passed them by: Cam Smith, Justin Thomas, Shane Lowry, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed, Francesco Molinari, even Danny Willett would all apply to varying degrees and they're far from the only ones.

There's a pretty solid weights-and-measures argument, too.

Homa has also been sixth and fifth on his last two starts at Muirfield Village and last week's top-10 finish at Quail Hollow was his third at the course where he secured his breakthrough PGA Tour win under major-like conditions back in 2019, while he's also got a solid record at the long, difficult Bay Hill.

He's a winner at Torrey Pines, where the South Course is the longest on the PGA Tour, and Sun City which is likewise on the DP World Tour, and but for one bad driving day last week, his ball-striking looked to be in a really good place. It was in fact a similar performance to the one he produced in Texas prior to Augusta.

An excellent putter whose optimal conditions include longer courses where scoring is neither easy nor fiendishly difficult, he's even won in the rain when doubling up in the Wells Fargo Championship, so there's a heck of a lot to like. Compensation for the Masters could arrive swiftly.

Rahm raring to go

The word compensation might also apply when it comes to JON RAHM, who was down the field in 45th on his Masters defence but is well worth another chance at a similar price.

Siding with Rahm there looks like a foolish decision in retrospect, given the hoodoo of the defending champion, but it would be wrong to suggest his performance was without positives. In fact, he gained strokes in all departments bar putting, where he ranked a lowly 57th.

Since then he's finished third and 10th in two LIV Golf events, making it seven top-10s in as many starts since his controversial switch. The only thing missing is a win but to be frank, had these events taken place over 72 holes, I'd be staggered had he not yet managed it.

Jon Rahm
Jon Rahm

That's rather a moot point but when Rahm finished second in the Open, the idea of him starting an event like this one at four times Scheffler's price and twice McIlroy's would've seemed absurd. And, deep down, I really do think it is, and that he's clear third best however you dress things.

Certainly, he's performing at a higher level than Brooks Koepka, who also finished 45th in the Masters, and with Ludvig Aberg's withdrawal last week a nagging worry along with Xander Schauffele's inability to close, there can be no greater threat to the top two in the betting than Rahm, winner of two of the last dozen majors and without a missed cut in one in five years.

This is all before we get to the course. Long, soft, difficult but not impossible all screams Rahm, who is suited by bentgrass greens. He's won at Olympia Fields, Torrey Pines and would've won twice at Muirfield Village had Covid not scuppered him when six clear in 2021, while he was also fourth at Doral back in April for good measure.

Somehow, nobody is really talking about Rahm. They could be come Sunday.

There is one player who has outperformed the Spaniard on the LIV Golf circuit this year and it's JOAQUIN NIEMANN, who also looks worth another try under ideal conditions.

Niemann wasn't able to bring it with him to Augusta but 22nd was a good enough performance given that he putted poorly, which can happen to anyone there. Generally, he's been at his best on bentgrass in the past, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't fare much better this time.

In fact I think it says a lot about how far he's come that finishing a shot outside the top 20 in a major can be considered disappointing and it seems a matter of time before he contends for one, something that was always expected of a formerly top-class amateur who beat the world's best at Riviera on the PGA Tour.

Third and seventh in two LIV starts since the Masters, that gives Niemann the edge over Bryson DeChambeau, a surprise Augusta contender in some ways. He can live with DeChambeau off the tee, too, as one of the longest drivers in the game, and his long-irons have always been a strength.

As a consequence, Niemann boasts strong form across the longer, more difficult courses he's played in the US, including third at Olympia Fields, sixth at Torrey Pines, 18th at Quail Hollow and, perhaps most tellingly, sixth and third at the Nicklaus-designed Muirfield Village, where he had a chance to win on debut.

When that first victory did arrive it came in neighbouring West Virginia and Niemann has the right conditions to go out and do what his friend and compatriot Mito Pereira couldn't quite manage at Southern Hills two years ago.

Burns best above 50/1

Tempting though it is to take 40/1 about Viktor Hovland, a 12/1 shot over the winter, I've come to the view that this will be too soon in his return to form. Sunday's bogey-free final round suggests he's getting there but while ranking first in strokes-gained approach initially caught the eye, closer inspection reveals that he didn't necessarily pepper flags all day long.

It was encouraging for a player who almost won at Muirfield Village and would've got my vote for this six months ago, but no more than that. Valhalla is without doubt an ideal venue right down to that new fairway grass; it's anything but ideal to arrive here without having played to the required standard at any point so far in 2024.

Preference is for SAM BURNS, a prolific winner who, like Homa prior to the Masters, still has to show that he can bring his A-game to the majors.

That's the one big negative but it's certainly factored into prices around the 66-80/1 mark and while he went off the boil in the spring, Burns was back playing nicely when 13th at Quail Hollow last week, where for 54 holes his irons were very good.

That was his first appearance following the birth of his first child so we might get a new-dad bounce, but either way that impending arrival might in some way explain why he wasn't at his best from Sawgrass onwards following a highly encouraging start to the year, which featured four top-10 finishes in a row.

Burns' putter certainly went cold on him for a while but with both that and his driver much improved last week, suddenly there are reasons for optimism as he arrives at the major that some would say is a glorified PGA Tour event and therefore best for a player like him to break through.

Ninth at Bay Hill, 15th at Olympia Fields, two top-20s at Muirfield Village plus last week's effort all rate good correlating performances, as might a couple of top-10s at Riviera, and while Scheffler heads the betting, his friend Burns might be capable of causing what would be a bit of an upset despite an impressive CV.

Five times a PGA Tour winner including in difficult conditions at Scheffler's expense almost exactly two years ago (four of these wins plus another on the Korn Ferry Tour have come in the spring), Burns looks value to build on last week's ideal prep-run and contend at the highest level at last.

Ice ice maybe?

Corey Conners is striping it as usual and contended for this last year. Along with Shane Lowry and Si Woo Kim, if you can stumble into a good putting week with any one of this trio then you'd be looking at the place money at the very least, but Lowry in particular looks lost on the greens and Conners does flatter to deceive.

Keegan Bradley's approach play is red-hot and he's a better putter on bentgrass than he is most surfaces, so 200/1 earned a second glance. A former winner of this (on zoysiagrass fairways) whose mid-to-long irons are a big strength, like Conners he's one who could appeal in any one of a number of side markets later in the week.

Jordan Spieth is 66/1 from 20s at Augusta and that alone gave me pause for thought, but PATRICK CANTLAY is preferred at a generous 40/1 having finished alongside him in 29th last week.

Sunday saw him gain strokes in all departments, allaying some concerns that his improvement with his irons had come to a grinding halt, and having been third on his last solo start he looks to be in good shape overall.

Close to the places entering the final round of the Masters last month, his record in majors remains solid but unspectacular and that's equally summed up by the PGA, where he has six cuts made in seven and two of his four major top-10s.

Conditions here suggest a fifth could well be forthcoming. Cantlay plays difficult, long courses well and he threatened to win on the zoysia fairways of Southwind last year. He's a proper Muirfield Village specialist, too, winning that event twice, has form at Riviera, Olympia Fields and Bay Hill, and is best on bentgrass greens.

Patrick Cantlay
Patrick Cantlay

Cantlay is also an excellent iron player from 175-250 yards and I remain of the view that he's among the most likely maiden major champions anywhere. Here, in the best part of the US for him, on greens he prefers, at a course which shares a lot in common with some of those he likes, he looks one of the biggest threats to the top two.

Last year's equivalent preview profited courtesy of 275/1 Cam Davis finishing a non-threatening fourth and I've tried desperately to find an equivalent, without success. Davis had two high-class top-10s among his previous five starts and I can see nothing remotely comparable, though Alex Smalley is a player I like who drives it well and has turned things around of late.

Akshay Bhatia has a course win as an amateur to his name but drove the ball horrendously last week and Rickie Fowler didn't do enough there to suggest he can emulate his top-five from a decade ago. That said, Fowler did lead the US Open last June and remains the type to pop up on leaderboards from time to time.

I return though to the fact that the big three, by some measures, all arrive having won last time out. They come to a course which is humdrum but fair, scoreable; conducive, I would say, to producing the sort of high-class leaderboard that some will say vindicates the decision to come back to Valhalla.

One man should be especially happy that they have. Perhaps it really is the week for McIlroy. I won't be alone in hoping so.

Posted at 1800 BST on 13/05/24

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