PGA Championship specials: Jhonattan Vegas tipped to start well

Jhonattan Vegas in action at Bethpage in 2016
Jhonattan Vegas in action at Bethpage in 2016

Ben Coley has a quartet of first-round leader tips for the PGA Championship, including big-hitting Jhonattan Vegas from the final group on the tee.

Recommended bets: US PGA specials

1pt e.w. Scott Piercy to lead after R1 at 110/1 (1/5 1-8)

1pt e.w. Jhonattan Vegas to lead after R1 at 125/1 (1/4 1-5)

0.5pt e.w. Sung Kang to lead after R1 at 125/1 (1/5 1-6)

0.5pt e.w. Ross Fisher to lead after R1 at 150/1 (1/5 1-7)

2pts e.w. Thomas Pieters to be top continental European at 18/1 (1/4 1-4)

The weather forecast for round one of the PGA Championship is a slight concern, but it's not quite enough to put me off the name who stood out at first analysis: Scott Piercy.

Teeing off in the very first group would typically be considered a positive, especially as these poa annua greens could get bumpy late in the day, and while rain in the morning forecast isn't ideal there remains a chance it could pass by Bethpage without leaving a mark.

As long as there's no downpour, Piercy looks primed to go well having become the first player since 2010 to go through an entire 72-hole PGA Tour event without a bogey last week.

A noted fast starter, Piercy hit the frame in this market in the 2012, 2013 and 2015 renewals of the PGA Championship and the long, soft nature of Bethpage plays to his strengths.

He said on Sunday that he's playing the best golf of his life and is the pick of the morning wave, though it's also worth considering Charley Hoffman at a much bigger price than he went off at Augusta last month.

With Piercy out first, I also want to find room for a couple of late starters and it's Jhonattan Vegas who rates the standout bet from the very final group.

Sixth in first-round scoring this season, behind five members of the game's elite, Vegas has been a regular on the early leaderboard and his long, high driving is part of the case found in my outright preview.

He has plenty of correlating course form, loved Bethpage when 22nd in 2016, he's in the form of his life and there are just so many positives for one so far down the betting.

As for his tee-time, playing in the last three-ball might mean bumpier greens which will have seen plenty of traffic, but it should also mean the warmest, driest period and he's near certain to miss all of that rain which could affect more than half the field.

Next is Sung Kang, winner of the AT&T Byron Nelson on Sunday where a second-round 61 propelled him to the top of the leaderboard.

With a round of 60 at Monterey Country Club to his name, Kang has for a while now been a blistering scorer when on-song and he's shown it at Bethpage, too, closing with a best-of-the-day (by two) 64 in 2016.

Having also started well that year, shooting 68 to sit 18th, Kang boasts a really nice profile for this and it's further enhanced by the fact that so much of his best form - last week, Houston, the Quicken Loans National - has for some reason come under soft, wet conditions.

It's a quick turnaround for a player who got into this event as an alternate only last Saturday, but in each of the last three years a player who won one week prior to the PGA has got off to a good start, Andrew Putnam sitting 16th, Chris Stroud third and Vegas ninth.

That bodes well, as does the fact that Kang's two professional wins prior to Texas came in back-to-back weeks, and at three-figure prices it's worth speculating that he can ride the hot hand just as he did then.

Finally, Ross Fisher might have enough about him to threaten the top of the leaderboard.

The long-hitting Englishman contended for the US Open here a decade ago, memories of which remain vivid, and he's the ideal type for Bethpage.

Clearly, Fisher is not so much of a force at elite level these days but he can do it over 18 holes, as evidenced when tied for second after day one at Baltusrol and leading the WGC-Mexico a year later.

More recently, Fisher sat 10th after round one both last week and in Qatar, seventh in China and second in Saudi Arabia, which means he's been very close in this market four times in six starts.

Looking to the other specials markets, I was tempted to play Satoshi Kodaira and Shugo Imahira against Hideki Matsuyama in the top Japanese market, while those keen on Sergio Garcia should consider him at upwards of 2/1 to be top Spaniard.

Henrik Stenson is rock-solid to beat Alex Bjork and Alex Noren to top Swedish honours but is priced accordingly, and instead I'll take Thomas Pieters to upstage that trio and the rest to be the top continental European.

With Garcia having missed the cut in each of his last six majors and Francesco Molinari having to put his Augusta disaster behind him, this market has a nice shape to it despite the obvious credentials of Jon Rahm.

Should he grow frustrated on what's a tough golf course then it's ripe for an upset and Pieters, who was a place behind Rahm when sixth in the last PGA Championship, holds plenty of appeal.

This week looks set-up in favour of the big-hitters and the Belgian is right up there in that regard, while last week's tie for 23rd in Texas was a nice reintroduction to the PGA Tour.

Boisterous New York crowds won't bother the iceman of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Medinah, and with top-six finishes in two of the six US-based majors he's played in, he's already proven capable of competing with the best on foreign soil.

Pieters could well be in contention come Sunday but whatever the case, anything 16/1 or bigger in this market has to be worth taking. He's 50/1 if you want to throw in the British and Irish players, but doing so brings in a host of likely title contenders whereas I'm less convinced about Rahm and company.

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Posted at 0840 BST on 14/05/19

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