Ben Coley's PGA Championship: Betting preview & tips for golf's final major of the season

Branden Grace
Branden Grace

Ben Coley tipped the winner of the Open Championship, so don't miss his take on the final major of the golf season.

Recommended bets: US PGA Championship

1pt e.w. Branden Grace at 80/1 (1/5 1-7) - proven major contender who looks overpriced

1pt e.w. Zach Johnson at 80/1 (1/5 1-8) - playing as well as he has since winning second major

1pt e.w. Justin Thomas at 50/1 (1/5 1-7) - surefire major contender can put US Open experience to use

1pt e.w. Kevin Chappell at 90/1 (1/5 1-8) - fits various PGA trends and contended just two starts back

1pt e.w. Gary Woodland at 125/1 (1/5 1-7) - another with a recent near-miss and the right game for this

Click here for our transparent tipping record

The United States PGA Championship is sometimes considered the ugly duckling of golf's four majors, but with the Golden Child lining up in search of a career grand slam, this year's renewal promises to be anything but.

Jordan Spieth turned 24 one week after his breathtaking victory in the Open Championship, his third major win. It's less than two and a half years since his first and he could be just days away from completing the set. What an astonishing achievement that would be.

Yet Spieth, while considerably shorter than he was for the Open, is once again playing second fiddle in the betting - this time to Rory McIlroy.

The sole reason is that Quail Hollow is set to host its first major, and it was here in 2010 that McIlroy won his first PGA Tour event. Home of the Wells Fargo Championship, this course is familiar to so many in the field but none play it as effectively as McIlroy. Since that famous Sunday 62 for a four-shot win, McIlroy has added another title here (by seven) and it might've been a hat-trick but for a play-off defeat to Rickie Fowler in-between.

I believe that on any other course in the US, McIlroy would not be alone at the front of the market and truth be told, he hasn't even had to perform to get there. Such is his record at this course, only a clean bill of health and something resembling good form was needed for him to start favourite. Spieth, perhaps attempting to downplay his tilt at history, called McIlroy 'the man to beat'.

And this is why I put McIlroy up at 10/1 way back in January. Taking 10/1 about any player in any event does not come easy, but McIlroy simply needed to make it to August to start shorter. Imagine what price he might've been had he won last week, had he got off to a better start at Birkdale, had he not been sidelined by a cracked rib which continues to niggle away at him. When last he won a PGA Tour event here it was as a 3/1 shot.

But in the here and now, I can't say that I find the prospect of backing McIlroy all that appealing. There might be so much in his favour - including the prospect of a rain-soaked golf course - but the price suggests the case for Rory is near bullet proof. I don't believe that it is for reasons including but not limited to his wedge play, the putter, his caddie, the pressure he'll put on himself and, above all, the quality of the opposition.

Since Rory was available at 10/1, Spieth has added a third major and another two regulation PGA Tour titles. Dustin Johnson has won three times, and Hideki Matsuyama has confirmed himself a prolific, very real threat, including when producing a career-best display just last week.

Brooks Koepka and, to a lesser extent, Jon Rahm have emerged along with Justin Thomas, who won the first two events of 2017. Fowler, like McIlroy a course winner, has performed close to his best virtually every week. Sergio Garcia has shed the unwanted nearly-man tag he carried for so long.

Meanwhile, Rory has played a lot of encouraging golf, but little in the way of electrifying golf. Judge this event only by 2017 form and he wouldn't deserve to be in the top five or six, let alone clear favourite, shorter than anyone in any major since DJ fell down the stairs. Remember, Johnson had won his three events prior to the Masters. McIlroy hasn't won anything this year.

None of this is to say I'm dead against McIlroy. I stand by what I wrote prior to the Open, that he will win a fifth major soon enough and this is quite obviously a very good fit. But 7/1 just does not reflect the circumstances we have in front of us and if he does win, it will be only with a modest antepost bet from me.

Enough about who isn't value and to someone who I believe is: Branden Grace.

The South African entered the history books with the first round of 62 in men's major championship history last month as he once again produced on the biggest stage, this time at the Open Championship.

Yet despite just a single start since, and a solid one at Firestone, Grace is almost double his Open price and that's chiefly due to two factors. Firstly, the top of the market appears stronger by the day and something has to give elsewhere. Secondly, he makes his debut here whereas many others have previous course experience.

Both are potential concerns, but I'm not overly worried about this being Grace's debut at Quail Hollow. He was fourth at Chambers Bay in 2015, third at Whistling Straits later that year, fifth at Oakmont and then fourth at Baltusrol, before an eventual sixth at Birkdale last month. All were his first professional starts at the venue, whereas some others boasted previous at all bar Chambers Bay, where the winner nevertheless had a local course expert on the bag.

Grace has placed third and fourth in the last two editions of the PGA Championship and with five top-six finishes in his last 10 majors dating back to the start of 2015, it's plain to see he's become extremely good at peaking for the majors. We could've said the same before Brooks Koepka broke through at Erin Hills in June.

Branden Grace
Branden Grace

Last year, Grace might've been the one applying maximum pressure to champion Jimmy Walker but for a misbehaving putter and it remains his weakness, but three above-average rounds on the greens of Firestone offer some promise and regardless, ball-striking always comes first at this level.

On that score, he's in fine form. Grace was T13 for greens hit last week, gaining strokes on the field from tee-to-green in an extension of the form he's shown throughout the summer. Indeed, anyone who witnessed that history-making Saturday at Birkdale will know that Grace might well have broken 60 had a couple of mid-range putts not hit the edge and neglected to fall.

A long, soft course might not suit him as well as a firm and fast one but Grace showed at Baltusrol last year that he can be just as effective under the conditions expected at Quail Hollow, which itself is a fairly short trip due north from the location for his breakthrough PGA Tour win at Hilton Head last season.

While this exceptional wind player might prefer to be down by the sea in South Carolina, I see no reason why he can't keep up the good work inland in North Carolina and he's long looked capable of winning at this level, something which I wouldn't necessarily say about every player in his price bracket.

Grace is bidding to place in two majors for the third season running and I'm backing him to defy his lack of course knowledge at what looks a generous price.

Assessing just how valuable positive experience of Quail Hollow might be is a challenge, but it's quite clear that if you're backing someone who has played the course a number of times, it's a massive plus if they've shown some evidence that the layout suits.

Henrik Stenson is one example of a player who has a likeable enough form profile in terms of what he's been doing lately, but who has serious questions to answer when it comes to Quail Hollow. The Swede has played here six times without so much as breaking 70, a share of 58th the best he's managed having made the cut just twice.

By contrast, Justin Rose has the course credentials - he felt he should've won here a couple of years ago and has placed on his last two visits - but the Englishman's form has dipped as he tries to find a swing which applies less pressure to his back. Recent evidence suggests plenty more tinkering is required, but for which he'd have been of serious interest at 40/1.

Rather than chance this particular major champion, whose victory came under the soft conditions we know he loves, I'd rather side with the more compelling credentials of Zach Johnson.

Few players arrive at Quail Hollow in the sort of form Johnson has shown throughout the last month. He followed fifth at the John Deere with 14th at the Open, where two of his closest friends played out a classic final-round battle, before chasing home Matsuyama on Sunday.

The first two of those performances come with the caveat that he's a brilliant links player and always tends to contend at the John Deere, where he's basically tournament host, but Firestone was different. On an absolute beast of a par 70, Johnson made up for his distance disadvantage with the best World Golf Championship performance of his career, with the putter particularly strong which hasn't always been the case since he won the Open two years ago.

As for Quail Hollow form, Johnson has a sixth, an 11th and a 14th among a run of eight cuts made going back a decade and while this is a course which tends to favour power over accuracy, the arrow-straight Roberto Castro should've won here before a play-off defeat last summer and Johnson's style of play can still prove effective.

Remember, he won the Masters at a rain-soaked Augusta National and his Open victory came on the least 'Zach Johnson' course on the rotation, St Andrews, where power is always considered a massive asset. Johnson's entire career has been about defying expectations and I'm not one who will underestimate this two-time major champion, especially when he's playing so well.

For my money, he's got to have as good a chance as Rose and Stenson - not to mention a few more at shorter prices - so in the hope that putter stays hot he's worth backing at 80s.

Kevin Kisner is a similar type to Johnson and has the mindset to compete for majors, but his form has dipped a little too alarmingly since his second victory earlier in the season. Still, he has a top-10 at Quail Hollow to his name, a course at which his brother-in-law is a member, and is another to watch at 100/1.

Reigning champion Jimmy Walker has successfully defended a title before and there was plenty to like about his display last week, while 2015 winner Jason Day has also hinted at a return to his best. The Australian has a fine record in this tournament and if he can iron out his approach play, watch for another step in the right direction.

But while Day is really tempting at 28/1, I want to get a couple of 2017 winners on-side as that's such a good formula when it comes to unearthing PGA winners, from the obvious ones to big shocks like YE Yang's taming of the Tiger and Keegan Bradley's 200/1 success six years ago.

Justin Thomas started the year in electric fashion and he could go very well here at around the 50/1 mark.

While there has understandably been a heck of a lot of fuss about Jon Rahm, and more recently the focus has shifted back to McIlroy, Spieth and Matsuyama, the way Thomas kicked off the campaign should not be forgotten.

He effectively won three PGA Tour events in a row (the other two starts in a run of five were a WGC in China and an event on the Japan Golf Tour), with the likes of Matsuyama, Rose and Spieth in vain pursuit to confirm that the fields he faced were extremely classy, and there was a round of 59 thrown in for good measure at the Sony Open.

The next step up the ladder for Thomas came at the US Open, where he started the final round as favourite, and while falling out of contention quickly he did battle on resolutely for a top-10 finish behind Koepka. That's great experience in the bag and there has to be a chance he can put it to use in the PGA Championship, which should suit a player whose victories have all come in 20-something under-par.

Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas

Thomas also has previous at Quail Hollow, where he was seventh on his first visit in 2015, so his return to form at Firestone last week came at just the right time. Although a never-nearer 28th, Thomas improved every day, closing with a bogey-free 67, and it was only some abysmal putting which gave him such a mountain to climb with a 73-70 start.

He appeared to iron that out as the week progressed, however, and was extremely pleased with how he struck the ball having ranked third in strokes-gained tee-to-green. As such, he'll take to the first tee at Quail Hollow in confident mood and inspired no doubt by the heroics of close friend Spieth at the Open Championship.

I've every faith Thomas has the game to compete with Spieth, McIlroy, Matsuyama and Rahm so at a considerably bigger price than that quartet, now looks like a good time to chance him with conditions potentially set to favour aggressive, big-hitting youngsters.

Kevin Chappell is essentially twice the price of Thomas at 90/1 and that looks worth taking on the back of a breakout 18 months.

Chappell has always had the talent. He's a supreme ball-striker, capable of winning on any kind of golf course if the putter behaves, but for one reason or another always found a way to go close without quite getting the job done.

That changed in the Valero Texas Open, where he showed incredible poise to hold off subsequent major champion Koepka under tough conditions at TPC San Antonio, a course where length and control are both demanded.

Unlike some first-time winners, Chappell has held his form well since, finishing fourth in Memphis, eighth in Canada when one back with a round to go, followed by a share of 13th place at Firestone last week.

He finished seventh at Augusta just before that breakthrough win in the spring and added 23rd at Erin Hills, so his stateside major form is strong and that's so often been the case for a player who was third on his very first major start back in 2011.

That came behind McIlroy on a long, soft, ball-striker's course and Chappell has enough good rounds at Quail Hollow to his name to suggest that he could achieve something similar here, particularly as it has now been toughened up in anticipation of a major championship with three new holes created and a shot shaved off the par score.

Perhaps the putter will again cost Chappell, but as a winner this season with a strong major record and two very good performances across the last two weeks, he makes plenty of appeal at generous odds.

Xander Schauffele arrives with a profile similar to that of Bradley in 2011 and is respected, while JB Holmes and James Hahn are course winners who know how to take a chance when it arrives, so all three merit respect.

This does look another good chance for Fowler but he's not budged in the market despite what those ahead of him have been doing, whereas Tommy Fleetwood was seriously considered at virtually three-times his Open price. As with Grace, I'm not at all convinced his chance drops markedly for playing in the United States.

However, I've always been a big fan of Gary Woodland and am willing to chance him, despite the fact that this big-hitter doesn't fit the obvious PGA profile having not won since 2013.

Woodland might well have ended that trophy drought in the RBC Canadian Open two starts back, where a dozen misses from inside 10 feet were extremely costly, and after what appears a disappointing performance at Firestone he's back out to a three-figure price.

Certainly, he failed to offer up any kind of meaningful effort in Ohio but there were encouraging signs at the weekend as he went 70-67, closing out with a bogey-free round on Sunday to gain some valuable momentum.

He's made the cut in all six visits to Quail Hollow, finishing fourth behind McIlroy two years ago, and the rain which has fallen in the run-up to the event - along with a troublesome weather forecast - works in favour of one of the most powerful players on the planet.

Woodland really has been striking the ball well for some time and said in Canada that his performance, including a second-round 63, was by no means a surprise.

"It's been coming together for a while," he said. "Obviously I'm in a good state mentally with a little baby at home, so that was a big relief off the back. So now I'm able to go out and play freely, and starting to come together."

The 33-year-old might always be one of those frustrating, underachieving types given the raw, natural power he possesses, but I've long thought he has something a little special between the ears, too.

And while he'll have to improve on Firestone, he's got some history when it comes to contending, dipping and then contending again, something he did across a similar three-week spell back in 2013 when going 1-74-2.

Perhaps, under ideal conditions, Woodland can again justify the faith having hit the frame for us in Canada.

Posted at 2035 BST on 07/08/17.

Related links

Sky Bet - paying eight places on the US PGA
PGA Championship first-round tee-times
David John's US PGA Specials preview
Ben Coley's first-round three-ball tips

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