Jason Day has perfect game for the Bellerive course
Best bets for the final Major of the season
Tournament starts 12.50pm Thursday
The betting for the US PGA Championship, which starts at Bellerive Country Club, St Louis, on Thursday, is dominated by three big-name players who found form in the Bridgestone Invitational last week.
World number one Dustin Johnson is the PGA favourite after closing with a 64 for third place at Firestone, while defending PGA champion Justin Thomas cruised to a four-shot Bridgestone triumph. Four-times Major victor Rory McIlroy shared sixth place in the final warm-up for the season's closing Major.
Four of the last six PGA winners played in one of the final two groups at Firestone the week before they won, so form students will probably be angling towards Thomas and McIlroy, but there is better value to be had deeper in the market.
Palmer's top tip
Jason Day 22-1
A hat-trick of birdies from the tenth to the 12th gave Jason Day a sniff of victory in the Bridgestone Invitational before he dropped five shots in the next five holes. But the Australian ace could take plenty of positives from the tournament and he looks by far the best value for the final Major of the year.
Day was in the penultimate Firestone pairing, alongside Ian Poulter, and pressed too hard when he got within two shots of Justin Thomas with six holes to play. Over-aggression, particularly on the par-five 16th that he double-bogeyed, cost him, but it should not detract from the quality of his iron play over four days.
Approach shots have been the problem for Day this season, but he was peppering pins in Ohio, which bodes extremely well for the remainder of the campaign.
His driving has been, as the man himself put it on Monday, “decent” for most of the year. His putting has been sublime throughout and Day appears to be getting close to the player who became world number one and dominated for a year after winning the PGA in 2015.
The 30-year-old looked fully fit at Firestone, which is important when assessing the injury-plagued Queenslander, and his PGA record is magnificent. He loves the typical set-up in this event, with five-year form figures of 8-15-1-2-9, and Bellerive looks perfect for him.
The course strongly favours a draw off the tee, which is Day's natural shot shape, and high approaches are helpful to find the right sections of the large greens. Day sends his irons into orbit, while he has awesome short-game ability, which will be crucial on and around the bumpy greens.
The 12-time US Tour champion has won twice this year – both at classic, tough, tree-lined tracks – and those victories at Torrey Pines and Quail Hollow have been surrounded by several other bright performances. Second place at Pebble Beach as followed by fifth spot at Sawgrass. He was on the wrong side of the draw in the Open at Carnoustie, suffering in bad weather, but still came 17th.
Day's Firestone finish was disappointing but he seems to have some sort of mental block about winning in his adopted home state of Ohio – his Memorial record is shocking – and the shackles will be off in Missouri. A couple of days straightening out his driver on the practice range should be enough for this explosive talent to regain the Wanamaker Trophy.
Bubba Watson 60-1
Day's draw should be shown to great effect at Bellerive, but left-handed Bubba Watson's fade may be an even more potent weapon. Like Augusta, where Watson has twice triumphed in the Masters, the shape of Bellerive works to the advantage of the power-packed maverick.
Watson has won three times in the last six months – the Genesis Open, WGC-Match Play and Travelers Championship – enjoying a wonderful resurgence with his 40th birthday looming. It is worth noting that 16 of the last 19 PGA winners had a victory on the board earlier in the season and few in the field will carry more self-belief than Bubba if he is in contention on Sunday.
Watson is not a fan of the Open – and, like Day, he got a poor set of tee-times on the Thursday and Friday – so his missed cut is of no concern. A share of 31st at Firestone was a respectable warm-up.
Watson is putting better this season – his 2018 stats are in a different league to those of the previous two years – and he showed a liking for Bellerive when closing with rounds of 66 and 65 there in the 2008 BMW Championship. He was a PGA playoff loser in 2010.
Thomas Pieters 125-1
Nick Watney 200-1
Russell Henley 150-1
Aaron Wise 125-1
Four big-priced outsiders are recommended for an event where ten each-way places are available with two firms. Thomas Pieters, who went to college across the Missouri border in Illinois and will feel comfortable this week, is a fearless world-class talent showing signs of recovering his A-game.
The star of the 2016 Ryder Cup, who was fourth in the Masters last year, has finished in the top 40 in his last six events – including 28th in the Open last time out – and he should take a shine to a Bellerive layout which rewards his effortless power.
US PGA Championship
The trajectory of his stock drive is dead-straight – unwavering like a frozen rope – but the Belgian is more than capable of working a tiny draw when required.
Nick Watney has been hitting right-to-left drives for his entire career, winning five US Tour titles along the way and finishing seventh in both the Masters and the Open in 2010.
Back problems derailed the former world number ten, but he has been getting his act together this year and finished second behind Day in the Wells Fargo Championship.
Watney has the game to cause an upset, while his compatriots Russell Henley and Aaron Wise are also worthy of each-way support. Henley, another natural drawer of the ball, got a bad set of tee-times at the Open and he followed an excellent 69 with a second-round 80 in heavy rain.
Prior to that, he was in great nick – 25th in the US Open, sixth in the Travelers and tenth in the Greenbrier – and the short-game prowess of the three-time US Tour champ makes him a threat to all.
Wise is one of the most promising youngsters in the game, possessing all the tools to tame Bellerive. He won on the Web.com Tour across the Missouri border last year – a five-shot Air Capital Classic success in Kansas – and made his US Tour breakthrough in the AT&T Byron Nelson in May soon after sharing second place with Watney at Quail Hollow.
A pair of weekend 67s at Firestone for sixth place have provided a timely injection of confidence.
3pts each-way 22-1 Betfair
2pts each-way 60-1 bet365, Sky Bet
1pt each-way 125-1 Betfair
0.5pt each-way 200-1 Paddy Power
0.5pt each-way 150-1 Ladbrokes
0.5pt each-way 125-1 general
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Course Bellerive Country Club, St Louis, Missouri
Prize money $10.5m ($1.89m to the winner)
Length 7,329 yards Par 70 Field 156
The cut The lowest 70 scores and ties after 36 holes qualify
Playoff format Three holes of strokeplay, sudden-death after
Course records – 72 holes 265 Camilo Villegas (2008 BMW Championship) 18 holes 62 Jim Furyk (2008 BMW Championship)
When to bet By 12.50pm on Thursday
Where to watch Live on elevensports.com
Time difference Missouri is six hours behind the UK and Ireland
Last week – WGC-Bridgestone Invitational 1 J Thomas (25-1), 2 K Stanley (125-1), T3 T Olesen (80-1), D Johnson (7-1), 5 B Koepka (30-1), T6 A Wise (300-1), A Lahiri (250-1), P Cantlay (60-1), R McIlroy (12-1)
Course overview Bellerive is hosting its third Major, having staged the 1965 US Open won by Gary Player and the 1992 US PGA won by Nick Price. The 2008 BMW Championship – the third leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs that year – also took place at Bellerive. Camilo Villegas was triumphant. The layout was established in 1960, designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior, and his son Rees Jones renovated the track in 2005.
It has zoysia grass fairways, juicy fairway rough, and large, bentgrass greens. A creek comes into play on nine holes. Rough around the greens made recovery shots difficult for the previous tournaments at Bellerive, but the set-up is different this time, with chipping areas instead. There are only two par-fives – the 610-yard eighth and the 597-yard 17th – and two of the par-fours measure more than 500 yards apiece.
The story of last year Justin Thomas fired three back-nine birdies to emerge from a large pack who were tied for the lead, surging forwards as early pacesetter Hideki Matsuyama hit reverse.
Weather forecast Sunny, calm and hot for the vast majority of the tournament, with the possibility of a brief Friday afternoon thunderstorm.
Type of player suited to challenge Power-packed, aerial golf looks like the way to succeed at Bellerive, especially with calm conditions expected and many holes set up well for a drawn drive. Players who hit a long draw, as well as high approach shots to find the right sections of these large, undulating greens, should be supported.
Key attribute Power
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