Master McIlroy looks primed to claim a fifth Major at Quail Hollow
Best bets from the veteran tipster
Does the name Derek Ernst mean anything to you? Me neither.
He was ranked 1,207th in the world when, as fourth reserve for the 2013 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, he got the late call that he was in.
Ernst dumbfounded the golf world by going on to beat England’s Greg Owen in a playoff, collecting his giant cheque and disappearing, at least as far as being a contender again, never had a top five, top ten nor even a top 15.
I mention Ernst to show that absolutely anyone could win at the old Quail Hollow; the big question is whether the reborn Quail Hollow, with its four new-ish holes and some bunker restructuring to make it a penalty for those who stray into them, will sort out the men from the boys in this week’s USPGA Championship.
That’s far from everything in this extravagant makeover: greens have been burnt off and bunkers emptied to make way for a superior strain of grass and sand.
Rory McIlroy has been looking forward to this Major ever since it was announced that Quail Hollow would host the 2017 USPGA. He had won there twice, in 2010 and 2015, and been beaten in a playoff in between.
But how different is the course after toughening it up to make it worthy of hosting a Major - enough to take away much of Rory’s advantage? The answer to that will be the key as to whether 15-2 is fair value or poor.
He will certainly have to step up on his putting from last Sunday to turn the tables on Japanese superstar Hideki Matsuyama. But a fifth place at Firestone following a fourth at the Open should have put Rory spot-on to bag his fifth Major.
Trying to live up to expectations so soon after Sunday’s magical 61 will be tough for Hideki. He will also have battalions of Japanese photographers and reporters to deal with while he tries to become the first male from his golf-mad country to win a Major.
Preference is for Rickie Fowler who has a similar scenario to Rory in that Quail Hollow was also his first taste of success when he found the extra-time birdie to shut out the Northern Irishman in 2012.
He’s in undeniably better form than some of the others at the top end of the market, had the perfect warm-up with a top-ten at Firestone, and would have been as happy as Rory to have this Major at a course that holds such a positive mental association.
Now that he’s out of the spotlight and at double-figure odds Dustin Johnson has become a betting proposition. Long, straight driving is DJ’s greatest strength as much as Rory’s and although his Bridgestone aspirations were gone with that second-day 75,
the other three rounds were full of birdies.
He feels his game is in the right place and back in the groove that brought him three wins in a row before the tumble in Masters week that put his back out.
Brooks Koepka continues to impress, following up his US Open victory with a Birkdale sixth and a decent top-20 effort last week. He is another long, straight driver who fits the Quail Hollow mould and is a little overpriced.
Jordan Spieth’s golf last week was ordinary but we can expect a return to the passion that conquered Birkdale as a “W” would complete the full Majors set. His one tilt at the course didn’t amount to much and he is one who won’t relish the extra, thicker rough.
He is obviously feared as is the phenomenal raw talent of Jon Rahm but McIlroy, Fowler, Johnson and Koepka are a formidable quartet to take them on with.
To back them up, Mickelson has such a terrific record at Quail Hollow and may still have one more arrow to fire. Taking the 66-1 with those firms paying out on eight or more places could reap a nice dividend.
It’s a pity the only 50-1 for Paul Casey is with Ladbrokes who offer six places (although a quarter the odds) but he is playing well, Sunday’s share of fifth yet another example.
As he hasn’t won on his adopted tour for eight years, you probably have only the place part of the bet to cheer. Taking the 9-2 Casey for top Englishman is a good alternative with Tommy Fleetwood rather than group favourite Justin Rose the biggest threat.
3pts 15-2 Ladbrokes
1.5pts each-way 18-1 Betfair, Paddy Power
1pt each-way 12-1 general
1pt each-way 25-1 general
0.5pt each-way 66-1 general
0.5pt each-way 200-1 general
P Casey top Englishman
2pts each-way 9-2 general