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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Trust Justin Thomas to put up a bold defence of US PGA crown

Chinese ace Haotong Li looks big value at huge odds

Justin Thomas won last week's Bridgestone Invitational
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It’s back to the bad old days when the only golf on TV was the Open, some of the Masters and the World Match Play. This week there’s no live golf on TV. To watch the US PGA Championship you have to subscribe to online service Eleven Sports.

Sky couldn’t come to a deal with the PGA of America last year so the BBC got it for a song, took it on at short notice for a year and didn’t want it again. Now Eleven’s bid has won the day, using the US PGA to raise their profile.

It’s not the first time TV and the final Major have clashed. In the 1950s they even changed the gruelling matchplay format, which could involve the finalists playing 200 holes over seven days, to 72-hole strokeplay to placate TV and sponsors.

They were fed up with the final stages being fought out by hard to-sell names like Walter Burkemo, Chick Harbert and Jack Burke. 

It was a big turn-off. TV demanded a format where the giants of the game were visible at the weekend. So in 1958 we had Dow Finsterwald winning the first USPGA in the format we know it today. It wasn’t the big name they wanted but coming up fast behind were Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.

Tiger Woods is playing for at least two days but based on the rubbish he played at Firestone on Sunday, you wouldn’t put a fortune on him staying longer. It’s hard to know what’s coming next from Woods.

With Bellerive not being used on tour since 2008, there’s not much guidance available for punters. Phil Mickelson, in 17th place in that BMW Championship, did best of those still involved ten years on. Sergio Garcia was 20th, Bubba Watson 28th, Adam Scott 50th.

It’s a course with only two par-five holes that doesn’t favour any particular style of golfer. The winners there, Player, Nick Price and Camilo Villegas, were certainly not bombers.

It should be best to go for golfers in form. Justin Thomas won emphatically at Firestone. He has the burden of having to defend the title but is young, ambitious and fearless. He must go close, as must the favourite, Dustin Johnson, after following victory in Canada with a come-from-nowhere third at Firestone.

Once again Rory McIlroy folded under Sunday pressure. He has done punters few favours this year. Justin Rose missed last week as a precaution because of a sore neck, which is not the ideal preparation.

What you see is what you get with dual US Open champion Brooks Koepka. He finished strongly for fifth place last week - just the warm-up he wanted.

Jason Day is not the golfer who ruled the world three years ago but he has won twice this year and is getting there.

Kyle Stanley is a terrific iron player, was runner-up at Firestone and is good value.

Chinese star Haotong Li, third in last year’s Open and a winner in Dubai at the start of the year, could pull off a shock. Still only 23, his best is yet to come. Marc Leishman and teenage Chilean sensation Joaquin Niemann are also respected.

J Thomas
2.5pts each-way 16-1 Betfred
B Koepka
1pt each-way 20-1 general
K Stanley
1pt each-way 80-1 general
J Day
1pt each-way 22-1 Betfair
Haotong Li
0.5pt each-way 200-1 Sky Bet

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Thomas has the burden of having to defend a title but is young, ambitious and fearless
E.W. Terms
Sky bet