GOLF analyst Lewis Blain (@LewisBlainSport) shares his betting thoughts ahead of the USPGA Championship.
USPGA Championship | 20th-23rd May 2021 | Sky Sports
The longest course in Major Championship history awaits as Kiawah Island plays host to the 103rd edition of the USPGA Championship this week.
Nine years ago, Rory McIlroy romped to a convincing victory here to clinch his second major, and he returns to North Carolina as the betting favourite after securing his first win in 557 days at the Wells Fargo two weeks ago.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island sits adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, so there could be a very linksy feel to his week.
In 2012, there were seven Europeans in the top ten and that should come as no surprise given it's an exposed, wind-affected track – something that you do not see too often in the birdie-fest tests of the PGA Tour.
Similarly, the course features Paspalum greens, which is only seen on a handful of courses across the pond.
I think a combination of driving efficiency and a deft touch around the greens will be the ideal combination for any golfer prevailing in the second major of the year, so onto the staking plan…
I was torn over picking Jon Rahm here after his impressive finish at the Masters and he is certainly a major winner in waiting, but I do wonder if fatherhood has caused him to stumble in recent outings. A missed cut at the Wells Fargo and an uninspiring 34th last week at the Byron Nelson isn't great but given his suitability, I wouldn't be surprised if he turns it on.
Instead, I'm going to back two from near the front at a little longer odds, the first being Xander Schauffele (22/1 each-way, William Hill)
The American is a big-game hunter who seems ripe for Kiawah Island. Some of his PGA Tour victories have come in elite fields, notably a WGC, the Tournament of Champions, and the FedEx Cup finale Tour Championship, twice.
His record in Major Championships is simmering towards that win too, and it is his 2nd in the Open Championship in 2018 that appeals most. Not to mention, he's finished runner-up at Augusta twice and has four top-six finishes in the US Open, which is often notoriously held at long courses like this one.
Seven of his last 15 Major appearances have drawn a return, and his approach play, short-game and scoring are in great nick, so I certainly think we're getting generous offerings around 22/1.
Both of his PGA Tour victories have come on Paspalum greens (Puerto Rico & Mayakoba) whilst one of his first ventures into the European Tour saw him finish inside the top-six at Saudi, another tournament with similar putting surfaces, so he's certainly a hard man to ignore.
He is even harder to ignore when considering his recent form.
The big-hitting Norwegian followed up a third at the Valspar Championship with a third at the Wells Fargo, finishing only two shots behind McIlroy. Hovland has missed the cut just once since early 2020 and has a plethora of top-15 finishes across the year, including runner-ups at the WGC Workday and Torrey Pines, and a T13 at the US Open.
The only outlier in his game is around the greens but he's forever improving and just needs to be at his average to be in contention.
Since 2009, there have been eight first-time Major winners whilst 18 of the 21 have won on Tour before, so Hovland fits the bill here, too. Collin Morikawa did so last year and the two players we've backed here are in the same mould, that's for sure.
As is Tyrrell Hatton (45/1 each-way, SkyBet)
, who has everything to thrive here except recent form but had he been gunning into this even, then we'd be getting half the price – I'm sure of that.
The Englishman is an excellent links player, winning the Alfred Dunhill twice, and only last year secured his first win on American soil when taking home the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill – a competition that McIlroy won in 2018.
Further form in Saudi (Paspalum) and at another Pete Dye track (Harbour Town, RBC Heritage) add further weight to his credentials this week. If we're talking about driving efficiency and short-game, then Hatton is one of the best in this field.
Next up is Marc Leishman (60/1 each-way, SkyBet)
, who is another that ticks all the boxes this week. Fresh off a top-five at the Masters, the Aussie is simmering nicely into form. He won the Zurich with Cam Smith and then followed that up with a top-25 at the Byron Nelson at the weekend.
Leish is another who has form on the links. He devastatingly lost out in a playoff during the 2015 Open Championship (St Andrew's) and registered a top-five a year earlier at Royal Liverpool. He has won some big events, including the API and the Farmers Insurance (Torrey Pines), so you could call him another big-game hunter.
He played Kiawah the year McIlroy won as well, and his 72 in horrible windy conditions during the second round was amongst the best five scores on the day, so perhaps if the wind does get up, then it'll favour our man even more.
I'm going to chance Tommy Fleetwood (66/1 each-way, Bet365)
in a major despite often having a card-breaking scorecard over the weekend in these sorts of events but if we stick with the above theme, he could well outplay these tasty-looking odds.
The Englishman hasn't played as many events as he normally would and is without a win since 2019 but has two runner-ups in Major Championships, including an Open Championship and is also in sneaky form, with a T5 at the WGC and a T14 at the Wells Fargo.
He has contended at the API and at Sawgrass in America, so it's not a question about his ability, especially as his skillset certainly meets the criteria for Kiawah Island.
At 66/1, he's worth a dabble.
And if we're backing someone who challenged at Royal Portrush in 2019, then we ought to turn to the winner Shane Lowry (90/1 each-way, Betfred)
. Truth be told, I have been sitting on the Irishman for several months now and these odds are still hugely appealing.
He can be a beast tee-to-green and he also possesses a beautiful short game, so Kiawah Island could be set up perfectly for him this week. Lowry could also be on the verge of hitting a peak having challenged a couple of times in recent months, including top-tens at Harbour Town (RBC) and Sawgrass (PLAYERS).
We're getting a Major and WGC champion, one capable of excelling in the wind on the coast at 90/1. It's very hard to ignore him. He'll need to improve on his performance at the Wells Fargo last time out but that could well have been him shaking off some rust after nearly a month's break.
He completes our very Euro-themed staking plan for the 2021 USPGA Championship.
USPGA Championship – Xander Schauffele (22/1 each-way William Hill)
USPGA Championship – Victor Hovland (25/1 each-way William Hill)
USPGA Championship – Tyrrell Hatton (45/1 each-way SkyBet)
USPGA Championship – Marc Leishman (60/1 each-way SkyBet)
USPGA Championship – Tommy Fleetwood (66/1 each-way Bet365)
USPGA Championship – Shane Lowry (90/1 each-way Betfred)