If the 2015 golf season were a Shakespearean drama, there would be no mistaking the two tragic heroes.
First, there’s Rory McIlroy—a Macbeth type, recently elevated to power, and now watching it crumble around him.
At the Masters, he hadn’t quite recovered from an off-season of drama that included a time-consuming legal battle against his former agents. He played reasonably well at Augusta, but it never felt like had a chance to win. Then he found his form for two big victories on the PGA Tour, but managed to run himself ragged in the lead-up to the U.S. Open, where his fatigue showed and his Sunday charge came too late. Next, of course, the friendly kick-about cost him the chance to defend his British Open title at a course that suited his game completely. Now, he’s recovered in time to play at Whistling Straits, but anybody who thinks he can just bolt off the couch and actually win this thing is madder than Macbeth himself. At 8/1 odds, you’d be throwing your money away.
Second, there’s Dustin Johnson—more of a Hamlet guy, brilliant in his own way, but never quite able to consolidate his power and vanquish the foes inside his own head.
He had a chance to slay those demons at Chambers Bay, but faltered on the 18th green. All eyes turned to St Andrews, where he found himself in contention before taking an unceremonious dive with a third-round 75. It was sad — he looked like a guy who would rather plummet down the leaderboard, safely out of view, than risk another massive public failure. Now, at Whistling Straits, he’s returning to the scene of his greatest disaster — the “grounding USPGA” incident which took him out of the playoff in 2010. If you think he’s prepared to cope with those memories, you’re dreaming. Better to pour poison in your ear than waste money on DJ at 12/1.
And now, let’s put aside the negativity! Here are six players that deserve your faith, and could actually line your pockets at the PGA Championship:
1. Bubba Watson — 16/1
Here’s the thing about Bubba—when you put him in a foreign environment, the guy is a mess. He can’t live up to his potential, and he has a bad habit of making a fool of himself on and off the course, to the point that he’s fully capable of embarrassing the sport and even his country. As far as that goes, he stands for a lot of criticism, and he deserves it. Personally, I’ve been tougher on him than almost anybody, and I don’t regret a word. BUT — here’s the critical point — if you get him in a place where he’s comfortable, on a course that suits his game, he might be the best golfer in the world. He’s more than just a bomber, and anybody who tags him with that label is making a huge mistake. Freed from his own psychological burdens, he’s a creative genius, and has plenty of finesse to go along with his power.
So we need to ask three questions. First, how does Whistling Straits suit him? Answer: Very well.
Second, how is his recent form? Answer: Aside from St Andrews, where he’s on foreign shores and out of sorts, it’s quite good, with a tournament win and two more top tens in his last five events.
Third, and most importantly, does he have a positive history at Whistling Straits? Answer: Of course—he lost in a playoff here to Martin Kaymer in 2010. At the current odds, Bubba is the steal of the tournament.
2. Louis Oosthuizen — 33/1
This is the third tragic hero of the 2015. He came achingly close at both the U.S. Open and St Andrews (I thought he was a shoe-in for Claret Jug when he made the playoff), and if he leaves this year with no hardware, it will be tough to look back without regret. He missed the cut at Whistling Straits in 2010, but it’s hard to see how that matters now. His form is terrific, he’s got karma on his side, and we’ve seen over and over how well he plays under Sunday pressure. His length will serve him well yet again, and unless Bubba blows the field away, this could be cosmic comeuppance for a season of near-misses.
3. Patrick Reed — 60/1
Compared to his success on the PGA Tour, Reed’s progress in majors has been slightly slow, especially considering how well he typically plays under pressure. But in 2015, he’s made three cuts and finished 22nd or better at each major stop. He even had his first taste of real contention at Chambers Bay, but faltered on Saturday when paired with Jordan Spieth. He’s not the kind of player to stumble very often, though, and it feels like he’s primed for a big result. Reed’s major breakthrough is coming, and it’s a question of when, not if. I’m thinking a top-5 finish at the PGA is in the cards.
4. Shane Lowry — 50/1
Am I pandering to an Irish audience here? Probably! But with Lowry lighting up Bridgestone on a fairly difficult week, there’s never been a better time to go with the hometown boy. His ninth-place finish at Chambers Bay proved he can cut the mustard at an American major, and a two-shot victory this week will give him all the confidence he needs to contend in Wisconsin.
5. Robert Streb — 80/1
There are real questions about whether a guy like Streb can actually win a major, but there are no questions about his form—this guy has been red-hot since May, posting top-20 finish after top-20 finish. He finished in the top five at Bridgestone, and with these odds, he stands to pay out in a big way at Whistling Straits.
6. Marc Warren — 250/1
I’m flabbergasted by these odds. The 14th-ranked golfer on the European Tour, coming off a strong showing at St. Andrews, a 27th-place finish at Chambers Bay, and who just cracked the world top 50 to make the WGC-Bridgestone, where he finished T25, is 250/1???! I’m not saying the guy is going to win, necessarily, but he’s seriously undervalued here, so why not spend £10 for the chance and buy yourself a massive collection of kilts when the Scotsman pays off.
Three more scattered thoughts:
Jordan Spieth, 6/1: Great chance to win. It’s not for everybody at those prices.
Justin Rose, 20/1: Hard to see him falling out of the top five.
Tiger Woods, 50/1: Don’t be an idiot.
Shane Ryan is the author of ‘Slaying the Tiger: A year inside the ropes on the PGA Tour’ & the European version ‘Chasing the Legends: The rise of the young guns in golf’ revealing the stories that the insiders know, but rarely share. You can follow @ShaneRyanhere on Twitter