Having started the year well, with 2011 previews fingering the overall prospects for Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Steve Stricker, the subsequent picks for the Masters, US Open and Open Championship have all gone horribly wrong. Donald and Lee Westwood have barely troubled a major leader board and whilst there was no shame in missing Charl Schwartzel and Big Darren Clarke, this columnist was seriously remiss in discounting young Rory ahead of his runaway win at Congressional. Archie's year-to-date report card reads: "B- Must Do Better".
Atlanta Athletic Club presents a test of golf pitched somewhere between Augusta National (with its towering pine trees, colourful azaleas and lightening fast greens) and a traditional US Open course (long, hard, penal rough). The AAC perhaps lacks the glamour of other major sites but has a distinguished history in hosting both US Open and US PGA tournaments. Straight driving, crisp iron-play and patient putting will be key factors – as evidenced by the master of those traits, David Toms when he won the last US PGA to be held here in 2001.
The betting market is divided into a range of categories in this unusual field of top touring studs and the cannon-fodder of qualifying club pros. I have split my thoughts into three tiers: favourites, value and longshots.
The bookies price up the top of the order as: McIlroy (9/1), Mickelson (12/1) and Donald (16/1) and I find it hard to argue with that. The perennial 'wood' boys –Westwood and Tiger Woods – are also at the 16/1 mark but the form of both is hard to gauge this year and in Tiger's case it is still not clear that he will be fit in time.
Although Rory at single-digit odds is hard to see as stand-out value, I will not be underestimating the Ulsterman again and if he enters the championship with the same sense of confidence he had in the US Open, he'll certainly be in the mix. As for Mickelson – regular readers will know that most of my interest in him outside of Augusta has been on the short side (enduringly profitable until last month's surprise showing at Sandwich), but I do feel this course will suit him well. In addition to his strong showing in 2001, he does play well in Georgia and has matured into a more patient major contender.
There are two dozen or so players priced in the 25-40/1 range including the new American generation of hopefuls: Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan and the others with Deliverance-inspired first names. Any could stake a legitimate winning claim if they find form that week. A good strategy is to pick three to four in this price range who are showing promise in the weeks preceding. Ahead of that though, I offer three choices from this category for different reasons.
Steve Stricker holds the anchor slot. The master of consistency, he will hit fairways and greens and stay in contention. The similarity of his game to prior winner David Toms has to be noticed.
Nick Watney has also had a superb season – the most consistent of any in that group of 'next best Americans'. Lacking the flash of a Rickie Fowler, he has at least an equally good game and tends to fly under the bookies radar; how many other current leaders of the 2011 Fedex Cup standings would enter the USPGA at 30+/1?
Jason Day, the exciting young Aussie, is building his year around the majors. Second in both the Masters and US Open, he could follow the recent South Africans as the next southern hemisphere major champ. Odds of 35/1 are decent; snap up anything higher.
Gary Woodland is a tour rookie who has had the temerity to post five top 10 finishes in his first 17 starts on tour; one of which he won. Although major championship golf is another level up, the US PGA is the one that does tend to elicit relatively unknown winners (see Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel and YE Yang). Woodland might give you a thrill at over 100/1.
Two 'Georgia Boys' complete the roster: Charles Howell III is a streaky player who perhaps never quite fulfilled his early potential. 2011 has been something of a come-back year for him however and I think the bookies are currently too generous on his chances. Anything in triple digit odds would be worth exploring.
Lastly, Davis Love III makes an claim at 125/1. The heat and local topography will be happily familiar to him and his experience and patience will surely serve him well. As a past champion of this event, he will want to get his hands of that vast Wanamaker trophy one more time.
For the frivolous, I can report one novelty bet currently on offer from Paddy Power: The "Chubby Slam"; a victory by another golfer from the management stable of Andrew "Chubby" Chandler, whose clients include all three of this year's major winners, would pay 3/1.