By News Team
18th May 2021
It doesn’t seem long since Hideki Matsuyama was putting on the green jacket at Augusta, does it?
And while it’s been only just over a month since he became the first Japanese Masters champion, there is no rest for the wicked as we’ve already got another Major to look forward to.
It’s the turn of the PGA Championship at one of America’s great courses, Kiawah Island, and based on previous events the South Carolina course has hosted, we should be in for another cracking tournament.
Here’s our preview ahead of Thursday’s opening round.
Berger a juicy bet at Kiawah
Given a large proportion of the field are yet to play Kiawah Island competitively, course form does, for the most part, go out of the window this week. The one glaring omission to that is Rory McIlroy who returns to the venue where he won by a mere eight shots the last time a tournament was played here.
Throw in the fact he comes into this week on the back of a win at the Wells Fargo Championship – his first since November 2019 – and there is a pretty solid case for why the Northern Irishman sits at the top of the betting at 11/1. The case for McIlroy is pretty clear and given his current and course form, he’ll do for many, but there have to be doubts about his swing holding up over four rounds at a Major. Don’t forget, he’d missed the cut in three of his previous six appearances, so there looks good reason to go against him here.
Jon Rahm (14/1) is very much respected given he’s a terrific links player and has the power to cope with Kiawah Island’s length. However, it’s DANIEL BERGER who gets the headline vote at 30/1 on the back of an impressive Sunday at last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson. Although he had finished no worse than a tie for 35th in all but one of his starts since winning at Pebble Beach, a niggling rib injury looked to have held back the American. Given the issue then, it was hugely impressive he managed to finish inside the top 10 at the Players, however, he looked out of sorts at the Masters with the troublesome rib still clearly giving him grief.
Berger took over a month off after that to rest and bounced back to form with a tie for 13th at the RBC Heritage, but despite that solid finish, he still took another month off before playing last week. Berger played solidly for the first three days at TPC Craig Ranch, but a final day 64 was the round that really caught the eye, especially as it was shot in horrendous conditions. That will have given him plenty of confidence and he looks poised for a bold showing.
Granted, he’ll need to improve his short-game being ranked 160th on Tour for Strokes Gained: Around The Green, but he was solid enough around the greens last week and is also a very solid putter (19th on Tour), so there is enough to suggest he should be able to cope.
Might it finally be Schauffele’s time?
If there is one player who has done everything but wins a Major then it’s Xander Schauffele and he might just end the drought this week at 22/1. For a player of his quality, to have not won since January 2019 is pretty astonishing, although that does only tell half the story. He’s finished runner-up seven times since, including the 2019 Masters, while he’s finished third at the U.S. Open as well as at this year’s Masters, showing he’s not afraid to bring his A-game out on the main stage. Prior to that last win, he also finished second at the 2018 Open at Carnoustie and that will surely correlate well this week. Kiawah Island has a very links-like feel to it with plenty of wind forecast and Schauffele showed in 2018 he’s more than comfortable when the wind blows.
Experts also expect short-game to be key with plenty of run-offs around the greens, while the putting surfaces themselves are very tricky to read. Schauffele’s short-game is one of the best around with the 27-year-old ranking 17th for SG: Around The Green, while he’s eighth for putting. All-in-all, plenty looks in his favour and he really ought to go well as he seeks a maiden Major victory.