PGA Championship Predictions: Conservative/Aggressive Plays for Every Type of Bettor

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Jon Rahm, of Spain, waves after making a putt on the third hole during final round at the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club Sunday, April 14, 2024, in Augusta, Ga.
(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Jason Sobel @JasonSobelGolf May 14, 2024, 8:05 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Perhaps the best (and also most obvious) thing you can say about Valhalla GC, host of this week’s 106th PGA Championship, is that it’s positively PGA-ish. You know the deal: Lush fairways just a slight shade off from Augusta National green; rough thicker than a regular PGA Tour course, yet not as gnarly as a U.S. Open track; greens that are receptive to good shots and repellent to poor ones.

If you’re looking for a comp for Valhalla, you need only review back to Quail Hollow last week, which hosted this tournament seven years ago — or most other PGA Championship courses, for that matter. For as much as Kerry Haigh and his team at the PGA of America get the setup right every year, if you were dropped blindfolded into the depths of Valhalla or Oak Hill or Medinah or Bellerive, then removed the covering and asked to guess your location, any of these could be easily construed as another.

All of which leads to our handicapping of this event. Every piece of analysis you’ll read this week will essentially explain, in more glorified terminology, that long, straight drives are better than short, crooked ones, that hitting greens is preferable to being short-sided in the rough, and that hitting putts into the center of the cup is preferable to missing on either side.

None of this is meant to make light of the tournament or any other descriptions of it, but it should help make the point that a PGA Championship setup will rightfully test all aspects of a player’s game.

The pre-tournament talk this week will be all about the three players at the top of the golf odds board, but the selections start with a player just behind them – one who knows he’s being overlooked.

PGA Championship Outright Picks

Conservative: Jon Rahm (+1800)

The biggest storyline entering this week’s PGA Championship is the fact that Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka have each won their most recent starts. It’s an easy narrative that I, too, will be writing about – along with, I assume, a large portion of the working press here on-site. 

The oddsmakers at BetMGM have similarly done their part to kindle this narrative, enlisting these three with the lowest odds on the board. That would suggest they also have the three highest win probabilities and are definitively the world’s three best players, but any such dot-connecting leaves a glaring omission. 

While I’ll readily admit that Rahm hasn’t played his best golf this year, finishing T-45 in his title defense at the Masters and failing to win in seven LIV starts so far, nothing should ignite his fiery passion like several passing mentions of a “Big Three” that doesn’t include him. 

It’s not like the two-time major champion is playing poorly, though; in those seven LIV events, he owns four top-fives and nothing outside of the top-10. I get that the fields aren’t as deep as those on the PGA Tour, and the motivation level is lacking in comparison, but if there was a player with a similar record this season on that circuit, he’d likely be half this price and getting shorter, as opposed to Rahm, whose odds have actually lengthened with the spotlight on that top-three. 

I love the number, love the value and love the player here. An overlooked Rahm feels dangerous on a golf course that should reward his brand of combined power and accuracy.

Alternate selection: Rory McIlroy (+750)

Let’s just say that I’m not ready to rip up my Wells Fargo/PGA all-Rory parlay ticket just yet. Just as in 2014, a pair of pre-PGA victories could lead to a win at Valhalla.

Aggressive: Dustin Johnson (+6600)

With two players holding single-digit pre-tournament odds, there’s plenty of talent from which to choose in a mid-tier that should hold a lot of appeal. I’m intrigued by Sam Burns, Tony Finau and Sahith Theegala at the same price, but I’m going with the guy who’s been there-done that at major championships. 

There’s been a noticeable decline in Johnson’s major performances since joining LIV, and it’s difficult to believe that’s only a coincidence. Perhaps nobody embodies the “I got mine” persona of the modern-day pro than this soon-to-be 40-year-old, who undoubtedly carefully considered the play less/make more conundrum and decided that something about it seemed to suit his desires. 

Not that DJ has played poorly on LIV — he already owns a victory this year — but he’s clearly been downgraded from one of the game’s world-class players to an afterthought, posting just a pair of top-10s (and no top-fives) in his last nine major starts. 

The tough part here is trying to decipher whether he cares that much about finding it again; after all, it’s somewhat pointless to root a guy to the finish line who doesn’t himself seem interested in breaking the tape. All of that said, he’s still one of the world’s most talented players — and if he’s even slightly motivated and determined to play well, this number feels like a no-brainer.

Alternate selection: Tony Finau (+6600)

The NFL Draft-like idea of “best player available” has served us well in recent weeks, and while Finau hasn’t quite proven to be the best of anything lately, he’ll always look the part when he gets it going.

PGA Championship Top-5 Picks

Conservative: Scottie Scheffler (-120)

Scottie Scheffler is on-site at Valhalla following the birth of his son last week, so he will indeed tee it up, which leads to one of my favorite bets over the past few months. 

While the world No. 1 has won four of his last five starts, he’s finished top-five every time. Playing him outright this week at such a short number limits your other possibilities in that market, but playing him for a top-five can simply exist as a bankroll play, allowing you to get a little more aggressive and creative with other wagers.

Alternate selection: Ludvig Aberg (+333)

The knee “injury” which kept him from playing last week – and I use quotes, because he revealed there was swelling, but no pain – is certainly a concern, but I still like Aberg for a second top-five in a second career major.

Aggressive: Max Homa (+550)

Tired: Homa never plays well at the majors. Wired: Homa has now finished top-10 in his last two major starts, including a T-3 at last month’s Masters. It’s taken him a while to figure out the biggest events, but he’s finally gotten there. He comes into this one off a T-8 result at Quail Hollow, gaining strokes with his irons in each of his last eight starts and with his putter in seven of those last eight. 

Alternate selection: Byeong Hun An (+1000)

He’s what we call a momentum player, as he tends to bunch his best results. For a second time this year, he’s coming off a pair of top-fives in his last two starts.

PGA Championship Top-10 Picks

Conservative: Justin Thomas (+320)

On my SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio show “Hitting the Green,” my co-host Michael Collins and I often have weekly discussions about whom we’re most intrigued – not necessarily the player we think will win and not the player whose odds we like, but the player we’re most looking forward to watching. 

It’s difficult to not say Scottie or Rory this week, but I’m fascinated by Thomas, who might want this one in his home state more than he’s ever wanted another win. This is a classic question of whether a player’s will and determination can propel him to success at a certain venue, which is an intriguing proposition in itself. After a hot finish to last year and start to this one, his results have largely been a mixed bag as of late, including a T-21 last week.

Alternate selection: Viktor Hovland (+320)

We’re more than halfway through the season, but it feels like Hovland hasn’t really started yet. Most bettors will likely fade, but a tee-to-green game that was a stroke-and-a-half better than anyone else on Sunday has me interested once again.

Aggressive: Jordan Spieth (+500)

Like JT and Hovland, this is another play where you’ll want to hold your nose while making the bet. Spieth has been wildly inconsistent this year, burdened by a left wrist injury, which may or may not be hurting him, depending on how he feels like answering.

You can probably sense my trepidation here already, but I’ll say this much: The amount of attention Spieth is getting in advance of his latest attempt to claim the career slam pales in comparison to what McIlroy received prior to the Masters. If there’s a theme throughout this preview, it’s that remembering the forgotten men could prove to be a profitable strategy.

Alternate selection: Corey Conners (+600)

I can’t understand how Conners is still without a top-10 this year. Oh wait, yes I can: It’s because his brilliant tee-to-green game is offset by failing to ever make a single putt. That said, he keeps getting closer to cashing those top-10 tickets, finishing T-13 this past weekend.

PGA Championship Top-20 Picks

Conservative: Sepp Straka (+275)

This is one of my clear favorite finishing position plays on the board this week, as Straka has finished top-20 in three of the last four majors – or four out of five, if you count The Players, too. He’s also been top-20 in his last three overall starts and four out of five there, too. 

For a big dude, he’s not as long off the tee as you’d expect, but length isn’t as important this week as the power to muscle a ball out of the rough, which is a skill he certainly possesses.

Alternate selection: Min Woo Lee (+250)

Like Hovland, it feels as if Min Woo has yet to really get rolling this year. When he does, he can get hot in a hurry.

Aggressive: Alex Noren (+320)

This play is “aggressive” just based on the number, but the reality is that it’s about as conservative as things get right now. Noren has finished top-20 in five of his last seven starts, with the other two still being inside the top-25.

I’ve written this over the last few editions of this preview, but the former top-10 player is playing some of the best golf of his career these days, so there’s no reason to jump off now.

Alternate selection: Stephan Jaeger (+350)

Once again, sometimes these plays simply require just a modicum of attention being paid during the non-majors. Jaeger not only won for the first time recently, he has three top-20s in his last five starts, which doesn’t include a T-21 last week.

PGA Championship Top-40 Picks

Conservative: Taylor Pendrith (+150)

Things usually go one of two ways after a player secures his first career victory: Either he can be totally gassed and have nothing left in the tank one week later, or he can step on the gas pedal and free-roll it with house money. 

After winning the CJ Cup Byron Nelson two weeks ago, Pendrith finished T-10 last week. He’s notoriously another momentum guy – the type who’s known to get hot and stay there – so don’t be afraid to play the house money again.

Alternate selection: Keegan Bradley (+150)

Anytime long and straight driving is a determining factor of success, Bradley’s chances of finding it will increase. Last week’s T-21 was his best result in three full months, but the 2011 PGA Championship winner has finished top-40 in seven of 13 career starts at this event, with two others just a notch outside of cashing these tickets.

Aggressive: Thomas Detry (+200)

On the list of “better players than most people would think,” Detry’s name would rank prominently. He owns a pair of top-five results on the PGA Tour this year and – more importantly, considering this play – has a half-dozen top-40s in 11 starts.

Alternate selection: Billy Horschel (+160)

The greatest determining factor of performance (not success) is the total strokes gained statistic, a category in which Horschel ranked seventh on the PGA Tour before a poor week at Quail Hollow dropped him to 20th

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About the Author

Jason Sobel

Read More @JasonSobelGolf

Jason Sobel is a Brand Ambassador for BetMGM. He joins after six years with Action Network. Prior to Action, Jason spent a total of 17 years in two stints at ESPN (1997-2011; 2015-18) and four years at Golf Channel (2011-15). He also currently works as a host for "Hitting the Green" on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio and contributes to the channel's on-site coverage during major championships. He's won four Sports Emmy awards, more than a dozen Golf Writers Association of America accolades and has earned an honorable mention in the Best of American Sportswriting series.

Jason Sobel is a Brand Ambassador for BetMGM. He joins after six years with Action Network. Prior to Action, Jason spent a total of 17 years in two stints at ESPN (1997-2011; 2015-18) and four years at Golf Channel (2011-15). He also currently works as a host for "Hitting the Green" on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio and contributes to the channel's on-site coverage during major championships. He's won four Sports Emmy awards, more than a dozen Golf Writers Association of America accolades and has earned an honorable mention in the Best of American Sportswriting series.