The PGA Championship is celebrating its 101st edition by moving to a new spot on the calendar. Having been held in August since the 1970s, the PGA Tour's rescheduling at the end of last season meant that from now on, the event will take place in May and serve as the year's second major.
Image Credit - PGA Championship Twitter
It's hard to think of a more perfect start to the season for the tournament's organisers to try and whip up plenty of interest in the event, and the PGA Championship is arguably as highly anticipated this year as it ever has been. Most of that is down to one man, Tiger Woods. The 43 year-old captured his fifth Green Jacket at The Masters last month and, incredibly, arrives as tournament favourite having won at this course 17 years ago.
Add to that the fact that this tournament is being played at Bethpage Black, one of the toughest courses in the world and one of America's best public courses, which also happens to be just outside of sports-mad New York and will surely attract some vociferous fans.
A couple of years ago, it could have been argued that the PGA Championship was becoming a little stale. It took place at the tail-end of the season, when football and American football seasons had already started, the courses tended to be a little tame, and the event struggled to live with the prestigious reputations of the sport's three other majors with a slight lack of history.
This year however, feels different. The new calendar means that it will take place right in the middle of the golfing season, the course and fans are bound to make things exciting and the event will again be back on our television sets. Some may complain that it can occasionally get a little rowdy (see last year's event and Tiger's back-nine charge for the title) but I think it's an event which is exciting, fun and usually sees plenty of birdies and eagles. If it lives up to our expectations, it could really get non-golf fans' attention in the same way that Augusta did in April.
As mentioned above, last year's tournament at Bellerive was perhaps unfairly just as much about Tiger's close-call than it was about the actual winner of the event, Brooks Koepka.
Image Credit - PGA Championship Twitter
Whilst Woods was at his crowd-pleasing best, blazing drives into the crowds, producing miraculous recovery shots and delivering trademark fist-pumps, ultimately he could not catch the dominant Koepka. His final round of 66 set a new tournament record score of 264, and also gave the American his second major victory of the season and third in his last 6 starts.
Rounding out the Top 5 were Adam Scott, Jon Rahm and, to the surprise of most of the golfing world, 2009 Open Champion Stewart Cink.
Bethpage Black was relatively unknown until it made history in 2002, becoming the first municipal course to host a major at that year's US Open. Since then, the Black Course has gone on to host the event again in 2009, aswell as a FedEx Cup playoff event in 2012 and 2016, proving that it is more than a match for the game's biggest tournaments.
Image Credit - Bethpage Black Website
The winning scores during the two US Opens held at Bethpage were -3 and -4, indicating just how tough the course can be set up if required. This week the par 70 layout will measure an eye-watering 7,400 yards, including almost 4 inch rough and narrowed fairways.
Whilst the conditions are not expected to be as tough as during the US Open, playing at the end of a chilly and wet Spring in New York will make this golf course long and soft. Big hitters who hit fairways appear to be the blueprint for success.
Headlining the field, of course, is Tiger Woods. But for the first time in history, every single member of the Top 100 in the World Ranking will be playing in a major, which essentially means that this is the strongest field ever assembled for a major championship.
Image Credit - Bethpage Black Website
There will also be plenty of attention on Brooks Koepka, looking to defend his PGA Championship crown to go with back-to-back US Open titles. The American is in fantastic form, and wasn't too far off at The Masters in April but for a misjudged 9-iron at the par 3 12th.
Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson round off the favourites, with McIlroy looking to win his first major for almost five years. World Number One Johnson has already won twice this year, and a player of his calibre really should have more than just one major in his career. At 34 years of age now is the perfect time to add to that somewhat underwhelming tally.
Jordan Spieth can complete the career grand slam this week with a win, although he is still working himself back to his best form after a poor 2018 season.
The convention is that the previous three major winners play together, so its Tiger, Koepka and Molinari doing battle again, after they all finished in the Top 5 at Augusta. It would be hard to bet against any of them being in the final group come Sunday at Bethpage either.
Other notable groups for the first two days include McIlroy, Mickelson and Day, Rahm, Johnson and Spieth, and Fowler, Rose and Watson. Could the winner come from one of those groups?
Our Betting Tips
The Favourite - Jason Day @ 28/1
This was a really tough one between Day and Brooks Koepka, the major-winning machine who is in great form. But Day is a much better price, and on paper this event is (pardon the pun) tailor made for him. It appears this week will effectively be a cross between an aggressive-style PGA Championship, with the short-game examination of a US Open.
Day is one of the longest hitters on the Tour and his powerful, towering iron shots will be a big advantage on a long, soft course. But he is also arguably the best putter in the world and has a fantastic all-round short game, meaning that he should be able to escape trouble more often than others. If he drives it straight, and his back holds up, this could be the perfect week.
A closer look at his record further supports his cause too. Day has a great track record at similar courses to Bethpage, including Quail Hollow and Torrey Pines, finishing T4 here during The Barclays in 2016. He's also a previous winner of the PGA Championship, and since then has finished 2nd, T9 and T19 in the event. Move quick before that price starts to drop.
The Underdog - Bryson DeChambeau @ 40/1
Bryson has gone off the boil a little since winning in Dubai earlier this year. For a player who has 7 wins in less than 100 professional events, 40/1 seems to be generous. You just get the feeling that the American is starting to work out what it takes to really compete at the majors and big events.
He has been working hard on his swing in the last couple of months and it looked to have paid off when he led after the first round at The Masters before fading to eventually finish T29.
However, the course appears to suit Bryson's game as it requires length and accuracy off the tee (he ranks 6th on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Off The Tee this season), as well as careful game management in order to be successful. Late last year he won the Northern Trust which was held at nearby Ridgewood and designed by the same course architect as Bethpage Black. At 8th in the world currently, 40/1 is definitely worth considering.
The Long Shot - Webb Simpson @ 80/1
Despite not being a particularly long hitter, Simpson has been working hard to try and gain a few extra yards in recent weeks and to good effect. The American has revived his career somewhat after a few quiet years, and is once again a regular contender for titles thanks to a revamped putting stroke.
Top 20s in each of his last five majors, including T5 at last month's Masters, prove that he is comfortable on the big stage and on some tough golf courses. Wins at the US Open and the Players last year back that up too.
Simpson has also finished in the Top 20 in his last three starts on the PGA Tour, and at 80/1 could represent good value for money as an each way option.