Can 'Lefty' improve on recent form at Hazeltine this week?(credit: nsaplayer
Latest betting on four golfers who can beat their opponents in the first round of the USPGA Championship at Hazeltine on Thursday...
Starting Time 14.35
Shaun Micheel @ 2.37 with Betfair (vs Brooks, Campbell)
This thee-ball involves three former major champions, all of whom owe their place in this field to those former glories rather than anything achieved recently. In fact, so poor is their current form that an opening 75 would probably be enough to land this bet.
2003 PGA champ Micheel is the only one to have produced anything remotely competitive this season, opening last week's Reno-Tahoe Open with 69/65 before slipping back, and registering a couple of top-20s earlier in the year. And at least in Shaun's case, his tournament record is very good, also finishing second in 2006 and making four of his five PGA cuts.
In contrast, 1996 champion Brooks has missed every PGA cut this century, and has a best finish since January of 40th. Michael Campbell was by far the best of these in his heyday, but starts as outsider after an appalling season. Sixty-second last time out is his best of the year, but it was still a dire performance, well beaten behind a low-grade field.
Starting Time 15.05
Michael Sim @ 2.0 (vs Bradley, Gaffney)
This is another group that shouldn't take much winning, and favourite Sim looks a different class to his opponents. The 24-year-old Australian has been the best player on the Nationwide Tour this season, winning twice and registering a series of further top-10s. Sim also served notice of his potential with an excellent top-20 on his US Open debut in June.
Neither opponent is likely to present much of a threat. Brian Gaffney is one of the club professionals that make up the PGA field, for whom just making the cut would represent a fine achievement. As for 43 year-old journeyman Michael Bradley, he did at least land a shock win in March at the Puerto Rico Open, but hasn't bettered 39th place since.
Starting Time 19.05
Kevin Sutherland @ 2.9 (vs Romero, Montgomerie)
Sutherland may lack either the potential or career achievements of his opponents, but looks the most reliable pick nonetheless. The former shock World Matchplay champion consistently starts tournaments well, shooting below 70 in seven of his last eight opening rounds.
A repeat would present a tough target for Andres Romero or Monty, neither of whom have particularly strong claims this week. Monty's game is at an all-time low, and he hasn't prospered in a PGA for a long time, with a best this century of just 39th. Promising Argentinian Romero is a bigger danger, and did finish seventh in last year's PGA, but has done little this term. Moreover, his ultra-aggressive game could come unstuck at Hazeltine.
Starting Time 19.45
David Toms @ 2.8 (vs Mickelson, Azinger)
Unless 1993 champ Azinger, who rarely plays nowadays let alone make cuts, pulls off a big shock, this looks a match between these two more recent PGA champions. Assuming that turns out to be the case, Toms must rate a bit of value on recent form having twice finished second in his last six starts.
Last week at Firestone, Toms finished 22nd compared to Mickelson's 58th. It may well be that Lefty will improve, as that was his first start since the US Open, but he will need to. Even if he does, its doubtful that Hazeltine particularly suits his talents, as a well-beaten 34th on this course in the 2002 PGA suggests.