Predicting finishes and winner among PGA Championship favorites

The 2018 PGA Championship tees up this year at Bellerive Country Club in the St. Louis area, and many of the world’s top golfers are in peak form.

World No. 2 Justin Thomas is coming off a win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, while first-ranked Dustin Johnson won the week before at the RBC Canadian Open. Johnson leads the list of favorites, but Thomas is defending the Wanamaker Trophy.

Let’s break down the 10 odds-on favorites to take home the hardware at the season’s final major, and figure out who the best bet is to claim victory.

Note: Odds courtesy of Bovada (via Odds Shark); current as of Tuesday, August 7.

Dustin Johnson (+800)
In six of 15 worldwide events this calendar year, DJ has finished in the top three and has three wins. All that’s missing thus far is a major championship, which would be the second of Johnson’s career.

The most impressive athlete in professional golf is really capitalizing on his seemingly limitless potential of late. Recent struggles with the putter were fixed when he got hot in Akron this past weekend, going 66-64 in the final two rounds to finish joint third.

Not a bad followup to the aforementioned win in Canada. Few players are as hot as Johnson right now, but he missed the cut at the Open Championship, and is due to cool off ever so slightly. Look for Johnson to fall just short in a runner-up finish.

Rory McIlroy (+1200)
A winner of this event in 2012 and 2014, the PGA Championship is the major that suits McIlroy’s game best. He played in the final pairing with Thomas but stumbled down the stretch to finish tied for sixth in the WGC event.

McIlroy has finished second three times in 2018, suggesting he is extremely close to something special. Hardly anyone is a better ball-striker than McIlroy at the moment. A few putts just need to fall before he’s running away from the field again.

Miscues with that flat iron cost McIlroy a chance at the Claret Jug last month. It will again be the difference between another piece of major history and a strong top-five showing this week.

Justin Thomas (+1400)
The only man to win the PGA Championship twice in a row since it became a stroke play event in 1958 is Tiger Woods, and he did it on two different occasions. Talk about some elite company to potentially join.

Thomas would not only have to pull off a double in the annual major finale, but he’d also notch his second consecutive victory overall. Both feats seem so insurmountable as to be unconquerable, even for someone as capable as the young American.

History and odds are stacked against Thomas to the point where it’s too much to overcome. However, given his recent form and four-shot triumph over an elite field last week, look for him to finish inside the top 15.

Jordan Spieth (+2000)
When he initially burst onto the scene, there was no one on the planet who could putt better than Spieth, particularly from long range. Unfortunately, that touch has escaped him this season, and it’s why he’s yet to log a PGA Tour victory.

Spieth is due to heat up on the greens at any moment. Whether it’s an alignment tweak, a slight adjustment in his pre-strike forward press or simply getting less mechanical with the stroke, a smart, cerebral player like Spieth is bound to figure it out.

But as he showed with a 54-hole lead at Carnoustie in the Open, Spieth wasn’t quite ready for his game to hold up to the major pressure. Expect a top-10 performance at Bellerive, just not a completion of the career Grand Slam yet.

Brooks Koepka (+2000)
Aiming for his second major of the season and third overall, Koepka embraces the big stage. Even as he successfully defended at the U.S. Open this year, though, the long hitter got off to a slow start at five over through 15 holes before dominating.

The Open Championship saw Koepka stumble out of the gates, and although he recovered from a five-over front nine, the difficult third-round conditions knocked him out of contention.

A backdoor top-five finish last week gives him a little boost of confidence coming in, yet Koepka has been a little too inconsistent to count on. He should make the cut but won’t really threaten the lead on the weekend, settling for a top-25 effort.

Jason Day (+2000)
The holder of the PGA Championship scoring record at 20 under par when he came out on top in 2015. He routinely contended in golf’s Grand Slam events for a time, but if this week doesn’t go well enough, Day will have one top-10 major finish in the past two seasons.

Day has been a wizard with the wand, ranking first in strokes gained: putting this season. The big drop-off has come from his iron play, as Day ranks 130th in strokes gained: approach to the green.

It has to be frustrating for Day to crank out long drives and have his short game be in such good shape, only to fail to capitalize with routine iron shots. Nevertheless, he’s having a strong 2017-18 campaign. Until his irons are sorted out, though, he can’t be endorsed as better than a top-20 finisher in a major.

Rickie Fowler (+2200)
However cool, calm and composed the countenance Fowler exudes is, he has to be accumulating some serious scar tissue. He’s carrying the burden of the “Best Player Yet To Have Won a Major” title with grace, though it has to be getting to him.

Fowler hasn’t had a horrible season. He won the Hero World Challenge in December with a final-round 61 and placed second at the Masters. Since then, he’s seemed to have lost some steam.

There’s no one more due for a major breakthrough than Fowler. But given the uneven state of his game and tendency to post a big number, don’t expect Fowler to manage more than a top-25 finish at the PGA Championship.

Jon Rahm (+2500)
One of the biggest hotheads in the world of golf, Rahm is raw but exciting and fully capable of winning a major now at age 23. After rising as high as second in the world rankings, the Spanish prodigy is now in seventh but has had some solid performances of late in big tournaments.

Rahm was fourth in the Masters, won the Open de Espana, was top five in the French Open and defended his Irish Open title admirably with a tie for fourth.

The big knock against picking Rahm this week: his temperament and how it translates to a major if breaks aren’t going his way, and the fact he missed the cut at the U.S. Open and Open Championship. It seems more likely he’ll barely make the weekend and finish somewhere in the top 40 than claim his maiden major.

Tiger Woods (+2800)
As mentioned before, Woods has four PGA Championship titles on his resume. Despite not winning a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, enduring health and personal issues away from the course and jeopardizing his professional career, he’s still among the top 10 favorites.

Woods’ mental perseverance is among the most impressive sports stories of all-time. It helped him achieve so much in his younger years and his prime, and it’s also led to him fighting through unfathomable odds to return among golf’s elite.

No, he hasn’t won since his full-time return this year. That can’t be the standard he’s held to. Woods has had his chances to win, however, and briefly led on the back nine at the Open Championship. With more competitive reps, and a top-10 finish at Bellerive, he’ll be a greater favorite for major No. 15 at the Masters next April.

Tommy Fleetwood (+2800)
There aren’t many holes to poke in Fleetwood’s game. He’s had a strong major season with finishes of T17-2-T12 at the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship respectively.

Fleetwood gets a ton of distance out of his diminutive frame, easily smacking the ball over 300 yards off the tee. His ability to shape shots and cleanly strike irons is uncanny, and he’s a streaky putter but errs on the side of above PGA Tour average.

The law of  averages suggests Fleetwood could suffer a letdown in a major tournament. On the other hand, he could cement himself as the next 20-something superstar with his first stateside win. We’ll split the difference and say Fleetwood finishes in the top five and more likely picks up his first U.S. trophy in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Winner: Justin Rose (+2200)
Among players who have won one major, Rose stands out as the man most prepared to win his second, because he’s fared well enough to do so already, only to be bested by superior golf.

Rose finished second at the Masters twice in recent years, one when Spieth set the scoring record, and another when he lost to Sergio Garcia in a playoff. He was fourth at the PGA Championship where Day set the scoring record.

After a joint runner-up rally in his last major start, which could’ve easily gone to a playoff if not for Francesco Molinari’s sensational, bogey-free final round, Rose seems on the cusp of major glory again.

With ranks of seventh in strokes gained: tee to green and eighth in strokes gained: putting in 2017-18, Rose has what sounds like a winning formula if there ever were such a thing.