Betting on professional golf is always an interesting proposition. Odds are longer for individuals in golf than in any other sport you'll find, which allows for greater returns when you correctly pick the winner.
The downside is that golf is arguably the hardest sport to predict on a weekly basis, so choosing the one who will emerge victorious from a slew of talented players is difficult, to say the least. Now that Tiger Woods is no longer the dominant force he used to be, it becomes even trickier to predict a winner, particularly considering the depth of major championship fields.
But ahead of Thursday's start to the 2014 PGA Championship, one golfer, Rory McIlroy, has displayed Woods-esque dominance in winning his past two starts. We've seen flashes of this before from McIlroy—when he won the Wanamaker Trophy in 2012, for example.
McIlroy has never sustained the comparable brilliance to Woods. With a little more experience under his belt and a return to No. 1 in the world ranking, though, the young superstar is gaining momentum as the prohibitive favorite.
Odds Shark has McIlroy well ahead of the field at 9-2. The closest contender is Adam Scott at 11-1, followed by Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia at 16-1.
There are plenty of studs worth examining ahead of the season's last major and perhaps some better bargain bets to be made. Let's examine the odds and identify the best bets to triumph at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, come Sunday.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com unless otherwise noted.
Source: Odds Shark
Best Bets For 2014 PGA Championship
Rory McIlroy (9-2)
We may not be having "Rory or the field?" discussions just yet, but 9-2 odds are pretty good for someone who won The Open Championship and a WGC event in Akron in his past two starts.
Water comes into play on the vast majority of holes at Valhalla, but with the way McIlroy drove the ball at the narrow Firestone Country Club last week, it likely won't impact his strategy. Having massive confidence with the biggest club in the bag is an undeniable asset, one that Woods used to inflict intimidation in his heyday.
While McIlroy's personality and shorter stature aren't going to scare away any of his peers, he has shown a killer instinct and has professed a desire to become one of golf's best players ever. And he has the talent to get there.
Jack Nicklaus, holder of the all-time record for major victories with 18, weighed in on McIlroy's game, via ESPN.com's Bob Harig:
I think Rory is an unbelievable talent. I love his swing, I love his rhythm, I love his moxie. He's got a little swagger there, it's a little bit cocky but not offensive. I like that. I like the self-confidence in a young man. He's got an unbelievable amount of speed in his golf swing, he obviously hits the ball a heck of a long way. And he hits in there consistently and how he controls it.
It depends on what he feels his priorities are, and that's his call. I think Rory has an opportunity to win 15 or 20 majors or whatever he wants to do if he wants to keep playing. But you just don't know what the guy's priorities are going to be in life 10 years from now.
Former world No. 1 Greg Norman weighed in on Nicklaus' bold comments:
“@ESPNGolf: Jack Nicklaus says Rory McIlroy is unbelievable talent>>Agree, but also the depth of talent today reminds me of mid 80's-90's 💪— Greg Norman (@SharkGregNorman) August 6, 2014
Winning a third straight event would give McIlroy a fourth major. It would also give him a shot to win a third consecutive major and cap off his career Grand Slam at the 2015 Masters.
Considering McIlroy's natural ability, brilliant form and extra gear, you could do worse than betting on the Irishman.
Jim Furyk (33-1)
This is about being due more than anything else. Jim Furyk is always a strong bet to be near the top of the leaderboard at big tournaments. Without doubt, the gritty veteran is trending the proper way at majors.
A second-place effort at last year's PGA Championship was only outdone by Jason Dufner's amazing iron play. Furyk finished tied for 14th at the Masters, joint 12th at the U.S. Open and solo fourth at the British Open this season.
Before tying for 15th at Firestone last week, the 44-year-old nearly got his first win since the Tour Championship in September 2010. Unfortunately, a one-under 69 in the final round wasn't good enough to stave off Tim Clark, and Furyk lost by one shot.
PGA Tour Media pointed out how much more often Furyk should have won in his impressive career:
At least Furyk was able to see the silver lining in yet another close call, per Golf Channel's Will Gray:
Jim Furyk says his runner-up finish last week in Canada was the "best ball-striking, tee-to-green" performance of his 21-year career.— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) July 29, 2014
When he's on, Furyk is among the most accurate drivers on tour. Granted, he doesn't hit the ball very far, but that hasn't stopped him from contending. The par-71 course at Valhalla is 7,458 yards—not a particularly daunting length, which plays into Furyk's hands.
Closing the deal is something Furyk has struggled with mightily. With all the runner-up finishes, a closing window to compete at a high level and the need to achieve more to bolster his status in golf lore, Furyk could be in for a special week in Louisville.
Victor Dubuisson (80-1)
For the past four years on the European Tour, Victor Dubuisson has driven it around 300 yards, per the circuit's official website. After his second-place finish to Jason Day in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship final, there was no doubting Dubuisson's short-game mastery.
Three clutch up-and-downs that had to be seen to be believed kept Dubuisson afloat down the stretch. The last of those can be witnessed in this remarkable video:
Dubuisson is just 23 years old, but golf fans will be well acquainted with him soon enough. He simply hasn't pieced together all the elements of his game yet. When he does, the results should be scary good.
Consider the ridiculous shots Dubuisson has hit from around the greens in pressure situations. Then take into account the distance he flashed at The Open Championship, per PGATour.com's Sean Martin:
Rory McIlroy tied Victor Dubuisson for most greens reached in under regulation with 7. Almost 2 per round. #TheOpen— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) July 20, 2014
Now look at this tweet from Golf Channel's Jason Sobel, who observes that Dubuisson beat McIlroy over the last 54 holes of the British Open to tie for ninth:
How important is a strong start? Rory McIlroy closed with rounds of 66-68-71. Victor Dubuisson closed 66-68-70 -- and finished seven back.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) July 20, 2014
As long as Dubuisson can get his irons straightened out somewhat and drive it in the fairway more often than not, he has all the tools to be the next young star to break through at a major.
Who is the best value bet for the 2014 PGA Championship?
Sergio Garcia has finished runner-up in three of his past four starts worldwide, including The Open Championship and the Bridgestone Invitational. American star Rickie Fowler has finished second in the past two majors and fifth at the Masters, and he's bound to break through soon. The man McIlroy eclipsed for the top world ranking, Adam Scott, has five straight top-10 finishes entering the PGA Championship.
Don't forget 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, either. He tied for fourth in Akron and won back-to-back tournaments before McIlroy at the Quicken Loans National and the Scottish Open.
That McIlroy has won the past two events, even with so many of the world's elite playing so well, is a testament to how strong his golf has been. Bet against him at your own peril, because there's a great chance McIlroy is holding the Wanamaker Trophy for the second time in three years come Sunday.