The Punter's USPGA Championship In-Play Blog: Lefty on the cusp of history

Golfer Phil Mickelson
50-year-old Phil Mickelson takes a one-stroke lead into the final round of the USPGA Championship

With a round to go at the 103rd USPGA Championship, 50-year-old Phil Mickelson stands on the edge of history. Can he convert his one-stroke lead at Kiawah Island?

“Mickelson’s task today is to remain focussed for 18 more holes and if he can do that, and if he can shoot anywhere around level-par, there’s every chance that’ll be enough.”

10:05 - May 23, 2021

After a sensational start to his third round, which saw him race to a five-stroke lead after he'd played his first ten holes in five-under-par, a massive wobble after the turn, and a spectacular up-and-down for par at the 18th hole, Phil Mickelson's bid to become the oldest player to win a major is still very much alive as he takes a one-stroke lead into today's fourth and final round of the USPGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 9:55.

Phil Mickelson -7 4.57/2
Brooks Koepka -6 2.8615/8
Louis Oosthuizen -5 6.86/1
Kevin Streelman -4 20.019/1
Branden Grace -3 29.028/1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout -3 30.029/1
Bryson DeChambeau -2 22.021/1
Joaquin Niemann -2 40.039/1
Gary Woodland -2 50.049/1
Corey Conners -1 100.099/1
Sungjae Im -1 100.099/1
Paul Casey -1 100.099/1
Jordan Spieth Ev 90.089/1
Ev and 190.0189/1 bar

Matched at 1000.0, when three-over-par through the first six holes of the Championship on Thursday, Phil Mickelson was generally a 540.0539/1 chance before the off but he's already been matched at a low of just 2.226/5.

He had a seven-foot putt on the 11th for birdie yesterday that could have given him a really big buffer and had he made that he'd have almost certainly gone odds-on but after recording a par five there, he bogeyed 12 and double-bogeyed 13 and it was game on after that.

To Mickelson's credit, he fought back brilliantly, parring his way home when it would have been easier to have emulated the US Masters winner, Hideki Matsuyama, who having looked like a real contender, and having been matched at a low of 4.67/2, completely collapsed on the run to the house. Having turned in 34 (two-under-par), Hideki limped home in 42 (six-over-par) and he's now very much an also ran.

So, what now for Phil? The size of the task ahead can't be understated. He's bidding to become the oldest man to win a major and the first to do so in his 50s. In fact, he'd be only the second man older than 46 to win one with Julius Boros, who won this Championship 53 years ago at the age of 48, the current record holder.

Whether any of these stats are worth much is debatable given the unique set of circumstances but Lefty has led by a stroke with a round to go eight times previously and he's gone on to win on five occasions. He's never finished worse than second but his three defeats have come in his last four attempts with his heart-breaking two-stroke defeat to Justin Rose at Merion in the 2013 US Open the last occurrence.

Since the turn of the century, eight players have led the USPGA Championship by a stroke through 54-holes and four went on to win, although the last two - Kevin Kisner in 2017 and Dustin Johnson last year - both failed.

The first man to go on and win having led by a stroke this century was Tiger Woods in 2000 and it's worth just bringing up his name.

Phil has five majors to his name already - he won this Championship in 2005, three US Masters between 2004 and 2010 and he won the Open in 2013 - and he's one of the greatest to ever grace the game but he's spent his entire career competing against Woods.

There's little doubt he'll always be in Woods' shadow but how much of a kick would it give Mickelson to do something Tiger hasn't, and to do it before anyone else in the game. If he needed any extra motivation, and he really doesn't, achieving something that looks beyond Woods now would be it.

Despite trailing by a stroke, the 2018 and 2019 USPGA Champion, Brooks Koepka, is the man the market, quite rightly, perceives as the most likely winner. He's been a machine in majors since winning the first of his four to date but if he's to lift the Wannamaker Trophy for a third time in four years, he's going to have to hold his nerve and concentration far better than he did two years ago at Bethpage Black...

Brooks entered the final round of the 2019 edition leading by seven and trading at just 1.111/9 but he lost his way badly on the back nine on Sunday, bogeying four holes-in-a-row from the 11th before eventually shooting a four-over-par 74 to win by two. Dustin Johnson finished second but only after he'd traded at a low of 2.546/4 before recording back-to-back bogeys at 16 and 17 to ease Brooks' task.

I'm not for a second suggesting that Brooks is not one to trust in-contention but he'd looked completely bombproof until then. He followed that success with a convincing win at the St Jude Invitational in July 2019 but his only win since, at the Phoenix Open in February, came from five strokes off the pace.

Brooks came into the tournament as a 60.059/1 chance having missed his last two cuts following knee surgery just two months ago so there's a slight chance that could be an issue. Although clearly still an issue (see below) he's looked comfortable enough so far this week but it's definitely something to consider.

Brooks Koepka at Kiawah Island.jpg

South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen is the only other man within two of the lead and he's been shortening up in the market all morning but he's not for me at less than 7.06/1. His sole major success came when he shot too far clear at St Andrews to encounter too much stress in the 2010 Open Championship and although he's a remarkably gifted player, he's still yet to win on American soil and he's not one to trust implicitly in-contention.

Success for 42-year-old, Kevin Streelman, would be some story. He's a very relaxed man and he may just take today in his stride but it's now seven years since he won the second of his two PGA Tour titles. He won the Travelers Championship at the Pete Dye designed TPC River Highlands from off the pace in June 2014, some 14 months after his only other success, in what's now called the Valspar Championship.

Tied for fifth and four off the lead are the South African pairing of Branden Grace and Christiaan Bezuidenhout and having put up Grace at Christmas, and having backed Bez on Monday, either winning would do me very nicely indeed.

Playing together may help their cause today and if they get help from the four men above them they certainly can't be ruled out.

If the tweet above is anything to go by, that's as far down the leaderboard as we can go but I'm not convinced this is going to be a straightforward finish and an off-the-pace winner wouldn't unduly surprise me.

Brooks is clearly the man to beat but last night's sloppy bogey at 18 was disconcerting and his putting hasn't been razor-sharp, Lefty has age and the weight of history to contend with, Louis is hard to get across the line at the best of times and there are very obvious doubts about the other three - who all went off at huge odds.

Hideki showed us yesterday, as many others have this week, just how easy it is to fall away here and with the wind switching to a completely different direction for the first time this week today, we can expect a dramatic finale.

I backed Bryson DeChambeau a bit early last night in-running, when I thought the leaders may not finish quite as well as they did, but he's a big danger from only five off the lead and if there are signs of weakness ahead of him, he's ruthless enough to exploit it.

Alongside Bryson, the 2019 US Open winner, Gary Woodland, is an interesting runner but 22-year-old Chilean sensation, Joaquin Niemann, is arguably a better option given nine of the last 11 USPGA Championship winners have been in their 20s.

In search of a career Grand Slam and trailing by six, Jordan Spieth will roll the dice for from the get-go but all things considered, despite his age, and the presence of Brooks, at 4.57/2, if there is any value to be had this morning, it appears to sit with the leader.

Mickelson's task today is to remain focussed for 18 more holes and if he can do that, and if he can shoot anywhere around level-par, there's every chance that'll be enough.

Whatever happens it's guaranteed to be well worth watching and I'll be back tomorrow with the De-brief.

10:00 - May 22, 2021

After two days of competition at a blustery Kiawah Island, a trio of major champions occupy the first three places on the halfway leaderboard of the 103rd USPGA Championship but three of the world's top-four - Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele - have all missed the cut. Here's the latest standings at 9:50

Louis Oosthuizen-5 7.613/2
Phil Mickelson-5 15.5
Brooks Koepka -4 5.95/1
Hideki Matsuyama -3 8.88/1
Branden Grace -3 23.022/1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout -3 27.026/1
Corey Conners -2 25.024/1
Paul Casey -2 26.025/1
Sung-Jae Im-2 30.029/1
Gary Woodland -2 34.033/1
Kevin Streelman -2 60.059/1
Bryson DeChambeau -1 16.5
-1 and 32.031/1 bar

After a fabulous five-Under-par back nine yesterday morning, 50-year-old 540.0539/1 pre-event chance, Phil Mickelson, is tied for the lead with 38-year-old South African, Louis Oosthuizen. Both are Open Champions and the man sat alone in third, Brooks Koepka, has already won this event twice, as well as two US Opens. The cream has risen to the top.

Koepka, a pre-event 60.059/1 chance, came into the event on the back of a couple of missed cuts following knee surgery and he hit a high of 110.0109/1 when he opened up the tournament with a double-bogey but he's the man to beat now.

It looked like the world number 13 might kick on and take control yesterday after his second eagle of the day at 11 and a birdie at 12. He was matched at a low of 4.84/1 with half a dozen holes to play but like so many, the tough finish to the Ocean Course struck and after bogeys at 15 and 17 he needed to roll in an 11 footer at the last to shoot an under-par round.

Louis and the US Masters champ, Hideki Matsuyama, shot the best rounds of the day (four-under-par 68s) but they both bogeyed the ultra-tough 18th.

Louis Oosthuizen long shot 1280.jpg

I looked to be in a great position as the morning wave neared the end of their rounds. Ante-post pick, Branden Grace, had hit the front and having been a 330.0329/1 chance on Monday, he was matched at 9.617/2 before he finished double-bogey, bogey at 17 and 18 and I was hopeful that fellow ante-post pick, Viktor Hovland, and pre-event selection, Tyrrell Hatton, would continue to contend but it wasn't to be.

Hovland struggled after a birdie at his opening hole and Hatton lost the plot after the 11th when he made a double-bogey seven thanks to a three-putt from four feet!

Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, is alongside Grace in a tie for fourth so it's certainly not all doom and gloom but yesterday's in-play picks, Collin Morikawa and Aaron Wise, were as disappointing as Hovland and Hatton. It was a miserable evening's viewing.

As many as 24 of the last 29 majors have been won by someone within three shots of the lead at halfway so we probably shouldn't scan too far down the leaderboard but with the wind forecasted to drop slightly today, class-acts like Bryson DeChambeau, Hovland, Morikawa, and even Rory McIlroy, who trails by eight after he finished his second round with three straight bogeys, can't be discounted and it looks like a wide-open event.

I'm not keen on the chances of the front two. Oosthuizen is still yet to win on American soil and he's often flaky in-contention. Mickelson has shown signs of life lately but he lost his way badly at the Wells Fargo Championship last time out - finishing 69th after leading after day one! He's spoken about how hard he finds it to retain his concentration as he's aged and that could well be an issue over the weekend.

Matsuyama is a massive danger now he's won a major and he was mightily impressive yesterday but the market is correct to make Koepka the man to beat.

Having watched him struggle last week when I backed him to win the Byron Nelson, I thought he'd find it hard here too and I even backed him to miss the cut but now he's in the thick of it, he may well take some beating. His record in majors is second to none over the last few years and he's a fair price.

I may yet back Koepka before he tees off in the penultimate two-ball alongside my man Grace but I'm going to sit on my hands for now and ponder a bit more. This really does look like a tough one to call.

10:00 - May 21, 2021

Canada's Corey Conners, a pre-event 75.074/1 chance, has opened-up the 103rd USPGA Championship in fine style, shooting a five-under-par 67, despite playing in the trickier afternoon conditions on day one.

On an awkward Thursday around the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, the morning starters averaged 74.33 and that was almost a stroke less than averaged by the afternoon wave (75.23). Here's the first round leaderboard with prices to back at 9:50.

Corey Conners -5 9.28/1
Viktor Hovland -3 9.617/2
Brooks Koepka -3 14.013/1
Keegan Bradley -3 26.025/1
Cameron Davis -3 55.054/1
Aaron Wise -3 70.069/1
Sam Horsfield -3 80.079/1
Collin Morikawa -2 18.017/1
-2 and 18.5 bar

Conners kicks off his second round early today, teeing off at 7:38 (12:38 UK time) and that may just be early enough to avoid the worst of the weather. Looking at the forecast, the early starters will play in 12mph winds (gusting to 18) but it's predicted to reach a maximum of 18 mph (gusting at 21) at around 2pm before easing slightly through the afternoon. It's never an exact science and being so close to the coast, it's extremely changeable but it looks like the very early and very late starters will enjoy the best of the weather. And starting on the front or back nine is also a factor to consider.

Looking at yesterday's hole averages, the finish is really tough and the scoring section, if it can be described as such, is between holes five and 12.

The easiest hole encountered during the final third of the course was the par four 13th yesterday but that still averaged 4.24 (eighth hardest). The 15th was the third hardest on the course yesterday and 17 and 18 were the two toughest encountered. Both averaged half a stroke over-par and the last six holes combined averaged 2.13 over-par.

This is a really tough track and holes seven and 11 (both par fives) were the only two to average below par yesterday. Those two averaged 4.41 (seven) and 4.53 (11) so given how tough the rest of the course is, picking up strokes there looks key.

I'm reasonably happy with my pre-event picks (especially Hovland) but adding Daniel Berger at the 11th hour turned out to be a bad move. He had a torrid day yesterday, setting the tone early as he played his first three holes in four-over-par!

Looking at the front of the market this morning, Conners makes little appeal. As Justin Ray points out, two-stroke first round leaders don't have a great record in this Championship and I just wonder if he can keep the putter working for four days in-a-row. He ranked fourth for Strokes Gained Putting and fifth for Putting Average yesterday but the flatstick is usually the weakest part of his game and that could have been a bit of a one-off.

I backed Brooks Koepka to miss the cut after watching him struggle with his knee in the Byron Nelson Championship as he missed the cut last week and when he double-bogeyed the first I thought I'd done the right thing but he played brilliantly after that. He's looking to win his third USPGA Championship in four years so it would be ridiculous to rule him out but the knee is a big concern.

Considering both the forecast and the hole averages, the two I like at the prices after round one are the defending champ, Collin Morikawa, and Aaron Wise. Trailing by three and two strokes respectively, both start on the first with Morikawa teeing off 14:09 and Aaron Wise 14:42. If the forecast pans out, they'll kick off in the worst of the wind but they'll play the hardest holes as it dies down.

Pre-Event Selections:
Jon Rahm @ 16.5
Viktor Hovland @ 30.029/1
Daniel Berger @ 38.037/1 (added after preview published)
Tyrrell Hatton @ 85.084/1
Alex Noren @ 360.0359/1

In-Play Picks:
Collin Morikawa @ 18.5
Aaron Wise @ 75.074/1
Bryson DeChambeau @ 19.018/1

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
Back Si Woo Kim 2 u @ 140.0139/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4
Back Max Homa 1 ½ u @ 220.0219/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4
Back Christiaan Bezuidenhout 1u @ 330.0329/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.35/4

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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