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96th PGA Championship Preview: Fantasy, betting picks

Preview – PGA of America — 96th PGA Championship – Valhalla Golf Club – Louisville, Kentucky –

The final major championship of the men’s golf season – the 96th PGA Championship – visits Louisville, Kentucky at famed Valhalla Country Club this week.

Valhalla hosts the PGA Championship for the third time. The last was a classic duel between Tiger Woods and Bob May back in 2000. It also hosted a playoff PGA victory by Mark Brooks.  The venue also hosted a Ryder Cup.

This tournament has a rich and recent history of unpredictable finishes. Jack Nicklaus recently redesigned the greens at this par 71 layout which reaches more than 7,400 yards.

At this point, just one of the Top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking is skipping this week – Dustin Johnson (leave of absence). But all eyes on whether or not Woods can make a start. He withdrew last week in the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with a lower back injury.

The golf community is abuzz with Rory McIlroy’s current form. Rory won the Open Championship and followed it up with his maiden WGC title in Akron last week. The Northern Irishman returns to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking bumping Adam Scott from the top spot.

Sergio Garcia, now 3rd in the rankings, enters after back-to-back runner-up finishes to Rory. Justin Rose, World No. 5, comes in with victories in two of his recent starts – one of the European Tour and one on the PGA Tour. He finished T-4 in Akron.

McIlroy tees off with Masters champion Bubba Watson and U.S. Open champ Martin Kaymer at 1:45 p.m. local time Thursday in round one.

2013 Recap:

  • Jason Dufner (10-under) tamed Oak Hill Country Club for the title edging Jim Furyk by two shots and Henrik Stenson by three. Jonas Blixt was alone in fourth place, while Scott and Scott Piercy finished T-5 at 5-under. David Toms, McIlroy, Jason Day and Zach Johnson logged Top 10s. Duf was ranked 21st when entering the tournament last year.

This championship has produced international players as champion four of the last six years including McIlroy (2012), Martin Kaymer (2010), Y.E. Yang (2009) and Padraig Harrington (2008).

TNT has exclusive television coverage Thursday and Friday for the opening rounds of play, while TNT handles early coverage on the weekend with CBS Sports bringing home the leaders.

FANTASY: McIlroy, a PGA champion in 2012, is the hottest player on the planet with big wins at the Open and a WGC crown. Garcia comes in with three straight runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour. First on tour in Scoring Average and fourth in Scrambling, he’s a machine. Take Brandt Snedeker, who has been working with Butch Harmon. Sneds had three 68s last week. Stenson fits the first-timer, international flavor of recent past champions. Stenson has Top 4 finishes in three of his last five major appearances.

BETTORS: Rory is the favorite at 4 1/2-to-1 odds at Ladbrokes. Nobody is in better form, but for a better value look for some players also on a nice role but with better paybacks. Consider Garcia at 18-1. He has to be frustrated but still hungry for that first major in this spot. For another first-timer, Rickie Fowler (20-1) could pull it off. He has Top 5s in each of the majors this season. Take Keegan Bradley (25-1). He contended last week into the back-9 Sunday and is a former PGA champion. For a longer shot, take Hunter Mahan’s value at 70-1.

Other Golf News:

  • With Woods still hanging on to the No. 10 spot in the world ranking, Matt Kuchar is the top-ranked U.S. player in the world at No. 6. Watson is 7th, while Furyk is 8th. Woods has been in the Top 10 for 122 straight weeks.
  • The LPGA Tour returns this week with the Meijer LPGA Classic in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Rolex Ranking No. 1 Stacy Lewis tops the betting choices at 5-1 odds.
  • Mickelson has reached 1,079 consecutive weeks in the Top 50 of the world rankings. Lefty comes into the PGA Championship off his best round of the season – firing a final-round 62 at Firestone.
  • Players have this final week to earn Ryder Cup points for the U.S. Team. Captain Tom Watson has three picks in a few weeks with several options to consider. The Ryder Cup takes place in late September in Scotland.
  • Several high-profile players are on the bubble for a spot in the FedEx Cup Playoffs including Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Sang-Moon Bae and Greg Chalmers.