Hungry Brooks Koepka should be licking his Louisville lips about visit to Kentucky for USPGA Championship

Brooks Koepka holds the Wanamaker trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament at Oak Hill Country Club on Sunday, May 21, 2023, in Pittsford (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Brooks Koepka got his hands on the Wanamaker Trophy for the third time at Oak Hill last year and he could easily make it four USPGA wins at Valhalla in Kentucky this week

AFTER romping to victory in the Wells Fargo Championship at his beloved Quail Hollow on Sunday night, Rory McIlroy immediately turned his thoughts to ending a 10-year wait for his fifth Major.

And heading back to Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky – the scene of his fourth  Major success a decade ago – the Holywood man couldn’t help but highlight the similarities to back then.

In 2014 – albeit in August – McIlroy travelled to Kentucky on the back of two victories, one of them at the Open Championship.

Ten years on, he returns having won his last two events, the Zurich Classic alongside Shane Lowry, and the Wells Fargo, when the swashbuckling McIlroy of 2014 was on display.

He put on a masterclass off the tee all week at Quail Hollow, and when Xander Schauffele threw down the gauntlet with an eagle at the seventh on Sunday to move two ahead, McIlroy played his next nine holes in eight-under in a style perhaps only he can do.

It’s no wonder he declared a feeling that “the stars are aligning” in his post-round interview.

Certainly, he goes to Valhalla in the best possible frame of mind, and if he can replicate the free-wheeling form of the last two events, McIlroy will take some stopping.

The issue is that the stars have also aligned to send a couple of other big names into the second Major of the campaign in winning form.

Scottie Scheffler has become a dad for the first time, and hasn’t played for three weeks, but prior to that he had won his last two starts, including The Masters.

He has been imperious all year and regardless of his lay-off he rightly goes to post as favourite at 9/2 on a course that should suit him, although they all do these days.

Valhalla is a Jack Nicklaus design, which always means approach play is key, as it will be with the third-smallest greens used on the PGA Tour all season.

It is also the third-longest course at over 7,600 yards, and will be made even longer by rain in the build-up, with more forecast on Friday.

Ideally, therefore, we are looking for a big hitter off the tee, but one who is pretty accurate given that thick patches of rough also await.

McIlroy – a best-priced 15/2 – won on a wet Valhalla 10 years ago, and looks a great fit, while Scheffler will hit it long and straight and hope he still has the putting touch of a month ago.

Ideally, I’d love to see that pair going at it down the stretch come Sunday, with Rory triumphing.

Things rarely pan out the way we want, however, and there is a third man who has won his most recent start and might have a thing or two to say about that.

Brooks Koepka goes to post a 16/1 shot here and, taking the romance out of things, he is by far the most appealing of the market leaders at that price.

Koepka is the closest thing to prime Tiger Woods – who won here in 2000 – when it comes to Majors, and the USPGA has been especially good to him, right up to striking a blow for LIV Golf when winning at Oak Hill in New York last term.

He also won the Wanamaker Trophy back-to-back in 2018 and ‘19, and having also successfully defended the US Open in 2018, being the reigning champion doesn’t bother him one iota.

Koepka’s association with this event actually started a decade ago at Valhalla when, as a virtual unknown, he finished 15th, outscoring the victorious McIlroy by two shots over the weekend.

He has only been out of the top-15 twice since then, in the Covid year of 2020, and when beset by knee injuries in 2022.

He simply loves the USPGA and the way the courses are set up, and it should be noted this is a different Valhalla as the fairways have been re-seeded with zoysia grass, a surface not all of the leading lights have a good history on.

Koepka won this at Bellerive in neighbouring Missouri in 2018 on zoysia, while he had a stunning record at TPC Southwind, also in a neighbouring state in Tennessee.

And then there is the fact he won last time out, taking LIV’s Singapore event to send him into Major battle in chipper mood.

He felt he let himself down when finishing well down the field at Augusta last month, but that is unlikely to happen again, and the most driven player around might be the biggest stumbling block to Rory’s romantic return.

Homa could take Major challenge to the Max

WHILE McIlroy was taking the plaudits on Sunday night, Max Homa was picking up a share of the place money for us, and he has to be kept on our side this week too.

A prolific winner on the PGA Tour in the past couple of years, mostly on long, tough courses, Homa had a shocking record in Majors until finishing 10th in last year’s Open.

He built on that with a share of third at Augusta last month, looking right at home in contention until one mistake at the famous 12th let Scheffler run off into the sunset.

I’ve no doubt he is a Major winner in waiting, as the venues for his biggest successes would suggest, having won at Quail Hollow, Sun City and Torrey Pines, while he also has a good record at Muirfield Village, another long Nicklaus course.

A big hitter with great touch on the greens, Homa stands out at 28/1 with Paddy Power, who are paying 10 places.

Max Homa watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the first round of the 88th Masters (George Walker IV/AP)
Max Homa gave a great account of himself at The Masters last month and could go close to a first Major win at Valhalla (George Walker IV/AP)

Wyndham Clark is a bit bigger at 35/1 (Sky Bet), and I’m prepared to forgive him his flop as defending champion at Quail Hollow.

Last year’s US Open winner is perfect for Valhalla as a long driver who has shown up well on tough courses over the last 12 months, and could have won a few more times but for Scheffler.

His approach play is normally excellent, and while his putting was well off last week, it is normally very reliable and I can see Clark going close to a second Major title.

Somewhat against my better judgment, I think there is value to be had in a bet on Justin Thomas at 50/1 (Paddy Power).

A Louisville native, Thomas has been sussing out Valhalla for weeks, and at his best he would really like what he sees.

Amongst the very best iron players in the game, Thomas has struggled in Majors of late, with another missed cut coming at Augusta due to a couple of moments of madness.

That said, the PGA means more to him than most as his father has been a teaching pro, and he has won two of the last seven renewals of this event, at Quail Hollow in 2017 and Southern Hills in Tulsa two years ago.

There have also been signs of him finding form, with a fifth at the Heritage followed by 21st at Quail Hollow, when his long game was very good and he drove the ball brilliantly on Sunday.

There are definitely worse 50/1 shots to be had, and Thomas is the fourth American on my list, with the last eight runnings all producing homegrown winners.

Justin Thomas gives the Wanamaker Trophy a warm embrace after winning last year's US PGA in Tulsa   Picture by AP
Two-time USPGA champion Justin Thomas will hope to put up a strong showing in his hometown of Louisville

Jason Day was the last ‘foreign’ winner at Whistling Straits in 2015 and he is of interest again at 60/1, and also in the first round leader markets at 66/1 on the back of a fourth at Quail Hollow.

Day was also in the hunt for most of the four days here 10 years ago before fading late on, and he retains the long game class and high ball flight that could make him a factor if his putter – and fragile body – complies.

Finally, I’ll put up the most American of Europeans in Sepp Straka as a dark horse at 80/1 with Betway.

The Austrian has found his form of 2023 in recent weeks, following a 16th at Augusta with fifth at the Heritage and eighth at Quail Hollow.

He is a fairways and greens machine who looks ready to really compete in a Major, having finished seventh in this last year and joint-second at The Open, so the 80/1 offers some appeal.

Having said that, the really appealing result would see McIlroy back in Major heaven at Valhalla.

Maybe the stars have aligned after all.


Brooks Koepka, e/w 16/1 (Sky Bet, eight places);

Max Homa, e/w, 28/1 (Paddy Power, 10 places);

Wyndham Clark, e/w, 35/1 (Sky Bet);

Justin Thomas, e/w, 50/1 (Paddy Power);

Jason Day, e/w, 60/1 (Paddy Power); first round leader, e/w, 66/1 (Betway, six places);

Sepp Straka, e/w 80/1 (Betway, eight places); top European, e/w, 22/1 (General); top continental European, 12/1 (Betway)