• Betting Bunker

McIlroy poised for major recovery

Josh Williams August 8, 2012
Rory McIlroy won his first major at the US Open last year © Getty Images
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Tiger Woods will be forcibly dragged out of his comfort zone at this week's US PGA Championship, which will take place on the longest course in major history.

The Ocean track at Kiawah Island stretches to 7,676 yards, a monster layout which will compel Woods to let rip with his driver. At the US Open and Open Championship, he enjoyed success by taking irons from the tee, seemingly lacking faith in his ability with the big stick.

When prioritising accuracy and plotting his way round, Woods looks every inch the major winner; when coerced into trying something different, he doesn't. The landing strips at Kiawah Island are generous, and the area outside the fairways won't be particularly penal - but no matter where you are, it's an advantage to be playing from the short grass. I don't feel Woods will be doing that often enough in South Carolina, so am happy to oppose him at 9/1.

Kiawah Island has a coastal location, and has been described as the closest thing to a links course as you'll find Stateside. However, let's get one thing straight: it isn't expected to be at all windy this week (maybe 14mph at most) - and, as we saw at Lytham last month, links layouts are manageable in mild conditions.

Williams' wagers

  • Rory McIlroy E/W - 18/1 at bet365
    Jason Dufner E/W - 28/1 at bet365
    Hunter Mahan E/W - 45/1 at bet365

Woods has reported that the greens are going to be firm this week, making precise iron play crucial. In the circumstances outlined, this time last year I'd have been rushing to back Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood before you could tell me the odds. But Westwood finished sixth from last at the WGC-Bridgestone last week (just the 14-over), and I don't think that's the preparation for a first major success.

McIlroy is a different story: I can see him drifting to over 20s before Thursday (particularly now that I've tipped him), and I have just about enough faith in him to back him at that price. He ranked second in both driving distance and greens in regulation at Firestone last time out - as you'd expect him to do at his best - and I feel he's at a turning point in his career.

I don't buy into him being swept away in the celebrity lifestyle with his glamorous girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, and letting his game slide as a consequence: I'm not sure anyone who saw how much post-round practice he went through at Lytham could accuse him of not caring enough. He's just gone through a challenging spell, and now seems to be emerging from it.

Kiawah Island has plenty of similarities with Whistling Straits, another Pete Dye-designed course and the host of the US PGA in 2010 (that's why you'll see plenty of others tipping Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson). McIlroy placed third there - and at the 2009 US PGA - and I was convinced he was going to win at Atlanta Athletic in 2011 until he injured his wrist in the first round. He's a huge-hitting, green-seeking giant of the game - and players of that ilk won't be far away on Sunday.

Jason Dufner emerged from nowhere to finish second at the year's final major 12 months ago, and while he wasn't quite equipped to triumph then, it's now a different story.

He's tasted victory twice this season, and marries unflappability to an enviable all-round skill set, which is the right recipe for major success. Currently third in the FedEx Cup charts and eighth in the world rankings, his stats fit perfectly: a driving average of 295 yards, 19th in driving accuracy and sixth in GIR. Anything above 28/1 or so should not be missed.

Finally, I'm excited by Hunter Mahan a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year, at 45/1. He's a brilliant ball-striker and arguably the game's most reliable driver - plus he's one place outside an automatic pick in the US' Ryder Cup team, which is a huge incentive to perform. He's made the cut in all of this year's majors, and did so at Whistling Straits two years ago. Give him a go, and good luck.

Please note that odds are correct at time of publication and are subject to change.

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Josh Williams is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk