The 2015 PGA Tour may already be underway, but this week it gets serious with the arrival of Europe’s big guns Stateside. Rory McIlroy is the main attraction, but the overall field at the PGA National Champion Course in Florida is easily the strongest of the season so far. The Northern Irishman is joined by fellow Europeans Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood and Victor Dubuisson in making their 2015 PGA Tour debuts, while Ryder Cup stars from both sides are also present.
The PGA National is one of the toughest courses on the circuit, with the total course yardage standing at 7,140 yards. It boasts just two Par 5s and four Par 3s, with the long Par 4s littered with bunkers and water hazards adding to the difficulty level. Being able to hit long is advantageous, but accuracy, approach and hazard play, as well as avoiding bogeys on the four Par 3s are also must-have ingredients.
Having won two majors and a bundle of other accolades in 2014, McIlroy is justifiably the standout favourite with the bookies, best priced at 4/1 with Betfred Sports. Big-hitting American Dustin Johnson is also deemed a contender, having returned from his six-month self-enforced leave of absence. Having narrowly missed out in a playoff at the Northern Trust Open on Sunday, and finishing T4 at Pebble Beach two weeks previously, he’s widely available at 16/1.
Popular among the European entries, Justin Rose is a 22/1 option, having finished in the top five on his previous three visits to the Palm Beach resort, while Sergio Garcia is at 28/1 having finished T4 at the Northern Trust. Victor Dubuisson makes his PGA national bow, but having secured six top fives in the last 12 months and finishing T4 in his last start in Abu Dhabi, at 80/1 the Frenchman is a worthwhile outside bet. Martin Kaymer at 33/1 with Coral Sports, and Lee Westwood at 40/1 with Betway Sports, also appeal.
Of the American contenders, the classy Rickie Fowler – 30/1 with Bet365 Sports – is available at lengthy odds for a player of his calibre, while Keegan Bradley has finished no worse than T12 in his last three Honda Classics. Bradley also came from behind to finish T4 at Riviera last week, and is offered at 33/1 by 888 Sports.
Elsewhere, Ryan Palmer ended a string of nine straight top 25s by missing the cut at Pebble Beach, but is still highly fancied (35/1 with Coral Sports), while Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed is available at 45/1 with the same bookie. Defending champion Russell Henley is 60/1 with Bet365 Sports to retain his crown.