In the eyes of at least one oddsmaker, the true favorite heading into the weekend at the PGA Championship should not be the 36-hole leader, Will Zalatoris.
“The fact that Zalatoris has never done it on the PGA Tour, it would be surprising to me if his first win is a major,” Westgate SuperBook golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said.
Zalatoris tops the leaderboard at 9-under par, one stroke ahead of Mito Pereira and three in front of Justin Thomas. On the SuperBook’s adjusted odds board, Zalatoris is the + 240 favorite after the second round. Thomas is the second choice (+ 350), followed by Pereira (+ 550).
So who’s the man to beat?
“I think it should be JT,” Sherman said.
Thomas, who won his only major at the PGA in 2017, was on the wrong side of the draw in terms of weather, carding a 67 in each round while fighting through windier conditions at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Zalatoris was on the right side of the draw with Pereira and Tiger Woods. The wind gusts of around 30 mph that Thomas faced Friday morning had mostly dissipated by the time Zalatoris, Pereira and Woods hit the course in the afternoon.
There was heavy betting on and against Woods to make the cut (-125 favorite to make it) and Tiger walked a tightrope. It was looking bleak before he rallied down the stretch Friday and finished with a 1-under 69, getting his score to + 3 and under the + 4 cut line through 36 holes.
In career majors as a pro, Woods has more wins (15) than missed cuts (11). Still, he’s 12 shots behind the leader and limping on a sore right leg with two rounds to go.
Scottie Scheffler, the pre-tournament favorite at 12-1, did bookmakers a favor by stunningly missing the cut. The reigning Masters champion and world’s No. 1-ranked player staggered to a 75 on Friday and finished two strokes over the cut line. Another former Masters winner, Dustin Johnson, also missed the cut.
Rory McIlroy, the big story Thursday when he was the first-round leader, has fallen five strokes back. McIlroy followed his opening 65 with a 1-over 71. McIlroy played with Woods on the good side of the weather draw.
Zalatoris, a 25-year-old from Dallas, led the field in greens in regulation (83.3 percent) in the first round. Pereira is the GIR leader (80.6 percent) after two rounds. A 27-year-old from Chile, Pereira is playing in only his second major and never has won on the PGA Tour. He was the top player on the Korn Ferry Tour a year ago.
It will be tough for Zalatoris and Pereira to hold off more experienced players on the weekend. Zalatoris has handled the pressure of a major previously, however, finishing second at the Masters in his 2021 debut and tying for sixth at Augusta National this year. This is his eighth major appearance.
“Zalatoris has putted great, which is unlike him, and I would not expect that to continue,” Sherman said.
There’s plenty of time for some others to make a run. Cameron Smith (22-1), Sam Burns (40-1), Tyrrell Hatton (60-1), Joaquin Niemann (80-1), Viktor Hovland (80-1) and Jordan Speith (80-1) are in the hunt and worth a look on the SuperBook odds board.
With pre-tournament plays on Zalatoris (34-1), Smith (21-1), Cameron Young (80-1) and Gary Woodland (180-1), I’ll look elsewhere going into Saturday’s third round.
My only pre-tournament play on Thomas was to finish in the Top 10 at + 210, so I’ll add Thomas to win at + 370 at Circa Sports.
McIlroy’s driving distance should prove to be a big advantage. Although he faded a little Friday, expect him to make a charge at his first major win since 2014. I’ll add McIlory to win at + 775 at Circa.
Cameron Smith (-130 Westgate) over Matt Fitzpatrick
Smith, 2-under par and one stroke behind Fitzpatrick, is the most capable player to make a big move up the leaderboard. If Smith finds a groove with his putter, he’s dangerous.
Viktor Hovland (-130 Westgate) over Joaquin Niemann
Hovland has been steady with three birdies, 30 pars and three bogeys. His driving accuracy has been much better than Zalatoris, Thomas and McIlroy, so he should be scoring better and he has the ability to get hot.
Jordan Spieth (-105 Westgate) over Xander Schauffele
Spieth’s 69 on Friday was a positive sign after he struggled with the putter Thursday. Schauffele shot a second-round 73 and seems to be headed in the other direction.