2021 PGA Championship First-Round Leader Bets & Picks: McIlroy, Spieth and Thomas Highlight Top Options

2021 PGA Championship First-Round Leader Bets & Picks: McIlroy, Spieth and Thomas Highlight Top Options article feature image

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images. Pictured: Rory McIlroy.

The second major of the season is upon us, with players heading to South Carolina for this week's 2021 PGA Championship.

They'll tee it up at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. The last time the tournament was held here was back in 2012, when Rory McIlroy won by a humbling eight shots.

Let's take a look at my best bets for First-Round Leader in Thursday's opening 18 holes.

Rory McIlroy | +2200

Tee time: 8:33 a.m. ET

It's hard to fade the last guy who won the PGA Championship on this very course, especially when he just won at another title at Quail Hollow — another place he loves as well.

McIlroy has been struggling with his game recently, but after working with putting oracle Brad Faxon, he seems to have the flat stick under control. That relieves some of the pressure from his long game. We saw an old McIlory a fortnight ago when he won for the third time at Quail Hollow.

Will the momentum carry into this major championship? Only time will tell, but he's making the putts from 6 to 10 feet that he'd been missing for some time, so if he can putt well this week, he's going to be dangerous.

Jordan Spieth | +2800

Tee time: 1:58 p.m. ET

This is a big week for Spieth, who's looking to complete the career Grand Slam and hoist the Wanamaker Trophy come Sunday in The Palmetto State.

The Texas native's game seems to be back and anyone who argues that fact feigns the ignorance of not paying attention. For example, just look at his last three starts on the PGA TOUR. After winning at the Valero Texas Open, he followed that up the next week with a T-3 at The Masters. Next was a T-9 at last week's AT&T Byron Nelson.

If you read my FRL article last week, you should've cashed on Spieth. Why not do it again?

Justin Thomas | +2800

Tee time: 8:33 a.m. ET

What's not to love about Thomas' game? He won THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP earlier this year and hasn't missed a cut in his three subsequent starts.

However, when Thomas won the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hallow, he opened with a 1-over-par 73. Despite that fact, don't let that deter you from taking a guy with a 69.8 opening-round PGA TOUR average.

Thomas loves to show up to the big events and as a past PGA champion, this week is no different.

Xander Schauffele | +3300

Tee time: 8:22 a.m. ET

Schauffele is always hanging around the top 10 of the leaderboard. He's a constant in that area, in part thanks to his great putting of late. Schauffele enters the week second in Strokes Gained: Total and fifth in SG: Putting.

I have a feeling Schaufele is going to win a major this year and think Kiawah sets up best for him out of the three left on the schedule. If he can keep hitting fairways and putting like he is, he's going to be a tough player to beat (even in the opine round).


Cam Smith | +5500

Tee time: 1:36 p.m. ET

The man, the myth, the mullet. Smith leads the TOUR in Round 1 scoring. He loves playing in the majors. Plus, Kiawah is a great course for him.

The Young Aussie is one of my favorite bets week in and week out. In addition to leading the TOUR in first-round scoring, he's also one of the most consistent players come the weekend.

Since missing the cut at The Farmers in January, he has not finished worse than T-17. This current streak includes a win and a T-10 at The Masters.

Matt Wallace | +8000

Tee time: 8:55 a.m. ET

The Englishman is one of my favorite golfers around. I love his passion and his grit. I also love his game right now.

Wallace has gained an average of three more shots per round on the field in his last five events than he had previously been gaining. He's great on these tough courses and plays well in the wind.

As a whole, the course sets up nicely for Wallace and he likes to get off to a hot start.

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