2023 PGA Championship: Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy in the Mix

2023 PGA Championship: Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy in the Mix article feature image

Pictured: Scottie Scheffler. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — We’re at the midway point of the 105th PGA Championship with leaders Scottie Scheffler (+140), Viktor Hovland (+400) and Corey Conners (+650) each at 5-under. Bryson DeChambeau (+1400) and Justin Suh (+3500) sit two shots back, while Brooks Koepka (+1000) and Callum Tarren (+9000) are one shot further removed.

If you’re looking for value on the board, well, you probably aren’t going to find much of it. That's what happens when scores are tightly packed at the top and more than one superstar is part of that mix.

I feel a little queasy even recommending Scheffler at such a short number, but there’s an excellent chance he’s closer to even-money not long after he starts his third round because he was able to open with a pair of birdies on the first two holes Friday afternoon. (So, too, did Hovland, just for the record.)

There’s rarely going to be a time when we completely want to fade the world’s second-ranked player — especially considering he’s finished inside the top-12 in his past 13 starts — but I really started to like him after our interview for PGA Championship Radio on Tuesday.

It was during that interview that Scheffler used a word I hadn’t heard this week. Whereas most players were explaining what a difficult test Oak Hill’s East Course would be, almost talking themselves into some worry, Scheffler referred to the challenge as “fun,” then chuckled to himself as if he knew a little something the rest of them didn’t.

I interviewed him once again after his second-round 68 and wondered whether the experience of winning a major title — something his fellow co-leaders don’t have — could offer an edge.

“I don’t dwell too much on the past, but I feel like it couldn’t hurt,” he said. “It’s very hard to win major championships no matter the situation or how many you have. So, going into the weekend, the tournament’s only halfway done. I’ve put myself in a good position to win it, so I’m just going to go out there and execute shots.”

The other player I’ll focus on here is Rory McIlroy, who followed an opening 71 with a 69, placing him at even-par and five strokes off the pace entering the final 36 holes.

In my post-first round dispatch, I suggested a discounted live play on McIlroy at +2000 and at the exact same price now, I like it even more.

This, despite the fact that he’s yet to play his best golf this week — something he admitted.

“Not very good,” he told me when I asked him to assess his performance. “I’ve been all over the place off the tee. I’ve been pretty erratic. I had a couple of balls today that were probably going out of bounds that kicked back in for me, played those holes in 1-under par. As I said yesterday, just really need to tidy it up off the tee to have any chance over the next couple of days.”

I know what you’re probably thinking … "Why would I put money on a player who just admitted that he’s not playing his best golf right now?"

The truth is, I love these situations. If a player gets to the halfway mark of a tournament and boasts that he’s been playing unbelievable golf over the first two days, yet is still five shots off the lead, that tells me his best isn’t good enough.

However, McIlroy has endured something much less than his best and has still stuck in the mix. We’ve witnessed him post so many backdoor top-fives over the years, so it should hardly come as a surprise if he somehow lands a “backdoor victory” at some point.

That notion of gaining confidence from playing less than stellar golf and remaining in contention is something I asked him about.

“Yeah, if I can just hit a few more fairways, if I can do that, then I’m pretty confident that I can have a good weekend. But, as I said, it’s doing that that’s the difficult part. But yeah, the way I played the last two days and [being] only five back, I feel pretty good about that.”

In McIlroy’s favor is the weather, as it’s supposed to rain throughout Saturday’s round. Also in his favor is a potential favorable playing partner in good friend Shane Lowry.

It’s been nine years since his last major victory and he’s coming off a pair of missed cuts in his past two starts, but there’s often been a sense that McIlroy will win the next one when we least expect it — and after failing to find his A-game for the first two rounds, this weekend would certainly qualify.

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