HANDICAPPING THE FIELD

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A closer look at the favorites in this week’s 89th PGA Championship, which begins today on 7,131-yard, par-70 Southern Hills. Official odds were provided by William Hill of London:

Tiger Woods (7-4)

Sure, Woods just dusted the field at Firestone by eight strokes and can win anywhere, but Southern Hills suits him like a pink Speedo. It’s too short, too tight and too twisty to be overpowered and most rewards the primary deficiencies in Tiger’s game (accuracy off the tee and pinpoint distance control on approach shots). It seems likely Woods goes 0-for-‘07.

Phil Mickelson (16-1)

See above. Mickelson has the same issues as Woods, plus he’s still recovering from injury (his wrist is 90 percent). Also, the buxom left-hander will be packing his heft around in 100-degree heat.

Ernie Els (20-1)

Beware the sturdy South African. Els is striping his new driver, enjoying a nice run of form and has long been among the game’s best on demanding U.S. Open-style tracks in extreme heat (see Oakmont and Congressional). The Big Easy is good value.

Justin Rose (25-1)

The young Brit has been a staple on 2007 leader boards, recording eight top-12 finishes this season, including ties for fifth, 10th and 12th in the majors. As consistently as he has played, however, Rose hasn’t won an event this year, and his Sunday scoring average is a wobbly 71.7.

Padraig Harrington (25-1)

Frankly, Southern Hills is an excellent track for the Dubliner, who controls his approach distances as well as any player in the game. But it’s nearly impossible to follow up a breakout major victory with a consecutive Slam success after a month of circus-like media exposure and celebration. No player has followed a first major conquest with an immediate plate of Slam seconds since Craig Wood (1941 Masters and U.S. Open).

Jim Furyk (25-1)

The steady flail is our pick for this week. He’s too good to win just one major, and Southern Hills is a good fit for his steady fairways-and-greens game. The only negative is Furyk hasn’t enjoyed much success at Southern Hills (tied for 62nd in 2001 U.S. Open) nor its look-alike PGA Tour brethren (Colonial and Westchester).

Vijay Singh (33-1)

Golf’s erstwhile ageless Fijian finally appears to have lost a step this season. His performances in the first three majors have been uninspiring, yielding just one top-15 (a tie for 13th at the Masters). And Singh has slipped on the weekend at each major (73.5 average), a sure sign his age (44) is starting to catch up with him. On the plus side, he does have a solid record on tracks like Southern Hills, and since his banishment to Borneo, Singh is impervious to heat.

Sergio Garcia (33-1)

OK, if the Spaniard’s 72nd-hole putt at Carnoustie had been a centimeter right, the world would be tipping Garcia to put on a back-to-back show at Southern Hills. His brilliant tee-to-green game is perfect for the layout’s narrow, shot-shaping demands. He contended at Southern Hills in the 2001 Open (tie for 12th), and his record on similar courses is exemplary (three total victories at Colonial and Westchester). Everything about Garcia screams success at Southern Hills … except his likely Carnoustie hangover.

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