By Rory Carroll
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Gamblers starved of sports action are expected to go all in on this year's PGA Championship, the first golf major of the year and the biggest single sporting event in the United States since February's Super Bowl.
The coronavirus pandemic quieted sports books when it forced leagues to halt play in March and even though some have returned, the PGA Championship at San Francisco's TPC Harding Park has distinct advantages, said Chris Altruda, national sports betting expert from Pennbets.com.
"With at least 12 states offering wagers on the PGA Championship, an estimate on the cumulative legal sports betting handle could reach $20 million," by far the biggest handle of the year to date in the sport, he told Reuters.
Sports books reported promising signs on the eve of the first round.
"We can already see that the pre-tournament betting is well on pace to beat all of the majors from last season," said Mattias Stetz of Rush Street Interactive, which operates BetRivers.com.
The tournament's status as a major, its deep and star-studded field, and its position on the west coast, which allows for more TV viewing, gives it a leg up even as it vies for dollars against Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL, Altruda said.
Tournament favorites include two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka and world number one Justin Thomas as well as Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, although many feel a young gun like Collin Morikawa could be poised for a breakthrough.
"Its history as an event where many first-time major winners emerge provides a buffer against an overwhelming favorite," Altruda said.
"This year also plays into that trend as there has yet to be a repeat winner on the tour since golf came back following the pandemic-induced shutdown."
The PGA Tour returned in mid-June, earlier than many sports, and has not postponed any events since coming back.
(Editing by Stephen Coates)