The U.S. Open takes center stage in less than two weeks and the cast of contenders is unprecedentedly crowded.
For the first time since 1996 the betting board has no single digit favorite. Instead, there are four players (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood) topping the chart at 12-1. And following this foursome is a LONG list of legit possibilities.
Here are the odds groupings and our take on the current board's Top 25.
TIGER WOODS - The last time we saw Tiger on a golf
course he was limping off Sawgrass three weeks ago. At a press
conference last Tuesday, Woods said he "was trying to do everything I
can (to play in the U.S. Open)" but admitted "I've been resting, haven't
been able to do much. I've been in a boot for my Achilles. Been on
crutches to take some pressure off the knee and my back, because when
you're in a boot you start limping, back gets a little sore."
When (if) he steps to the first tee at Congressional it will have
been 641 days since his last win in this country and 1,081 days since
his last win in a major. It's getting to the point where the world (and
Woods) wonders if his glory days are just plain done.
PHIL MICKELSON - At 40-years-old, Lefty has put
together a solid year. He won the Shell Open last month, then grabbed
a top ten finish at Quail Hollow, and this past weekend finished a respectable 13th at the Memorial. Mickelson currently sits a solid 5th
in the FedEx Cup standings. His bugaboo right now is he's ranked a dismal 163rd in fairways hit (52%) and that's fatal at a U.S. Open setup. Keep
in mind that the U.S. Open has been Phil's personal demon with a record
five runner-up finishes and zero victories.
Still, Mickelson's said the U.S. Open is THE one win he's targeting
now. If he can somehow keep it in the short grass he should be in
contention on Sunday.
LUKE DONALD - Here's the man who should be the
favorite. NOBODY is on a hotter ride than the former Northwestern
Wildcat. This past weekend he took 7th at the Memorial after outgunning Lee Westwood in a playoff the week before to win
the European PGA Championship and take over the world's number one
ranking. This season on the PGA Tour, Luke's had 8 top ten finishes in 9 starts including an impressive win at the Accenture Match Play
Championship, a 2nd at the Heritage, a 4th at the Masters, and 4th at
The Players. 12-1 on Donald seems like a bonafide bargain.
LEE WESTWOOD - Lee is always a threat but
c'mon...tied as the top betting choice? Seems a bit generous. In
the last seven years, Westwood did finish 3rd in the 2008 U.S. Open but
in the rest, he was so far out of contention on the weekend he was
rarely seen in the telecasts. The bulked-up Brit has one European Tour
win this year but has yet to post a top 10 in the U.S. in 5
RORY McILROY - The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland
has rebounded rather well on the European Tour after his epic fail at
the Masters. It would be a great story if McIlory can bring his magic to
Congressional where the redesigned course sets up well for his game. In finishing 5th at Jack's tourney this past weekend Rory showed a very consistent game especially with the putter.
MARTIN KAYMER - Der Dominator may not be the #1
ranked player in the world anymore but as Rodney Dangerfield said in
Caddyshack, "Yeah, I'm no doorknob either, alright?" Kaymer followed up
on his 2010 season as my Player of the Year with a 3 month reign
on top of the World Golf Rankings. He's bagged a win, place, and show so
far in 2011 which is about the same kind of start he got off to last
year. The 26-year-old German is looking to grab his 2nd major. In last
year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Martin finished tied for 8th despite a
rocky opening round 74. Yeah, he missed the cut again at the Masters in
April but Congressional's layout is no Augusta, alright? At 20-1 and
twice the price of Tiger, which of the two is the smarter bet right now?
You may answer in German.
DUSTIN JOHNSON - What is going on with DJ in the
last two months? Two words...wildly erractic. His round-by-round scores
have gone bi-polar. Last weekend at the Memorial he blazed in the final round to finish 4th after dropping in 8 birdies which was more birds than he had in the two previous rounds combined. The week before at the Byron Nelson, Johnson posted an
opening round 66 only 2 strokes off the lead. Round 2? Ballooned to a 75
and fell to 9 back and out of contention. Two weeks earlier at The
Players, Dustin was never in it and finished tied for 57th. A week
before that at Quail Hollow, a 79 in Friday's round dropped him deep
under the cut line. His biggest problem has been his putting which
statistically ranks near the bottom -- which is not where you want to be
if you want to continue to be in the team photo of premier players.
Then there's that thing about DJ's final round in last year's U.S. Open.
Will he have extra motivation this year, or flashback chills?
HUNTER MAHAN - At 29-years-old, Hunter's hitting the
prime age range for pro golfers, and he's running true to form. He was
2nd at the AT&T National and has ripped off 5 top ten finishes in
his last 9 tour starts. Mahan has
played well at Congressional in the past and given his recent results,
he's got to be considered a very solid pick here.
NICK WATNEY - Here's another guy in prime form.
Watney's got 7 top tens in 11 events so far in 2011 including a win at
the WGC Cadillac Championship. He's 2nd only to Luke Donald on the money
list. But...Nick's U.S. Open record is miserable -- 2 missed cuts, a
60th, and a 76th last year after hacking out an 81 in the last round.
That's more than a little scary.
GRAEME McDOWELL - The defending champ started the
year hot, and then...well...not so much. G-Mac did finish a nice 5th in
Spain at the Volvo Match Play tourney two weeks ago but otherwise he's
been whacking it around. In his last six events on Tour, the Northern
Irishman's missed the cut in three of them and his best finish has been
33rd at The Players. His iron play lately has been mediocre at best,
which has been a strength of his when he's on top of his game. Still,
here's a guy with very obvious pride who will dig deep to defend a title
he captured at Pebble primarily because he played less worse than
everyone else on Sunday.
MATT KUCHAR - Kooch has kinda been lurking so far
this year. No wins, but no missed cuts. 8 top tens in 14 events including a 2nd this past weekend. But since turning pro in
2000, Kuchar and the U.S. Open have been a bad fit -- 6 times he failed
to qualify, 4 missed cuts, and one tie for 48th. But then out of nowhere
last year, Kooch sneaks up into a 6th place finish. Who'd have thunk?
Beware the lurker.
STEVE STRICKER - Stricks rocketed up the betting board thanks to a win at Jack's place this weekend where he was money off the tee which is exactly where you want to be going into the U.S. Open. Ya gotta root for Steve because at 44-years-old, the time for a major win is running out far too quickly.
BUBBA WATSON - #1 in the FedEx standings! A multiple
winner on the Tour this year! Ranked #1 in greens in regulation! BUBBA!
33-1 seems rather steep for a guy with a legit shot to win. He recently
said his game is "steamrolling in the right direction" while Tiger
Woods was "going the wrong way." He later backed (way) off the Woods
dissing but the truth is Bubba has been pretty Woodsy cutthroat when in
contention this season. Big hitter with the attitude to take a major
title. The key for Bubba is to be on the first page of the leaderboard
going into the weekend, otherwise he'll be going for broke which is
disaster on a U.S. Open course. Just ask fellow lefty Phil Mickelson.
CHARL SCHWARTZEL - The Masters champ who was worried
about people forgetting about him has apparently been remembered well
enough to be in the top dozen betting choices in the U.S. Open. Hey, why
not? Schwartzel finished a respectable 16th in this event last year,
and if he had the chops to win that wild, wide-open stretch run at
Augusta, who's to say he can't go back-to-back in the majors? Casual
fans tend to brushoff Charl's chances but the guy is ranked in the top
ten in the world right now and it wasn't because he stole a green
jacket. So...Remember The Schwartz!
JIM FURYK - Furyk must be busying spending that 10
million he won in last year's FedEx Cup. Good for him! But on this
year's money list he's so far down he's chasing names like Chris Kirk,
Jimmy Walker, and Brandan Steele. What gives with Jimmy? Well, after
finishing in the top ten in scoring average for the past six years, he's
nosedived to 61st. Nevertheless, you can't count out the guy with the loopy swing going into a U.S. Open because he's so crazy accurate of
the tee and check out his numbers in this event: Won it once, finished
2nd twice and 5th two more times.
K.J. CHOI - The South Korean may have just crossed
over into his 40s, but he's surged into 4th on the money list and beat
everybody just a couple weeks ago at The Players. And K.J. was 8th at
Augusta, 6th at Arnie's, and 3rd in New Orleans. The downside for Choi
is he hasn't ever been much of a factor on U.S. Open tracks. On the
other hand, he pretty much sucked at The Players before this year so maybe he can turn it around here as well.
JUSTIN ROSE - Rose had a breakout year in 2010 and
goes into Jack's Memorial Tournament this week as defending champ.
Justin's off to a solid start this season including a 3rd at Arnie's and
a 5th at the Transitions which he led after three rounds. His wedge
game is money but his putting has been out of tune enough to cost him
some serious dough this year.
GEOFF OGILVY - Currently ranked 31st in the world,
the Australian has been bothered by a sore left shoulder which caused
him to withdraw from both the Wells Fargo event and The Players. It hasn't
been the luckiest year for Ogilvy who earlier couldn't defend his
Tournament of Champions title because he cut his finger on coral in
Hawaii. But between these injuries, Geoff played great at the Masters
and finished 4th throwing down a final round 67.
PAUL CASEY - Casey's had a frustrating year. Case in
point, Paul shot an opening round 64 in the Transitions to lead by two
strokes. By the time Sunday was over he was in 37th. He hasn't brought
home a top ten finish in months mainly due to serious troubles off the
tee. He's still ranked 9th in the World Golf Rankings just behind Steve
Stricker but those are two guys who can't be happy about how things have
been going this year.
ADAM SCOTT - The World's Sexiest Man in Golf came
within an eyelash of winning the Masters with his XL putter. Since then
the putter turned against him big time. If he starts rolling the ball
well, he'll be fine. Isn't that how it goes for all of us?
ANTHONY KIM - AK's season started going off the
rails at the Masters where he barely missed the cut. Then he
missed two more cuts at the Texas Open and at The Players. In three
other tournaments in May his best finish was 56th. Ouch. Sadly, 40-1 in
the U.S. Open seems to be missing another zero.
JASON DAY - At 50-1, Jason could be a nice longshot
to get on. Tied for 2nd at the Masters, 5th at the Nelson, 6th at
Sawgrass, 9th at the Heritage. Not out of the question to contend here. A
big upside at only 23-years-old.
IAN POULTER - So far, it hasn't been the year
Poulter had hoped for. A U.S. Open win would go a long way towards Ian avoiding
being more well known for his Twittering than his golfing.
PADRAIG HARRINGTON - Paddy's had a weird year with 3 top ten finished layered among 3 missed cuts. His recent U.S. Open record has been weirdly similar in that every other year he misses the cut. He finished 22nd last year so you can take it from there.
SERGIO GARCIA - No...even at 50-1, Sergio's recent flashes aren't enough to get the smart money to bite.
Tags: Adam Scott, Anthony Kim, Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel, Dustin Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy, Graeme McDowell, Hunter Mahan, Ian Poulter, Jason Day, Jim Furyk, Justin Rose, K.J. Choi, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer, Matt Kuchar, Nick Watney, Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey, PGA, PGA Tour, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods, U.S. Open