What are the best bets in this week's US Open?
Most bets this week will be going on the big four of Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth (the defending champ) and Dustin Johnson and if you’re convinced one of those will win you should head to Betfair Exchange, where the ‘Big 4′ are 2.46 currently to back (2.94 to lay), with ‘The Field’ at 1.53.
However, something tells me that we should expect the unexpected this week and you only have to look back at the US Open of 2007, which was the last time this Major was played at Oakmont, for evidence. That was the year when Angel Cabrera triumphed at 100/1 after being the only player to shoot two rounds in the 60s, while Niclas Fasth (remember him?) finished as top European and Nick Dougherty (him of Sky Sports) was top Brit, and the winning score was five over par. No wonder Jordan Spieth, after playing a practice round here a few weeks ago, said he’d sign for level-par and take his chance.
Nine years on and the course is set up almost identically – same yardages, severely-sloping lightning-fast greens, narrow fairways, ‘church pew’ bunkers that come into play on the third and fourth holes and clingy four-inch rough – with the only difference there are now no trees, with around 4,000 being felled. Quite simply, it’s a brutal test and, while far from being a long course at 7,230 yards, a par of 70 and only two par-5s (both over 600 yards) should ensure another winning score over par. As for the type of player who might win, it goes without saying that putting skills will be paramount, along with the ability to find fairways and the right part of the poa annua greens; below the hole ideally rather than be faced with a downhill putt.
So who is up to the challenge? Of the big four, you’ve go to like Day’s chances most. His game has no faults, he seems to win every few weeks, and has a fine US Open record – twice a runner-up in 2011 and 2013, a fourth in 2014 and top-10 last year. I wouldn’t put anyone off backing him over Spieth, who is still missing too many fairways, and McIlroy, whose patience will be tested to the limit on this week’s greens and is prone to lapses in focus. Dustin Johnson is a wonderful talent who should have won a US Open by now – he traded odds-on twice last year before three-putting the final green – and has failed to concert several winning opportunities since. He could be one to lay if getting in contention at the weekend.
In addition to Day – who is worth a saver at the very least – here are five other players who I think have got what it takes to contend this week and at least reward each-way support. It’s worth mentioning here that both Coral and Paddy Power are paying out on SEVEN places, albeit at one fifth the odds, with most other firms offering six places and a quarter the odds.
Justin Rose @ 28/1 bet365 (¼ odds, six places)
The Englishman can boast a US Open on his CV, that coming at Merion Golf Club, a similarly tricky and relatively short track, and he was bang in contention in 2007, when he would have won with Cabrera’s closing 69 instead of his own 76. He’s a deceptively long, straight hitter off the tee and finds greens for fun – he’s ranked fifth on Tour for greens in regulation (GIR) – and even more significant is the fact he’s ranked 2nd for ‘GIR percentage from other than the fairway’, when you consider that a lot of second shots this week will be played from either fairway bunkers or the rough. He needs his putter to behave and, having taken some time off since the Players to work on that part of his game, I’m hopeful it will.
Phil Mickelson @ 30/1 Betfred (¼ odds, six places)
It’s impossible to leave Lefty out of calculations as he’s looked far from a back number this season – he will tee it up this Thursday on his 46th birthday – and his putting in particular is in rude health, as shown by his share of second place at the St Jude on Sunday. This is the Major he needs to complete a career Grand Slam (all four Majors) and, while there’s a possibility he’ll want it too much, he’ll know exactly what’s required to stay in contention until Sunday, having been there so many times before (runner-up six times, to go with two fourths and three other top-10 finishes). Yes, he’s still prone to the odd wayward tee shot, but you don’t have to hit a driver on too many holes this week and his Open success at Muirfield showed he can be more conservative off the tee and still be called a champion.
Hideki Matsuyama @ 33/1 Betfair (¼ odds, six places)
In comparison, Matsuyama is a relatively new-kid-on-the-block but he’s quickly making a name for himself on the main Tour, after a stellar amateur career and being a prolific winner on the Japan Golf Tour, winning twice (most recently the Phoenix Open in February) and contending well in Majors. Indeed, he finished in a tie for 10th on his US Open debut in 2013 and followed that up with tied-18th 12 months ago. His best finishes in a Major have come at Augusta, with fifth and seventh places the last two years, and that is concrete proof that he is not phased by lightning-fast greens. His 67 on the Saturday of this season’s Players Championship, when the greens were like glass, provides further evidence and there’s very little wrong with the rest of his game. He’s a Major winner in-waiting and it would be no surprise if it came this week.
Patrick Reed @ 50/1 bet365 (¼ odds, six places)
A Major will surely go the way of this gritty 25-year-old Texan who has climbed to number 11 in the world rankings and arrives here on the back of a solid eighth at the Memorial Tournament, where he tellingly ranked seventh for GIR. A four-time winner on Tour, he has already shown an aptitude for this Major, finishing 35th on his debut two years ago and tied-14th last year, when he led the field at halfway, and he won’t lack for bottle if does get a sniff on Sunday. A terrific scrambler – he’s ranked 2nd on Tour for that particular stat – and a good putter to boot, he certainly has all the skills required for this week’s test.
Kevin Chappell @ 100/1 Paddy Power (¼ odds, 7 places)
The inclusion of the 29-year-old Californian needs a little more explaining as he’s a Tour maiden and they don’t win many Majors, admittedly (Jeff Sluman springs to mind as one exception). However, he’s playing the golf of his life and has finished runner-up three times already this season, including at Bay Hill and Sawgrass, where he was one of the few players to shoot a round in the 60s on Saturday. That underlined the long-standing suggestion that he is best on tough courses – they don’t come much tougher than Oakmont – and he looks every inch a US Open specialist in the making, with best finishes of third on his debut in 2011 and tenth the following year. Leave him out of the staking plan at your peril.
Other players who almost made it in were Jim Furyk, who finished a shot behind Cabrera in 2007 and has gradually been finding his best form after a spell off through injury, and Retief Goosen, who has won two US Opens (2001 & 2004) and has been playing some nice golf this season at the age of 47. I’m not sure either can win this week, which puts me off a play in the outright market, but Goosen in particular looks way overpriced at 6/1 with Coral for a top-20 finish given his prowess with the flat stick.
And in the same market, I’m all over Soren Kjeldsen (13/2 with Paddy Power) as the accurate Dane hits fairways and greens for fun and his tied-7th at Augusta in April showed he can handle the big occasion and lightning-fast greens. He’s 11/2 in bet365’s ‘Top Scandinavian’ market, where he has Henrik Stenson and David Lingmerth to beat, and that’s well worth considering too.
Justin Rose 2pts each-way @ 28/1 bet365 (¼ odds, six places)
Phil Mickelson 2pts each-way @ 30/1 Betfred (¼ odds, six places)
Hideki Matsuyama 1pt each-way @ 33/1 Betfair (¼ odds, six places)
Patrick Reed 1pt each-way @ 50/1 bet365 (¼ odds, six places)
Kevin Chappell 0.5pt each-way @ 100/1 Paddy Power (¼ odds, 7 places)
Retief Goosen Top-20 Finish 1pt @ 6/1 Coral
Soren Kjeldsen Top-20 finish 1pt @ 13/2 Paddy Power / Top Scandinavian 1pt @ 11/2 bet365