U.S. Open Odds 2012: Which Golfers Will Catapult Themselves into Elite Status?

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIJune 13, 2012

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 07:  Jason Dufner of the United States looks on from the second green during the third round of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2012 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time.

The odds are stacked heavily in favor of Tiger using the 2012 U.S. Open to catapult himself back into the ranks of the game's unquestioned elite players.

Now that I have your attention, you're stuck. I'm not going to tell you why Tiger will win, contrary to the desired outcome for many fans. I am going to talk about the state of the American golfing scene in the context of this year's championship at the Olympic Club.

Six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking hail from the U.S. of A. and 11 of the top 20. Ironically enough, six of the past 10 Open winners aren't Americans, but 11 of the past 20 are.

Excluding a man named Eldrick, none of America's current sensational six players have won their own national Open championship.

For these reasons, I do believe a citizen of the 50 nifty United States is due for a major breakthrough.

With this argument narrowing the favorites down to American players, it would appear the odds favor Tiger even more. However, it's difficult to stand out from the pack by regurgitating Tiger propaganda and picking him to win the tournament.

Here are two Americans in golf's top 10 who should contend this week and launch themselves into a level of public consciousness on par with their elite world ranking.


Hunter Mahan (Odds: 40-1)

Although ranked No. 8 in the world, Mahan is not the high-profile public figure that should be included with such a splendid standing.

Most remarkable about this season for Mahan was his tour-de-force performance at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Mahan blew through the field, recording an astounding 35 birdies in 96 holes of play. He also beat a fellow by the name of Rory McIlroy in the final match 2 and 1.

It was one of the most dominating performances on Tour this season, an exception to the particularly dramatic, close finishes the 2012 campaign has yielded thus far.

Lucas Glover became the most recent American to win the U.S. Open championship in 2009 at Bethpage Black. Lost in translation between Glover, a resurgent Ricky Barnes, a determined David Duval—and of course, Phil Mickelson—is Mahan's misfortunes.

Just one stroke off the lead in the final round, Mahan's approach to the par-4 16th hole ricocheted off the pin and off the putting surface, 40 feet from the hole.

Failing to get up and down, Mahan's momentum was thwarted as he bogeyed the 17th and finished four strokes back. If Mahan had been rewarded by a kinder bounce off the firm pin, he could have holed out for eagle or tapped in for birdie and very well could have won a U.S. Open already.

Being so close three years ago, Mahan is among the game's elite players who has yet to break through in any major tournament. Therefore, he has not garnered "elite status" as far as the casual golf fan is concerned.

That could very well change at week's end.


Jason Dufner (Odds: 25-1)

There is arguably no hotter golfer on the planet right now than Dufner.

Two wins and a runner-up finish in the past four starts is a testament to that. All the more impressive, Dufner was married in May to add to the chaos of quickly putting the golf world on notice with such brilliant play.

The only way to nitpick Dufner to date would obviously be to point out that he hasn't won a major.

While he is ranked No. 9 in the world, and his prevalence on the PGA is very recent, he has yet to get it done in any of golf's biggest tournaments.

That isn't to say he hasn't recently contended. Dufner was threatening to make a major statement before blowing a five-shot lead with four holes to play in the 2011 PGA Championship. He also fell off the pace after sharing the 36-hole lead at this year's Masters.

What better way to cement himself as one of the game's elite than by winning a national championship? It would be a fitting way to follow his alma mater's college football title, albeit a year later. It would also be fitting because Dufner has been a late bloomer of sorts on the golfing scene; his full potential is finally surfacing at the age of 35.

The other factor working Dufner's favor is his on-course demeanor. If his head is spinning from that lip-induced buzz, he certainly doesn't show it. Dufner is a man of few words, and shows little emotion on the course and in post-round interviews no matter how he's playing.

Having the right attitude is crucial in a major. Although Dufner hasn't won a major, he's had lots of recent, useful experiences on a similar stages to The Olympic Club. He's also learned how to win PGA events outside of majors, which can be valuable for a golfer trying to take that next step.

Also, as advertising for the NBA playoffs has taught us: "It's the quiet guys you should fear, because talk is small but game is big."

Dufner has plenty of game, as does Mahan. Expect these two Americans to give the field a scare.