Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are betting favorites at the 2013 U.S. Open, but the cast of less familiar characters flanking them might represent smarter wagers.
Seven of the last eight U.S. Open winners were also first-time major winners—the sole exception being Woods at Torrey Pines in 2008. What once was a tournament that required prior major success has hastily become one that rebukes it, favoring, for whatever reason, players who have yet to break through on the grandest stage.
This year's field has non-major-winners aplenty, golfers with prodigious talent but not-so-prodigious resumes. And if the success of Webb Simpson last year or McIlroy the year before has taught us anything, it's that those are some of the most dangerous players in the field.
Here are three who warrant your bets at Merion this week:
Note: All odds via golfodds.com.
One of these days, right?
One of these days Jackie Gleason is going to knock his wife to the moon, one of these days the Cubs will win a World Series and one of these days Rickie Fowler is going to put it all together.
Divisive among golf fans—purists and youngsters alike—for his signature style, Fowler possesses raw talent even Judge Smails couldn't deny. He crushes the ball off the tee, and when the rest of his game is on, it's more than good enough to supplement that trademark skill.
Rickie's major finishes hardly reflect his skill level, though, and many in the golf community are sick of waiting for his breakout. A fifth-place tie at last year's British was his only top-25 finish in 13 major appearances.
Still, Fowler fits the aforementioned mold of recent U.S. Open champions. And a closer look at his major results shows that he hasn't been all that bad. He's played well in spots at big-time tournaments; he just can't sustain it over the course of four days.
If Rickie can turn bad rounds into bad holes at Merion, he certainly has what it takes to be a factor at the end. At 60-1 odds, it's tough to ask for a better pure golfer.
You might remember Olesen for his stellar play at this year's Masters or for having the coolest name ever. But Daenerys "Thorbjorn" Olesen isn't just a one-hit wonder.
His sixth-place tie at Augusta seemed to come out of nowhere, but really it was just a continuation of momentum from last year's major circuit. As a 22-year-old in 2013, Olesen finished ninth at the British Open and 27th at the PGA Championship.
For context: In his past three major starts, he's made more top-27s than Rickie Fowler has in his career. And Rickie Fowler, as you hopefully just read, is also a member of this list.
The father of dragons isn't just some lovable moppet to root for as a feel-good story. His recent track record suggests he's a bona fide threat to compete, and the rest of the field would be wise to treat him as such.
At the 2011 U.S. Open, just two years ago, a similarly aged McIlroy was taken for granted after storming out of the gate. And we all know how that one turned out.
K.J. Choi has a nasty habit of starting strong then fading, but his ability to get out of the gate is good enough to warrant consideration. At 100-1, you take what you can get, and there are far worse things to get than front-runners.
The U.S. Open has historically been Choi's worse major, never finishing above a 15th-place tie. But that career best came in last year's U.S. Open, and he's finished inside the top-10 of the other majors during his career.
Think of it this way: If they played this week's Open 100 times, would Choi be able to win one time. Bearing in mind the stat from before, that seven of the past eight winners had never won a previous major. Bearing in mind that last year's winner was named Webb Simpson.
This seems like a nice payout for a veteran golfer like Choi, especially one so capable of leading after Rounds 1 and 2. If nothing else, his early contention will keep you on your toes and give you a fiscal rooting interest on the weekend.