Considering the crowded nature of talent in professional golf today, handicapping the potential winners of any major championship is a difficult effort, to say the least.
Figuring out which of those odds are the best to take on the eve of the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club is equally difficult. Outside of usual favorite Tiger Woods, the rest of the field for this year's second major championship is cluttered.
In fact, according to Golfodds.com, there are 17 golfers whose odds range between 20-1 and 40-1. A look at those favorites gives little reason to be absolutely positive of any bet. At 9-2, Woods is the only golfer coming in at better than 20-1.
Despite the confusion and clutter, we're ranking our top-10 picks by odds from the worst to the best, but remember, this is just our opinion. How you bet your money belongs solely to you.
Easy Money: Jim Furyk nearly won a second U.S. Open title last year, and despite a somewhat pedestrian first half to this season, he is set up to surprise at Merion Golf Club and deliver some serious cash rewards.
Furyk absolutely has the game to succeed at Merion where length isn't an issue, but accuracy is. The unorthodox-swinging Furyk won the U.S. Open in 2003 at Olympia Fields, finished in a second-place tie at Oakmont Country Club in 2007 and last year, closed in a tie for fourth at Olympic Club.
In both 2007 and 2013, Furyk had opportunities to win late, but was done in by untimely bogeys. If he can avoid those late errors at Merion, he might just get that second Open title.
Fools Gold: Yes, Merion fits Furyk's game, but the PGA Tour veteran hasn't necessarily been on his game this season.
In 12 starts, Furyk has earned just two top-10 finishes and not a single one since early April. He has been solid off the tee and ranks a respectable 34th in hitting greens in regulation, but his putting has, by and large, been the source of frustration.
Furyk ranks just 104th in strokes gained-putting, meaning many of the opportunities that his accuracy has provided have gone wanting with the flat stick. If Furyk can't take advantage of playing from the fairway at Merion by making putts, he won't compete as scores go low starting on Thursday, June 13.
Why We're Selling: We liked Furyk's chances of challenging at Merion before the rain really started falling late last week, making the course extremely vulnerable to some really low scores in at least the first couple of rounds.
We still expect him to play well, but while the bet looks good, it's more likely to bust than pay out.
Easy Money: Luke Donald should have a major championship by now and is certainly among the two or three best players still without one. The 2013 U.S. Open might be his best opportunity in some time to realize his potential for a major championship.
Donald's relative lack of length isn't a factor this week at Merion Golf Club, but his accuracy and strong iron play certainly are a concern. From the middle of the fairway and with a mid-iron in his hands, Donald can play aggressive on Merion's challenging greens.
Once there, Donald's strong putter can take over and ring the birdie bell enough to keep him in contention through Sunday afternoon.
Fool's Gold: Donald has certainly suffered from "major malaise" recently and his lack of victories on the PGA Tour this season makes us wonder why the odds are even this good.
Yes, he has competed better in other majors, including last year with a tie for fifth at the British Open, but Donald has just not been consistent enough on the largest stage.
Why We're Selling: Donald's previous struggles leave us wondering if he has the confidence to ultimately break through in a major and whether he's pressing too much when the opportunities come.
He has the talent to win a major, but until he shows he can match it with execution and confidence, we will hedge our bets elsewhere.
Easy Money: It's a risky pick to be sure, but before Sergio putt his foot in his mouth last month, he had it absolutely pressed on the pedal of his game.
Yes, there's no telling how the stress of his now-infamous and racially insensitive remark about Tiger Woods is still weighing on Garcia, but if he can play this week at Merion like he did for 70 holes at TPC Sawgrass last month, he's definitely a threat to win his first career major.
Fool's Gold: The problem with the above argument is that it demands Garcia comes with a strong mental approach to this week's challenge and that has not exactly been his strong suit during his largely underachieving career.
How the galleries will treat Garcia once the competition starts is a complete unknown, as is the state of his game after several weeks of self-imposed witness protection intended to get away from the Tiger controversy.
Bottom line, Garcia is dealing with more issues heading into the U.S. Open than any golfer should be and that is not a good thing
Why We Are Selling: It's an attractive line, but there are just too many questions surrounding Garcia to expect him to handle the pressure for four straight days.
Sergio will not escape the sharp comments from some knuckleheads, and the ability to ignore those distractions and still play well enough to win the U.S. Open is just too much to ask.
Easy Money: Lee Westwood has put in a world of work on his short game over the past year and the benefits have certainly paid off.
While the Englishman hasn't won this year, he has five top-10 finishes in 12 starts and has improved his short game to the point where it won't be the reason he fails to win this week at Merion.
Provided Westwood controls his emotions and can find the fairways more often than not, he has the game to compete for a career-first major this week.
Fool's Gold: There must be a reason why Westwood has contended in his fair share of major championships, including several U.S. Opens, but simply has not been able to get it done since he turned pro back in 1993.
In the past, his short game let him down, and while that aspect of his talent has improved, it will be tested significantly at Merion this week, even with the positive scoring conditions.
The pressure to win a first major title will weigh heavily on Westwood and that will make it difficult for him to relax around the challenging green complexes at Merion.
He desperately wants to win a major championship. We're buying his recent Open track record in suggesting he could do just that at Merion this week.
Easy Money: Have you seen the way Adam Scott has played in the past three major championships?
Scott won his first career major at The Masters just two months ago, and last July, nearly won the British Open before a late collapse left him in second behind Ernie Els.
If that same game comes to Merion this week, we could end Sunday talking about the emerging possibility of a single-season grand slam for the first time in a long time.
Fool's Gold: Since his victory at Augusta National in early April, Scott has only played twice on the PGA Tour.
HIs efforts at The Players Championship and the Memorial Tournament were decent, but the same game and focus he showed at Augusta National were understandably missing at those events. It's a decent bet to expect the same to be true this week at Merion.
Why We're Selling: No golfer has won back-to-back majors since Padriag Harrington won the 2008 British Open and PGA Championship.
Given Scott's relative lack of play and the pure significance of his Masters win, it will be tough for him to claim a second straight major at Merion this week.
The 2013 Masters champion will show well, but he will not be in late contention come Sunday. More majors for Scott, however, will follow.
Easy Money: Rory McIlroy's struggles can't keep going. He's just too naturally talented, no matter what club he is hitting.
Eventually, his slump will end and considering the odds, why not roll the dice on McIlroy this week at Merion?
Despite his lack of victories, Rory has managed to play really well in spots with his new Nike clubs, but needs to find the confidence in the sticks to do it this week. If he can do so on Thursday and Friday when scoring conditions will be favorable, Rory will be a significant factor come Sunday afternoon.
Fools Gold: With every passing tournament that McIlroy fails to win, the pressure continues to mount on him. You can triple that heading into the U.S. Open. It's a lot to deal with, even for an accomplished, but extremely young, golfer.
Under that same pressure two months ago at Augusta National, McIlroy struggled, especially in the third round where he posted a 79 to absolutely end any chance of winning his first green jacket.
If that same thing happens at Merion this week, it's once again lights out for the world's second-ranked golfer.
Why We're Buying (with caution): We don't necessarily see McIlroy winning this week, but we do expect a better effort than we got at Augusta National.
McIlroy will play better with the Nike sticks and if certain things break his way, it wouldn't be a complete surprise to see him win a second U.S. Open in just three years.
Easy Money: We honestly expected Matt Kuchar's odds to be much better considering the year he is having.
Perhaps the best American golfer without a major, Kuchar has won not one, but two, significant events this year—the WGC Match Play Championship and the Memorial Tournament—and has displayed career-best form in doing so.
Kuchar has also played well in the past three U.S. Opens, including a tie for 14th in 2011 and a tie for sixth in 2010. If he manages to keep the ball in the fairway this week and can summon that same killer instinct from Muirfield Village, Kuchar will be a major factor at Merion.
Fool's Gold: We accept that Kuchar can win the U.S. Open without driving the ball far, but he absolutely cannot claim his first major by missing the fairway early and often.
Unfortunately, despite his wins, Kuchar has struggled with his accuracy off the tee where he currently ranks a dismal 134th on tour. If he has to play from the rough or the trees too often this week, Kuchar won't be fulfilling his significant potential as a major championship winner.
Why We're Buying: Kuchar's strong performances this year, coupled with equally impressive showings in recent Open history is enough for us not only to like his odds, but to consider him among the top three or four favorites to win at Merion this week.
Easy Money: In the past three U.S. Opens, Graeme McDowell has one career-making victory and a second-place finish to his credit. That's all the proof we need that these odds are worth jumping on.
His game, composure and confidence absolutely fit the U.S. Open mode to a tee, as evidenced by his victory in 2010 at Pebble Beach and his second-place showing last year at Olympic Club.
His same game has been on display this year, as McDowell has won twice since April, including a PGA Tour victory in a playoff over Webb Simpson at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.
His confidence is high and his game is solid heading into good scoring conditions at Merion.
Fool's Gold: Honestly, it's hard to find fault with McDowell's current game or his opportunity to win at Merion this week.
That said, we'll poke the stick at his iron accuracy, which currently has him ranked a surprising 142nd in greens in regulation despite being the top golfer on tour in terms of driving accuracy.
McDowell has a solid short game, so missing greens at Merion might not cost him too many bogeys, but it will steal birdie chances from him and that could prove his downfall.
Why We're Buying—McDowell has been fantastic both this year and in recent U.S. Open efforts, and we are backing that style to come through at Merion.
If the Irishman doesn't win this week it won't be because he didn't play well, because he will. Rather, if McDowell comes up short it will be because someone else simply played better—a simple fact of life in major championship golf.
Easy Money: Quite frankly, at 20-1, Phil Mickelson is the best bet to earn the biggest reward at Merion this week.
Mickelson has already won once this year—at the Waste Management Phoenix Open—and competed to the end at several other events, including the Cadillac Championship and last week’s St. Jude Classic, where Mickelson shook off a shaky start to play great golf on Saturday and Sunday.
His iron play has been dialed in and his short game, especially his putting, is rounding into very good form. A good start is crucial at Merion, and if Mickelson begins making some putts and the right choices, he’s a solid bet.
Fool’s Gold: Phil is destined to be the U.S. Open’s most famous and talented bridesmaid, but never its bride. After five painful near-misses in the Open, one wonders whether Mickelson himself would argue with that statement.
The scoring conditions at Merion are going to be good and the pressure to go low early could cause Mickelson to make some of the same mistakes that caused him to shoot a 77 in the third round of The Masters last month.
One more round this week like his Augusta deal-breaker and Mickelson won’t even be in contention to add a sixth runner-up finish to his painful past performances.
Why We’re Buying: For some reason, there’s this feeling in our minds and wallets that Lefty has suffered enough and it’s time for a breakthrough in the event he covets the most.
Phil looked really good at TPC Southwind last week. If he can score the way he did there on Saturday and Sunday, he can certainly do it at a vulnerable Merion this weekend.
He has to do it from the fairway, but if Phil can capitalize on his strong iron play and make some putts in crucial moments, this boat will come in big for Mickelson and those who laid down the cash on him.
Easy Money: The Tiger Woods who has won four times this year, shown accuracy off the tee with his three-wood and displayed confidence across his game is well worth this gamble.
Merion Golf Club is suited to Woods' ability to find fairways with less than his driver, to plot his way around the golf course and stay patient even as the stakes rise.
The currently soft course will be vulnerable to his strong iron approaches, meaning Woods has good opportunities to go low on Thursday and Friday—something he has done several times this year on tough layouts.
Fool's Gold: In his victories early in the season, Tiger was putting off the charts, yet at Augusta National in April and at Muirfield Village just two weeks ago, he was off with the putter.
Even in winning The Players Championship in early May, Woods struggled with his speed and fought reads. If he can’t get comfortable on the challenging greens at Merion Golf Club, Tiger will struggle to go low early and then will be chasing the leaders into the weekend.
Why We’re Buying: Tiger is desperate to end his five-year major championship drought and Merion does fit his game despite his lack of experience on the course.
With his three-wood in hand, Tiger will avoid the many dangers that have derailed him in previous U.S. Opens and that will keep him in contention coming down the stretch on Sunday. From that point on, its about sinking crucial putts, as he did the last time he won a major championship at the 2008 U.S. Open.
The bottom line is, if Tiger's putts fall on Sunday, this bet comes through. If they miss in the most important moments, it's more money wasted on Tiger's quest for his 15th major.