No Tiger Woods, no problem.
The spectacle of the 2014 U.S. Open will surely drop slightly with the most popular player on the PGA Tour once again sidelined, but his absence won't make a large dent in the stacked field. From 20-year-old burgeoning superstar Jordan Spieth to always-in-the-public-eye Rory McIlroy to still-looking-for-his-first-U.S.-Open-title-after-six-second-place-finishes Phil Mickelson to the pair of dominant Australians, Jason Day and Adam Scott, there is no shortage of compelling names.
Oh, and with the tourney returning to Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, where anything can happen on the unforgiving course, the intrigue is bumped up another notch.
Let's take a look at where the odds for this year's second major currently stand, courtesy of Vegas Insider.
|2014 U.S. Open Odds|
Favorite: Rory McIlroy
McIlroy's PGA Tour winless streak drags on, with his last victory coming in September of 2012 (He won on the European tour in May.), but he continues to enter most majors as one of the favorites.
At Pinehurst, he's alone at the top, even clear of guys such as Mickelson and Scott.
McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open winner, has yet to play at Pinehurst, but he is intrigued by the immense size of the course, via GolfChannel.com's Randall Mell:
Yeah, I can only go on what I've read and what I've heard about Pinehurst, because I've never been there. No rough for a U.S. Open is going to be very different. I hear it's going to be a long, long golf course, which I'm looking forward to. I don't mind that at all, getting driver in the hand, and a long golf course, it would suit me.
Indeed, McIlory, who ranks eighth on tour in driving distance, will have a significant advantage if he is able to shorten the course. However, staying on the fairway is always important at the U.S. Open, and the erratic McIlroy is just 147th in driving accuracy.
If he finds his fairways and can get his putting going, the Northern Irishman is a tremendous bet to continue his recent hot play—which includes four top 10s since April and a scintillating 63 at the Memorial—and take his third major. If not, his drought will continue.
Fringe Favorite: Matt Kuchar
Of the guys hanging in the shadows behind the top three favorites, it's hard not to like Matt Kuchar's odds at 25-1.
"Kuch," a seven-time tour winner, has yet to win his first major, but he has six top 10s, including a fifth-place finish at the Masters in April. He has continued to play well since then, winning the RBC Heritage and finishing 15th at the Memorial.
Moreover, he has the right kind of game. He is accurate off the tees—21st on tour in driving percentage—and consistent on the greens—12th in strokes gained via putting. While his game isn't always scintillating, those are the perfect qualities to have at the U.S. Open, which has a tendency of punishing aggressive play.
He talked about his intelligent play, via ESPN's Farrell Evans: "I think I understand shot value better than most tour players. If I hit a 5-iron from 200 yards and I have a 30-footer on the green, I'm not going to be pissed off. I see some guys get mad because they have not hit the perfect shot."
His swing instructor, Chris O'Connell, continued:
Matt understands that if he hits a 5-iron on the green that he has gained shots on the field, because guys with five irons are going to miss the green more than they are going to hit it. He really knows where to pick his spots and know where the odds are stacked against him. Matt probably manages his misses better than anybody on tour.
Kuchar, the No. 5 player in the world, is undoubtedly one of the most consistent players on tour. In his last 17 majors, he has six top 10s and 11 top 25s. You won't find many safer picks than this.
Sleeper: Jimmy Walker
Jimmy Walker's 2014 transformation has been nothing short of remarkable. After recording zero wins through his first 187 PGA Tour events, the 35-year-old won three of the first eight to start the season. The Frys.com Open, the Sony Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am aren't going to blow everyone away, but his success has translated to the big stage.
Walker finished eighth at the Masters—the first top-10 major finish of his career—and followed that up with a sixth-place finish at The Players Championship. Overall, he has seven top 10s and is first in the FedEx Cup standings.
He is fifth on tour in strokes gained with the putter, which will be crucial at Pinehurst, and he has proved that he'll almost always be in contention on the weekend. At 50-1 odds, he represents fantastic value.
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