Golf's second major of the year, the U.S. Open, is finally upon us. It will take place at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, which will always hold a special place in the hearts of golf fans everywhere.
This is the same course where Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson went head-to-head in 1999, with Stewart hitting a birdie on 17 and a long par putt on 18 to capture the U.S. Open trophy. The victory would take on a much different meaning four months later when he was killed in an airplane crash.
While there will certainly be talk of that magnificent event 15 years ago, things happening in the present are very much in a state of flux. Tiger Woods is still out rehabbing from back surgery; Phil Mickelson, who was the runner-up in this event last year, has missed four cuts and has no top-10 finishes; Rory McIlroy is just as likely to shoot 69 as he is 76 in a round.
All of this turnover does make for a more dramatic event, though casual fans may struggle getting invested because they aren't ready to let go of the old guard. Whatever the case may be, here are some betting tips to help make your U.S. Open viewing experience more palatable.
Odds listed courtesy of OddsShark.com as of 10:00 a.m. ET on June 9.
Ignore The Favorites
Unlike team sports, where there's a more diverse set of criteria to examine when setting odds, golf suffers because everyone is so enamored with the names instead of performance.
For instance, the top three favorites to win the 2014 U.S. Open are Rory McIlroy (8-1), Adam Scott (11-1) and Phil Mickelson (14-1). Scott is a perfectly valid choice considering his success this year with five top 10s and one win in nine starts, but McIlroy has always been an enigma impossible to figure out.
The 25-year-old Irishman has good stats overall this year with six top 10s, one win and no missed cuts in nine PGA events. He is also the guy who can shoot a 63 in Round 1 of The Memorial and 78 the next day.
Mickelson's season has been all over the place. Here is how Lefty has fared in his last five events:
|The Masters||-||Missed Cut|
|Wells Fargo Championship||-7||11th|
|The Players Championship||-||Missed Cut|
|St. Jude Classic||-6||11th|
If that's not enough, Mickelson also has the distraction of an insider-trading investigation (subscription required) hovering over him.
There's too much volatility with McIlroy and Mickelson, both on and off the course, to expect big things from them this weekend. Scott is the safest bet of the group, though he's never finished better than 15th at this tournament.
Accuracy Is The Name of the Game
In 2010, Pinehurst underwent a massive renovation that completely changed the way it plays. As Bradley Klein of GolfWeek.com wrote in 2011, the course cut 35-40 acres of area that was just fairways and rough.
The course now consists of 50 acres of turf, all maintained at fairway mowing heights, essentially eliminating the higher rough. The rest of the marginal areas were transformed into irregular, sandy ground dotted with wispy, unpredictable wiregrass. Bunkers that had been grown over also were reclaimed, while some existing ones were tugged and extended into lines of play.
Who do you want to win the 2014 U.S. Open?
This means that there's an illusion of space that will trap players who think they can have their way with Pinehurst. Fairways and greens will play much harder and faster, which could lead to more roll-offs.
So while it will be tempting to bash the ball off the tee on this 7,495-yard course, the most successful players will be the ones who know how to place the ball. Accuracy will rule the weekend at North Carolina.
This favors players like Jim Furyk (11th in driving accuracy), Graeme McDowell (17th) and Zach Johnson (sixth). They aren't the most intimidating drivers, but they understand that putting the ball where it needs to be is more important than trying to make a spectacular shot.
Youth Isn't Served
The trendy name for the U.S. Open will be 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who became a star when he tied for second at Augusta and tied for fourth at the Players Championship. He's a betting favorite, getting 20-1 odds (the same as Masters winner Bubba Watson), though history tells us this will be a difficult event for the young Texan to win.
According to Mike Norman of BetFair.com, just being young and talented doesn't necessarily mean big things at the U.S. Open.
Twelve of the 14 US Open winners this century have been aged between 26 and 37 - only Woods and McIlroy have won at an age younger than 26 and in the case of those two world class stars such players are always likely to buck trends. Reducing the age range of the last 14 winners further, exactly 50% of them have been aged between 29 and 33.
As good as Spieth has looked at times in 2014, he's yet to really take that next step forward. Time is certainly on his side since he won't even turn 21 until July, but if you think that this is the event where everything comes together, the odds aren't in your favor.
There will come a time when Spieth is a well-deserved favorite to win every event he plays, but not yet. He's still going through some natural growing pains that come with turning professional before you can legally celebrate with a glass of champagne.
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