Just because Tiger Woods will be on the sidelines doesn't mean that you shouldn't tune into the 2014 U.S. Open from June 12-15. Pinehurst Resort will feature several sleeper players looking to make a run at the top spot by the end of the tournament's final day.
Even though Woods won't be taking part in the action, the field is sure to deliver some entertaining golf over the tournament's four days. The usual stars like Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson will look to dominate the field, but several players are flying under the radar as we head into the action.
A strong field will make it difficult for any of the stars to win at Pinehurst. Throw in the often unforgiving conditions of the course, and a strong day from a relatively unknown player could be just enough to seal the title.
Below are the odds for the entire field, as well as some predictions for the tourney's top sleepers.
Odds are courtesy of Vegas Insider.
Jimmy Walker has come out of nowhere in 2014 after a mundane beginning to his career. The 35-year-old had never won a PGA Tour event in his previous 187 entries. He won three of his eight entries to start this year, and his transformation is one of the more remarkable stories of the year.
His wins aren't necessarily sexy wins. He triumphed at the Frys.com Open, the Sony Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Regardless, they are wins all the same. For a player that hadn't won in 187 events, Walker will take the wins wherever they come.
Joel Schuchmann, PGA Tour Director of Communications, tweeted that Walker will make his first U.S. Open start in quite some time:
FedExCup points leader and 3-time winner @JimmyWalkerPGA making his first U.S. Open start since 2002 at Pebble Beach.— Joel Schuchmann (@SchuchPGATOUR) June 9, 2014
His lack of success on the big stage might concern some when considering the odds, but Walker has been playing strong golf of late. He has finished in the top-10 in three of his last five events. Despite missing the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship and finishing 37th at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, Walker finished eighth at the Masters, 6th at The Players Championship and 10th at the Crowne Plaza Invitational.
I like his chances for another finish in the top-10 at Pinehurst.
It might seem strange to call the 2013 winner of this tournament a sleeper, but Justin Rose enters the U.S. Open in 2014 after missing the cut at the Memorial Tournament with a two-day score of 145 (73, 72).
Rose isn't concerned about his performance at the Memorial. He pointed out to Ewan Murray of the Guardian that he was in a similar place before last year's victory at the U.S. Open:
Nothing pointed to me winning the US Open at this time last year. My game just now is remarkably similar to then. I remember trudging around Merion the week before the tournament, trying to find my swing, not playing well and things began to click. I am fiddling around with a few swing thoughts and feelings just now as well.
Apart from his struggles heading into the tournament, Rose has actually played very good golf this season. His best finishes included a fifth-place finish in the World Golf Championships, eighth in the Valspar Championship and the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, fifth in the Wells Fargo Championship and fourth in The Players Championship.
Two missed cuts (Arnold Palmer Invitational) stick out on his 2014 resume, but this previous U.S. Open winner will put those behind him when the tourney starts on Thursday. I expect him to compete for the title.
Zach Johnson has competed in the U.S. Open 10 times in his career. His best finish is 30th. So why should we count on him as a sleeper this time around?
Despite inconsistent play this year, Johnson has shown flashes of fantastic golf in several championships. He won both the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge and Hyundai Tournament of Champions in back-to-back starts before finishing eighth in the Sony Open and third in the Humana Challenge in his next two events.
The wheels then came off for a few tournaments before a sixth-place finish in the Valero Texas Open. Consistency hasn't been his thing, but strong finishes from time to time have made his resume pretty impressive this season.
Even with the uncertainty in his game, Golf Digest Assistant Editor Luke Kerr-Dineen was comfortable enough with Johnson's game to pick him as a potential winner:
Don't sleep on Johnson at Pinehurst. Look for a finish on the leaderboard, perhaps in the top five.