The 2014 U.S. Open will be a unique challenge for the 156 qualifiers set to compete this year. The famous course at Pinehurst Resort in the Sandhills of North Carolina has undergone some changes in recent years, compounding the excitement surrounding this momentous golf tournament.
The course face-lift at Pinehurst Resort won't deter the oddsmakers from having their say regarding which golfer will come up big at golf's second major of the year.
Let's take a look at the odds for the top participants looking to make their mark on this year's edition of the U.S. Open.
|U.S. Open 2014 Odds|
(Odds courtesy of VegasInsider.com and updated as of Monday, June 9.)
The odds give us a picture of the top contenders in this year's field, but not every player will live up to their lofty expectations. At the same time, there are candidates with long odds that will look to upset the established order at a tournament known for providing upstarts with a shot at glory.
A strong golfer with 23-1 odds, Kuchar is a lock to make a simple, yet profitable, run in this year's U.S. Open. He's been a model of consistency, with 17 top-10 finishes since January 2013. He also has the second-best scoring average on the PGA Tour in 2014.
Chris O'Connell, Kuchar's swing instructor, provided insight into the golfer's Mensa-level understanding of shot strategy. Via Farrell Evans of ESPN.com:
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 can focus on his approach to the greens, as Pinehurst will have a new look on the fairways this year. The course will be without a rough thanks to the renovations, which alleviates concerns over his 145th-ranked driving distance. Kuchar is mature enough to avoid losing his cool and smart enough to know that he can win this tournament without hitting spectacular drives.
If Kuchar plays within himself and sticks to his strategy of working the shot percentages, he has an excellent chance at coming out on top this year.
Verdict: good selection
At a quick glance, Simpson appears to be a contender courtesy of his U.S. Open championship in 2012. However, the North Carolina native won't get close to another shot at glory in his home state.
His 2012 victory at this event stands out as an anomaly for him in PGA majors; his next best result is a tie for 14th at the 2011 U.S. Open, and he's missed the halfway cut four separate times at majors since 2011.
Simpson has also struggled mightily in recent months, major or no major. After a tie for ninth place at the Accenture Match Play Championship on February 23, Simpson has missed three cuts and was abysmal in the fourth round of both the Wells Fargo Championship and Shell Houston Open.
He did show signs of life in the 2014 St. Jude Classic, his last tournament before the U.S. Open; Simpson tied for third place and will look to build upon his final-round score of 66.
Simpson ranks ninth on the tour in strokes gained from putting, but he won't finish near the top of the leaderboard without displaying the consistency that has eluded him as of late.
Verdict: bad selection
Hideki Matsuyama is a young golfer with no fear of playing in big events. A budding star at 22 years old, the Japanese phenom has come on strong in 2014 by racking up nine top-25 finishes in 15 events.
He's also coming off a big sudden-death playoff win over Kevin Na in the 2014 Memorial Tournament, hosted by the legendary Jack Nicklaus.
Bubba Watson and Adam Scott were in the thick of things during the final round, but Matsuyama's sensational score of 69 in the round was enough to hold off the big-name stars and secure his first PGA Tour victory in the playoff against Na.
The NBC Golf Central Twitter account summed up Matsuyama's precocious skill and poise with some key factoids.
Matsuyama is known for taking excellent approach shots on the green, a skill that should serve him well this weekend.
He's racked up 196 birdies over 46 rounds of golf in 2014, good enough for the fifth-best birdie average on the PGA Tour. Apparently, his recent success and putting proficiency isn't enough for the oddsmakers, as Matsuyama is saddled with lowly 45-1 odds for the U.S. Open.
Despite his long odds, Matsuyama will surprise many observers and make a run at a top-five finish this year.
Verdict: good selection