The 2014 U.S. Open doesn't feature a clear favorite. Although the field is filled with most of golf's biggest stars, none of them have displayed dominant form since the Masters back in April. It leaves the season's second major tournament up for grabs.
One player who won't be in the field is Tiger Woods. The fan favorite remains sidelined due to injury without a definitive timetable for his return. His absence leaves the tournament with a different feel, as was the case at Augusta, but the other golfers must see it as an opportunity.
With that in mind, let's check out some tee times for groups featuring players who likely garnered the most attention due to Woods' continued recovery. The tee information is followed by the oddsmakers' top choices and a breakdown of some players to watch.
Tee Times for Notable Groups
|7:29 a.m.||Henrik Stenson||Matt Kuchar||Lee Westwood|
|7:40 a.m.||Webb Simpson||Rory McIlroy||Graeme McDowell|
|7:51 a.m.||Justin Rose||Matthew Fitzpatrick||Phil Mickelson|
|1:25 p.m.||Bubba Watson||Adam Scott||Charl Schwartzel|
|1:47 p.m.||Jason Dufner||Keegan Bradley||Martin Kaymer|
USOpen.com; All Times Eastern
For a complete list of U.S. Open groups, visit the tournament's official site.
Odds for Top Contenders
Odds via Odds Shark
McIlroy finished 15th in the Memorial a couple weeks ago. While a solid outing, it marked the Northern Irishman's worst result in nearly three months. He hasn't finished outside the top 25 all year. Those numbers illustrate exactly how good he's been in 2014.
They also represent the consistency necessary to succeed on a tough course like Pinehurst No. 2. The course also sets up nicely for his playing style, especially now that he's rediscovered top form. Ewan Murray of The Guardian thought comments from Justin Rose were particularly telling:
Interesting to hear Justin Rose speak of benefits of high iron shots into these greens. Nobody hits it higher than McIlroy.— Ewan Murray (@mrewanmurray) June 10, 2014
McIlroy finished eighth in the Masters and won the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship last month. As mentioned, there hasn't been one player racking up a bunch of wins lately, but he's come the closest to getting on a roll. A rightful favorite.
Like McIlroy, Scott enters the U.S. Open in good form. He won the Crowne Plaza Invitational by edging Jason Dufner in a playoff, then registered a fourth-place finish in the Memorial. The Aussie played seven of eight rounds under par in those two tournaments.
Who's your U.S. Open pick?
The concern with Scott is the one round he lets get away. He shot a 76 on Saturday at the Masters to end his title hopes. An opening-round 77 doomed him at the Players. These rounds seemingly come out of nowhere, and he can go on to play three other championship-caliber rounds at the same event.
Scott must avoid one of those rounds at Pinehurst. Perhaps saving a round by carding a 72 instead of a 76. He should then have enough strong rounds to make up for it and get back into the title mix, especially on a tricky course.
It's a surprise Blixt hasn't been getting more attention heading into the event. His last two finishes at major tournaments are a fourth at last year's PGA Championship and a tie for second at the Masters. Few players can match those results.
The argument against him is poor form. He's missed a pair of cuts and finished 75th in the Players since the Masters. Yet, he had two straight missed cuts before the season's first major and still managed to end up in second place.
Ultimately, he's a player who runs hot and cold with the all-around game necessary to contend on tough courses against elite fields. The biggest key for him is setting the tone with a solid first round to get him back on track mentally after a rough stretch.
If major tournaments were played under match-play rules, Poulter would probably be one of the best players in the world. He thrives on the direct competition. Yet, his results over the course of four days against elite competition have fallen short.
This is an opportunity for a breakthrough. Pinehurst is going to reward players who are efficient around the greens and putt well, which is where Poulter shines when he's at his best. Also, James Nursey of the Daily Mirror provided comments from the English star about feeling good about his chances:
You have to be on your game at the US Open. The set-ups are tough. I like tough golf.
I would expect myself to be able to hang in there and be tough. I didn't drive it that well last year.
You have to drive it exceptionally well to be a real factor and you need an incredible short game.
Poulter finished fourth in the FedEx St. Jude Classic last week, finishing with a very strong 64. He's always had the ability to win on the major stage but just hasn't been able to put it all together. This could finally be the week he does.