For the first time since 1996, the U.S. Open betting board has no single-digit favorite. Instead, there are four players (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood) topping the chart at 12-1. And following this foursome is a LONG list of legit possibilities.
Here are the odds groupings and our take on the current board's Top 25.
TIGER WOODS - The last time we saw Tiger on a golf course, he was limping off Sawgrass three weeks ago. At a press conference last Tuesday, Woods said he "was trying to do everything I can (to play in the U.S. Open)" but admitted, "I've been resting, haven't been able to do much. I've been in a boot for my Achilles. Been on crutches to take some pressure off the knee and my back, because when you're in a boot you start limping, back gets a little sore."
When (if) he steps to the first tee at Congressional, it will have been 641 days since his last win in this country and 1,081 days since his last win in a major. It's getting to the point where the world (and Woods) wonders if his glory days are just plain done.
PHIL MICKELSON - At 40 years old, Lefty has put together a solid year. He won the Shell Open last month, then grabbed a top-10 finish at Quail Hollow, and this past weekend finished a respectable 13th at the Memorial. Mickelson currently sits a solid fifth in the FedEx Cup standings.
His bugaboo right now is he's ranked a dismal 163rd in fairways hit (52 percent), and that's fatal at a U.S. Open setup. Keep in mind that the U.S. Open has been Phil's personal demon with a record five runner-up finishes and zero victories.
Still, Mickelson's said the U.S. Open is THE one win he's targeting now. If he can somehow keep it in the short grass he should be in contention on Sunday.
LUKE DONALD - Here's the man who should be the favorite. NOBODY is on a hotter ride than the former Northwestern Wildcat. This past weekend he took seventh at the Memorial after outgunning Lee Westwood in a playoff the week before to win the European PGA Championship and take over the world's number one ranking.
This season on the PGA Tour, Luke's had eight top-10 finishes in nine starts including an impressive win at the Accenture Match Play Championship, a second at the Heritage, a fourth at the Masters and fourth at The Players. 12-1 on Donald seems like a sweet bargain.
LEE WESTWOOD - Lee is always a threat, but c'mon...tied as the top betting choice? Seems a bit generous. In the last seven years, Westwood did finish third in the 2008 U.S. Open but in the rest, he was so far out of contention on the weekend he was rarely seen in the telecasts.
The bulked-up Brit has one European Tour win this year but has yet to post a top-10 in the U.S. in five starts.
RORY McILROY - The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland has rebounded rather well on the European Tour after his epic fail at the Masters. It would be a great story if McIlory can bring his magic to Congressional where the redesigned course sets up well for his game. In finishing fifth at Jack's tourney this past weekend, Rory showed a very consistent game especially with the putter.
MARTIN KAYMER - Der Dominator may not be the No. 1 ranked player in the world anymore but as Rodney Dangerfield said in Caddyshack, "Yeah, I'm no doorknob either, all right?" Kaymer followed up on his 2010 season as my Player of the Year with a three-month reign on top of the World Golf Rankings. He's bagged a win, place and show so far in 2011 which is about the same kind of start he got off to last year.
The 26-year-old German is looking to grab his second major. In last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Martin finished tied for eighth despite a rocky opening round 74. Yeah, he missed the cut again at the Masters in April but Congressional's layout is no Augusta, all right? At 20-1 and twice the price of Tiger, which of the two is the smarter bet right now? You may answer in German.
DUSTIN JOHNSON - What is going on with DJ in the last two months? Two words...wildly erratic. His round-by-round scores have gone bi-polar. Last weekend at the Memorial he blazed in the final round to finish fourth after dropping in eight birdies which was more birds than he had in the two previous rounds combined.
The week before at the Byron Nelson, Johnson posted an opening round 66 only two strokes off the lead. Round 2? Ballooned to a 75 and fell to nine back and out of contention. Two weeks earlier at The Players, Dustin was never in it and finished tied for 57th. A week before that at Quail Hollow, a 79 in Friday's round dropped him deep under the cut line.
His biggest problem has been his putting which statistically ranks near the bottom—which is not where you want to be if you want to continue to be in the team photo of premier players. Then there's that thing about DJ's final round in last year's U.S. Open. Will he have extra motivation this year or flashback chills?
HUNTER MAHAN - At 29 years old, Hunter's hitting the prime age range for pro golfers, and he's running true to form. He was second at the AT&T National and has ripped off five top-10 finishes in his last nine tour starts. Mahan has played well at Congressional in the past and given his recent results, he's got to be considered a very solid pick here.
NICK WATNEY - Here's another guy in prime form. Watney's got seven top-10s in 11 events so far in 2011 including a win at the WGC Cadillac Championship. He's second only to Luke Donald on the money list. But...Nick's U.S. Open record is miserable—two missed cuts, a 60th and a 76th last year after hacking out an 81 in the last round. That's more than a little scary.
GRAEME McDOWELL - The defending champ started the year hot, and then...well...not so much. G-Mac did finish a nice fifth in Spain at the Volvo Match Play tourney two weeks ago but otherwise he's been whacking it around.
In his last six events on Tour, the Northern Irishman's missed the cut in three of them and his best finish has been 33rd at The Players. His iron play lately has been mediocre at best, which has been a strength of his when he's on top of his game.
Still, here's a guy with very obvious pride who will dig deep to defend a title he captured at Pebble primarily because he played less worse than everyone else on Sunday.
MATT KUCHAR - Kooch has kinda been lurking so far this year. No wins, but no missed cuts. Eight top-10s in 14 events including a second this past weekend. But since turning pro in 2000, Kuchar and the U.S. Open have been a bad fit—six times he failed to qualify, four missed cuts and one tie for 48th. But then out of nowhere last year, Kooch sneaks up into a sixth place finish. Who'd have thunk? Beware the lurker.
STEVE STRICKER - Stricks rocketed up the betting board thanks to a win at Jack's place this weekend where he was money off the tee which is exactly where you want to be going into the U.S. Open. Ya gotta root for Steve because at 44 years old, the time for a major win is running out far too quickly.
BUBBA WATSON - No. 1 in the FedEx standings! A multiple winner on the Tour this year! Ranked No. 1 in greens in regulation! BUBBA! 33-1 seems rather steep for a guy with a legit shot to win.
He recently said his game is "steamrolling in the right direction" while Tiger Woods was "going the wrong way." He later backed (way) off the Woods dissing, but the truth is Bubba has been pretty Woodsy cutthroat when in contention this season. Big hitter with the attitude to take a major title.
The key for Bubba is to be on the first page of the leaderboard going into the weekend, otherwise he'll be going for broke which is disaster on a U.S. Open course. Just ask fellow lefty Phil Mickelson.
CHARL SCHWARTZEL - The Masters champ who was worried about people forgetting about him has apparently been remembered well enough to be in the top dozen betting choices in the U.S. Open. Hey, why not?
Schwartzel finished a respectable 16th in this event last year, and if he had the chops to win that wild, wide-open stretch run at Augusta, who's to say he can't go back to back in the majors? Casual fans tend to brushoff Charl's chances but the guy is ranked in the top ten in the world right now and it wasn't because he stole a green jacket. So...Remember The Schwartz!
JIM FURYK - Furyk must be busying spending that $10 million he won in last year's FedEx Cup. Good for him! But on this year's money list, he's so far down he's chasing names like Chris Kirk, Jimmy Walker and Brandan Steele. What gives with Jimmy?
Well, after finishing in the top 10 in scoring average for the past six years, he's nosedived to 61st. Nevertheless, you can't count out the guy with the loopy swing going into a U.S. Open because he's so crazy accurate of the tee and check out his numbers in this event: Won it once, finished second twice and fifth two more times.
K.J. CHOI - The South Korean may have just crossed over into his 40s, but he's surged into fourth on the money list and beat everybody just a couple weeks ago at The Players. And K.J. was eighth at Augusta, sixth at Arnie's and third in New Orleans.
The downside for Choi is he hasn't ever been much of a factor on U.S. Open tracks. On the other hand, he pretty much sucked at The Players before this year, so maybe he can turn it around here as well.
JUSTIN ROSE - Rose had a breakout year in 2010 and goes into Jack's Memorial Tournament this week as defending champ. Justin's off to a solid start this season including a third at Arnie's and a fifth at the Transitions which he led after three rounds. His wedge game is money, but his putting has been out of tune enough to cost him some serious dough this year.
GEOFF OGILVY - Currently ranked 31st in the world, the Australian has been bothered by a sore left shoulder which caused him to withdraw from both the Wells Fargo event and The Players. It hasn't been the luckiest year for Ogilvy who earlier couldn't defend his Tournament of Champions title because he cut his finger on coral in Hawaii. But between these injuries, Geoff played great at the Masters and finished fourth throwing down a final round 67.
PAUL CASEY - Casey's had a frustrating year. Case in point, Paul shot an opening round 64 in the Transitions to lead by two strokes. By the time Sunday was over he was in 37th. He hasn't brought home a top-10 finish in months mainly due to serious troubles off the tee.
He's still ranked ninth in the World Golf Rankings just behind Steve Stricker, but those are two guys who can't be happy about how things have been going this year.
ADAM SCOTT - The World's Sexiest Man in Golf came within an eyelash of winning the Masters with his XL putter. Since then the putter turned against him big time. If he starts rolling the ball well, he'll be fine. Isn't that how it goes for all of us?
ANTHONY KIM - AK's season started going off the rails at the Masters where he barely missed the cut. Then he missed two more cuts at the Texas Open and at The Players. In three other tournaments in May his best finish was 56th. Ouch. Sadly, 40-1 in the U.S. Open seems to be missing another zero.
JASON DAY - At 50-1, Jason could be a nice longshot to get on. Tied for second at the Masters, fifth at the Nelson, sixth at Sawgrass, ninth at the Heritage. Not out of the question to contend here. A big upside at only 23 years old.
IAN POULTER - So far, it hasn't been the year Poulter had hoped for. A U.S. Open win would go a long way toward Ian avoiding being more well known for his Twittering than his golfing.
PADRAIG HARRINGTON - Paddy's had a weird year with three top-10 finishes layered among three missed cuts. His recent U.S. Open record has been weirdly similar in that every other year he misses the cut. He finished 22nd last year so you can take it from there.
SERGIO GARCIA - No...even at 50-1, Sergio's recent flashes aren't enough to get the smart money to bite.
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