US Open Golf Tournament 2019: Top Odds, Predictions and Storylines for Thursday

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJune 13, 2019

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 12: Brooks Koepka of the United States hits a tee shot during a practice round prior to the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 12, 2019 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Warren Little/Getty Images

Brooks Koepka's quest for a U.S. Open three-peat begins late Thursday at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Koepka hits the course in one of two marquee afternoon groups alongside amateur Viktor Hovland and Francesco Molinari at 4:47 p.m. ET.

Twenty-two minutes after Koepka tees off, Tiger Woods will hit the course in his attempt to win his second major of the season. Woods begins the U.S. Open alongside Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose.

Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Phil Mickelson are among the players who will try to make a mark on the competition from the morning groups.



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Top Storylines

Can Koepka's Dominance Continue?

Not only has Koepka been a dominant major champion since the 2017 U.S. Open, but he has also performed well in the tournaments he failed to win.

The most recent example of that was The Masters, when he finished in a tie for second behind Woods.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Koepka comes into Pebble Beach with four major rounds in the 60s this season and with plenty of low scores across all tournaments.

In his past four tournaments, Koepka has carded two 63s, including one in the opening round of the PGA Championship.

The remarkable scoring numbers suggest Koepka will put together a few more low scores at Pebble Beach.

However, there is one slight concern about Koepka's starting ability since he carded a 75 to begin the U.S. Open a year ago before he turned things around.

In the rare case Koepka struggles on a U.S. Open course and a low score is recorded by one of his competitors, the four-time major winner could be forced to erase a large deficit over the rest of the tournament.


Will McIlroy Reverse His Poor U.S. Open Form? 

Rory McIlroy has not been around for weekend play at the U.S. Open since 2015.

The U.S. Open has traditionally been McIlroy's worst major, as he has missed the cut on five occasions in his career, including in each of the past three years.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

But there are plenty of signs suggesting the 30-year-old reverses that form at Pebble Beach.

McIlroy comes into the U.S. Open off a victory at the RBC Canadian Open, which he finished off with a final-round 61.

Since ending April's Masters with a final-round 68, McIlroy has carded eight rounds in the 60s, including all four north of the border in early June.

If he is able to channel that form Thursday, McIlroy could find himself near the top of the leaderboard.

A strong opening 18 holes could lead to another impressive major finish for the Northern Irishman, who has a tie for 21st at The Masters and a tie for eighth at the PGA Championship on his list of achievements this season.



Unexpected Player Lands at Top of Leaderboard

In two of the past three years, the first-round leader at the U.S. Open has been an unlikely face.

Andrew Landry took control after 18 holes in 2016, while Russell Henley topped Thursday's leaderboard a year ago.

With 156 golfers in the field, there is a good chance an unknown player makes an unexpected charge up the leaderboard.

The unforeseen leader could be a veteran with major experience from whom we have not heard in quite some time, like Jim Furyk, Danny Willett or Graeme McDowell, or a player looking for his first major title, such as Rafa Cabrera Bello or Luke List.

Mike Carlson/Associated Press

According to AccuWeather's Kyle Elliott, there are few adverse conditions in the tournament forecast, which means the golfers in the morning and afternoon groups Thursday should be able to take advantage of the course if they play well.

Since the fairways are expected to play hard and fast, the golfers with the best driving accuracy could score low.

Furyk leads the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, while Chez Reavie and Justin Harding also rank in the top five.

If the greens play fast, some of the better distance putters could achieve success. Andrew Putnam is a player to watch in that category, as he ranks fifth in putting from more than 25 feet.

These numbers could mean nothing, though, and we could just as easily see a player with average statistics simply have a great day and end up in first.


Johnson Struggles Through Opening 18 Holes

Dustin Johnson is considered one of the favorites to win the U.S. Open—Caesars has him at 9-1 to triumph—but he has experienced some rocky rounds in the tournament over the last two years.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

In 2017, Johnson missed the cut with a 75 and 73, and he carded a third-round 77 a year ago.

Johnson's driving statistics suggest he might struggle with the conditions of the course. Although he is eighth on the PGA Tour in driving distance, Johnson ranks 192nd in driving accuracy.

If the 2016 U.S. Open winner is unable to find the fairways while others take advantage of more precise long drives, he could settle for pars or bogeys on holes that could be birdied.

While it may be hard to imagine Johnson landing far down the leaderboard after Thursday, there is a recipe for disaster waiting to happen if he is not accurate.


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from PGATour.com.