This will be the most head-scratching run-up to a U.S. Open in years because of the baffling difficulty to choose one or more clear favorites. Almost none of the usual suspects has built any momentum leading up to next week’s Open at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, and, in fact, most have been playing some fairly ordinary golf.
The Vegas odds reflect the relative mediocrity. Most of the world’s top players were bunched from 12-1 to 16-1, according to Westgate SuperBook, and it’s little more than a coin flip among them.
Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy were listed as the favorites, at 12-1, and you’d have a hard time justifying a bet on either one.
Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world for 64 weeks who recently fell to No. 2, hasn’t threatened to win anything since he tied for second at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. He has had a few top 10s – the Masters, WGC Mexico and the recent Memorial – but mostly he’s been coasting.
McIlroy has been building momentum in reverse. The No. 1 player in the world seven different times, McIlroy is now No. 6 and treading water. His ability to finish tournaments has been called into question since he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. He was in the final pairing with Patrick Reed at the Masters and shot 74 to finish T-5.
Two weeks ago, McIlroy was tied for the 54-hole lead in the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth but couldn’t beat Francesco Molinari for the title. McIlroy shot 64-69 on the weekend at the Memorial after starting with 74. You never know when you will get the Good Rory or the Bad Rory.
Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose were listed at 14-1. Rose has the most upside, if you consider current form. The World No. 3 won the Fort Worth Invitational at Colonial two weeks ago and tied for sixth at the Memorial. Plus, he is No. 3 in the world and a former U.S. Open champion, in 2013 at Merion. He is perhaps playing the best golf among the top players.
It’s awfully hard to imagine that Spieth is one of the favorites, given his poor play over the last month or two. He and his putter are estranged, and his relationship with his driver isn’t much better. He will need both of those clubs at their best to contend at Shinnecock. And, as Tour players say, they are only one swing or putt away from playing well again.
Thomas is the enigma. The No. 1 player in the world has been a lousy starter and a good finisher of late but not good enough to win. Since the WGC Mexico, his first-round scoring average in five individual stroke-play events is 72.8. He shot 62-64 on the weekend in Mexico to get into the playoff with eventual winner Phil Mickelson and 68-68 in the final two rounds at the Memorial. However, if you fall behind at Shinnecock, it’s a tough task to make enough birdies to get back in the hunt.
Fowler, at No. 7 in the world, proved that he could play well on Sunday, shooting 67 to race up the leaderboard and finish second at the Masters. But he hasn’t proved that he can play well on a Sunday in a major when he’s in contention all day.
Jason Day and Tiger Woods were listed at 16-1. Day, who has a major to his credit – the 2015 PGA Championship – holds a great deal of promise for this U.S. Open, having won the Farmers Insurance Open early and then the Wells Fargo last month before a T-5 at the Players. He shot 74-74 on the weekend at the Memorial, but he never plays well in Dublin, Ohio, near his adopted hometown.
As for Woods, it would appear that his best chance for a 15th major would come at a U.S. Open where it doesn’t take a pile of birdies to win the title. The most curious problem that Woods faces at the moment is putting, which has been an aspect of his game that seemed never to have left him. But at the Memorial, he missed putts that the old Tiger would have counted as automatic. He shot 67-68 in the middle two rounds but a 72 on Sunday when a 66 would have put him in the playoff.
As for the longshots, Mickelson was listed at 30-1, but he will turn 48 (and counting) on the Saturday of the Open. Branden Grace was 40-1, while Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen were 50-1. All three have played well in majors of late, and Oosthuizen is the 2010 British Open winner. Molinari has a victory and a runner-up in his last two starts, yet rated only 60-1.
But if you’re picking, you should print out the odds, tape the list to the wall, throw a dart and see what you hit. You won’t find a method that’s any more effective.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf