News & Opinion

Open longshots? Yeah, we’ve got a few

What are the odds of winning three U.S. Opens in a row? Vegas hasn’t established odds on such a feat, but if you forget about the three-peat and focus on just this Open, the man in the white-hot light is the co-favorite.

Brooks Koepka, who is attempting to go where no player has gone in more than a century – three straight U.S. Open victories – was a 7-1 pick to win at Pebble Beach next week, according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook’s odds. Dustin Johnson was the other 7-1 favorite, followed by Tiger Woods (9-1), Jordan Spieth (14-1), Rory McIlroy (16-1) and Patrick Cantlay (16-1).

The rest of the field was listed at 20-1 or higher, which means that the other 148 players in the U.S. Open will be long shots. If you like that kind of thing, here are four players who are worth a flier. Not because you’re taking a big chance and casting your dollars to the wind. But someone has to win, and if it’s not one of the top six on the odds board, these guys have the chops and the experience to get it across the line on Sunday evening.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson

+ Phil Mickelson – Stop laughing. Even with two drivers in the bag and a 48-year-old mind and body, Mickelson (25-1) can get it around Pebble Beach. Finally, he could post his first U.S. Open victory after a legendary six runners-up. He won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February for a fifth time. And he was T-4 at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble.

Yes, Phil is Phil and he has one driver for fairway-finding cut shots and one for what he calls “bombs.” There aren’t many holes at Pebble Beach that require bombs, and all of the holes require that you get the ball in the fairway, at which Mickelson is not very good. The fairways will be narrow, and the rough is likely to be thick and lush. You won’t be able to win the Open from the rough.

Yet, Mickelson has a superior short game and likes putting the Poa annua greens at Pebble. He has conceded that he has been having a problem with focus, and you need that for 72 holes in an Open. He’s been chewing gum lately and speculation is running rampant that this gum has something in it that will help him with his focus.

If Woods’ win at the Masters is the story of the year, would a Mickelson win at the Open run a close second?

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If Jason Day can stay healthy for a week, he could draw on enough good vibes from his past at Pebble Beach to win.

+ Jason Day – Day (25-1) is a one-man hospital ward. It seems that he’s either sick or injured most of the time. But if he can just put together one healthy week, his second major championship could come together at Pebble’s 18th green on Sunday. Day has played well this year, just not good enough to win, and not lately. He was T-5 at the Masters and T-8 at the Players Championship. And he has history at Pebble Beach, finishing T-4 at the AT&T in February, along with T-2 in 2018 and T-5 in 2017.

Day is long off the tee, but that’s not a premium next week. The most telling aspect of Day’s game is that he seems to have found a different speed in his iron game. For the longest time, Day had one gear on every shot: all out. But now, he has a few more tools in his kit. He’s a superb putter, and if he can find the right speed coming into Pebble’s small greens, he could give himself quite a few birdie chances. That is, if he stays out of the sick bed.

+ Paul Casey – If there’s anyone on the verge of doing something big, it’s Casey (50-1). He’s been there or thereabouts a number of times this year. He successfully defended his title at the Valspar, he had a chance at WGC Mexico (T-3) and another chance at Wells Fargo (T-4). He has Pebble Beach history, fishing runner-up to Mickelson in February and T-8 in 2018. And he was tied for the first-round lead at the 2010 Open.

Casey has plenty of game to win at Pebble Beach. He doesn’t have a glaring weakness and has the type of fairways-and-greens arrows in the quiver that a U.S. Open requires. The only thing standing between Casey and the Open is the six inches between his ears. Casey has to overcome Casey.

+ Brandt Snedeker – Snedeker (125-1) has won the AT&T twice (2013 and 2015) and holds the tournament scoring record. He finished fourth in 2017 and posted a T-8 at the 2010 Open. He’s not long, but he won’t have to be to win this Open. His pop putting stroke is ideal for Poa annua greens, which is why he has won twice at Pebble.

Snedeker threatened at the Masters in 2013, sharing the third-round lead with Angel Cabrera. But Snedeker collapsed in the final round with a 75, finishing T-6. For him to have success at this year’s Open, he will have to exorcise his major demons and pretend that he’s playing in the Pro-Am.

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: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf