LAS VEGAS — It has been a remarkable year in the golf world, even though 2021 is only 5½ months old. The most memorable moments stretch from Tiger Woods to Hideki Matsuyama to Phil Mickelson to Jon Rahm.
Woods’ high-speed car crash on Feb. 23 in Los Angeles resulted in career-threatening leg injuries. The shock from that incident was the talk of the sport until April, when Matsuyama became the first Japanese player to win the Masters.
From a betting perspective, can anything top Mickelson’s stunning win at the PGA Championship in May? Written off by most as a major contender at age 50, Mickelson stunned a field of younger guns to cash at odds as high as 300/1.
Mickelson could top it by winning the U.S. Open this week at Torrey Pines. Playing in his backyard in San Diego, Mickelson is seeking the only major title that has eluded him. He’s a six-time major champion with six runner-up finishes in this event.
SuperBook Sports golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman is not swept up in the sentimental storyline, saying, “Phil’s not winning two majors in a row. I’m certainly not betting on Mickelson. It’s so hard for these guys to win back-to-back majors, even if a player’s in really good form.”
Nevertheless, public wagering support for Mickelson, who’s getting 50/1 odds at BetMGM, remains strong. The U.S. Open favorite at 10/1 is Rahm, who’s another unique story.
On June 5, Rahm led the Memorial in Ohio by six strokes after a third-round 64. After walking off the 18th green, he was forced to withdraw from the tournament because of a positive COVID-19 test. Rahm is now out of quarantine and en route to Torrey Pines, where he won the Farmers Insurance Open in 2017 for his first PGA Tour victory.
“Regardless of what happened [in Ohio], Rahm is the starting point this week,” Sherman said. “The biggest thing is nobody else is really standing out.”
Recent major winners Dustin Johnson (14/1) and Bryson DeChambeau (18/1) follow Rahm on the odds board. Johnson, slumping since his Masters win in November, claimed the U.S. Open title in 2016. DeChambeau was a runaway winner by six strokes last year at Winged Foot.
The U.S. Open was last staged at Torrey Pines in 2008, when Woods prevailed in a dramatic playoff. Here are five players who could follow in Tiger’s footprints (BetMGM odds):
Brooks Koepka (18/1)
The Brooks-Bryson rivalry will have each player fired up for this stage. Koepka, the back-to-back U.S. Open champ in 2017-18, started Sunday at the PGA with a John Wayne-like swagger but limped in as the bridesmaid to Mickelson. He’s got something to prove and thrives on difficult USGA setups.
“There are three guarantees in life: Death, taxes, and me betting on Koepka in a major,” Indianapolis-based golf handicapper Jeff Sealey said. “If you look at strokes gained over the past 20 majors, Koepka absolutely crushes the field. He is in the conversation nearly every Sunday in a major. Koepka grades out No. 4 overall in my math model.”
Xander Schauffele (18/1)
Torrey Pines is a home game for Mickelson and Schauffele, who grew up 15 miles from the course and starred at San Diego State. He tied for second at the Farmers Insurance Open in January. Schauffele has top-10 finishes in eight of his 16 career major starts. His worst finish in four U.S. Opens is sixth.
“Schauffele fits the mold of what we have seen in recent major winners — young, never won a major before, a Top 25 player in the world, and has finished Top 10 in the event,” VSiN golf handicapper Brady Kannon said.
Collin Morikawa (22/1)
Avoiding the rough will be a key at Torrey Pines, and accuracy is the 2020 PGA winner’s calling card. He ranks first on the PGA Tour in greens-in-regulation percentage (71.8) and strokes gained tee-to-green (1.96). His iron play is as good as it gets.
“The No. 1 player in my model this week is Morikawa,” Sealey said. “In terms of form, Morikawa has it. He has six Top 10s, including a win, in his last 10 tournaments. Morikawa won a major in California 10 months ago and if he can just match the field in putting, this may well be his second major.”
Jason Kokrak (66/1)
A bomber off the tee and a vastly improved putter, Kokrak delivered a breakthrough win at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas on May 30.
“If you’re looking for a long shot to win, take a look at Kokrak,” Sealey said. “Kokrak’s ball striking is Top 25 on tour, and he ranks inside the Top 50 in putting on tour over his last 100 rounds.”
Charley Hoffman (80/1)
Another San Diego native, Hoffman has played the Farmers Insurance Open 22 times. He has seven U.S. Open starts, missing the cut only once.
“This season may be the best he’s put together in his career, with five Top 10 finishes, including a second and a third,” Kannon said. “He’s made 12 cuts in a row and the streak began with a seventh at Pebble Beach, another coastal California golf course that features Poa Annua putting surfaces.”
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