It is the tournament that is called ‘the greatest test in golf’ this week as the second major of the year, the US Open takes place. This renewal has been eagerly anticipated for a while as after the shambles of the last three stagings the tournament returns to the iconic Shinnecock Hills, just outside New York and home of arguably the best course in the United States.
Brooks Koepka defends a major title for the first time this week but the field challenging him is as strong as you will find and with so many top players in great form on a course that can cut them down to size we could well be in for a special week.
2017 – Brooks Koepka
2016 – Dustin Johnson
2015 – Jordan Spieth
2014 – Martin Kaymer
2013 – Justin Rose
2012 – Webb Simpson
2011 – Rory McIlroy
2010 – Graeme McDowell
2009 – Lucas Glover
2008 – Tiger Woods
Shinnecock Hills hosts the tournament for the first time since 2004 when Retief Goosen shot four under par to win what ended up being a bit of a farcical tournament after the course set up was terrible. So bad was it that Phil Mickelson, eventual runner-up, deliberately hit a tee shot into a greenside bunker on a par 3 to afford himself the best chance to get up and down.
The course is a par 70 as most US Open tracks are, and it has been lengthened by more than 400 yards to now measure 7,440 yards. The fairways have been widened since 2004 but the course is firm and the rough is thick so while length will be a factor this week accuracy plays a part.
This is a course you have to plot your way around and with some tough greens not just to find but to stay on strategy is a big thing this week. Every club in the bag will be tested around here but the best putters will rise to the top. This is a links course so being able to play in the wind is essential.
This is not just a high quality field because of the top level players that are in it but the form of the majority of them makes it a standout collection of golfers. All four major champions – Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas are here as is the new world number one Dustin Johnson.
Justin Rose, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy tee it up this week alongside recent major champions in Sergio Garcia, Jimmy Walker, Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer. If that is not enough there are two huge names teeing it up in Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who bids to complete the career Grand Slam this week.
The 2016 champion Dustin Johnson will tee off as the favourite to win the tournament. He is currently 8/1 and after his lights out win last week it is not hard to see why. He should have won this at Chambers Bay but did win it at Oakmont and ticks a lot of the boxes. I’m never convinced by him in the wind though and even if I was I wouldn’t be playing 8/1 on anyone in this company.
Sky Sports’ darling Rory McIlroy is next in the betting at 16/1 alongside Justin Rose and Justin Thomas. McIlroy and fast and firm tracks don’t go together so he’s easy to pass over and I’m unsure about Thomas in linksy conditions. Rose is a much stronger contender but you never truly know whether his putter will cooperate so he might be a little short on that basis.
Jason Day is the first real leading contender I would consider at 18/1 but while I’ve been on him twice when he’s won this season his driver is not playing ball and you don’t win US Opens without driving the ball well. That’s enough to put me off him. Rickie Fowler ticks a lot more boxes at 20/1 with the exception of current form where since The Masters he’s been a little quiet. He’s a links specialist though and offers a shade of value at 20/1 but only a shade.
Jon Rahm is 22/1 to win his first major this week and if you look back to how he blitzed his way to the Irish Open last year you would make him a leading contender but temperament will be massive this week and Rahm has a fuse shorter than an exploded firework so we don’t need to be riding that angriness. Jordan Spieth is amazingly 22/1 too. If he has a clean round with the putter expect him to be there or thereabouts but that requires a leap of faith. A certain Tiger Woods is 22/1 to win as well. He won’t win. It is 25/1 bar.
I’ll go with a couple of main bets this week and I have to admit I would love it if this turns out to be a Royal Troon repeat because I’m on both Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson and they had that amazing duel there in 2016.
Stenson has done everything right this season bar put the ball in the hole but he’ll gain a number of strokes on the field this week in his temperament, his ball striking and his familiarity of playing in the wind. He isn’t massively long but he’s long enough and he has a good caddie who should build the right game plan. The St Jude Classic last week was only the second time he’s been outside the top 25 this year so he’s hitting it well and after a good The Masters campaign I’m expecting a good US Open from him too.
Mickelson has twice been a runner up here among his six second placed finishes in the event and this could be his last chance of winning the tournament he needs for the career Grand Slam. Pebble Beach next year might afford him another chance but whether he arrives in the same form will be open to debate. He has already won a WGC this year in Mexico where the wind can get up so he’s beaten a good field and in links conditions he’s pristine. His wizardry on and around the greens will be important this week and with the fairways wider than usual for a US Open the course should set up well. I expect a big run from Mickelson here.
Whenever the entire golf bag is tested I find it hard to ignore Marc Leishman and I can’t see a reason to ditch him here. Leishman went well in similar conditions at the Byron Nelson a few weeks ago where he opened with a 10 under round and he nearly nailed the Claret Jug at The Open in 2015, going down to Zach Johnson in a play-off. I keep hearing this is a second shot golf course and Leishman is as pure with the irons as anyone. His short game is decent and his temperament is strong so he should be a leading light here.
Alex Noren has some excellent form in America this year and now when you throw in his comfort in the wind he should be licking his lips this week. If it is a second shot course that is right up his street as he is a greens in regulation machine and we’ve seen all season how good a short game he has. I’m expecting him to be a big player in each of the next two majors starting here and at 50/1 he’s almost an obvious bet.
Another man who is fast becoming an obvious bet when it comes to majors is Louis Oosthuizen. With a little more luck Oosthuizen could have five major titles having finished second in each one but I note that he won at St Andrews which bodes well and his runner up in this was at Chambers Bay which is perfect. Oosthuizen has a dream swing and a solid long game. He’s the leading scrambler on the PGA Tour this season which will be a factor this week. These conditions should be to his liking and so I’ll go with him here.
As a long shot I quite like the look of Russell Knox. Knox may not be in the form of 2-3 years ago but it is starting to come back and tee to green he is in very good nick. In fact he’s been scrambling well recently too but he just hasn’t been able to get the ball in the hole. If he can crank the putter up we know he won’t be inconvenienced by the wind. His best form has come on second shot courses so I’ll pay to see how he goes this week.
PLACED – Back H.Stenson to win US Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 36.00 with Betfred (1/5 1-7)
Back P.Mickelson to win US Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 36.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back him here:
Back M.Leishman to win US Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with TLCBet (1/5 1-8)
Back A.Noren to win US Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 51.00 with Fun88 (1/5 1-8)
Back L.Oosthuizen to win US Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with BetBright (1/5 1-6)
Back him here:
Back R.Knox to win US Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 201.00 with Skybet (1/5 1-8)