The US Open is rich with history.
Many fans remember Tiger Woods’ legendary 2008 victory in a playoff over Rocco Mediate while playing on just one good leg.
Sports bettors will remember Gary Woodland taking home the crown in 2019 as a 100-1 longshot, a nice little payday for anyone who bet him to win outright.
Bryson DeChambeau is the defending champion. He won at Winged Foot West back in September with no fans in attendance because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we saw at the PGA Championship, these tournaments are very different with spectators. The image of soon-to-be champion Phil Mickelson walking toward the 18th green with thousands of fans walking behind him was one of the most iconic moments of 2021.
After Mickelson two-putted, he became the oldest major champion at 50 years, 11 months and eight days.
Back in 1920, in the first US Open after the Spanish flu pandemic, Ted Ray shot an 11-over 295 for his second major championship. At 43 years and 129 days, Ray was the oldest US Open champion. That record stood until Raymond Floyd won in 1986.
Now, in the first U.S. Open after the coronavirus pandemic, the PGA Tour returns to Torrey Pines, which was the site of Woods’ epic, one-legged victory.
As for who’s going to win? Just as I’ve used history to help write this column, we can also use history to help us place our bets.
The US Open won’t be the only tournament held at Torrey Pines this season. The Farmers Insurance Open was there in late January. Golfers who have had success at Torrey Pines in the past tend to continue that success. So we will be closely checking past success at this course as we comb through the 156-player field.
Torrey Pines’ south course is normally par 72, but the US Open is par 71. One of the par 5s will be converted into long par 4. Tee boxes will move to different locations throughout the weekend, but looking at the course specs we can see that most par 4s are right around 400-450 yards, and most par 5s are right around 550-600. I’ll be considering efficiency numbers for both of those ranges.
On a course with narrow, long fairways one might assume that shots gained: off-the-tee, or driving accuracy would be key stats. However, according to a study done by PGA Tout, average driving distance and shots gained: tee-to-green are actually far more important. So I am following their lead.
We’re looking at small greens. Therefore, shots gained: approach, and ball striking will be important.
The winner at Torrey Pines is usually in the mid-teens under par, often lifted atop the leaderboard by one or two excellent rounds, with the other rounds right around even par. Bogey avoidance will be something that comes into play this week. Players will be able to keep their chances alive just by practicing damage control when they need to. You'll be hearing the broadcast team urging players to "take their medicine."
Below I’ll run through my favorite bets for outright winner. Check the breakout box for my full card and recommended betting amounts. Something I should note: John Rahm is the top golfer in the field according to my numbers, but I can’t back him to win outright at shorter than 10-1 odds.
Xander Schauffele +1750
His game fits Torrey well, as we saw at the Farmers when he finished tied for second. He’s the eighth-best ball striker on tour and fifth-best in the field. The weakest part of his game is bogey avoidance. Even then, he ranks 35th in a 156-player field. I also find it interesting that he started using the arm-lock putting technique. He’s gone on record saying it should be illegal because it provides an unfair advantage. So I guess this is sort of a, “Can’t beat them; join them,” mentality. Maybe for Schauffele, we’ll find out that it indeed does give him an unfair advantage, and he will find improvement in an already strong part of his game.
Collin Morikawa +2200
He’s No. 1 in shots gained: tee-to-green and approaching-the-green, not just in the field but on the PGA Tour. Morikawa is the second-best ball striker behind Rahm. His putter has been the club to slow him down recently, but at the Memorial I thought he was looking more confident on the green.
Tony Finau +2300
Finau is another guy who was tied for second at the Farmers. He can hit it far and consistently score on the par 5s. Hopefully he can avoid stretches of consecutive bogeys that notoriously cost him, because there will surely be at least one day that he cards one of the lowest scores of the tournament.
Will Zalatoris +4400
This is one of my favorite plays of the tournament. It seems like the market has soured on Zalatoris after a few disappointing tournaments, but his numbers really line up with Torrey Pines. Shots gained: tee-to-green, he’s sixth in the field. His par-4 efficiency from 450-500 yards is 15th and his par-5 efficiency from 550-600 yards ranks third. He also has the third-best approach game in the field and on tour. His weakness has been with the putter. But he doesn’t have to have putted great this season to win the US Open. He needs to putt great this weekend to win the US Open.
Jason Kokrak +6900
His odds opened at 100-1 and have crashed down to 69-1 in just a couple days, and it’s easy to see why. When he’s driving well, he’s tough to beat as we’ve seen in both of his victories this season. He’s also the fourth-best ball striker in the field. With finishes of T29 in 2021 and T21 in 2020, we know he can hang at Torrey. He just needs to get over the hump.
Sam Burns +9900
It’s tough to ignore his T18 finish last time on the course. He’s also played well at comparable courses, such as Quail Hallow and Riviera. None of his numbers are gaudy but his ball striking, approach and strength off the tee will keep him in contention.
Max Homa +9900
According to my numbers, there are better options. But Homa loves playing at Torrey, and his recent form has been stellar. He was T9 in 2020 and T18 in 2021 at the Farmers. He's also coming off a sixth-place finish at the Memorial, during which he was very much in the mix on the final day.
Ryan Palmer +12400
He finished tied for second at the Farmers in 2021 and T21 in 2020, so he is clearly comfortable on this course. Like most guys with 124-1 odds, he is not elite in any of the key stats I’ve considered. But, he’s consistent enough to where my numbers put him at No. 21 in this field. Palmer definitely worth a flier at this price.