The US Open, which gets under way at Congressional Country Club, near Washington, on Thursday, looks wide-open with most bookmakers going 12/1 'the field'.
With Tiger Woods, traditionally a short-price favourite to triumph, lying injured on the treatment table, the betting is headed by a couple of Englishman in Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. And quite rightly so as the duo are the top two players in the world rankings and are arguably playing the best and most consistent golf on the planet right now. Westwood, available at 14/1 at the start of the week is now generally favourite at 12/1, with Donald available at 14/1 (Ladbrokes, Paddy Power). Coral are then dangling a carrot of 16/1 about Phil Mickelson, who has yet to win this Major but has finished runner-up five times.
Waiting for them is the Blue Course at Congressional, last used for the US Open in 1997 when Ernie Els was the winner. Like then, they can expect narrow fairways and penal rough, placing an emphasis on finding the fairway off the tee, and lightning-fast greens with treacherous run-off areas. That said, recent dry weather means the rough is not as lush as it could have been and players are reporting that iron shots are holding on the greens. Still, with the putting surfaces running as fast as 14.5 on the Stimpmeter, the winning score is expected to be around par.
My Three Against The Field:-
Phil Mickelson @ 16/1 Coral
Just about any player can win a run-of-the mill Tour event if they can string four good rounds together but the the cream normally rises to the top at the US Open, simply because of the way the courses are set up. It's a battle for survival and player's skills are tested in all areas, meaning only a handful of players can be seriously fancied. OK, there is still the odd shock result - Michael Campbell came out of the blue to win in 2005 - but the formbook usually stands up and it's worth noting that all four events played at Congressional this century were won by what you'd consider to be top-class players - Tiger Woods, Anthony Kim, KJ Choi and Sergio Garcia.
So, for my bets in the outright market at least, I'm not going to delve too far down the betting list and, while I wouldn't put anyone off backing Westwood or Donald, my first pick is Mickelson, who will benefit immensely from the set-up this week. There's no doubting that Lefty has the skills to win a US Open - his five runner-up finishes are evidence of that - and Congressional offers his best chance yet of winning his national title for the first time. According to the courses Director of Golf, John Lyberger, the ideal skill-sets required this week are "high ball-flight, a great touch from the course's 96 bunkers, an ability to scramble and a sure touch on the ultra-quick bentgrass greens". That screams Mickelson to me and when you consider his ability to find greens from missed fairways (ranked sixth on Tour for greens hit from lies off the fairway), the course looks tailormade made for him.
OK, he's had a hit-and-miss season so far but he did blow the field away in Houston the week before the Masters and his last competitive round was a 67 at Memorial two weeks ago, suggesting his A game was not that far away. Also, when you consider that he's traded at odds-on in four of the last seven renewals, the 16/1 on offer does look a corking each-way value and we'll surely get the opportunity to trade out at some stage to ensure a profit win or lose. The downside with the Coral quote is that they are only one of three firms (the others being Ladbrokes and William Hill) sticking to the typical terms of a quarter the odds the first five places, but hopefully we won't need the extra place.
Matt Kuchar @ 25/1 Paddy Power (1/4 odds, six places)
He is joined in the staking plan by Kuchar, who has never really been out of form all season and will also be suited by the course. He's 14-for-14 in cuts made this year, which includes eight top-10s and a season-best tied-second in his last start at Memorial, and leads the Tour in the all-round ranking, which has to be the key stat this week. Where he does fall down is length off the tee but that shouldn't be too much of a handicap this week and, more importantly, he makes few mistakes (ranked second in bogey avoidance on Tour). It's hard to envisage him not being near the top of the leaderboard on Sunday and, if Mickelson slips up at the finish, he could be the one to take advantage.
Jason Day @ 45/1 bet365 (1/4 odds, six places)
The final pick goes to a player who I've been raving about for a while now and, while he is making his US Open debut this week, he has finished 10th and second in the last two Majors. He was also making his Augusta debut back in April, but that didn't stop him from nearly winning and he has kept the momentum going since with a string of decent finishes: 9th at Hilton Head on a course that wasn't meant to suit, 6th at the Players and 5th when defending in the Byron Nelson. And he has the all-round game to prosper here too with his long driving (ranked 19th in Driving Distance) backed up by a great short game (11th in Scrambling) and putting stroke (21st in Strokes Gained Putting). Granted, bookmakers have largely cottoned on to his ability but the 45/1 with bet365 still looks good business to me.
Phil Mickelson 3pts each-way @ 16/1 Coral
Matt Kuchar 1.5pts each-way @ 25/1 Paddy Power (1/4 odds, six places)
Jason Day 1pt each-way @ 45/1 bet365 (1/4 odds, six places)