With the final round falling on Father’s Day, and especially because he has played second fiddle six times in the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson will be the sentimental favorite of most fans and media this week.
But he screwed up a fairy-tale finish last year, and the trophy is not something his wife and three kids can buy for him at Wal-Mart. Mickelson will have to earn it against a crowd of contenders, minus one big name.
Bubba Watson, another lefty, will be shooting for back-to-back major championships after winning the Masters in April. Adam Scott, a former UNLV standout, is the No. 1-ranked player in the world. Scott is not the oddsmakers’ favorite, a status bestowed upon Rory McIlroy, a two-time major winner.
The days of one dominant golfer are long gone. The U.S. Open, which begins Thursday at Pinehurst, N.C., has four favorites and a field with several live long shots.
“It’s such a wide-open tournament,” LVH golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “You can go deep on who can win this.”
Once again, it’s not going to be Tiger Woods, who is normally atop the wagering pool. This week marks six years since Woods last won a major. He withdrew to nurse a back injury, and he’s probably pondering if he’ll win another major.
Woods’ disappearing act, in addition to the middle games of the NBA Finals and the start of World Cup soccer, pushes this U.S. Open into the shadows. The handle for the tournament, Sherman said, will be about one-third of the amount wagered on the Masters.
Still, for golf bettors, the year’s second major is always a big-time event. McIlroy (10-1), Scott (12-1), Mickelson (15-1) and Watson (15-1) are the leaders on the LVH sports book odds board.
“You need a guy who hits it fairly long and is magic around the greens, which certainly could be Mickelson,” said Brady Kannon, a Pregame.com handicapper who also runs LVTeeTimes.com. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins it, but he has not had a great year. I don’t want to bank on him. I think Bubba is a better bet than Phil.”
Sherman said McIlroy was his logical “starting point,” though no player deserved to be listed at single-digit odds. McIlroy’s form has improved since a breakup with his tennis star fiancee, Caroline Wozniacki, and maybe that’s a lesson for guys everywhere.
“McIlroy has been playing nothing but top-10 golf this year,” Sherman said. “He’s had a great season in terms of stats and finish positions. He should be there on Sunday. But considering how deep I think this thing can go, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone around 100-1 wins it.”
The past two U.S. Open winners finished over par, and the Pinehurst No. 2 course will present another tough test. The handicapping strategy is to look for big hitters and accurate putters — and shop for the best odds.
Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth, each at 20-1, are solid candidates to win their first major. Spieth, a 20-year-old hailed as the next Tiger, held the lead on the final day of the Masters before fading on the back nine.
“Kuchar is playing really well,” Kannon said. “Every part of his game is strong. He drives it long enough, and he drives it pretty straight.”
Dustin Johnson (30-1) is one of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour and could be due for a breakthrough. Jimmy Walker (50-1), Gary Woodland (60-1) and Bill Haas (80-1) are similar players worth a long look.
“Walker is long off the tee and has a good short game,” said Kannon, who threw in a “needle in a haystack” pick on John Senden at 100-1.
Sherman’s long-shot plays on “three guys who could be live come Sunday” are Woodland, Graham DeLaet (80-1) and Billy Horschel (80-1).
The temptation is to spray conservative bets all over the futures board in hopes of hitting a big ticket. But bettors need to pick their spots and also consider playing adjusted odds after each of the first three rounds.
Brian Blessing, a radio host and handicapper for DonBest.com, said Jim Furyk (30-1) is a good bet to be in the hunt, and Angel Cabrera and Paul Casey are his bombs at 100-1 odds.
Sherman sees Furyk and Sergio Garcia (35-1) as players to back in individual matchups.
“I’m not looking at those two guys to win, because they just don’t finish tournaments, but I like them as far as matchups go,” he said.
I backed Bubba in his Masters win, and will take a shot on him again, along with wagers on Spieth, Johnson, Walker, Haas and Cabrera. Mickelson did not make my cut, but he would make for a great story.
Here’s the great thing about golf betting: Long shots often pay off.
What were the odds Woods would go six years without winning a major?
■ BOTTOM LINES — Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller is opening lines on 200 of the season’s top college football games at 1 p.m. Friday.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.