Dustin Johnson is the prohibitive 7-1 favorite to win his second straight U.S. Open, but don’t be surprised if a relative unknown emerges to claim the year’s second golf major.
The U.S. Open, which starts Thursday, is being played for the first time at Erin Hills Golf Club, a 7,741-yard layout in Wisconsin that’s the longest in the 117-year history of the tournament. While the length might prove a perfect fit for Johnson, who leads the PGA Tour in driving distance (312.1-yard average), the tall, thick fescue and wide fairways on the unfamiliar track could just as easily lead to a long shot winning the title.
“Ask anyone. If they tell you they know what they’re doing, they’re lying. The course has never been played before in a U.S. Open. The winner could be 2 over or 42 under,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “It’s a complete crapshoot because of the unknown venue.”
Westgate sports book manager Jeff Sherman said the U.S. Open usually generates half the betting handle of the Masters, but the action has been down this year because of the new course.
“Some of it has to do with being on the course for the first time. There’s not much course knowledge from the players or handicappers,” he said. “By the time it tees off, we’ll be more than 25 percent of the Masters but will probably fall short of 50.”
Bettors are all over Johnson, Jon Rahm (15-1), Jason Day (12-1) and Rickie Fowler, who is at 15-1 at the Westgate and 12-1 at CG Technology sports book after opening at 25-1.
CG Technology sports book director Jason Simbal said the largest potential payout is $82,500 on Thomas Pieters after a bettor wagered $1,500 on the Belgian golfer at 55-1 odds. Pieters also is among the top five money leaders at the Westgate, where he’s at 30-1.
The largest bet CG Technology has taken is a $3,000 wager on Rory McIlroy that would pay $27,000 at 9-1.
“For this type of course, the two starting points, in my opinion, are Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. Just with their length and how their games have been,” Sherman said. “McIlroy hasn’t played in a while. He’s coming off an injury and coming in without any recent form. He says he’s 100 percent. We’ll have to see how strong his mind is coming off an injury.
“Johnson, this is the type of course right up his alley. He’s the only golfer in single digits, and that’s just a reflection of his power rating on this course. He’s got a lot going for him with the year he’s had and the way this course is.”
For sleepers, Sherman suggests Brooks Koepka at 30-1 and Francesco Molinari at 80-1. Koepka is fifth in driving distance (307.6), and Molinari is second in driving accuracy percentage (71.71) and fifth in scoring average (69.682).
“This field is so deep. You can make a case for a lot of guys,” Sherman said. “Molinari has just been playing solid golf. Koepka has come around recently. He’s playing better than he had. He’s another long hitter who’s got some decent major experience, and his confidence level is right there.”
Bogdanovich’s sleepers are Paul Casey at 40-1 and Kevin Kisner at 50-1. Kisner won the Dean & Deluca Invitational in late May and is tied for third on the PGA Tour in top-1o finishes (six) with Johnson and Jordan Spieth.
“They’re both playing really well, and they’ve got the makeup to win the U.S. Open. You’ve got to have a lot of guts,” Bogdanovich said. “Those two are super live this week.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.