The Country Club looks to be a difficult course with thick rough, undulated fairways, sloped and small greens, loads of bunkers and drop-offs. Things could get interesting for golf’s third major, the U.S. Open. There are three full tournament matchups to consider fading players who lack the short game that could be needed for a course layout such as this.
Sam Burns (-130) vs Viktor Hovland
Hovland is bottom 10 in the field for his around-the-green game, having lost strokes in seven of his last 10 events played this year. These two, on paper, are seemingly just moving in opposite directions. Burns has gained more from tee-to-green than Hovland this year, gaining three, seven and 11 strokes tee-to-green in his last three events. Hovland hasn’t had a top 20 since match play in March. The strength of Hovland’s game is typically his ball striking but even that has cooled off, gaining over two strokes to the field before match play but gaining just under 1.5 after, including losing a stroke for the first time since February in the Memorial.
Will Zalatoris (-120) vs Collin Morikawa
Since Morikawa finished fifth in the Masters, he missed the cut at the Memorial and has finished no better than T26. Zalatoris, on the other hand, has gained strokes or been fairly neutral around the green in five straight events (which is an improvement to his game) while gaining strokes putting in four of his last six events. It’s clear that Willy Z has been working on his short game and the improvements are evident. Longterm, Morikawa may be the better ball striker, but this year Zalatoris has been the more consistent player in all categories. Whether this course layout fits Willy Z’s game remains to be seen (he typically performs well on longer courses), but he is first in the field in strokes gained total in majors since 2020, which tells me that he knows how to make adjustments if needed.
Xander Schauffele (-135) vs Cameron Smith
The best part of Smith’s game is normally his short game but he’s been neutral or losing strokes around the green in his last four events. The problem area is off the tee, where his inaccuracy could put him into trouble. With the thick rough and the surrounding greenside bunkers, having trouble off the tee is not the trouble you want. Schauffele may not be flashy but he is consistent. You have to actively look for flaws in his game and it’s because of that consistency that I want to wager on him to not only win in a head-to-head but also contend to win the U.S. Open. Plus, Schauffele has a really great history in both majors and U.S. Open events, finishing T7 or better since 2017 in golf’s third major.
Betting a first-round leader is fun. It gives you a sweat that only lasts one day as opposed to a full four rounds. My strategy has been to wager on players that I already like as an outright and it has been profitable. For some pancake money, these are the first-round leader wagers to consider.
Will Zalatoris +3000
Cameron Young +3500
Davis Riley +5000
Mito Pereira +7500
Shane Lowry +5000
I want to back McIlroy but I also like to keep wagers limited and since he’s the shortest odds on the board, I’ll take longer shots instead. Four of these players — Zalatoris, Young, Riley and Pereira — are top 20 in Round 1 scoring. Lowry, on the other hand, is outside the top 100 but all five have finished at least once in the top 10 on Day 1 since the PGA Championship. Fingers crossed.