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Odds and Ends

Picks and tips for the U.S. Open

by Will Gray
Updated On: September 15, 2020, 11:27 am ET

The year's second major is upon us.

It's not a typical in its typical June slot, and the field is down to 144 and lacking any local or sectional qualifiers. But it still looks and feels like a U.S. Open this week at Winged Foot Golf Club, which is hosting a major for the first time since the dramatics of 2006 when Geoff Ogilvy left with the trophy.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson arrives in New York $15 million richer thanks to his late-season exploits, and he headlines a field of likely contenders on a demanding layout where five of the last six U.S. Open champions have finished the week over par. Gary Woodland defends the title he won a year ago at Pebble Beach, while two-time champ Brooks Koepka headlines a group of notable withdrawals.

From a pair of former world No. 1s to a pair of notable Englishmen, here's a look at some of the bets and matchups you should consider when making wagers for this week's event where the winner will have to conquer thick rough and slick greens in equal measure:

To Win (Odds via PointsBet Sportsbook)

Justin Thomas (+1300): The (deserved) attention funneled toward Johnson and Jon Rahm in recent weeks has increased the price on Thomas, who just might be the most complete player in the field. A major winner in his own right and just three years removed from shooting a 63 in U.S. Open conditions at Erin Hills, Thomas led the Tour last season in Strokes Gained: Approach as well as SG: Tee-to-Green. The lone weakness is an occasionally balky putter, but his ball-striking still carried him to a T-3 finish on the slick greens at East Lake two weeks ago in terms of 72-hole scores. While he hasn’t done much since securing his second win of the year in Memphis in July, Thomas belongs on an even pre-tournament footing with the only two players above him in the world rankings. The current price structure, with Johnson a +800 favorite and Rahm at +900, indicates there might be a little value to be found when siding with the 2017 PGA champ.

Tommy Fleetwood (+3300): It was just two years ago that Fleetwood fired a final-round 63 at nearby Shinnecock Hills and nearly chased down Brooks Koepka in the process. He added another major runner-up last year at Portrush and now may be poised for a break through of his own. Fleetwood has few peers when it comes to iron play, and while his return from the break was a slow one he appears to be picking up speed at just the right time. The Englishman finished T-3 last week in Portugal behind some tactical ball-striking, picking up more than 17 shots (tee-to-green) against the field and nearly six more than any other player. Fleetwood has a fourth-place showing at Erin Hills to go along with his runner-up two years ago, and this price seems unduly influenced by his recent lack of leaderboard presence rather than accurately capturing his potential. On the 50-year anniversary of Tony Jacklin’s victory, don’t be surprised if Fleetwood (or the next man on the list) adds another English name to the trophy.

Matthew Fitzpatrick (+5000): “I would so much rather play it like this every week, where it’s a battle and you’ve got to work hard and grind, instead of wide-open fairways, no wind and just, shoot 65 and you move down.” That was what Fitzpatrick told me back in March at Bay Hill, when he was the only player to break 70 over the weekend on a difficult track where 4 under won the tournament. He was also one of the few to break par in tough conditions at the Memorial in June, and in his last start he finished T-6 at the BMW on another demanding layout, shooting a final-round 67 while playing with Rory McIlroy. When the going gets tough, Fitzpatrick’s name rises to the top more often than not. Yes, he missed the cut last month at the PGA Championship, but his game seems ideally suited for a slog this week at Winged Foot where his short game (second last season on Tour in SG: Putting) could shine. Fitzpatrick hasn’t won yet on the PGA Tour, but he has five wins in Europe, played in a Ryder Cup and has a USGA pedigree as a former U.S. Amateur champion. He’s no stranger to pressure and should be very much in his element this week.

Top-10 Finishes (Odds via PointsBet)

Tony Finau (+320): It’s basically like clockwork. Finau was featured in this space for a similar result at the PGA Championship and promptly tied for fourth. While his victory drought has been well-documented, his consistent success on some of the Tour’s toughest layouts is undeniable. Having celebrated his 31st birthday on Monday, Finau has now cracked the top 10 in six of nine majors played since his infamous ankle dislocation at the 2018 Masters. Throw in a close call earlier this year at the Memorial and his finish at last month’s BMW Championship, when he closed at difficult Olympia Fields with a final-round 65 that was beaten by only one other player all week, and you get the idea. Finau’s body of work is well-rounded, and he has shown time and again that he’s not afraid of the big stage. While it’s hard to trust him to deliver a victory until, well, he does, a high finish at more than +300 return seems like a wise investment.

Martin Kaymer (+650): It’s been six years since Kaymer captured this event in runaway fashion at Pinehurst, and remarkably he hasn’t won anything since. But after falling off the map in recent years, the former world No. 1 has been on the comeback trail in recent weeks and might be poised for another big week on a big stage. Kaymer came close to winning each of his last two starts in Europe, including a runner-up finish at Valderrama where the final scores were about what you might expect this week at Winged Foot. The German is a big game hunter, with the 2010 PGA, 2014 Players and 2014 U.S. Open his only PGA Tour victories. Don’t be surprised if he finds a way to once again factor, even if a drought-breaking victory as a +10000 longshot might be too much to ask.

Will Zalatoris (+1100): Who? Zalatoris may not be a household name to many, but he’s currently tearing it up on the Korn Ferry Tour and will become a PGA Tour fixture in no time. The former U.S. Junior Amateur champ had a standout career at Wake Forest but has really hit his stride since the break, finishing no worse than T-19 in 11 starts. That run includes a T-2 finish last week, a win in July and at one point Zalatoris finished T-6 or better in six of seven starts. While those results have come against lesser competition, they still speak to his ability to contend on a consistent basis as he leads the developmental circuit by reaching more than 81 percent of greens in regulation this season. Zalatoris remains relatively suspect on the greens, but if those ball-striking figures translate even somewhat to Winged Foot he has a great chance to post a surprise finish at an enticing price.

Head-to-Head Matchups

Xander Schauffele (-105) over Rory McIlroy: Schauffele has had so much success, both recently and in this event specifically, that his odds have nearly been bet down to those of the 2011 champ. But here he remains a slight underdog to McIlroy, and there's reason to think that price should be flipped on its head. Schauffele was clearly the best player two weeks ago at East Lake, losing only because of the staggered start format, and he has had several close calls since nabbing his last win almost two years ago. That includes at the U.S. Open, where he has finished no worse than T-6 in three prior appearances. McIlroy's focus has been stuck outside the ropes for much of the last few weeks with the impending birth of his first child, and now that daughter Poppy is here he can return to honing his game. But McIlroy's record in this event outside of his Congressional win is rather spotty, and he has never won a professional tournament where the winning score was less than 10 under. There's no chance the scores get anywhere close to that figure this week.

Jason Day (+120) over Bryson DeChambeau: This week could go in either direction for DeChambeau, but it won't be boring. He turned heads during a Monday practice round when he launched his tee shot into and above a forest on the eighth hole, taking a line never possibly envisioned by the course architect. DeChambeau was the storyline of the early post-pandemic period on Tour but more recently has inverted his typical results trends: after over-performing in regular Tour events and struggling in majors, his T-4 finish at the PGA is the only noteworthy result of the last two months. While a similar week at Winged Foot isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility, the threat of high variance lurks around every corner. Day, meanwhile, capped a resurgent summer stretch with a matching T-4 finish at the PGA and has historically thrived in this event, with five top-10 finishes in six years from 2011-16.

Matthew Wolff (-140) over Sebastian Munoz: Don't be fooled by the fact that Munoz qualified for the Tour Championship while Wolff watched from home. The Colombian broke through at the Sanderson for his maiden PGA Tour win last fall and produced a timely result at the BMW to qualify for the 30-man season finale, but otherwise his record since the break was sparse and he has missed the cut in three prior major starts. Wolff, meanwhile, finished T-4 last month at Harding Park and has really turned a corner this season in terms of consistency, following a runner-up in Detroit with top-25 finishes in four of his last six starts. Wolff is more reliable option off the tee and the way to go in this particular matchup.

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Will Gray

Will Gray manages betting, fantasy and DFS content for NBC Sports EDGE across Golf, Soccer and NASCAR. He has covered the PGA Tour since 2013 and regularly contributes golf betting insight and analysis across multiple digital platforms. Gray has been with NBC Sports since 2007 and recently served as a writer, video analyst and podcast host for Golf Channel. You can follow him on Twitter @WillGrayGC