Who will win the 2021 US Open Championship, the year's third men's golf Major, at Torrey Pines?
Today's Golfer's 2021 Major coverage is brought to you in association with TaylorMade.
As the world's best players head to America's West Coast for the 121st US Open, Bryson DeChambeau will be attempting to defend his crown, but who are we backing to win the 2021 US Open and why?
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A fully-fit Brooks Koepka would be hard to ignore in California, especially given his track record in US Opens. He showed he's still a serious threat in the Majors at last month's US PGA Championship, but since he’s still battling his body and, potentially, still reeling from his final round at Kiawah Island, we'll (nervously) rule him out.
World No.1 Dustin Johnson and No.2 Justin Thomas are struggling for top form, so Jon Rahm is our bet (and the bookies' favourite) to join the maiden Major club.
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Torrey Pines was then scene of Rahm's first PGA Tour victory four years ago and while the set-up for a US Open will be far tougher than the set-up for a Farmers Insurance Open, the World No.3 is in fine form and thrives on tough courses.
However, a lot will depend on how he has been impacted by Covid-19 having tested positive during The Memorial Tournament. Rahm was leading by six strokes when he was forced to withdraw after the third round at Muirfield Village, but the Spaniard was asymptomatic.
Unfortunately the Spandiard's isolation period doesn't end until June 15, the Tuesday of US Open week, meaning he'll likely only have time for one practice round on the South Course before the tournament begins.
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Like Tiger, Rahm seems to save his best for the toughest of tests. He won the Memorial Tournament and BMW Championship last year on two of the PGA Tour’s hardest-scoring courses and has four top 10 finishes in his last five starts at the Farmers Insurance Open, including his victory on his debut in 2017.
He also grew up playing Poa annua greens and has the second-best scoring average, behind Tiger Woods, of any player at Torrey Pines since 1983.
It might just be that he has the best chance of becoming the first international winner of the US Open since Martin Kaymer in 2014.
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“I’ve always thought a US Open is the type of golf course I can win on,” said Rahm last year. “There’s always something extra special to be possibly the first Spanish player to win a US Open. That would be amazing, so it’s a bit of an extra motivation.”
This will be the second time that the South Course has staged the US Open, having previously played host in 2008. That year Tiger and Rocco were the only players to finish in the red on one-under-par. The scoring average that week, in case you were wondering, was nearly three strokes over par.
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The South had the lowest putt make percentage from inside 5ft, from 5-10ft and from 5-15ft on the PGA Tour in 2020. What’s more, the three-putt percentage at the 2020 Farmers Insurance Open ranked as the second highest all season. Of all players with 20 or more measured rounds on Poa annua greens across the last three seasons, only Patrick Reed averages more than a full stroke gained: putts per round. It just so happened that he won the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open by five strokes, making 38 one-putts en route.
For us, that makes the 2018 Masters Champion well worth backing each-way.
But what about defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, surely he'll just overpower Torrey Pines like he did at Winged Foot?
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It's highly unlikely. While strokes gained off the tee is a big indicator of success, the ability to handle the unpredictable Poa annua greens should not be underestimated. Often commentators and players talk about how difficult it is to adjust to putting on Poa greens – and the stats bear that out.
According to the 15th Club, 68.3 percent of putts from 4-8ft have been holed on all putting surfaces since 2015. When isolating those numbers down to just Poa annua greens, the make percentage drops to 66.5 percent. That might not sound like a big drop off, but it soon adds up on the South Course where each green was likened to “three or four little greens” by Martin Laird, on account of the various tiers.
And any plans DeChambeau has to adopt the same strategy he used at Winged Foot (hit it as far as you can and gouge it from the rough) seem unlikely to succeed at Torrey Pines, if USGA Senior Managing Director John Bodehamer's comments are to be believed.
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“We’re going back to more old-fashioned US Opens where we put a premium on accuracy off the tee," he said. "You’re going to see that at Torrey Pines. You have to drive your ball in the fairways to control your approach shots, and your pitch and chip shots. The greens will be bouncy.”
Apporoaching bouncy greens from thick rough will not prove fruitful.
If we're going off the stats then Brooks Koepka, Jason Kokrak, Daniel Berger, Matt Fitzpatrick and Sungjae Im are the only players who rank inside the top 30 for strokes gained: off the tee and strokes gained: putting on the PGA Tour. We've already raised our concerns around Koepka, but if you like to use the stats to choose your winners then those five guys are all well worth your consideration.
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It wouldn't be a US Open preview without a mention of Rory McIlroy. Could he end his Major drout at Torrey Pines?
Guessing which Rory will turn up at Majors is much like predicting when it'll rain in the UK, but his stats around the South Course are impressive with the Northern Irishman a combined 32-under par at the Farmers Insurance Open since 2019. Only Rahm and Reed have performed better. As always, the bookies have the four-time Major champion as one of the favourites, but we can't see him lifting the trophy.
And finally, Phil Mickelson. Off the back of his incredible US PGA Championship victory, could Lefty finally complete the Career Grand Slam at Torrey, his hometown course?
We don't see it happening. While Mickelson has finished US Open runner-up a record six times, the South Course has offered very few home comforts for the 50-year-old in recent times.
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It used to be a happy hunting ground for Lefty – he won the Farmers Insurance Open three times, including back-to-back in 2000 and 2001, but he has had only one top 10 in his last 12 starts and has even admitted that the course is “not a good place” for him anymore.
One of the big-name players who definitely won't be winning the US Open is Rickie Fowler, who will miss the Major for the first time in 11 years. The Ryder Cup star received an exemption for last month's PGA Championship and finished T8th but he missed out on a spot at Torrey Pines by a single shot at qualifying.
Jason Day won't be adding to his 2015 PGA Championship win. Day needed a good week at The Memorial to seal his place in the year's third Major but withdrew with a back problem and will miss his first Grand Slam event in nine years.
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Fellow Major champion Keegan Bradley also misses out, as does 2009 US Open winner Lucas Glover. Brandt Snedeker misses the US Open for the first time in nine years, while Cameron Tringale, who has been enjoying an excellent season and rapid rise up the rankings, also misses out.
Former World No.1 Luke Donald will also be absent after falling short in qualifying, with Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Keith Mitchell, Jason Dufner, Nate Lashley, Aaron Wise, David Lingmerth, Adam Long, Jim Herman, Chesson Hadley, Maverick McNealy and Pat Perez also watching from home.
Who will win the 2021 US Open – Betting odds*
11/1 Jon Rahm
14/1 Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka
16/1 Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau
18/1 Rory McIlroy
20/1 Xander Schauffele
22/1 Collin Morikawa
25/1 Patrick Cantlay
33/1 Viktor Hovland
35/1 Hideki Matsuyama, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed
45/1 Will Zalatoris, Scottie Scheffler, Daniel Berger, Webb Simpson
50/1 Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton
55/1 Cameron Smith, Matthew Fitzpatrick
60/1 Shane Lowry, Phil Mickelson, Tommy Fleetwood, Sungjae Im
66/1 Abraham Ancer, Corey Conners, Joaquin Niemann, Sam Burns
70/1 Marc Leishman
80/1 Gary Woodland, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott
100/1 Jason Kokrak, Harris English, Charley Hoffman
125/1 Branden Grace, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Si Woo Kim, Matthew Wolff, Max Homa, Billy Horschel, Garrick Higgo, Bubba Watson, Stewart Cink
150/1 Matt Wallace, Brian Harman, Brandt Snedeker, Kevin Na, Matt Kuchar, Kevin Streelman, Charl Schwartzel
160/1 Matt Jones, Francesco Molinari
175/1 Alex Noren, Thomas Pieters, Cameron Young, Ryan Palmer, Cameron Champ, Carlos Ortiz, Russell Henley
200/1 Ian Poulter, Kevin Kisner, Brendon Todd, Martin Kaymer, Zach Johnson, Rasmus Hojgaard, Robert MacIntyre, Charles Howell III
250/1 Sebastian Munoz, Matthias Schwab, Talor Gooch, Henrik Stenson, Bernd Wiesberger, Lanto Griffin, Dylan Frittelli, Erik van Rooyen, Rafael Cabrera Bello, Thomas Detry, Joel Dahmen, Wilco Nienaber, Victor Perez, Jhonnatan Vegas, Danny Willett, MacKenzie Hughes, Chez Reavie, Guido Migliozzi, Adam Hadwin, JT Poston, Martin Laird, Tom Hoge, Tom Lewis, Jordan Smith.
275/1 Kyoung-Hoon Lee
300/1 Byeong-Hun An, Andy Sullivan, Richard Bland, Bo Hoag, Justin Suh, John Huh, Sung Kang, Graeme McDowell, Troy Merritt, Wyndham Clark, Brendan Steele
350/1 Adrian Meronk
400/1 Marcus Armitage, Dylan Wu, Greyson Sigg, Taylor Pendrith, Peter Malnati, Patrick Rogers, Jimmy Walker, Brian Stuard, Ryo Ishikawa, Mikko Korhonen, Perceson Coody
500/1 Robby Shelton, Sahith Theegala, Sam Ryder, Fabian Gomez, Thomas Aiken, JJ Spaun, Dave Coupland, Edoardo Molinari, Johannes Veerman, Hayden Buckley
600/1 Chan Kim, Tyler Strafaci, Akshay Bhatia
750/1 Matthew Southgate, Matthias Schmid, Luis Fernando Barco
1000/1 Paul Barjon, Joe Long, Wade Ormsby, Alvaro Ortiz, Hayden Springer, Taylor Montgomery
1250/1 Brad Kennedy
1500/1 Charles Osborne, Andrew Kozan, Spencer Ralston, Rick Lamb, Andy Pope, Dyland Meyer, Rikuya Hoshino
2000/1 Yosuke Asaji, Matthew Sherpstene, Eric Cole, Mario Carmona, Luis Gagne, Chris Baker, Christopher Crawford, Zach Zabacl
2500/1 Kyle Westmoreland, Michael Johnson, Carson Schaake, Roy cootes, Wilson Furr, Steve Allan, Davis Shore, Jimmy Hervol, Joe Highsmith
* Odds correct as of June 9, 2021