There is no greater democracy in golf than the US Open, the 2014 version of which began with more than 10,000 entrants. The field is now whittled down to 156 who tee off on Thursday. But in the interests of brutal honesty let’s whittle it down further to those with a realistic chance of victory. That leaves us without about 30.
The trick is identifying those among this elite cadre who have the skill and the will to navigate a way around Pinehurst’s No2 course in fewer shots than the rest. Here’s six who will fancy their chances this week.
1. Bubba Watson: 18/1
We are contractually and morally obliged to note the left-handed American is going for the second leg of the Bubba Slam.
Traditionally, the Masters and the US Open bear very little resemblance to each other – one demands creativity while the other calls from endurance. But this year, Pinehurst, with its wide fairway and treacherous greens, offers a similar challenge to that presented at Augusta National.
It will ask for power and subtlety, imagination around the greens and bravery with the putter. Bubba has the first three attributes in spades. It’s his putting that comes with a question mark. If it’s off, he might still contend. If it’s on – he will probably win.
2. Sergio Garcia 33/1
Still majorless after all these years. The Spaniard has a decent record in the US Open, better than you might think for a man with little patience in an event that demands patience above all else.
Contrary to popular belief, Sergio is actually a very good putter these days (26th in total putting on the PGA Tour this year). He has always been a brilliant “scrambler” (fifth on tour this year, since you ask). As for driving the ball – has anyone over the last 10 years been as consistently accurate? Probably not.
But can Sergio put it all together over the space of four days?
3. Kevin Na 125/1
Slower than a snail, shorter off the tee than Ronnie Corbett, it is hard to imagine the Californian as a Major champion.
But every once in a while the US Open throws up a winner who doesn’t fall into the category of golfing royalty. Na is a gritty player who usually finds a way to get the ball in the hole with maximum efficiency. He is also on form. Could he win? Probably not. Could he sneak his way into the top six. You bet.
4. Graeme McDowell 55/1
The 2010 US Open winner has cut an anonymous figure this year but this tournament usually rouses him from his slumber. He also has an added incentive after the USGA paired him together with Rory McIlroy for the first two rounds.
They probably thought the two Irishmen are still the closest of pals – an assumption that, by some accounts, may be somewhat out-of-date. We will leave it that, except to say McDowell would love to put one over on his countryman.
Oh, and did we mention – he’s No 1 in total putting on the PGA Tour! Never a bad thing heading into a major.
5. Jordan Spieth 25/1
In an era of perfect technique the 20-year-old has a refreshingly quirky swing and a gunslinger attitude that harks back to the days of old-school guys like Raymond Floyd and Lee Trevino.
It’s not how, it’s how many, as the old saying goes. Spieth might have that stamped on the back of his Titleist irons. The truth is there are no obvious weaknesses in his game.
He drives the ball well, is a fine ball-strikers and possesses the guts of a burglar on and around the greens. He is bound to win a US Open at some stage of his career, maybe even this year.
6. Paul Casey 100/1
Remember the “golden generation” of English golf – Westwood, Poulter, Rose and Donald?
Well, Casey had more raw talent than any of them. Injury and personal issues cost him three years of his career at precisely the point where he should have been peaking.
But he’s on the way back, with a couple of decent showings on the PGA Tour recently. It is probably too soon for him to win a major but don’t be surprised to see him floating around near the top of the leaderboard over the course of the week.
An each-way bet (first 6 before they tee off) for the golfing hipsters out there or 18/1 to be placed only (finish in the top 5) could be the play.
You can follow Lawrence Donegan on Twitter here