The key to winning this year’s US Open may be scrambling, meaning the ability to extricate oneself from difficult positions close to the green without dropping strokes.
The Pinehurst No. 2 course that will stage the US Open has undergone major modifications since Michael Campbell won the 2005 edition of the tournament on the revered North Carolina layout. Gone is the thick rough that is associated with US Open tracks but now it is nearly 400 yards longer, making it a test that plays into the hands of golf’s longer hitters.
So US Open punters should be looking for golfers who can hit the ball a long way off the tee, with driving accuracy not as important as it has been in US Opens of recent times. However, there is more to conquering Pinehurst No. 2 than unleashing one’s full force with one’s driver. Every US Open competitor is going to miss greens given Pinehurst No. 2’s set-up – getting close to the pin will be difficult and even keeping one’s ball on the green will prove problematic – so one thinks that what will separate the wheat from the chaff will be how the golfers deal with their scrambling tasks.
Luckily, the PGA Tour maintains a lot of statistics and two of them are driving distance and scrambling. Combine them and one should come up with a short list of golfers whose chance of winning the US Open may be significantly higher than their betting odds imply. One’s US Open short list features Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar.
Furyk has an excellent US Open record, including victory in the 2003 tournament and five addition top-five finishes. Furyk was 14th and 28th in the two US Open events staged at Pinehurst No. 2 previously so he has half-decent course form and he hits the ball quite a long way, averaging 278.7 yards off the tee. However, in the area in which Furyk excels is scrambling, with him ranking first in that statistic on the PGA Tour this season and by quite some way. Furyk’s recent form is good as well, with two second places in his last four starts. Paddy Power and Sky Bet are offering odds of 46.00 about Furyk winning the US Open for a second time.
One questions whether Garcia has the temperament to win a major championship but, if the Spaniard is going to break through after nearly 20 years of trying, it could be this week. Garcia drives the ball an average of 293.6 yards off the tee so Pinehurst No. 2’s increased length will not worry him. Garcia was third in the 2005 US Open that Pinehurst No. 2 hosted, he is fifth behind Furyk on this term’s PGA Tour statistics for scrambling and throughout his career he has performed consistently well on Donald Ross-designed courses. Garcia withdrew from his last tournament with a slight knee injury but that was a few weeks ago and he has placed third in two of his previous four starts. Garcia is available at odds of 36.00 with 888sport and Unibet to win the US Open.
Finally, Kuchar is a lot like Garcia in that one does worry that he does not have the mental fortitude to become a major champion. However, it is hard to pick fault with Kuchar’s form – he is ranked fifth in the world and he has won two PGA Tour titles this season – and he does seem to have the golf game for Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014. Kuchar missed the cut in the Pinehurst No. 2-staged US Opens of 1999 and 2005 but he is long and accurate off the tee, plus he is brilliant when it comes to scrambling, ranking sixth this term. Kuchar is trading at odds of 29.00 with Boylesports and Paddy Power to win the US Open and one thinks that he would be shorter in the betting if his big-event numbers were a bit better.