Every year, there are probably a good five tournaments or so on the PGA Tour won by a guy who would make casual golf fans or bettors go, "Who?"
That was indeed the case last week as relative unknown Argentine Fabian Gomez won the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis for his first Tour victory. Gomez, 36, shot a 4-under 66 Sunday to finish 13-under and four strokes ahead of another rather unknown, England's Greg Owen. Those two each began the day at 9-under. Gomez's first win came in his 70th career start (Owen hasn't won in 214 career starts). Since 2006, Gomez had earned $1.6 million in 69 starts on the PGA Tour. On Sunday he got a check for $1.1 million. He is only the fifth Argentine to ever win a Tour event, joining Angel Cabrera, Roberto De Vicenzo, José Cóceres and Andres Romero.
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Probably the biggest story last week, though, was Phil Mickelson finishing tied for third at 8-under. He shot a 65 on Sunday, which was his best round since a 62 at the WGC-Bridgestone last August. That St. Jude result had to do wonders for Lefty's confidence ahead of the one tournament he wants more than any other.
I had heard of Gomez but honestly couldn't have told you he was still active on Tour, so needless to say he wasn't my choice to win last week. I went with Ryan Palmer and was feeling good about that after an opening 64, but he wouldn't break 70 again and finished T22. I also took a Big 4 of Dustin Johnson, Mickelson, Billy Horschel and Palmer against the field, so that fizzled. Johnson withdrew after nine holes on Thursday with an illness. Horschel finished T8, so I hit on him at +125 for a Top 10 (also had Palmer and Johnson there). On the "over/under" finishing props, I hit on under 17.5 for Horschel and over 21.5 for Webb Simpson. Otherwise not much to celebrate from TPC Southwind.
So now we head to the second major of the season, the 115th US Open, usually the toughest test in golf. And boy is this year's event chock full of story lines. From a player perspective, certainly No. 1 has to be Mickelson looking to complete the career Grand Slam. He has come oh so close in the US Open, finishing second an agonizing six times. It's our first major featuring No. 1 Rory McIlroy and No. 2 Jordan Spieth with both as major winners. Spieth of course won his first in April at the Masters and looks to become the first player since 2002 to win that and the US Open in the same year. Will Tiger Woods win his first major since the 2008 US Open? He comes off arguably the worst tournament of his career, finishing last at the Memorial. Will Sergio Garcia win his first major?
But the thing I am most interested in is the Chambers Bay course not far from Seattle, a mammoth 7,742-yard par-70 that features the three longest par-4s in US Open history. Oh, and did I mention this is a links-style -- i.e. British Open -- course built right off Puget Sound? There is one tree and no typical rough on this beast, it's fescue grass. That means balls will roll forever unless in the thicker grass that passes for rough. According to Golf Digest, this is the first course ever specifically built to host a US Open. It only opened eight years ago. It did host the 2010 U.S. Amateur. Spieth played in that and had one round of 83. The scoring average for Chambers Bay on Day 1 of qualifying was 79.87 back then. If the winner here isn't over par I will be stunned. To add more intrigue, this is the first time an Open will have holes that will alternate par. (The par on the 18th hole will alternate between four and five, in an opposite manner to No. 1, so par for the course remains 70.)
Finally, Fox TV takes over the rights for the US Open this year, so it will be interesting how that network (and Fox Sports 1) handles golf. Should be good theater, especially with prime-time golf.
Golf Odds: US Open Favorites
McIlroy is the +700 Bovada favorite. He of course won the 2011 US Open in record-setting fashion at Congressional outside Washington, D.C., but that course is like another planet compared to this one. He won the British Open last year, so that can only help here. McIlroy is having a fabulous Tour season with two wins and just one finish outside the Top 15.
Spieth is 8/1 . He might have an advantage because his caddie, Michael Greller, is a former looper at Chambers Bay. Spieth comes in off a third-place finish at the Memorial and has four wins in his past 17 world-wide starts.
The favorites are rounded out by Mickelson (16/1), Johnson, Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler (all 18/1). Mickelson did win the British Open two years ago. Rose won the US Open two years ago and finished runner-up last time out at the Memorial. Johnson is apparently fine now, and his length with be a big advantage. He was T4 last year at the US Open and looks for his first major. Fowler is overdue for a major title after contending in all four last year. He missed the cut at the Memorial.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: US Open Picks and Predictions
As usual for a major, there are dozens and dozens of props available. That there will be a hole-in-one is actually a +105 underdog. I still like that. That there's a playoff is +300 ("no" -400). Remember, that would be 18 holes on Monday. For the winning nationality, an American is -175, a European +200 and rest of the world at +650. Spieth is the +450 favorite to be top American. Henrik Stenson is the +225 favorite for top continental European. McIlroy is +225 to be top overall European. You can get nearly every big name on whether they make the cut. I'm going no on Tiger at -130. Bubba Watson I don't like this week, either. Take him at +220 to miss the cut.
I have no idea who will win because this is such a unique US Open, I won't lie. I do think it's a European because of their links background. I'll take McIlroy at 8/11 for a Top 10 and both Johnson and Mickelson at 3/2. Like Sergio Garcia at 11/4. Head-to-head, go with Mickelson at -120 over Rose (-110), Hideki Matsuyama at -140 over Watson (-110), Gary Woodland (-115) over Charley Hoffman (-115), Johnson (-115) over Fowler (-115), Garcia (-115) over Jim Furyk (-115) and defending champion Martin Kaymer (-115) over Brandt Snedeker.
Take the Big 4 of McIlroy, Spieth, Rose and Johnson at +180 over the field (-240). I wish Sergio was in there as I think he contends. But I'll go with McIlroy to win.
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