Go ahead and rule out Daniel Berger winning this week's second major of the year on the PGA Tour, the 116th U.S. Open. That's because no player has ever won the week before the Open and then taken that tournament in the same year.
Berger got his first Tour win at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis on Sunday. It really was only a matter of time for the 2014-15 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. Berger, who had never even played in a final pairing of a tournament until Sunday, finished at 13-under 267 to become the 13th first-time winner on Tour this season in the 50th start of his promising career. Berger, who shot in the 60s for all four rounds, finished three shots ahead of second-place Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka. Berger, who was Koepka's teammate at Florida State, is the sixth player under age 25 to win already this season, the most on Tour since 1983.
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Mickelson birdied the first three holes of the back nine on Sunday to get within a shot of Berger but had just one more birdie the rest of the way. It was Koepka's second consecutive runner-up after a playoff loss at the Byron Nelson.
I didn't even touch on Berger last week in my preview (he opened at +2500 to win). I said I was torn on Mickelson because he usually plays well in Memphis but might have been more focused on the U.S. Open. I wasn't a big fan of his but was clearly wrong. I liked Ryan Palmer at +1800, and he was T68. I did get Dustin Johnson at -150 for a Top 10 as he was fifth at 9-under and might have won if not for a 73 on Saturday. I took a long-shot bet on Chad Campbell for a Top 10 at +550, but he was T34. Also hit a few head-to-head props.
So now the PGA Tour heads to the par-70 Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh -- quite a sports week in that city with the Penguins holding their Stanley Cup parade on Wednesday. No course has held the U.S. Open more than Oakmont. This will be the ninth. And this place is ridiculously hard. There's no water, but the rough is crazy deep, there are bunkers everywhere, the fairways are sloped and the greens are like putting on ice. If you don't drive the ball straight and keep it under the hole on your approach, forget about it making the cut. One par 3 can stretch to 230 yards. One of the par 5s (12th) can get to 667.
Mickelson said last week this might be the hardest course that he has ever played. Justin Spieth said Monday that he doesn't expect anyone to finish under par. Neither do I. Oakmont last hosted in 2007, and Angel Cabrera became the only South American to win this event at 5-over. Cabrera, the only player to break 70 twice that year (69 in Rounds 1 and 4), beat out Tiger Woods (who missed a birdie putt on No. 18 Sunday to force a playoff) and Jim Furyk by a shot. Tiger, sadly, still isn't ready to play, and now you can probably rule him out until at least the PGA Championship. Furyk is in the field and is a +8000 long shot at Bovada. Cabrera is +20000.
Spieth is the defending champion, stealing the tournament right out of the grasp of Dustin Johnson at the links-style Chambers Bay track outside Seattle a year ago. Actually, Johnson gave it away, it wasn't taken from him. Obviously Spieth was way too young to play here in 2007. The last player to repeat was Curtis Strange in 1988-89.
Remember that there's an 18-hole Monday playoff if there's a tie after Sunday. Certainly the top story is Mickelson looking to complete the career grand slam; he has been second a record six times in this tournament. He missed the cut at 11-over in 2007; by Sunday, 11-over was good enough for a Top-10 finish!
PGA Tour Golf Odds: U.S. Open Favorites
World No. 1 Jason Day is the +650 favorite, and it's hard to argue with that. He's the only three-time winner on Tour this year and has been Top 10 in the U.S. Open four times this decade, including runner-up in 2013 and two years prior.
Rory McIlroy is +700 to win a second U.S. Open; he of course shot a record 16 under at Congressional in 2011. I can probably guarantee you that McIlroy won't even have 16 birdies this week. McIlroy has one Top 10 at a U.S. Open since then, a ninth last year. He also was too young to play here in 2007.
Spieth (+850), Johnson (+1200), Justin Rose, Mickelson and Rickie Fowler (all +2800) round out the favorites. Spieth struggled a couple of weeks ago at the Memorial after finally winning in Texas. Johnson has three Top 10s this decade in the event, led by that runner-up last year. He has yet to win this season despite eight Top 10s. You know all about Mickelson, and I frankly hope he wins.
PGA Tour Picks: U.S. Open Expert Betting Predictions
For a Top 10, I will go with Day (-140), Johnson (+125), Lefty (+250) and Henrik Stenson (+300). You can bet on a top player from several countries. Go Sergio Garcia at -225 as the top Spaniard. I like Louis Oosthuizen, who tied for second last year with Johnson, at +250 for top South African. I'm leaning Stenson as the top European at +1000 and Johnson at +600 as the top American.
Head-to-head, I like Day (-125) over McIlroy (-105) but McIlroy (-125) over Spieth (-105). Ditto Johnson (+110) over Spieth (-140). Go Rose (-130) over Fowler (even), Mickelson (-120) over Adam Scott (-110), Stenson (-110) over Hideki Matsuyama (-120), and Garcia (-120) over Masters champion Danny Willett (-110).
I think either Day or Johnson wins. But I'm going to take the easy way out and go McIlroy, Day, Spieth (even though I'm not that high on him) and Johnson at +130 against the field (-170).
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