The U.S. Open is being played in the summer for the first time in nearly two years, and it returns to the site of one of the most iconic finishes in major championship history. Tiger Woods was an easy golfer to root on back in 2008 when he was at the end of a stretch where he won eight times in 11 tries and lost to seven golfers across those 11 tournaments over the course of a year.
Woods obviously will not be at this year's U.S. Open, but there are still plenty of golfers (and stories) to cheer for in his absence. Interestingly, one of Tiger's primary contemporary competitors, Phil Mickelson (T18 at that 2008 U.S. Open), has emerged as one of the prime candidates this week as he heads back to a golf course in Torrey Pines where he's had a lot of (non-major) success.
Let's take a look at nine golfers this week and why you should root for them at Torrey Pines. Odds via William Hill Sportsbook.
|The Spaniard is not normally on this list. While the game is world-class (and potentially all-time good), his combustible temperament and easily-irked demeanor normally fall outside the bounds of rootability guides. However (and it's a big however), Rahm has become a bit of a tragic figure of late. He was robbed of a sure victory at the Memorial when he led by six after three rounds; he had to withdraw because of a positive COVID-19 test result and go into isolation until last weekend. Throw in his recent fatherhood and greeting Phil Mickelson after his win at the PGA Championship in a "dad bod" T-shirt, and he's become an easy golfer to root for in his bid for a first major championship. Odds: 10-1|
|If history is your thing, Mickelson is your guy. If he wins this week, it would cap one of the great month-long stretches in the history of the sport. To get to seven major championships, including the grand slam, in this era would be extraordinary, and the parallels of only him and Tiger winning majors at Torrey Pines would be perfect. Odds: 50-1|
|It's rare for a young star to be as affable as Hovland. Normally, when golfers have the level of talent Hovland possesses, it comes with a price tag that reads brash, surly and self-serious. Hovland is the opposite of all of those characteristics and is unusually galvanizing across generations. He would be a very easy champion to support. Odds: 25-1|
|If I'm picking Sunday evening gamers to write, Schauffele's is an easy one. San Diego native has struggled with Torrey Pines during the Farmers Insurance Open but solved it for his first major championship and established himself as one of the best U.S. Open players of his generation (he's currently 4-for-4 in U.S. Open top 10s). Odds: 20-1|
|Again, this is a historical choice more than anything else. Koepka is not naturally somebody who galvanizes masses of people, but what's on deck for him is staggering. Only four golfers -- Woods (3), Hale Irwin (3), Ben Hogan (4), Jack Nicklaus (4) -- have won more U.S. Opens than Koepka has since World War II. He can tie the former two this week and get within one of the latter two. He can also surpass Rory McIlroy on the all-time majors list and jump into a tie for 15th with Seve Ballesteros and Byron Nelson. Odds: 18-1|
|Last Sunday was a rough one for Finau fans. South African Garrick Higgo, playing his second PGA Tour event (and first non-major), now has a more prestigious PGA Tour victory than Finau's singular Puerto Rico Open win. That seems impossible for somebody who has been doing this full-time for the last seven years at the level Finau has been doing it. Regardless, a U.S. Open victory at a place where he's played well would wipe away all of the close calls and near misses for Finau and give him the win he's played well enough to earn over the last several years. Odds: 25-1|
|King Louis now has five (!) runner-up finishes at majors after his T2 at last month's PGA Championship. His only major win (and only PGA Tour win) is still the 2010 Open Championship. The game and the interviews and the player are all so aesthetically appealing that it would be nice if they were complemented by him actually raising a trophy at the end of the week. Odds: 45-1|
|He's one of the few previous major winners this week who has a chance to take his perception and his resume to a completely other level. So while a win here would not necessarily be historically relevant (plenty of golfers have at least two major wins), it would come at a time in his career where it would still be easy to dream about unfathomable future spoils. If Morikawa wins two majors in his first 50 PGA Tour events, we have to at least start talking about a Byron Nelson-like or Mickelson-like trajectory for him. Odds: 22-1|
|Golf is more interesting when McIlroy is great. That's the pitch. He has not been much of a factor over the last several years at major champions, and to throw contention from him at a Bryson DeChambeau back-to-back bid or Koepka's run at three in five years or any of the other storylines in play would make for a truly tremendous event. There's also a sense that his legacy needs a bit of a jump-start. It's been seven years (seven!) since he won a major championship. A win here would ignite those historical conversations that seemed so inevitable when he won two in a row in the summer of 2014. Odds: 20-1|
Who will win the U.S. Open, and which long shots will stun the golfing world? Visit SportsLine to see the projected leaderboard, all from the model that's nailed six golf majors and is up well over $9,000 since the restart.