Wednesday, June 19, 2024

2024 U.S. Open Bettors’ Roundtable: Favorites, Sleepers, Props and Best Bets for Pinehurst

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The 2024 U.S. Open has arrived, and the third major of the season is packed with storylines and an elite field as the week kicks off at venerable Pinehurst No. 2. Here to break it down we have once again convened a panel of Sports Illustrated golf writers and editors: Bob Harig, John Schwarb and Jeff Ritter, along with three betting experts from our partners at FanSided: Cody Williams, Iain MacMillan and Brian Giuffra. And for even more firepower, we have again added two heavy hitters from Rotowire’s fantasy golf and gambling coverage: Len Hochberg and Greg Vara. Onto Pinehurst.

As we did last month at the PGA Championship, a major week begins with Scottie Scheffler as a runaway favorite. Are you paying up for his odds and DFS prices, or are there other players at the top of the board you like more this week to anchor your lineups?

Bob Harig, SI Golf: There is no one I’d want to bet ahead of Scottie, but the problem is there are so many others that in any given week can beat him. And he is such a prohibitive favorite that it makes it tough, despite all the reasons why he is understandably getting that kind of attention. But as we saw at the PGA, things happen. While we didn’t expect that to happen, he had a distraction that impacted him. And Xander Schauffele was pretty good, too.

Brian Giuffra, SI Betting: This was the major I was targeting for Scottie to win coming into the season and the only thing that’s changed is his odds have unfortunately shrunk. Still, I bet him at +410 odds at FanDuel, which represents a 19.6% implied probability of Scottie winning. If you played the U.S. Open 10 times this season I think he would win it 3-4 times, so that suggests this is actually a value play. He’s currently down to +300 at FD, which is 25% implied probability and much closer to where his value is, in my opinion.

U.S. Opens, and Pinehurst in particular, favor elite ball strikers who hit it high and have deft touch around the green. I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue against Scottie in those two categories. That’s why he’s finished T-7, T-2, and 3rd in the last three U.S. Opens. 

This is all to say, yes, I will be placing my largest bet on Scottie to win. 

Len Hochberg, Rotowire: Law enforcement throughout North Carolina has been given a photo of Scheffler with the words: “DO NOT APPREHEND THIS MAN. HE IS UNARMED AND NOT DANGEROUS.” The other golfers might disagree on how dangerous Scheffer is. I’d certainly pay Scheffler’s DFS price, which has been a bit higher at points during the season. The odds for an outright remain much too small. 

Jeff Ritter, SI Golf: Scottie remains an anchor to my DFS lineups and I’ll even make a small outright bet on him that would cover the costs of my other wagers. He’s the straw that stirs the drink this week.

John Schwarb, SI Golf: At this point it’s just a bettor’s stubbornness rather than handicapping to say I’m not taking Scheffler at +300 or +400 to win. I think he will win, I just can’t get past the idea of those tiny odds on a golfer. The hope is for him to have a so-so first round and be better priced in live markets—though the bookies will be onto that kind of thinking, too. 

Greg Vara, Rotowire: We are simply running out of ways to describe Scheffler’s play this season and we’re left with comparing him to Tiger, because he has no peer in the current game. At this point, it’s just foolish to leave him out of the picture. Sure, there are others that look like good plays this week, but I don’t see how you can eliminate the guy who is most likely to win from your bets and/or teams unless you are a natural contrarian. 

Cody Williams, FanSided: Much like I chose to do at the PGA Championship – even if Officer Gillis ensured that it wasn’t necessary – I’ll be attacking the Winner W/O market in regards to Scheffler. One change from that strategy, however, will be that I’ll be betting Scottie outright as well in hopes of maybe doubling up with separate outright wagers. As far as DFS is concerned, we’ve reached the point where Scheffler is worth whatever price, as absurd as that may seem, though I wouldn’t fault anyone for not wanting to fork out his astronomical salary for your lineup.

Iain MacMillan, SI Betting: Not wagering on Scottie Scheffler in some fashion is nearing betting malpractice based on how he’s been playing lately. He’s a must-add to almost any DFS lineup and if you don’t want to bet on him to win the tournament, you should at least explore the “winner without Scheffler” market that most sportsbooks offer.

Xander Schauffele won the PGA, a monkey-off-the-back first major that some believe opens the floodgates to more. But is this week too soon?

Bob Harig, SI Golf: Not necessarily. There is an argument to be made that Schauffele can continue the roll he got on at Valhalla. He had finished second the week prior in Charlotte, has been playing well all year and played well at the Memorial. Might as well strike while you are hot.

Brian Giuffra, SI Betting: Besides a watered-down PGA Championship, I actually thought the U.S. Open provided Xander the best chance to win a major. He’s accurate and long off the tee, deadly accurate with his approach, and an underrated putter. But yes, winning two majors in a row is too much to expect from a player who showed some nerves (and some resolve in fairness) during his first major win. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished Top-15 or better. 

Len Hochberg, Rotowire:  The weird thing about recency bias is that it’s been around forever. While it’s natural to envision a golfer turning a corner after a long-awaited first major, it usually doesn’t happen that way. It took Phil Mickelson another seven majors to win his second, which sounds about right for Schauffele.

Jeff Ritter, SI Golf: Top 10? Sure. Win? Nah. As others have mentioned, it’s too soon.

John Schwarb, SI Golf: Xander should hang around the top all week at Pinehurst, but when handicapping a winner I think the guy who bagged the previous major is an easy one to cross off the list. 

Greg Vara, Rotowire: I don’t think so. Schauffele has always had a knack for the USGA setups and now that he’s got a boost of confidence, maybe he takes it to another level. I have to imagine that the best players in the world are all thinking they are the one who can stop Scheffler from complete domination, and Schauffele is no exception. Considering he’s the one that actually slowed Scheffler’s momentum at the PGA, maybe he will become 1A to Scheffler’s No. 1. 

Cody Williams, FanSided: Absolutely not. One of the curious parts of Xander winning the PGA was that had historically been the major he’d performed the worst in. The best? That’d be the U.S. Open, of course, where he has just one finish outside the Top 10 in seven starts coming into this year (T14 in 2022 is the lone exception). His well-rounded and smart approach to the game has served him well against the USGA’s best/worst over the years and I expect that to be a similar forecast for Pinehurst. 

Iain MacMillan, SI Betting: No person has bet on Xander Schauffele more than I have in the past five years so now that he’s won, there’s no way I’m jumping off the Xander train now. Let’s not forget his elite play went back farther than the PGA Championship. He’s been the clear second-best golfer this season, ranking second in total strokes gained on the year. He used last week’s Memorial Tournament to shake off any rust and should be set to contend at Pinehurst.

Tiger and Phil played the Pinehurst U.S. Open in 1999 and are back again, two of only three players this week to have also teed it up 25 years ago (Matt Kuchar is the third, having qualified). Both missed the cut at the PGA, expect anything different this week?

Bob Harig: It is difficult to see much changing with either player. Tiger simply is not able to prepare properly and Phil shows only flashes of his great golf with his misses more pronounced on a U.S. Open venue. It’s possible they surprise us in some way but not likely. 

John Schwarb: Betting with the heart: Phil makes the cut and maybe squeezes into the top 20, riding his magical short game around No. 2. Betting with the head: Phil has shown virtually nothing since the surprise T2 at the 2023 Masters and is an easy pass. As for Tiger, he was near the bottom of the field in strokes-gained around the green at Valhalla, a terrible omen for this week.

Len Hochberg: “Nothing to see here, keep moving.” … Seriously, I ranked Tiger in the 80s and Phil in the 90s in my – shameless plug incoming! – free Power Rankings now live on RotoWire. And I was probably being too generous.

Cody Williams: It would be hard to expect such a thing based on what we’ve seen from both as of late. Tiger’s short game woes whenever we’ve seen him this year could be truly awful for what Pinehurst has to offer. And while that may be a strength of Mickelson’s game even at this stage of his career, the overall game just hasn’t been anything close to what it’s going to take to find success at this venue. 

Iain MacMillan: Tiger and Phil are going to be live to make an improbable run when they tee it up at the Masters for the next few years, but I can’t buy in on them at any other venue. I’m out on both golfers this week.

Greg Vara: Since the U.S. Open is all about course and game management, I could see the vets making the cut, but anything beyond that seems unlikely. Tiger still has bursts of quality play, but four days in a tough environment is too much to ask of his body. As for the other two, as long as they stay within their games, we could see something on the weekend, but I highly doubt either are a real factor come Sunday.

Brian Giuffra: The good news for Tiger is Pinehurst is a relatively flat course, which should help him physically. It also is a course that rewards creativity around the greens, and Tiger’s hands are still magic. But you have to wait for the tee times to be released and see him actually walking before making any bets. If the first two appear favorable and his odds to make the cut are +150 or above, I’ll bet him to make the cut. 

I’m staying away from Phil in betting. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship and it wouldn’t surprise me if he missed the cut here too. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if he made it. I just don’t have a read on him. 

Jeff Ritter: It’s a double-pass for me, unless we’re doing a prop on both to miss the cut.

Pinehurst has a rich history hosting this event and its main defense remains its treacherous green complexes. When filling out your betting card, are you looking for course fit — short game prowess, for example — recent form, major-championship pedigree or something else?

Bob Harig: Recent form is important to some degree but it’s really more about their greens in regulation stats or strokes-gained approach that stands out. You are going to miss greens at a U.S. Open but minimizing that goes a long way to being successful. If the winning score is in single digits, then making a lot of pars is never a bad thing. It helps if you are always putting for birdie and not risking big numbers by missing greens.

John Schwarb: Course fit is very important and I’m working backwards from the green to the tee, while also keeping an eye on form. Some of the top guys on Tour in strokes-gained around the green are Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas, Jason Day and Collin Morikawa—and three of those four are coming off top-10 finishes at the PGA. I don’t think this week is rocket science for bettors. 

Iain MacMillan: If a venue is truly worthy of hosting a major championship, we should only be targeting the best ball strikers on the PGA Tour. Pinehurst promises to be exactly that. A golfer is going to have to be on his A game. Recent form and season-long ball-striking numbers are going to be the two biggest factors I’ll consider this week.

Len Hochberg: All of the above, of course. But a strong lean for play on the green and, maybe even more so, around the green. With the domed putting surfaces funneling balls off the greens, this tournament may very well be decided from 50ish yards and in.

Jeff Ritter: Around the green is a big stat at Pinehurst, but I also put a lot of emphasis on recent form. It’s not easy to find your game on the practice range at a U.S. Open.

Cody Williams: There’s definitely a blend of all of this but there will be some tweaks to my normal approach to handicapping a tournament. I’m pretty notorious for dismissing SG: Around-the-Green, but not this week. If that’s a weakness of someone’s game, they’re going to be hard to trust based on the test that Pinehurst offers. My sweet spot will remain SG: Approach as that remains of paramount importance but I will also be looking at U.S. Open success because of the rigors the USGA typically puts players through and who has weathered that successfully over recent years. 

Greg Vara: It takes a certain mentality to play well at the U.S. Open. The golfer has to be O.K. with not making a bundle of birdies every round and for some, that can be difficult. With that in mind, I prefer looking at the golfer’s track record at previous Opens. Yes, every course has its own personality, but the USGA also has its own style and you can see that in every setup. I’ll use other metrics as well, but I’ll start with those that have had success at this event in recent years. 

Brian Giuffra: Ball striking (AKA Shots Gained: Total) and Shots Gained: Around the Green are the two stats I’m leaning on this week. Past performance at U.S. Opens can be important as an overarching guide, but Pinehurst is unique enough to mitigate that element. 

Golf’s majors offer prop bet opportunities galore. What’s one off-the-radar prop you like this week?

Bob Harig: Xander Schauffele to finish top 20. That seems like a sure thing. Schauffele has been top 20 in his last five major championships and T14, T5 and T3 in his last three U.S. Opens. This is a good bet for a top 10 finish as well.

John Schwarb: In this space prior to the PGA I said to take the under of whatever the winning score prop is, figuring the best in the world would take apart Valhalla. Ka-ching. But now I’m looking at the over, figuring a firm and fast No. 2 will more than hold its own. I also wonder if bookmakers will shade just a bit lower with the winning number given what happened last month.

Len Hochberg: The beauty of the hole-in-one prop is you have four full days before you’ve officially lost your money. … It would seem if scores are very low, that would increase the chances of a playoff, though Martin Kaymer might disagree.

Jeff Ritter: On Monday morning on DraftKings you can get “Scottie Scheffler or Viktor Hovland to win” for +225. I wish the odds were longer, but those are my top two picks this week wrapped into one bet..

Cody Williams: While his short game inconsistency worries me at Pinehurst more than virtually any other venue, Ludvig Åberg is +140 on FanDuel to be the Top Debutant in the U.S. Open among the likes of Nicolai Hojgaard, Tom McKibbin, Harry Higgs, S.H. Kim and Tim Widing. The talent gap between the wunderkind Swede and the rest of the debutants is immense, so getting any kind of plus money there has my attention. 

Greg Vara: I’m always a sucker for cut-line props because I get a resolution after two days, but what’s interesting now is that we’re seeing props that exclude Scheffler, so even if he looks like a runaway winner, you could still win your bet. I’ve also seen a win wager excluding Scheffler, McIlroy, Schauffele and Morikawa, so if you’ve got someone that’s a little under the radar, this might be the route to take as you’ll still get strong odds.

Iain MacMillan: I’m going to back the big guns this week. There is a betting option out there for the Big Guns (Scheffler, Schauffele, or McIlroy) vs. the Field with one of the Big Guns winning set at +150. Those odds may be short, but the golf world is truly those three guys, a wide gap, and then the rest of the competition. I’d be surprised if the winner doesn’t end up being one of those three golfers.

LIV Golf once again staged an event the week before a major, this time in Houston. The LIV contingent has made noise in the first two majors this year, but remain winless — are you proactively targeting any of them this week?

Bob Harig: Jon Rahm. No way Rahm is not ready to make some noise after two lackluster performances in the majors this year. A former U.S. Open winner, Pinehurst offers one of the game’s top ball strikers a great opportunity.

Jeff Ritter: Yep, agree on Rahm. I also think Bryson DeChambeau becomes a factor for the third straight major.

John Schwarb: Cam Smith. The Aussie has top-10 finishes in three of the last five majors and solid play in LIV over the last few events, and now comes to a course where short game stardom is required. He’ll have the best week of all LIV golfers and maybe make some noise Sunday afternoon.

Iain MacMillan: Bryson DeChambeau is the only LIV golfer I’m going to actively target this week. The former U.S. Open winner has proven this season he can still compete at majors, finishing T6 at the Masters and then solo second at the PGA Championship. He has a chance to thrive at Pinehurst.

Len Hochberg: I agree with John on Cam Smith. He was sixth at the Masters, top-10 at last year’s U.S. Open and still might be the best in the world from 100 yards and in.

Cody Williams: I had my eye on Cam Smith in Houston this past week because of his short game prowess and how that should gel with Pinehurst but his lackluster showing in that LIV tournament has me staying away from him. I’m once again looking at Bryson DeChambeau, who has been in the mix at the first two majors of the year and is a past U.S. Open champion. Am I worried about his emotions at a place like this that can be infinitely frustrating, particularly around and on the greens? Absolutely. But he’s given me no reason to doubt him thus far in 2024 major championships. 

Greg Vara: I’ve been bullish on certain LIV players for the first two majors and it hasn’t panned out, so I’m starting to lean the other way. I’ve been on Cam Smith since early this past year and while he’s ended up in a good spot more often than not, he hasn’t really been a factor to my recollection, it’s been a handful of very quiet top-10s. DeChambeau is really carrying the torch for LIV this season at the majors and I would expect the same this week, so if I had to pick one it would be him, but outside of that, I’m not sure I expect much. 

Brian Giuffra: Bryson is clearly playing elite golf right now and has a U.S. Open under his belt. Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm, likewise, have won this tournament before. But I won’t be betting on any of them to win, nor will I bet on Cam Smith, Dustin Johnson or the other top LIV players in this tournament. I would have considered Joaquin Niemann, but he didn’t qualify. 

This isn’t about LIV vs PGA Tour or three rounds vs four or whatever. I just think there are several other players who, over the course of four days, will beat this group. 

Give us one long shot, odds 60-1 or greater, who could surprise, and give us one sentence why.

Bob Harig: Dean Burmester (+10000). The LIV Golf player won a LIV event prior to the Masters, has been strong in other LIV tournaments, tied for 12th at the PGA Championship and qualified through the Florida event to make it to Pinehurst.

Jeff Ritter: I don’t like anyone outside 60-1 to win, but Wyndham Clark as the defending champ at 60-1 on Monday on DraftKings feels underpriced.

John Schwarb: Billy Horschel at +13000 (DraftKings) finished T8 at the PGA, fixed his Memorial mojo last week, is a terrific putter and more often than not is a top-40 finisher in U.S. Opens.

Len Hochberg: I honestly don’t see a golfer 60-1 or greater who can win. But someone who could surprise is another matter. Both Russell Henley and Byeong Hun An are 80-1 and could climb into the top-20, maybe even borderline top-10. 

Cody Williams: I’m with Len in regards to Russell Henley, though I might be a little more inclined to believe in his upside. Henley checks a ton of boxes for what I’m looking for, ranking Top 20 in both SG: Approach and SG: Around-the-Green in the last 16 rounds and sitting Top 25 in Bogey Avoidance on the PGA Tour season as well. With two Top 15 finishes at the U.S. Open in the last three years, his game seems tailored to success at a test that demands survival as much as anything. 

Greg Vara: I’m actually seeing more value at 60-1 for this major than I see at most majors. Namely, I’m looking at the past two winners of the U.S. Open, Wyndham Clark and Matt Fitzpatrick. Now, I should mention that neither come into this week playing well and quite frankly, Fitzpatrick has been pretty bad all year, but there’s something about winning a major, specifically this one, that gives them an edge on most of the field. If either of them get off to a good start, I would not be surprised at all to see that person in contention come Sunday.   

Iain MacMillan: I might be biased as a Canadian, but I absolutely love Corey Conners this week, who’s still available at 75-1 at FanDuel Sportsbook. His ball striking has been unbelievable of late, consistently being close to the top of the leaderboard in strokes: gained approach in his last handful of events. He has also shown flashes of solid putting the past couple of weeks which is not something we normally see from him. He has a chance to get Canada its second men’s major championship.

There can only be one: who lifts the trophy on Sunday and why? 

Bob Harig: Viktor Hovland. Still a bit under the radar, Hovland is coming off a strong performance at the PGA Championship where he seemingly worked out the issues that plagued him all year, including getting back with his old coach. He’s got a game built for majors. This seems like a good place to break through.

John Schwarb: Scottie Scheffler. The T8 at the PGA is still mindblowing and in the other major this year when he didn’t pose for a mug shot, he won by four shots. He takes the trophy here and heads to Troon in July for a Scottie Slam.

Len Hochberg: Non-Scottie Scheffler division, Collin Morikawa has been playing outstanding golf since the Masters. He’s the only golfer with top-5s in both majors. And that’s been without the hallmark of his game up to speed. Morikawa’s approach play is getting better, on top of already being terrific off the tee and around the green. And his putting is not as terrible as it often has been.

Cody Williams: I came into the Memorial fully prepared to have Viktor Hovland listed here like Bob. Then his weekend at Muirfield Village happened and I’m not sure we’re as completely out of the woods as you’d like after his early-season issues. But I am once again on the same page as Len with Collin Morikawa. He’s another player who has been knocking on the door at majors already this season, has been sneaky great around the greens this year and is getting back to his ball striking form. Having said that, everyone else is probably more right than not: It’s Scottie’s tournament to lose. 

Greg Vara: Scheffler. I know, it’s easy and it’s boring, but how can you deny the man? He’s got everything you’d want in a golfer competing at a major. Most importantly for this week, his ability to put a bad hole behind him. He’s just a machine, if he makes a birdie, that’s great, onto the next hole, double-bogey, oh well, onto the next hole. So much of this game is between the ears and much like Tiger, Scheffler is miles ahead of the field in that area. 

Brian Giuffra: Scottie. Six players have won the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year and I think Scottie places his name beside Craig Wood, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth. 

He’s the best ball striker by a wide margin and has been great in every U.S. Open he’s played. The course sets up well for his game and his putting is improved from last year. With the distractions of his first baby’s birth and the arrest at the PGA Championship behind him, everything is lining up for him to win his third major and first U.S. Open. 

Jeff Ritter: Hovland is the next man up to break through and bag his first major. Unfortunately for him, Scottie Scheffler is on another level right now, and is set to win his second major and sixth title in what is becoming a historic season.

Iain MacMillan: I correctly predicted Xander Schauffele to win the PGA Championship, do you really think I’m going to jump off the Xander train now? Absolutely not. The monkey is off his back, give me Schauffele to go back-to-back.

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.

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