Five favorites for the U.S. Open this week at Torrey Pines, and five more to watch:
FanDuel odds: 9.5-1
Here’s how big a favorite Rahm is this week: His odds barely budged when he tested positive for COVID-19 at the Memorial Tournament and looked like he might not be cleared until the day before his opening round at Torrey Pines.
He tweeted Saturday he’s good to go with consecutive negative tests and “it’s time to get ready for the U.S. Open,” accompanied by “Vamos” and a cartoon gif of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo character.
Normally par 72, Torrey Pines South will play to par 71 at the U.S. Open this week. Only Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate were under par in 2008.
June 16, 2021
Rahm represents a glorious confluence of past and present form. His first PGA Tour win came at Torrey Pines in the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open in his debut appearance there. In his last three starts there, he’s finished fifth, second and seventh.
He had top-10 finishes in both majors this year, and he was leading the Memorial by six strokes — six — when PGA Tour officials informed him of his positive test and mandatory withdrawal. He also switched to a lineless putter and has been making everything. Entering this month, he had nine top 10s in 13 starts.
“I want to play my best; obviously I try my best every time,” Rahm said before the Memorial. “I’m ready this year to have a better chance to win and actually not just creep up the top 10 on Sunday afternoon. I want to tee off being up there with a chance to win.”
FanDuel odds: 15-1
You can’t list favorites without including the No. 1-ranked player in the world, even if he doesn’t seem like one.
Johnson retained his hold on the No. 1 spot and moved into third place on the PGA career earnings list, now trailing only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, after a 10th-place finish at the Palmetto Championship last week in his home state of South Carolina. But most of that ranking strength was forged by a torrid summer and fall, and his recent form isn’t exactly what you’d expect for the world No. 1.
Entering last week, his previous six tournaments went like this: T54, T48, T28, missed cut, T13, T48, missed cut.
Phil Mickelson, fresh off his win in the PGA Championship, says he’s learned a lot from watching seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady over the years.
June 14, 2021
He and Greg Norman share the ignominious distinction of being the only No. 1s to miss cuts in consecutive majors after DJ did it at the Masters and PGA Championship this spring. Even at the Palmetto, he flirted with the lead Sunday before a triple bogey on the 16th torpedoed his chances.
He’s a pedestrian 112th this season in driving accuracy (59.71 percent) and 46th in greens in regulation (67.22 percent). He’s 159th in first-round scoring average (71.82).
The but: In five of his last seven U.S. Opens, he’s been in the top six. The moment, clearly, does not consume him.
FanDuel odds: 18-1
Koepka is a like a boxer preparing for a title unification bout, or a world-class sprinter looking to peak at the Olympics while training through other meets. He’s all about the majors. Everything else is just sparring.
It’s why missing the cut at the Palmetto Championship last week is no indicator of what he might do at Torrey Pines. His majors record, by now, speaks for itself.
Since 2017, a span of 14 events, he has four wins and three seconds. The only missed cut came at the Masters this year, and he was hobbling around on a surgically-repaired knee a couple months sooner than he should have been.
The knee still isn’t 100 percent, but it was stable enough to nearly win the PGA Championship. And that came after a pair of missed cuts on tour.
“I mean, I don’t try to miss a cut,” Koepka said after his early exit at Palmetto. “I don’t know, I just have a harder time focusing in regular PGA Tour events than I do majors. Majors, I know I’m locked in from the moment I hit the first tee shot.
“The excitement level just isn’t there when it would be in a major. It’s different. I thrive off that bigger stage, that big moment where there’s a bunch of fans and a tough golf course. I love it.”
FanDuel odds: 16-1
DeChambeau did what none of the other 155 players in the field could: He walked into the tournament office at Torrey Pines and returned the 18-inch, silver trophy that he kept since winning the 2020 title in September. That alone confers contender status this week.
Whether he will is hard to read.
He has the length and strength to overpower Torrey Pines, but even he admits he struggles out of the sticky kikuyu rough.
He seems unflappable at times, but the social media rhubarb with Koepka and gallery cries of “Brooksy” at his last tournament seemed to get under his skin.
He had a win and a third place in consecutive weeks in March, but he has one top-10 in his six events since, including 46th (Masters) and 38th (PGA) in the two majors.
Jon Rahm acknowledges he was vaccinated but hadn’t cleared the 14-day window before he tested positive at the Memorial Tournament this month.
June 15, 2021
He leads the PGA Tour this season in strokes gained off the tee, but he ranks 43rd, 54th and 48th in approaches, around the green and putting.
He’s first in driving distance (322.7 yards) but 181st in driving accuracy.
He obliterated the field at the last U.S. Open, winning by six strokes, but missed the cut in his only two appearances at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, in 2017 and 2018, shooting 76 and 78 on the South Course.
Then again, that was before the massive weight gain and equipment changes.
“The times that I was there for the Farmers Insurance, my game wasn’t on point,” DeChambeau said earlier this spring. “I wasn’t comfortable with how I was playing when I was there for those years.”
FanDuel odds: 18-1
With fans allowed at Torrey Pines and most expected to be from the area, the Scripps Ranch High and San Diego State alum will have plenty of support from the gallery. And his recent record at majors (particularly the U.S. Open) suggests he’s ready to pop one.
His four U.S. Open finishes: fifth, sixth, third, fifth.
The biggest variable, surprisingly, might be the course.
You’d think it would be an advantage for Schauffele, growing up in San Diego and playing high school matches there. But his record at the Farmers was dismal until this year — missed cuts in four of his first five starts before finishing second in January. Subtract the scores from the North Course, which is used for one round at the Farmers, and he had the week’s best total (7 under) on the South.
Kikuyu grass, which almost no other major championship courses have, will be present in all its gnarled glory at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
June 15, 2021
“I’ve been very aware the U.S. Open was going to be at Torrey Pines since I was a little kid,” Schauffele said in April. “My dad and I talked and dreamt about playing in it. Getting the monkey off the back and playing well at the Farmers Insurance was really important for me. I kind of put that nightmare to rest for the moment.”
Things were moving along fine until the PGA Championship last month at Kiawah Island, S.C., where he ended a streak of making 12 straight cuts at majors.
“A bit of a bummer,” Schauffele said. “Wasn’t really in the right frame of mind. … I just, honestly, had somewhat of a bad attitude about the golf course. I just didn’t really like it. I’m not saying I had enough game to win that week, but I definitely had enough game to compete, and for me to miss the cut was a bit reckless and kind of stupid.”
Five more to watch
Collin Morikawa (19-1 odds): At 24, he already has one major title (2020 PGA) and has established himself as the game’s best iron player. If he putts well, watch out.
Viktor Hovland (24-1): The 23-year-old Norwegian always seems to be on the leaderboard lately, with top-three finishes in six of his last 15 starts. That includes a tie for second at the Farmers in January.
Patrick Reed (28-1): He hasn’t finished worse than 17th in his last six majors, and he won the 2021 Farmers by five strokes. His sublime short game should come in handy around the greens this week.
Hideki Matsuyama (34-1): He’s flying under the radar for a guy who won the Masters in April and has a lot of familiarity with Torrey Pines (eight appearances at the Farmers, including a third place in 2019).
Will Zalatoris (41-1): He’s been sixth, second and eighth in his last three majors, and he showed an affinity for Torrey Pines by contending in January. And to think: A year ago, he was on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Mark is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered 16 Olympics and seven World Cups of soccer. His primary beat is San Diego State basketball at The San Diego Union-Tribune and he also writes general sports columns.