US Open: Major Champions fill the leaderboard

·5 min read

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With anticipation mounting, players arrived to Torrey Pines early Thursday morning, eager to get the 121st U.S. Open underway. However, as it is known to do off the coast of California, the marine layer rolled in and said, “Not so fast, my friends.” An hour and a half delay left players scrambling to stay loose, readjusting their warm-ups, and munching on plenty of snacks as Sir Nick Faldo so kindly pointed out.

Finally, the clock hit 8:15 a.m. local time, the fog subsided, and Sahith Theegala struck the first shot of the championship. From there, it felt like your run-of-the-mill major championship. Some relatively obscure players made a few birdies, some prominent players made bogeys, but most importantly, the man that thrives in major championships did so yet again.

Brooks Koepka did exactly what we should expect from Koepka. The major championship savant got off to a blazing start, turning in 3-under 33 and capping off his front-nine with a kick-in birdie on the par-5 18th hole. He would get to 4-under for the championship before dropped shots on the par-3 3rd and par-4 7th. Nevertheless, the two-time U.S. Open champion, and arguably the most intimidating man in this setting, is 2-under and only two-strokes off the lead.

While Brooks and Xander Schauffele were a couple of the headliners to show up during the morning wave of play, many of the stars arrived in the afternoon. Yes, you had major champions such as Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson, and co-leader Louis Oosthuizen post respectable rounds. However, the story of the day had to be the play of tournament-favorite Jon Rahm.

The Spaniard, who led at the 54-hole mark a couple weeks ago at the Memorial, picked up right where he left off. After making birdie on his first hole of the day, the par-4 10th, Rahm went through a turbulent stretch of golf, to say the least. With three birdies to go against three bogeys, he sat at even-par through his first six-holes. Hes steadied the ship, playing the remaining 12 holes in 2-under and bogey-free, good for a round of 2-under 69.

The oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook still have Rahm as the favorite at +600. I’m not quite sure it’s the right time to jump in on Rahm as eight major champions are close behind, all sitting below +5000. With so much golf remaining, we’ll sit back and watch how the remaining of Round 1 and the majority of Round 2 plays out tomorrow.

Updated Odds to Win (via PointsBet):

+600: Jon Rahm

+700 Brooks Koepka

+800: Louis Oosthuizen

+1000: Xander Schauffele

+1400: Rory McIlroy

+1600: Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama

+1800: Patrick Cantlay

+3000: Patrick Reed, Tyrrell Hatton

+3300: Bryson DeChambeau, Russell Henley

+4000: Matthew Fitzpatrick, Paul Casey

+5000: Francesco Molinari

Round 2 Plays (Odds via PointsBet):

Brian Harman (+162) over Tommy Fleetwood and Matthew Wolff:

I'll happily go to the well with Harman in Round 2, as the former Georgia Bulldog posted a round of 1-over 72 on Thursday. While he didn't drive it as well as he wanted to, losing nearly two-strokes off-the-tee, the rest of his game looked sharp and should stack up well against his counterparts tomorrow.

Yes, both Fleetwood and Wolff played fantastic in their first-rounds, but knowing their past history, I would expect them both to back up a bit. Fleetwood has had a knack over the past couple of years of playing one great round per tournament, getting all of our hopes up, only to crash and burn.

Wolff doesn't have the same reputation as Fleetwood, but I find myself hesitant backing him in this instance. I have a few of questions about Wolff's status and if he can continue this solid play in the coming days. 18 holes simply isn't enough to convince me that he'll be a main stay in this tournament, giving way to Harman as the slight underdog.

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Matthew Fitzpatrick (+202) over Tyrrell Hatton and Viktor Hovland:

Our strategy of selecting heavy underdogs has been a fruitful one so far this season. Doing so has allowed us to miss some three-ball picks here and there, but still remain in the black due to the heavy prices we are targeting. I'll be targeting another tomorrow as Fitzpatrick was second in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green on Thursday.

Surprisingly, the putting wizard lost strokes on the greens, resulting in a round of 1-under 70. While it's possible Fitzpatrick's ball-striking regresses and his putting stays put, I'm willing to wager the putter heats up. He's been too good on the greens over the long-term and a slight improvement could greatly impact his score.

As for Hovland and Hatton, they are both difficult players to criticize. Hovland looked off in his first-round, posting a round of 3-over 74, but still hit his irons quite well. Hatton tied Fitzpatrick in Round 1, utilizing a balanced approach gaining strokes in all categories expect from off-the-tee. As we saw last week, Hatton has the ability to go ice cold on the putting surfaces, which very well could be the deciding factor tomorrow. I don't see a clear favorite in this three-ball and whenever that occurs, I'll back the longest price, who just happened to play the best in Round 1.

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