It's U.S. Open Week – and unlike the Masters, where a handful of golfers were in the hunt, there is a clear top dog in this race. Dustin Johnson comes in as a +800 favorite after another sensational performance at last weekend's St. Jude Classic, putting together a six-shot win to reclaim the No. 1 ranking in the world.
Here are the 18 U.S. Open notes you absolutely need to know heading into Thursday's opening round at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York.
*All odds and props courtesy of Bet365
1. Brooks Koepka is the defending U.S. Open champion, taming Erin Hills en route to a 16-under score that led to a four-shot win. Koepka certainly has the arsenal to make good on his +2,500 odds of a repeat, but bettors beware: No golfer – not even you-know-who – has successfully defended his U.S. Open title since Curtis Strange turned the trick in 1988 and 1989. And before Strange's back-to-back titles, no golfer had achieved the feat since Ben Hogan in 1950-51.
2. There is, however, a double that happens a little more frequently: two golfers have won both the Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year since 2000, with Tiger Woods winning the first two majors of the year in 2002 and Jordan Spieth repeating the achievement in 2015. Patrick Reed won in Augusta earlier this year, but oddsmakers aren't so convinced he'll become the third player in the 2000s to achieve the Masters-U.S. Open double, making him a +2,200 underdog entering Thursday.
3. Getting off to a fast start is critical – just ask Koepka, who fired a first-round 67 en route to last year's championship. And that's where Steve Stricker might have an advantage; the American boasts the lowest first-round scoring average on the PGA Tour, averaging 67.43 strokes through seven opening rounds. He's installed at +10,000 to lead the U.S. Open after 18 holes. Jon Rahm (68.5 strokes per first round) is a +2,800 play, while Patrick Cantlay (68.75) is at +5,000 to lead after one round.
4. The battle for top European is a hot one. Four players are considered the front-runners in this one – Rory McIlroy (+450), Justin Rose (+500), Rahm (+600) and Henrik Stenson (+800). McIlroy (2011) and Rose (2013) are both former U.S. Open champions, while Stenson's best finish was a T4 in 2014 and Rahm posted a personal-best T23 result in 2016. Rose has the edge in overall scoring average in 2018 (69.346), ranking second only to Johnson.
5. The margin of victory at this decade's U.S. Opens has been all over the map. In the past eight competitions, there have been three one-shot wins, a two-shot victory, a three-shot triumph, a four-shot win and two eight-shot routs. While this might appear to be frightfully unhelpful, it does show that, if a golfer is really on his game, there isn't much the rest of the field can do to stop him. Consider throwing a dollar on a win by eight or more shots (+1,600); three (+550) and four (+800) are also good plays.
6. Those responsible for putting together the groups for the first two rounds have really outdone themselves this year. Johnson finds himself in a star-studded trio with former world No. 1 Justin Thomas and a resurgent Tiger Woods. Johnson has an obvious edge in the first-round 3 ball prop at +125, with Thomas at +187 and Woods a distant +230. Johnson has the edge in first-round scoring so far in 2018 at 69.4, followed by Thomas at 69.92 and Woods at 71.11.
7. We've focused on players who open strong – but to win a major, you need to be able to finish. And this year's top three finishers are three of the best players in the business; Phil Mickelson (+3,000 to win the U.S. Open) boasts the lowest final-round scoring average on tour at 68.08, followed by Jordan Spieth (+1,800) at 68.20 and Justin Thomas (+1,600) at 68.25. Look for any of these three players to make a Sunday charge if they're anywhere near the top of the leaderboard after 54 holes.
8. Fancy a playoff? You probably shouldn't. There have been just two U.S. Open playoffs since 2000; Retief Goosen defeated Mark Brooks at Southern Hills Country Club for his first of two U.S. Open championships in 2001, and Woods secured his third and most recent U.S. Open title with a playoff win over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines in 2008. That said, if you're feeling frisky, you can bet on there being a 2018 playoff for a +300 payoff, or play it save and go "No Playoff" at -450.
9. Jim Furyk might not be on bettors' radars this week – but if he somehow manages to tame Shinnecock and top the field, he'll shatter the record for the longest gap between U.S. Open victories. The 48-year-old last won the year's second major back in 2003 at Olympia Fields in Illinois; the 15-year space between U.S. Open triumphs would exceed the previous record of 11 years co-held by Julius Boros (1952-63) and Hale Irwin (1979-90). Furyk is installed at +16,000 to win on Bet365.
10. As for Woods (because we just can't get enough of him), this is his first U.S. Open since 2015 – and while it has been eight long years since the former world No. 1 has posted a top-20 finish there, oddsmakers are optimistic his chances of ending that streak at Shinnecock. Woods is installed at +100 to finish in the top 20, something he has done 13 times at the U.S. Open during his career (and he came oh-so-close in 2012, finishing in a tie for 21st.)
11. It might seem cruel to shine a light on Mickelson's incredible run of second-place finishes at the U.S. Open, but if you believe the universe has a sick sense of humor, you can profit handsomely. No one has come close to matching Mickelson's six runner-up showings at the U.S. Open; correctly converting a Johnson-Mickelson 1-2 finish is worth a cool +25,000 on Bet365. You'll get +40,000 on a McIlroy-Mickelson finish, with the same odds offered for Thomas-Mickelson and Rose-Mickelson finishes.
12. It has been a full five years since Mickelson has posted a runner-up result at the U.S. Open, but his shot arsenal makes him a threat to finish second virtually any year (Sorry, Phil.) That makes him a perfect candidate for his current -4 handicap bet, which pays out +1,100 if he finishes four shots or fewer off the lead. He finished second (of course) the last time the tournament was held at Shinnecock, and ranks ninth in scoring average through his first 15 tournaments this season.
13. Back to the first round, where you'll find plenty of value even if you don't correctly predict the 18-hole leader. Tony Finau is one of those under-the-radar guys that traditionally gets off to terrific starts; he's fifth on the PGA Tour in first-round scoring (68.94) after finishing 50th in the category a season ago (70.39). And while his +6,600 odds to lead the U.S. Open after Thursday's action might not tempt you, getting him at +1,200 for a top-5 finish in Round 1 is a terrific value option.
14. This is a major championship, which means plenty of strokes will be lost – and precious few gained – on Shinnecock's brutal par-3s. Three of them run at least 180 yards, including a truly unforgiving second hole that measures 252 yards. Those expecting to see a hole-in-one this week might be going home disappointed; there hasn't been an ace at the U.S. Open since 2014, when Zach Johnson knocked in a 191-yard tee shot at Pinehurst. A hole-in-one is paying -110 in 2018, compared to no ace at -125.
15. This course is playing incredibly long in 2018 – more than 450 yards longer than it did in 2004 – which means Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (SG: TtG) and Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (SG: OtT) will be of great significance this week. Only Johnson (1.036) and Rahm (.984) average better than .900 SG: OtT heading into the tournament. They hit it long, and they hit it straight - and it's no coincidence that both are among the top eight plays to win the tournament, with Rahm installed at +2,000 to emerge victorious.
16. SG: TtG is even more one-sided, with Johnson (2.036) miles ahead of the field. But this statistic, which measures how a player performs in all areas of the game, could help yield some solid dark-horse choices. Case in point: 2018 Honda Classic champion Luke List ranks fifth in SG: TtG but comes into the week a +15,000 longshot to win; he's one of the strongest PGA Tour players off the tee, and his averages are based on a whopping 74 rounds to date – more than any other player in the top 35 in SG: TtG.
17. With seven of the Par-4s playing at 469 yards or longer, competitors are facing plenty of long approach shots into brutal greens. And this is where Henrik Stenson makes for a terrific option at +3,000 to secure his second career major championship; the sensational Swede leads the PGA Tour in Greens in Regulation on approach shots of 200+ yards, putting for birdie more than 65 percent of the time. He also leads in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green (1.112).
18. Finally, the flat stick will be of utmost importance this week – specifically, the ability to avoid 3-putts on what will likely be some of the most unrelenting greens these players will face all year. Johnson (who else?) is the best in this regard among U.S. Open participants with a 1.5-percent 3-putt rate, while unheralded Brian Stuard is right behind him at 1.75 percent. If Stuard can keep that trend going, he's a sensational longshot play at +2,200 for a top-20 finish.