Patrick Cantlay can take it away at Pebble Beach
THE list of US Open champions at Pebble Beach is as impressive as the views of the Pacific Ocean from this exclusive piece of real estate on California’s Monterey Peninsula.
Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Tiger Woods were the first four men to get their hands on the silverware at one of the most iconic venues in golf.
Then, in 2010, Graeme McDowell joined that exclusive list.
While the Portrush man would never claim to be from the same bracket as Nicklaus, Watson or Tiger, the display of precision, poise and patience he produced was of the very top drawer on that June weekend nine years ago.
Now we go back to Pebble Beach again, and whoever emerges on top come Sunday night will have to call on all of those traits and more.
The players are relishing the chance to play at Pebble Beach, while the USGA will also be breathing a sigh of relief to be returning to a classic course after controversies galore in recent times.
Last year we had greens at Shinnecock Hills that wouldn’t hold quality approach shots, while in 2016 Dustin Johnson won despite having a rules infringement hanging over his head for most of the final round.
The year before that, one of the biggest events in the game descended into little more than a crazy golf competition at Chambers Bay.
For all that, elite players have emerged on top, from Jordan Spieth in 2015, to DJ a year later, and Brooks Koepka at Erin Hills and then Shinnecock 12 months ago.
Koepka will tee it up at Pebble Beach aiming to be the first man to win the same Major three times on the bounce since Peter Thomson at The Open in 1956.
He has also won four of the last eight Majors played, and is starting to be regarded as some sort of robot that is taken out of the box for the biggest weeks of the year.
He vies for favouritism with Johnson and 2011 winner Rory McIlroy at around 9/1 this week, and strong cases can be made for all three.
McIlroy will be flying high after destroying the field at the RBC Canandian Open, and he will have no fear of trying to become the first player to claim the US Open having won the week before.
I’m not sure he will be able to play with the freedom he keeps referencing this week, when Pebble Beach will be firm, fast and lined with deep rough.
This course is all about strategy and placement, and while Rory at his best can win anywhere, I’ll pass him over.
Reluctantly, I’ll do the same with Koepka, who did us a turn at the US PGA last month but might just give someone else a go now.
As for Johnson, Pebble Beach owes him one after his collapse when leading after 54 holes nine years ago.
He’s won the AT&T Pro-Am here twice, and can clearly handle the challenge, but I’m increasingly put off by his near misses in the big events, and he keeps falling away when the heat is on, most recently at Bethpage last month when he closed the gap to Koepka to a shot and then threw in two bogeys.
I’m going to look elsewhere, and anyone who takes my advice might be interested in the Sean Graham offer that sees all losing outright bets refunded if either Koepka or McIlroy wins.
Indeed, the bookies are falling over themselves with offers, which tells you plenty about how open this Open is, with Paddy Power, Sky Bet and Boylesports all paying 10 places.
That has created plenty of each-way value, but my main man is just below the top three – and Tiger – in the betting.
Patrick Cantlay might not be the massive name usually associated with Pebble Beach success, but he is on his way to being one of the very best.
The California native did us a favour two weeks ago when winning The Memorial at 16/1, and he can be backed at the same price with Paddy Power this week.
He looks like a sure-fire Major champion of the future, with his last three outings in the big ones resulting in 12th at The Open last term, a ninth that should have been better at Augusta in April, and a third at Bethpage last month.
He’s going the right way, and his tail will be up after seeing off a top-class field less than a fortnight ago.
Strangely, the US Open is the Major he has yet to play well in, but Cantlay has all the tools, with his methodical approach seeing him right at the top in all the accuracy stats, as well as being a fine putter.
Winning a Major is the next logical step, and it could come this week, while his recent victory ties in well with McDowell’s effort in 2010, as he won two weeks prior to the US Open at Celtic Manor.
Cantlay will give a great account of himself, while you can also guarantee Tiger Woods will leave every ounce of effort out on the course.
The great man’s missed cut at Bethpage was understandable on his first outing after his memorable comeback victory at Augusta.
However, he played well for ninth at The Memorial, and he once destroyed Pebble Beach like no other player ever has.
Woods won by 15 shots in 2000, his 12-under total put into context by the fact that no other player has broken par in the two Pebble Beach US Opens this century.
That was Tiger at the peak of his powers, and while he’s a very different player 19 years on, he can plot his way round a course and dial his irons in like no other.
I find it impossible to leave him off the shortlist, and the fact William Hill go 14/1 makes him well worth an each-way flutter.
With the each-way terms on offer, it is also wise to look further down the markets for a bit of value, and one player to consider is Shane Lowry at 60/1 with Bet365.
The Offaly man was tipped in Canada last week and duly finished joint-second to McIlroy to record a third successive top-10, after an eighth at the PGA and third at the RBC Heritage.
Tight, difficult courses that put the emphasis on strategy and accuracy bring the best out of Lowry, who carried a four-shot lead into the final round of the US Open at Oakmont three years ago before finishing second to Johnson.
He was also ninth at Chambers Bay the previous year and if he is to make a Major breakthrough this could be the event he does it in.
Lowry has a couple of top 15s in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am to his name but a firmer version of the course should suit him even better and the price is on the big side.
He’s also a great-way shout at 11/1 generally in the top GB&I markets.
Webb Simpson finished alongside Lowry in second in Ontario on Sunday and he’s another who might have been overlooked by the layers.
The world number 19 won the last US Open to be played in California, at San Francisco’s Olympic Club in 2012, when all of the attributes required this week came to the fore.
He battled his way to victory at one-over-par and will be hopeful of going well again.
Simpson was fifth at Augusta in April on a course that doesn’t suit, so now that he gets a challenge he likes, his recent good play could be rewarded 50/1.
Brandt Snedeker is also available at 50s and his record at Pebble Beach, and his genius on poa annua greens, make him impossible to rule out.
Snedeker won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2013 and again two years later, while he was ninth in the US Open in 2010.
He comes here in good shape after a fourth in Canada, and there are many reasons to be believe he’ll be in the hunt for a first Major come Sunday night.
Finally, McDowell rates as far more than a sentimental choice as he’ll be riding the crest of a wave after sealing his Open place for Portrush with an eighth on Sunday night.
He put in a bogey-free round under pressure then and his patient approach may serve him well again.
As well as his US Open victory in 2010, ‘Gmac’ chased Simpson home for second at Olympic two years later and is still a real factor on tight, seaside courses.
William Hill go 100/1 and that’s definitely worth an each-way look as the battle to join an illustrious list of Pebble Beach champions commences.