Collin Morikawa might just be able to upset the Scheff in US Open at Pinehurst

Collin Morikawa (left) chased Scottie Scheffler home in The Memorial on Sunday night and might just be able to reverse the placings with the world number one in the US Open at Pinehurst this week (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

JUST a month on from a dramatic US PGA Championship at Valhalla in Kentucky, we find ourselves on the cusp of another Major championship, with the starter warming up his voice for the US Open.

The challenge that awaits the world’s best on the Number 2 course at Pinehurst in North Carolina could hardly be more removed from the PGA, where rain-softened fairways turned what was meant to be a fearsome test into target golf.

Xander Schauffele needed to get to 21-under-par to win by a shot from Bryson DeChambeau there, with 72 players bettering par.

In stark contrast, anyone who takes fewer than 280 shots to complete their four rounds on the par 70 Pinehurst layout this week will get a big share of the place money at least, and might even go close to winning.

The US Open returns to this part of North Carolina for the first time since 2014, when Martin Kaymer destroyed the field, posting nine-under to win by eight shots, with Erik Compton and Rickie Fowler the only other players to better par.

Kaymer took a unique approach to what is a very unique course, putting from well off the greens which are almost all like upturned saucers, with sharp run-off areas.

There is virtually no rough in play, with the fairways surrounded by sandy waste areas, where you may or may not get a good lie, with luck playing a huge part.

Despite lying around 150 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, Pinehurst has a distinct links feel to it, which will only be enhanced by fast, firm fairways and warm weather.

If anyone is to emulate Kaymer’s runaway victory of a decade ago, it will surely be Scottie Scheffler, who made it five wins from his last eight events at The Memorial in Ohio on Sunday night.

The world number one’s levels of consistency are astonishing, with two seconds and an eighth also coming in that run, the latter at the PGA when he fell foul of the law.

Rumours of the other leading lights having a whip-round to employ an over-zealous traffic cop in North Carolina are perhaps wide of the mark, but it will take something out of the ordinary to knock Scheffler off-course.

With placement off the tee and precise iron play into undulating greens a must here – as well as an ability to scramble well when those surfaces are missed – Scheffler will take some stopping, but best odds of 3/1 just don’t interest me.

He would also have to defy recent history by becoming the first man since Brooks Koepka in 2018 to win two Majors in a season, which is also the biggest negative against Xander Schauffele, who has never been worse than 14th in seven US Opens.

They both are very likely to give a fine account of themselves, and the condensed nature of the Majors these days means the same names come to the fore, no matter the test.

Scheffler, Schauffele, DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa have all finished in the top-10 of both Majors to date this season, and it is the latter who I feel has the best chance of seeing off Scheffler and grabbing his third Major title.

Morikawa pushed the main man all the way at The Memorial on Sunday, losing out by a shot, maintaining a surge in form that began at The Masters.

He was third there, followed by fourth at Valhalla, and Pinehurst should play to his strengths as a precise operator who has few peers with iron in hand.

He was third from tee-to-green and fourth for approach play at Muirfield Village last week, while he also putted well under pressure, and there is no doubt he can handle the firm conditions we will have in store at Pinehurst.

Morikawa won the Open as the sun shone at Royal St George’s in 2021, while he was also eighth in the PGA at Kiawah Island that year, which might just be the closest Major in recent times to what we will see over the coming days.

I think he has a great chance – of pushing Scheffler hardest at the very least – and at 16/1 (Unibet) Morikawa ranks as a stand-out bet.

Ice-cool Ludvig Aberg has all the tools to shine on debut

That Kiawah link brings Brooks Koepka into play at 22/1 as he was second to Phil Mickelson there, but his Major efforts have been underwhelming this term, and I’ll pass him up in favour of US Open debutant Ludvig Aberg, who can be backed at 20s with William Hill.

The Swede may have no pedigree in this event, but it didn’t hinder him when second at Augusta on his Major bow, while as has more recent experience of Pinehurst than most, having reached the last 32 of the 2019 US Amateur at the venue as a 19-year-old.

Aberg is in great nick at present, a PGA missed cut aside, with five top-15s in his last six events, including a share of fifth in The Memorial on Sunday, in what was a US Open-type test.

The 24-year-old is a great tee-to-green player who is top-15 on tour for approach play and scrambling and will win a Major sooner rather than later.

Ludvig Aberg can create history with victory in the 88th Masters on Sunday (George Walker IV/AP)
Ludvig Aberg could go well at Pinehurst on his US Open debut (George Walker IV/AP)

If Shane Lowry can unscramble his mind after a closing on Sunday Pinehurst should stack up well for him, while Rory McIIroy has a stunning US Open record and could well make it six successive top-10s in this Major.

That said, I’ll delve deeper into the markets for a few each-way contenders, and I can’t help but think Justin Thomas is a bit on the big side at 45/1 (Sky Bet).

A wonderfully inventive player, the double PGA champion should like the quirky test this week, while bumpier greens may offset his putting struggles.

Eighth at the PGA in his hometown of Kentucky, Thomas was also fifth in the Heritage recently, and while he finished in the pack in The Memorial on Sunday, he was third for approach play, which augurs very well.

Also in the top-10 on tour around the greens, Thomas could well go close if the flat stick warms up just a little.

Cameron Smith is another who should love this but closing with an 80 at LIV’s Houston event on Sunday is a concern, so I’ll keep Sepp Straka on side instead on the basis of a brilliant golf of late.

The Austrian was fifth at Muirfield Village on Sunday, where his precision again came to the fore, and he has also been fifth in both the Charles Schwab and Heritage, as well as eighth in the Wells Fargo, played at Quail Hollow in North Carolina.

A fair 16th at Augusta in April, Straka is a value pick at the very least at 80/1 with Bet365, while I’d also advise a small each-way punt on Ryan Fox at 150/1 with Betway.

A Kiwi won at Pinehurst in 2005 when Michael Campbell downed the great Tiger Woods, but there is more to Fox’s case than that as he is a brilliant links player who has come into form of late.

He was fourth at nearby Myrtle Beach last month and then seventh at the Canadian Open, won by his friend Robert MacIntyre.

As the price suggests, Fox is an unlikely Major champion but he won’t get many courses in America to suit him better, and his inventive short game might just give him a sneak of the place money.

Finally, I’ll return to that Kiawah angle and also lose all run of myself by suggesting a very small investment on Harry Higgs at 400/1 (Sky Bet).

The little-known American shared fourth in the PGA three years ago, and has found form of late, winning back-to-back on the Korn Ferry Tour before coming through US Open qualifying in North Carolina.

The days of no-hopers like Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel and Todd Hamilton winning Majors might be gone, with 45 of the last 46 going to players in world’s top 50 – Mickelson being the exception – but there is no harm in dreaming.

That said, there is a huge chance we have a very predictable 3/1 winner here, although the hope is he doesn’t run away with things like Kaymer did at Pinehurst a decade ago.


Collin Morikawa, e/w, 16/1 (Unibet, seven places)

Ludvig Aberg, e/w, 20/1 (William Hill, eight places)

Justin Thomas, e/w 45/1 (Sky Bet, eight places)

Sepp Straka, e/w, 80/1 (Bet365, eight places); top Continental European, e/w, 10/1 (General)

Ryan Fox, e/w, 150/1 (Betway, eight places); top Rest of the World, e/w, 18/1 (Sky Bet)

Harry Higgs, e/w, 400/1 (Sky Bet); top-30 finish, 7/2 (General)

Morikawa and Xander Schauffele to finish top-10, 7/2 (Paddy Power)