As we head into the U.S. Open, the storylines are abundant. How healthy are Rahm, Jordan, and Ludvig? Can Rory contend on a firm and fast course? How is Tiger’s health? Is Scheffler invincible? Will the floodgates open for Xander now that he has a major under his belt? Can Viktor capture his first major now that he’s arguably the best player without one? One thing I know is that Pinehurst will be a great test for players, and should provide a star-studded leaderboard come Sunday.

The typical U.S. Open that we are accustomed to features thick rough with a strong reward for length and accuracy off the tee. From there, players are penalized for errant approach shots due to long, thick rough around the greens. This week at Pinehurst will feature a very different setup. Pinehurst doesn’t have any rough. It has closely mown areas or sandy areas. Misses off the tee won’t be penalized as much, as players will still be able to attempt approach shots to the green. However, I think it will play much more difficult around the greens. The shaved runoffs around these greens will repel errant shots, and you will see players faced with a bevy of options to scramble for par. Pinehurst will be the ultimate test of patience and the ability to miss in the right place.

Let’s take a look at two of the favorites not named Scottie Scheffler:

Viktor Hovland 18/1

We are still getting a little bit of a cheap price on Hovland because of his early struggles in 2024. Now that he has reconnected with his coach, he seems to have regained the form that saw him dominate late in the 2023 season. If this event was nine months ago, he would have the second-lowest odds in this event at around 9/1. Instead, we are getting double the price at 18/1. In his last seven majors, he has six top-20 finishes, including three top-four finishes. Pinehurst is an ideal fit for him. I could see Hovland putting together a Kaymer-esque performance en route to a win. If there is a weakness in Viktor’s game it is chipping and pitching and he will have plenty of additional options on those shots this week, including putting from off the green like Kaymer.

Cameron Smith 35/1

Cameron Smith is not on the short list of players that one would think of as contenders at a U.S. Open-style golf course. However, this firm, fast course with a smaller emphasis on driving accuracy will be right up Smith’s alley. He has played in eight U.S. Opens, but has only finished inside the top 30 twice. Those top finishes occurred on non-standard U.S. Open setups, as Smith posted fourth-place finishes at both Los Angeles Country Club and Chambers Bay. Pinehurst will play closer to an event in the Australian Sandbelt than it will a typical U.S. Open. Smith is a major champion after capturing the 2022 Open at St. Andrews, and has finished inside the top 10 in three of the last five majors. Smith has one of the best short games in the world, especially off of tightly mown areas. He makes for a great low-owned option in office pools and is an under-the-radar pick for a top-10 finish, with upside to win.

Check back later in the week for a Longshots article and Best Bets article.

For more coverage of the U.S. Open, visit the Fried Egg Golf U.S. Open hub here.