• Betting Bunker

Westwood to inherit McIlroy's US Open title

Josh Williams June 13, 2012
Lee Westwood's tee-to-green game is sure to go well at Olympic Club © Getty Images
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After last year's US Open, the balance of power seemed to have shifted decisively towards Rory McIlroy, who destroyed the field and set a new record for the lowest score at the tournament.

He didn't just win: he stamped his authority on the event right from the outset, and never let up as he stormed towards an eight-shot victory that made the world sit up and take notice of his prodigious talents.

The deposed king, Tiger Woods, did not play at Congressional in 2011, having injured himself at the Players Championship during May. He was marginalised, and in danger of becoming yesterday's man; when he did return to action, he couldn't make the weekend at the US PGA, looking a poor imitation of the player who had dominated the sport for so long.

Yet here we are at the 2012 US Open, with Woods, who is targeting a 15th major title, once again the betting favourite.

The American arrives having just won the Memorial Tournament; McIlroy, who has admitted letting his game slide recently, has missed the cut at three of his last four events.

It is once again all up for grabs: for as long as Luke Donald, the world No. 1, remains without a major, there is no all-conquering figure in the field, leaving several players feeling - correctly - that they have a creditable case as a major contender.

Williams' wagers

  • Lee Westwood E/W - 11/1 at bet365
    Justin Rose E/W - 30/1 at bet365
    Graeme McDowell E/W - 75/1 at bet365

So, let's look at who has the tools to shine. To the course: Olympic Club in San Francisco, an unforgiving, tree-lined track with narrow fairways and small greens. And as if that didn't present a stern enough test, you can also expect to see the players confronted by winds of around 15mph.

The first thing worth mentioning is how important it is to find the fairways: if you're playing from the rough, it's going to be extremely difficult to either hold, or hit the optimal position, on firm greens.

Avoiding bogeys is going to be key, and I'd prefer to put faith in attacking players who hit a lot of greens, rather than those who are renowned as skilled scramblers. It's not the longest course (although some of the early holes are very tricky) so accurate players with power could, on their best day, tame the beast.

While the winds aren't going to be a huge factor, it pays to consider them: ideally, it'd be helpful to have a lower ball-flight than someone like McIlroy or Phil Mickelson.

It's Lee Westwood, a recent winner at the Nordea Masters, who stands out for me given the criteria just laid out. It hardly needs saying anymore, but from tee to green, there really is no-one better in the world: he is 15th on the PGA Tour in total driving stats, and top when it comes to greens in regulation.

Graeme McDowell is top of the PGA Tour's driving accuracy charts © Getty Images
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History tells us he will keep drilling the ball onto green after green - and, although there are going to be those with understandable doubts about his putting, I don't feel these surfaces are going to have too much of the devil in them: it doesn't need to be made any tougher out there.

And besides, compared to the other short-price candidates, I'd rather side with Westwood, even acknowledging his limitations, than I would McIlroy and Woods, both of whom are struggling with the driver.

Of course, Westwood is still without a major triumph - but we're on a run of first-time winners at the moment, and the Englishman has top-threes in six of his last ten major starts. He really is due one, and I can't think of anyone with a stronger case.

My second pick is another Englishman, Justin Rose, who showed he can dominate high-class fields when taking home the WGC-Cadillac Championship during March. Rose is ranked 19th in driving accuracy, and third in both greens in regulation and bogey avoidance on the PGA Tour. Plus he arrives in the midst of a purple patch: five top-tens in his last eight starts.

I guess the one concern around Rose would be his lack of length from the tee - but honestly, I'd take accuracy every time at Olympic Club. It's a short-ish circuit and he has the temperament to manage it.

Finally, and this to me is the most exciting selection, 2010 US Open winner Graeme McDowell, who's priced up at an extremely generous 75/1. Let's not forget that McDowell claimed that major at Pebble Beach, a similar course to Olympic Club when you consider the windy conditions and cramped greens.

McDowell is renowned as a fine iron player, but it's actually from the tee where he's been at his best in 2012 - and he finds himself top of the fairways hit standings on the PGA Tour. "I like the way it sets up for me so far, and the greens are maybe the best I've seen in a very long time," McDowell said.

He's also hailed as a skilled wind player, which is only going to help his chances. The price is too big: he's won the US Open before, and is statistically the best player when it comes to finding fairways. That alone would get my attention at 25/1, let alone 75/1.

Please note that odds are correct at time of publication and are subject to change.

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Josh Williams is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk