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Sunday, 18 November, 2018

Big names crumble in the Erin Hills pressure cooker

Fowler takes charge with sublime 65

Jason Day slumped to a round of 79
1 of 1

Story so far

Round one of the US Open at Erin Hills was pleasant viewing for the bookmaking community, with the top five players in the ante-post betting all getting off to an over-par start.

Scoring at the Wisconsin layout was much better than was expected before the off, with 44 players finishing under par, but the big names badly struggled to make a mockery of the pre-tournament market.

Dustin Johnson, the 8-1 favourite, was an early casualty. The world number one carded a three-over-par 75 and drifted to 50-1. Jordan Spieth managed only two shots better in another disappointing morning effort, while Jon Rahm, one of the most heavily supported players of the week, slumped to a 76.

Further carnage arrived in the afternoon, with Rory McIlroy and Jason Day a total of 13 over par playing together in the marquee threeball. McIlroy is six over, Day is seven over, and they have been shunted out to 300-1 and 750-1 respectively in the outright betting.

The problems of Johnson, Spieth, Rahm, McIlroy and Day were exacerbated by a serene start to the event from Rickie Fowler, who was just behind that quintet in the pre-tournament outright betting. Fowler, who was available at a stand-out 25-1 with Betfred, made Erin Hills look easy with a morning 65.

As soon as Johnson clicked into reverse gear, Fowler had established himself as clear market leader, and the world number nine ended the day as a firm favourite at 7-2. He is one shot ahead of Paul Casey and Xander Schauffele.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia made an eagle at the first hole on his way to a solid two-under-par 70, while his playing partner Adam Scott eagled the 18th hole to fight back to level par. Scott missed an 18-inch putt for a par five on the opening hole, a horror start which seemed to haunt him for much of the round, but a late rally kept the Aussie close enough to challenge.

Phil Mickelson, who attended his daughter's high-school graduation yesterday and needed a weather delay at Erin Hills to make his tee-time, was a non-runner. The left-hander withdrew as soon as play started promptly, meaning Roberto Diaz entered the field.

Leaderboard

-7 Rickie Fowler
-6 Paul Casey, Xander Schauffele
-5 Brian Harman, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka
-4 Patrick Reed, Kevin Na, Marc Leishman, Adam Hadwin

Selected others

-3 Si Woo Kim
-2 Sergio Garcia
-1 Charl Schwartzel
Par Adam Scott, Justin Rose
+1 Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas
+2 Hideki Matsuyama, Henrik Stenson
+3 Dustin Johnson
+4 Jon Rahm
+6 Rory McIlroy
+7 Jason Day

Best prices

7-2 R Fowler, 7 P Casey, 12 B Koepka, 16 S Garcia, 20 M Leishman, 25 P Reed, 28 T Fleetwood, 33 J Rose, A Hadwin, 35 A Scott, B Harman, 40 J Spieth, L Westwood, 50 D Johnson, B Wiesberger, JB Holmes, C Schwartzel, 55 bar

Day-two advice

The pre-tournament outright betting has been ripped to shreds by a dramatic opening day at Erin Hills and Rickie Fowler fans must be doing cartwheels.

Fowler brought an incredible set of 2017 stats to the second Major of the season – he has been strong in all departments – and the 28-year-old Californian converted that potential into an excellent first-round 65.

Fowler backers who are on at around the 20-1 mark can be extremely pleased with their investment, but the 7-2 on offer prior to round two is of little interest.

Fowler is a Major maiden who has endured some near-misses in the four biggest events on the calendar, and he collapsed in round four of the Masters in April from a strong position. He is desperate to become a Major champion and is likely to be full of tension over the weekend.

It should also be noted that Fowler's 65 came in the morning when there was plenty of moisture in the course. He is out in the afternoon for round two and unlikely to enjoy such welcoming conditions. A warm, cloudy, humid day with light winds is expected and the track should dry out in the afternoon.

And although many of the world's best players blew their title chances in round one, Fowler still has a lot of talent on his tail. Brooks Koepka, a more than fair price at 12-1, is only two shots behind and well suited to this course. Marc Leishman (20-1) is playing rock-solid golf and is only three off the pace.

Koepka and Leishman are two men who can be expected to stay on the leaderboard throughout the tournament, while Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott are two class acts who seem likely to move closer to Fowler in the early stages of round two.

Second-round threeball punters are pointed towards Jamie Lovemark, who should dominate his playing partners Michael Putnam and Scott Harvey for the second day running in the 7.14pm (UK and Ireland time) contest.

Lovemark, who opened with a 69, possesses the effortless power to handle Erin Hills and appears to have rediscovered his A-game at the perfect time to play well in the second Major of the season. Journeyman Putnam (73) and amateur Harvey (78) should be outclassed again.

Punters looking for a bigger price should consider Justin Thomas for the 2.13pm match. Paul Casey is the sort of character who could easily tense up today from his perch lying second on the leaderboard. This could be the day that the super talented Thomas bosses the group instead. Jimmy Walker, the third member of the party, has been in dismal form for months.

Threeballs recommendations
J Lovemark
3pts 8-13 Betfair, Power

J Thomas
2pts 6-4 Betfred

He collapsed in round four of the Masters in April from a strong position
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