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Tuesday, 16 October, 2018

Red-hot Scott set to tame the Erin Hills monster

Golf's hottest tipster gives us his best bets

Adam Scott is bang in contention
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Sky Sports 1 & 4, from 6pm Thursday

Palmer's top tip
Adam Scott 33-1
Dustin Johnson had to start US Open week concentrating on family matters as his wife Paulina gave birth to their second son on Monday night, delaying the arrival of the world number one at Erin Hills, Wisconsin.

Defending champion Johnson deserves favouritism and is well suited to the enormous layout facing the US Open hopefuls, but imperfect preparation is enough for the giant Carolinan to be ignored at a single-figure price in elite company.

Rory McIlroy has had an even worse build-up to the second Major of the season. Babies are not an issue – although the recently married Northern Irishman may join that club at some stage soon – but injuries have been causing serious grief.

McIlroy has played only six tournaments this year, his last one a month ago, and a lack of sharpness seems likely to be his undoing at Erin Hills. Rib discomfort has been plaguing him and he is still adjusting to new clubs. The TaylorMade Spider Tour Red putter goes into the bag for the first time this week.

Jason Day, like Johnson and McIlroy, should like the look of the set-up at Erin Hills, but the intense Australian may also be unable to take advantage of the opportunity.

Day seems to have lost much of the self-belief which made him a Major champion and he has gone 13 months without a victory. A bad back ended his FedEx Cup challenge prematurely and he worked on shortening his swing to protect his fragile body. Some personal problems have not helped during this fallow period.

Jordan Spieth has struggled for consistency since winning the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in the middle of February – his putting has not been up to his usual standard – and none of the top four in the US Open betting appeal as betting propositions at short prices.

Strong preference at much more sporting odds is for Adam Scott, a former world number one and Major champion who appears to be peaking for this assignment.

It is easy to forget just how successful Scott has been. He had the 2012 Open Championship at his mercy before finishing second, then he won the Masters nine months later. He has posted a top-four finish in every Major, with his best US Open performance (fourth place) coming at Chambers Bay in 2015, a track which has similarities to Erin Hills.

Scott has won 14 times on the US Tour, an additional seven times on the European Tour, and he has recorded 12 top-ten finishes in Majors since 2011. Given the way the wizard of Oz was striking his ball in the St Jude Classic last week, it would be no surprise to see his name prominently on the leaderboard on Sunday.

Scott sensibly recruited part-time caddie Steve Williams earlier than usual this year. Rather than just for the Majors, which had previously been the case, Williams has worked alongside Scott in both his US Open warm-up events. The signs have been hugely encouraging, with Scott putting on a ball-striking clinic for much of the St Jude Classic. He missed eight putts of 15 feet or shorter in round two, yet still carded a 64.

Scott has been content with his short-game for most of the season, with his swing below his usual high standards. The tee-to-green magnificence returned last week though, and he should handle the test of Erin Hills better than most, if not all.

Next best
Sergio Garcia 25-1
The Masters title has been the crowning glory of an epic career for Sergio Garcia, but the increasingly mature Spaniard could complete a quickfire Major double at Erin Hills. The 37-year-old may finally have developed a temperament to do justice to his talent.

Garcia, who is getting married after the Open Championship, has been cutting a much happier, calmer figure on the course over the last year or so, winning the AT&T Byron Nelson on the US Tour and the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour prior to his Augusta heroics.

The label of best player never to have won a Major weighed heavily on Garcia's shoulders in the four biggest weeks on the golfing calendar. Four runner-up finishes left him wondering whether he would ever make the breakthrough. Now the floodgates could open.

Garcia understandably struggled for focus in the wake of his emotional Masters triumph, unable to contend in the Players Championship, Byron Nelson and Dean & Deluca Invitational, but form figures of 30-20-12 show a man slowly but surely easing his way back into a competitive frame of mind. His regular caddie, Glen Murray, took paternity leave after the Masters, but Murray is back, and the determination of Garcia is also likely to return.

Erin Hills is long and linksy, demanding solid ball-striking and a deft touch around the greens. Garcia could be in his element and keep his 2017 Grand Slam dream alive.

Other selections
Louis Oosthuizen 66-1
Thomas Pieters 50-1
Sean O'Hair 200-1
Billy Horschel 100-1
Louis Oosthuizen tied for second place at Chambers Bay in 2015 and can flourish again at another uncharacteristic US Open venue. The 2010 Open champ should enjoy the linksy nature of Erin Hills and he possesses all the tools required to tame it, particularly with solid recent form behind him.

The South African ace was runner-up at Sawgrass a month ago, then posted four rounds of par or better for 18th place in the Byron Nelson last time out.

Thomas Pieters is making his US Open debut, but that counts for nothing. This is an unusual US Open venue and one that hardly anyone in the field has great experience of playing. Pieters had a much more significant handicap on his Masters debut in April, but shrugged it aside to finish fourth.

The brilliant Belgian proved himself absolutely fearless with an immense Ryder Cup performance and is a Major champion waiting to happen. Pieters was a star at the University of Illinois, a neighbouring state of Wisconsin, and Erin Hills lends itself fantastically to his set of skills.

Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas will also love the look of this massive ball park, and both are difficult to strike from the staking plan. Kevin Chappell, a proven US Open performer who is playing with more confidence than ever, is also reluctantly deleted from outright plans.

Marc Leishman is an attractive 100-1 chance, while at monstrous prices Jordan Niebrugge (300-1), Andres Romero (1,000-1) and Stephan Jaeger (500-1) could go well for a long way. Niebrugge is a local lad with great potential, Romero was 14th at Chambers Bay and has a good Majors record, while Jaeger has been in rampant form on the Web.com Tour.

This is a tough tournament for which to narrow the shortlist down – a hugely competitive affair – and it is no wonder some bookmakers are offering eight each-way places. Koepka and Chappell are particularly difficult to leave out of betting plans, but the final two places in a six-strong attack go to Sean O'Hair and Billy Horschel.

O'Hair's maiden US Tour title came just south of Wisconsin in Illinois (2005 John Deere Classic) and he looked a potential superstar. Three further victories have followed, as well as a top-12 finish in each Major. He has always been an excellent ball-striker and was 12th in his last US Open (2010). The sweet-swinger could be dangerous at Erin Hills after some good recent results – fifth place in the Byron Nelson, second spot at Colonial – and an improvement in his putting stroke.

Horschel showed bundles of bottle to claim the 2014 FedEx Cup and he got back to winning ways in the Byron Nelson last month. He closed the St Jude Classic with four consecutive birdies for fourth place on Sunday and this greens in regulation machine can enhance US Open form figures of 4-23-25-32. He won the 2014 BMW Championship in neighbouring Illinois.

Staking plan
A Scott
2.5pts each-way 33-1 Ladbrokes
S Garcia
2pts each-way 25-1 Betfair, Coral, Power
L Oosthuizen
1pt each-way 66-1 Sky Bet
T Pieters
1pt each-way 50-1 bet365
S O'Hair
0.5pt each-way 200-1 Sky Bet
B Horschel
0.5pt each-way 100-1 Betfred

Course Erin Hills, Erin, Washington County, Wisconsin
Prize money $12m ($1.8m to the winner)
Length 7,741 yards Par 72 Field 156
Cut Top 60 and ties after 36 holes

Playoff format 18-hole Monday playoff, with sudden-death holes if still tied

When to bet By 12.45pm Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 6pm Thursday
Time difference Wisconsin is six hours behind the UK and Ireland

Last week – Lyoness Open 1 D Frittelli (40-1), T2 D Horsey (50-1), J Kruger (125-1), M Korhonen (50-1), 5 R McEvoy (200-1), 6 J Carlsson (150-1); St Jude Classic 1 D Berger (28-1), T2 C Schwartzel (33-1), W Kim (300-1), T4 B Horschel (33-1), B Thornberry (500-1), C Reavie (160-1), K Chappell (33-1), R Cabrera-Bello (66-1)

Course overview Erin Hills was designed by Dr Michael John Hurdzan, Dana Fry and Ron Whitten, and opened in 2006. It has hosted only one event of any significance – the 2011 US Amateur – which was won by Kelly Kraft.

The official yardage for the US Open is 7,741, but a variety of tees mean it can play differently each day. For example, the par-five first hole can be as short as 560 yards or as long as 630. The par-five 18th will be between 622 and 675 yards.

USGA officials will decide on the tees before each round, depending on the weather conditions and the state of the leaderboard. US Open bigwigs always hope that a score of around level par wins the event. The other two par-fives are the 607-yard seventh hole and the 594-yard 14th.

The fairways are wide and inviting at Erin Hills, but seriously wild drives will be severely punished in the long fescue grass which lines the cut and prepared. It is easy to lose balls in the fescue. The 338-yard par-four second hole is driveable in favourable weather, although the green is the smallest on the course.

There is no rough around the greens, which is unusual for a US Open set-up. Scrambling skills will be tested from tight lies on run-off areas. Officials will want the bentgrass greens as fast as possible, but forecast rain may scupper those plans.

Story of last year Dustin Johnson bounced back heroically from his US Open hell of 12 months previous, following up his runner-up effort at Chambers Bay with a convincing three-shot triumph over Shane Lowry, Jim Furyk and Scott Piercy at Oakmont.

Johnson's margin of victory would have been greater had he not been handed a controversial penalty during the final round for supposedly making his ball move on the fifth green.

Weather forecast Extremely hot for the most part, temperatures hitting 33C, with light winds throughout. Thunderstorms are forecast for the afternoon on Friday and Saturday, which will soften the course. Sunday set to be cooler

Type of player suited to challenge Powerhouses could dominate this US Open, with an enormous amount of yardage to cover and wide fairways encouraging the big-hitters.

A thunderstorm is expected to soften the course on tournament-eve, with further downpours forecast during the event, so plenty of length appears essential. A bomber who keeps out of the fescue and putts well seems likely to emerge triumphant.

Key attribute Power

The former world number one and Major champion appears to be peaking for this assignment
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