U.S. Open sleeper picks to watch: Here’s who might break out at Torrey Pines

Wilco Nienaber

Wilco Nienaber hits a tee shot during last week's Palmetto Championship.

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He led after the first round of his previous tournament. He had finished in the top 25 of his previous major. He was a respectable 36th the last time an event was at the course. 

And Phil Mickelson had also won five majors, and over 50 times overall internationally.

There’s no doubt that Mickelson’s victory last month at the PGA Championship was a stunner. Or was it? The odds say so — he was listed at 250-1 at golfodds.com. But, of course, those are a reflection of what the majority of bettors chose to believe about Mickelson. And justifiably so for a litany of reasons. But if you had thoughts like the ones above, and bet accordingly, the only thing shocking was the size of your wallet after the PGA.   

As the U.S. Open begins this week at Torrey Pines, those with the best chance to win are, for the most part, those with the best odds — Rahm, DeChambeau, DJ, Schauffele, Koepka, etc. And those with little chance to win are, for the most part, those with the worst odds. But is there a Mickelson in that latter mix? Let’s see if we can find three:

Phil Mickelson
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Adam Scott (70-1): Truth be told, a similar question was asked in GOLF’s Tour Confidential, and Scott was my answer there. Good course history? Check. Good recent run? Check (though he did miss the cut at the PGA). Major championship success? Check? Older — and experienced? Check. 

Justin Rose (66-1): A hat tip over to Will Gray at NBC Sports Edge, who reminds us that Rose has won a U.S. Open, has won at Torrey (in 2019!) and has finished in the top 10 at both the Masters and PGA this year. 

Phil Mickelson (70-1): Mickelson himself! In our picks to win story, Jessica Marksbury, Josh Sens and I discuss the pros (and cons) for picking Phil.

Our staff likes a few more sleepers, too. They’ve each made a long-shot bet using odds from DraftKings to assist you with your own weekly picks, whether those are for a low-stakes office fantasy league, (legal!) big-bucks bets with a sportsbook or through free-to-play Chirp Golf, an app from our 8AM Golf affiliate partner that is available in the App Store and at Google Play.   

On to our picks — and info on how to bet for free. 

Sleeper picks

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Alan Bastable 

Sleeper pick: Kevin Streelman, +11,000. Hits fairways and greens (which I’m told is an effective formula at U.S. Opens) and knows how to get to the weekend: has finished outside the top 40 just once in his past eight starts. Was in the hunt at Kiawah through three rounds until a Sunday 75 derailed him.   

Josh Berhow

Sleeper pick: Phil Mickelson, +7,000. He won the PGA Championship and is now about to tee it up in front of the hometown crowd while still riding high from his Kiawah Island triumph. He’s confident and part of me thinks he’s playing with house money coming off a major win at age 50. I like these odds!

James Colgan

Sleeper pick: Sungjae Im, +11,000. Ball-strikers of Sungjae’s caliber generally find themselves in contention in at least one major every year. He certainly has the talent to win one of these. Why not at Torrey?

Dylan Dethier

Sleeper pick: Lets go four of ’em! Wilco Nienaber (+30,000), Taylor Pendrith (+25,000), Cameron Young (+40,000) and Matthew Wolff (+22,500). They won’t all play well, but I love each of their odds to sneak into the top 20 at least.

Jessica Marksbury

Sleeper pick: Justin Rose, +6,600. I might be stretching the sleeper definition juuuuust a touch by picking a former U.S. Open champion, but Rose is pretty under the radar this week. He hasn’t won on Tour since 2019, but that win was at … you guessed it, Torrey! And the guy has been showing up for majors, with two T8 finishes this year. I like his chances.

Zephyr Melton 

Sleeper pick: Stewart Cink, +11,000. He might be a little old (sorry, Stewart), but Cink is playing as good a golf as anyone in the world this season. He’s got two wins already, and a U.S. Open win would put a cherry on top of the career renaissance he’s experienced over the past year. 

Ryan Palmer hits out of the sand during last year's Charles Schwab Challenge.
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Nick Piastowski 

Sleeper pick: Charl Schwartzel, +22,500. Steady all year, with one missed cut (though it came at the PGA). He also tied for 18th in January at Torrey at the Farmers Insurance Open.  I also considered Ryan Palmer and Bernd Wiesberger here. 

Tim Reilly

Sleeper pick: Lee Westwood, +16,000. Westwood was a popular pick heading into the Masters. Since then, his status has cooled. Fresh off a surprise wedding in Vegas, I’m looking for Lee and his caddie-wife to celebrate their honeymoon on the California coast while drinking out of the U.S. Open trophy. 

Josh Sens

Sleeper pick: Branden Grace, +12,500. There was a time when Grace was a pretty reliable contender on big stages and tough setups. He is back to playing that way again.

Andrew Tursky 

Sleeper pick: Wilco Nienaber, +30,000. Since it’s his first major championship ever, admittedly, it’s a bit unlikely he pulls it off, but this is a pure power pick. Nienaber hits it ridiculously far, averaging 358.4 yards in his T14 finish at Congaree last week. Around the lengthy Torrey Pines, that distance could prove quite useful, and he has the power to gouge it out of the long rough when necessary.

Jonathan Wall

Sleeper pick: Lee Westwood, +16,000. Finished third the last time the U.S. Open was contested at Torrey. More than a decade has passed since the 2008 edition, but Westwood continues to defy the odds and contend as he approaches 50. If Phil can do it, why not Lee?

Sean Zak

Sleeper pick: Brian Harman, +9,000. The guy is playing the best golf of his life, and that is much better than his world ranking (47) indicates. Can he win on a long, long course? It’s hard to totally imagine it. But I’d be shocked if he misses the cut considering how he’s been playing.

How to bet on the U.S. Open — for free! 

Chirp is a new golf-gaming platform that allows users to place live bets using fake money to win amazing, real-life prizes. The app, which is operated by our 8AM Golf affiliate partner 8AM Golf, is designed to inject the adrenaline of live gambling into a fun, risk-free contest. For more on Chirp, click here.

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Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor