U.S. Open 2024: 4 Dark Horses who can raise eyebrows, triumph at Pinehurst No. 2


The U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst No. 2, the North Carolina course that has hosted the national championship three times before.

In 1999, the late Payne Stewart made a 15-foot par putt on the 18th hole to fend off Phil Mickelson by a stroke. His celebration also became one of the most memorable moments in golf history, as a statue of Stewart’s iconic fist pump now stands outside the Pinehurst clubhouse. He was also ranked within the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) at the time.

Six years later, in 2005, Michael Campbell won his only major title as the 80th-ranked player in the world. He made it to Pinehurst via final qualifying, holing a putt on the last hole to earn a spot. Oddsmakers did not even list Campbell as an option to win that week, but he likely would have had odds in the range of 250-to-1—a remarkable longshot.

Then, in 2014, Martin Kaymer decimated the field, winning by eight strokes at 9-under par. He entered the week with odds of 40-to-1; not a favorite, but certainly worth considering. Only three players finished in red figures that week, as the world’s best players struggled on the refurbished No. 2 course.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw restored Pinehurst No. 2 in 2010, eliminating the rough and bringing the course back to its North Carolina roots. As such, this year’s championship marks the second time the U.S. Open will take place on the revitalized layout.

U.S. Open, Pinehurst No. 2

The 17th hole at Pinehurst No. 2.
Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

4 Dark Horse Picks for the 2024 U.S. Open:

1. Alex Noren

The 41-year-old Swede has played consistent golf all season, which explains why he is currently fourth on the PGA Tour in total strokes gained this season.

He is a tremendous iron player and has a solid short game, a formula for success at Pinehurst No. 2. Noren ranks fifth on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation percentage, finding the putting surface nearly 71% of the time. But in the rare event that he misfires, Noren gets up and down routinely. He leads the tour in scrambling percentage while ranking ninth in strokes gained, around the greens.

Overall, Noren ranks third on tour in scoring average this season, proving he has the game to win his first major championship. He tied for 12th in his last major start at Valhalla, courtesy of a final round 7-under 65. But if he can put together four solid days, which he’s certainly capable of, Noren can surprise a ton of people.

DraftKings Odds: +10000

Alex Noren, PGA Tour, the Memorial Tournament

Alex Noren during the first round of the 2024 Memorial Tournament.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

2. Denny McCarthy

Denny McCarthy has never won on the PGA Tour, so why do we like him to win this week at Pinehurst No. 2?

He has one of the best short games of any player in the world.

McCarthy is a phenomenal putter, ranking second on tour in strokes gained putting. He also ranks first on tour in one-putt percentage at 46.97%, an impressive figure.

These greens on No. 2 are next to impossible, as each of them features a turtleback shape, which ricochets approach shots that miss ever so slightly. McCarthy is not a terrific iron player, but he is 27th on tour in strokes gained, around the greens, and fifth in scrambling percentage. McCarthy gets up-and-down at a 68.86% clip.

He did miss the cut at the PGA Championship but has made 13-of-15 cuts this season, including two top-10s. He lost in a playoff at the Valero Texas Open to Akshay Bhatia and tied for 6th at the Wells Fargo Championship. He has the game to win, but to do so this week, his short game has to shine the brightest.

DraftKings Odds: +13000

Denny McCarthy, PGA Tour, the Memorial Tournament

Denny McCarthy lines up a putt during the the 2024 Memorial Tournament.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

3. Billy Horschel

Billy Horschel has turned his game around this season, which includes a win at the Corales Puntacana Championship in April. He is also playing well as of late. Horschel tied for 8th at the PGA Championship, as he carded an 8-under 64 on Sunday.

Since then, he tied for 24th at Colonial and 15th at the Memorial.

He has relied heavily on his putter, as he ranks fourth on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting and fifth in putting percentage inside of 10 feet. Horschel is also 13th in scrambling percentage.

He has also played this golf course before. In 2014, he tied for 23rd, a couple of months before he won the FedEx Cup.

DraftKings Odds: +13000

Billy Horschel, PGA Tour, the Memorial Tournament

Billy Horschel plays a shot during the third round of the 2024 Memorial Tournament.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

4. Keegan Bradley

Ten years ago, Keegan Bradley finished in a tie for fourth at Pinehurst No. 2, as he shot three rounds in the 60s to post a solid finish. If not for his third round, in which he shot a 6-over 76, he may have given Martin Kaymer a run for his money.

Nevertheless, he finished the week at 1-over par, 10 back of Kaymer.

This year, Bradley has posted two runner-up finishes and six top 25s. He tied for second at the Charles Schwab Challenge but stumbled over the weekend at the Memorial.

After sitting on the front page of the leaderboard through 36 holes, Bradley imploded over the weekend, shooting rounds of 78 and 80 on Saturday and Sunday to send him plummeting down the leaderboard.

And yet, he still finished ninth in strokes gained putting at Muirfield Village, proof that his play from tee to green was the issue.

Nevertheless, we feel that Bradley has gotten the bad mojo out of him as he arrives in Pinehurst ready to go. If he can keep his putter hot, a second major could come his way—that would undoubtedly wash away the stain of missing out on the Ryder Cup last year.

DraftKings Odds: +7500

Keegan Bradley, the Memorial Tournament

Keegan Bradley at the 2024 Memorial Tournament.
Photo by Amy Lemus/Getty Images

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Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.





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