Best First-Round Plays for the 2021 U.S. Open

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The third major championship of the season is being held at Torrey Pines this week and it kicks off on Thursday morning at 9:45 a.m. ET. There is no better time to make some first-round bets than on the U.S. Open, whether it be on a first-round leader or 3-balls. There is plenty of betting value on the board for Thursday’s round and below are the bets to make if you want to head into the weekend with some extra cash in your pocket.

First-Round Leader Selections

Perhaps the best bet in all of sports is to take an individual golfer to be leading the rest of the field by the conclusion of Round One in a major championship. We have five solid first-round leader wager that are worth considering for Thursday.

The best bet to consider to be the first-round leader on Thursday is Jason Kokrak (+6600). Kokrak owns the PGA Tour’s lowest first-round scoring average in 2021, as he is averaging an opening round score of 69. He has won twice on Tour this season and is playing the most confident golf of his career, so he should come out ready to attack Torrey Pines.

Kokrak ranks 22nd in driving distance, which is an important stat at the lengthy Torrey Pines South Course. He benefits from an 8:02 a.m. local tee time for the opening round, getting the luxury of attacking an easier golf course. Back the long hitter to use his length off the tee to get to the top of the leaderboard earlier and hold that lead until the end of the day.

Bovada Pick:
Jason Kokrak First-Round Leader

The next golfer to consider is Tony Finau at 33-1. Finau has been one of the best golfers in major championships over the past couple of years, despite only owning one win in his entire PGA Tour career. He has finished inside the top 10 in nine of his 13 major championship starts. He is not worth a bet to win the tournament outright because of his lack of win equity, but he has the perfect game for this golf course with his distance off the tee. He is not a consistently good putter, but he can put it together for one Thursday round and that is all he needs to be the first-round leader at 33-1. Finau also benefits from getting out on the course at 8:02 a.m. local time so he will have easier conditions than those in the afternoon groups. At +3300 Tony Finau is a must-bet to be leading after the first round.

Bovada Pick:
Tony Finau First-Round Leader

Also worthy of first-round leader consideration is the Aussie Cameron Smith (+5000). Smith goes off at 1:47 p.m., but as Corey Conners showed us at the PGA Championship, it is not impossible to be the opening-round leader coming out of the afternoon wave. Smith owns the second-lowest first-round scoring average on the entire PGA Tour, averaging a 69.07 in his first rounds to this point of 2021. He is no stranger to difficult conditions and with one of his strengths being his putting, he is capable of getting hot with the flat stick and climbing to the top of the leaderboard. At 50-1, Cameron Smith is worthy of consideration to bet as the first-round leader.

Bovada Pick:
Cameron Smith First-Round Leader

The next wager to weigh as a possible first-round leader is lefty Brian Harman (+8000). Harman ranks fifth in first-round scoring this season, averaging a 69.37 in his opening rounds this season. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship, but that was his only missed cut of the entire season. He has five top-13 finishes this season and has the ability to go as low as anyone on Thursday. The left-hander ranks 33rd in driving accuracy and 17th in strokes gained putting. He has a career-low round of 61, so he is more than capable of being the first-round leader on Thursday. At 80-1 with a 7:18 a.m. local tee time, Harman is worth a bet to go lower than the rest of the field in the opening round.

Bovada Pick:
Brian Harman First-Round Leader

Ian Poulter (+10000) is the final golfer worth a possible first-round leader bet on Thursday. He finished tied for third at the recent Charles Schwab Challenge behind Jason Kokrak and Jordan Spieth before a 25th-place finish in last week’s tournament. The Englishman is no stranger to major championships or the difficult conditions we will see at Torrey Pines this week. He is going off at 8:24 a.m. local time and is capable of getting in a groove with his putter that could carry him to the top of the leaderboard. He does not hit the ball very far, but he finds the fairway and avoids trouble, so he should be able to limit the big numbers on Thursday morning. At 100-1, consider backing Poulter to go lower than anyone else in the opening round.

Bovada Pick:
Ian Poulter First-Round Leader

3-Ball Matchups to Consider

“3 Balls” refers to who will win the group they are playing with on that particular day. There are five 3-Ball bets to target on Thursday to increase your rooting interest in the first round, as well as make you some money.

10:29 a.m. ET – Koepka (+160), Thomas (+175) and Morikawa (+185)

The first group to bet on for Thursday gets off in the morning wave with three former major champions. Brooks Koepka at +160 is the bet to make due to Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa’s past opening rounds in major championships. Both Thomas and Morikawa tend to play it conservatively in the opening round, just looking to set themselves up for the next three days. Meanwhile, Koepka will be aggressive from the opening tee box no matter the conditions, as was on display with his opening round 69 at Kiawah Island that permitted him to enter the second day tied for second place. Koepka is better than anyone in majors over the past four years and this plus-money number is too good to pass up for Thursday.

Bovada Pick:
Brooks Koepka to Win Group

10:51 a.m. ET – Schuaffele (+100), Mickelson (+225) and Homa (+250)

Three California natives get out on the links together Thursday morning at 10:51 a.m. ET. Xander Schuaffele and reigning PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson, a pair of San Diego natives, are the headliners of this group that is filled out by reigning Genesis Invitational winner Max Homa, who hails from Burback, California and now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. Schauffele has been one of the most popular outright plays this week since he is playing on his hometown course and no matter how talented he is, that is a whole lot of pressure to place on a golfer. Mickelson has missed three of his last six cuts and is unlikely to put together back-to-back strong major championship showings, despite what many bettors may want to believe about his chances of finally winning a U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam. That leaves Homa as the best bet to make because he has nothing to lose this week at Torrey Pines. Homa will be playing loose on Thursday morning as opposed to the other two in this group who enter the week with loads of pressure on them. Back Homa at the large number of +250 to finish Round One ahead of Schaffele and Mickelson.

Bovada Pick:
Max Homa to Win Group

3:36 p.m. ET – Dustin Johnson (+135), Rory Mcllroy (+150) and Justin Rose (+275)

The world’s top-ranked golfer, Dustin Johnson, headlines a group of three former major champions. Johnson showed something at the Palmetto Championship last week that had not been seen from him since the 2020 Masters with a 10th-place finish at Congaree last week. He was shaky over the final two rounds, however, which does not inspire hope to play him at +135 to win this group. Mcllroy has a win this season at the Wells Fargo, but even in that tournament he did not begin making his move toward the top of the leaderboard until Day Two. Justin Rose at +275 is a number that cannot be passed up, as he showed with his 7-under round to kick off the 2021 Masters. Rose is not going to win this tournament, but he will get off to a decent start on Thursday and that is worth a bet to win this group.

Bovada Pick:
Justin Rose to Win Group

4:14 p.m. ET – DeChambeau (-120), Matsuyama (+135) and Strafaci (+700)

The defending U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau headlines this group with the 2021 Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama. Tyler Strafaci closes out this group and if it seems he doesn’t fit, that is because he definitely does not belong in the same class as the other two golfers. Strafaci is not going to be a contender to win this group, which essentially turns this into a head-to-head matchup between the major champions DeChambeau and Matsuyama. DeChambeau has the length advantage, but as Matsuyama showed at Kiawah Island over the first two-and-a-half days, he can play in some of the most difficult conditions on the planet. He is an elite ball striker in his own right and has actually has been putting better than DeChambeau in the 2021 season. At +135, this number is too good to pass up taking the reigning Masters champion.

Bovada Pick:
Hideki Matsuyama to Win Group

4:25 p.m. ET – Adam Scott (+135), Sergio Garcia (+185) and Bubba Watson (+210)

The final 3-balls bet to make is in the 4:25 p.m. ET group that features three Masters champions. Sergio Garcia is immediately ruled out based on the evidence that he has missed the cut in 11 of his last 13 major championship starts. Bubba Watson has the distance off the tee that is intriguing, but he has been unable to find the fairway consistently or avoid big numbers this season. Adam Scott finished tied for 10th here in February and likes the layout of the course enough to cruise to a higher finish than Garcia and Watson on Thursday afternoon.

Bovada Pick:
Adam Scott to win Group

*Odds courtesy of Bovada.

Joe Menzer / Author

Joe is an award-winning writer and editor who has covered the NBA, NFL, NASCAR, golf, various collegiate athletics and other sports for newspapers, Turner Sports, Fox Sports and ESPN. He has been on the beat for seven Super Bowls, six Daytona 500s and numerous NBA playoff series and All-Star Games. He once was dispatched to Rome, Italy to spend time with an NBA draft choice who opted to play overseas, after which he produced an award-winning series of stories. He also is passionate about fantasy sports and breaking down games in ways that even novice gamblers can use to make their most intelligent wagering decisions.

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