The US Open
After our strong finish to the 19/20 season It was a disappointing start to the 20/21 PGA Tour campaign for us at the Safeway Open as we never remotely threatened to get in to contention.
The event in the end was won by Stewart Cink who landed his first PGA Tour title in 11yrs since his Open Championship win at Turnberry. Since that victory Cink has been through a tough time as his wife battled breast cancer so for him to post another victory at this stage of his career and with his son carrying the bag, must be incredibly special for him and he deserves huge congratulations.
So we move on and in keeping with the helter-skelter season we have a head of us it is time for the first of the six Majors we have to look forward to in the 20/21 campaign, The US Open.
This years edition is the 120th edition of the event and it will be the sixth to have been held at Winged Foot. The previous were in 1929, 1959, 1974, 1984 and 2006.
As to be expected of course with a Major championship the field this week is a stellar one and at the time of writing the market is understandably headed up by recent Fedex Cup Champion and current world number one Dustin Johnson.
Behind Johnson we then have the man who challenged him in the final Fedex Cup Play Off events Jon Rahm who is then followed by Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy.
One man who wont be in attendance in New York though is the 2017 & 2018 champion Brooks Koepka who continues to sit things out in an attempt to shake off a lingering knee injury.
Winged Foot is a parkland course situated in Mamaroneck, some 50 miles North East of central New York.
One of the iconic venues of the US Open rota Winged Foot is perhaps the benchmark for your classical US Open test where historically, thick rough, slick greens, brutal conditions in general and high scoring have ruled the day, something typified by Geoff Ogilvy’s winning mark here from 2006 of +5..[Yes that’s not a typo, PLUS 5!!!]
Winged Foot GC was founded in 1921 and the course was opened for play in 1923.
Designed by A W Tillinghast the course underwent a redesign under the supervision of Gil Hanse in 2017 and will play this year as a par 70 measuring 7477yds, some 200yds longer than in 2006.
The greens are Poa Annua.
Other Tillinghast designs regularly used on the PGA Tour are Bethpage Black host of the 2019 PGA Championship, the 2016 and 2012 Barclays and the 2009 and 2002 US Opens and Ridgewood CC host of the 2010,14 & 18 editions of the Barclays/Northern Trust.
So what can we expect of Winged Foot this time around. Well as is the want with the US Open we have had the usual reports from players who have visited there recently that the test will be brutal and the rough is expected to be around 5 ½ to 6” long, however on this occasion I believe it!
While, with the notable exception of Pebble Beach last year, length always seems to be important in a US Open these days, simply ‘gripping it & ripping it’ this week will not be enough to get the job done. Yes the course features nine par fours that play to 450+yds but if you are playing from the rough on them all the time you will struggle to find the right areas on the putting surfaces.
I would therefore see ‘long and straight’ [basically Total Driving] as the key off the tee.
The shortest hole on the course is the par 4 sixth at 321yds which some players will no doubt try to drive.
The par fives are the 565yd ninth and the 633yd 12th, which will play as a three shotter to the majority of the field.
Off the tee Winged Foot appears to me to be a course that ideally favours a player who can work the ball both ways with a slight advantage to those who play a draw. Basically having watched the course flyover on the US Open website I noted seven right to left tee shots, four left to right & three ‘straightaway’.
While finding fairways will be key no doubt it is quite possible though that the tournament will be won and lost on and around Winged Foot’s notorious greens, which feature major slopes and undulations, not too dissimilar to Augusta it could be said. Basically find yourself on the wrong level and you will face an almost impossible two putt.
It is also worth noting that the 2017 restoration carried out under the eye of Gil Hanse saw some of the greens increased in size, which will potentially accentuate the importance of long range touch putting on these surfaces. In addition with players no doubt missing their fair share of greens, scrambling and the ability to hole those treacherous 6ft knee knockers for par will surely be crucial.
All in all patience, the ability to grind out pars and touch around the greens look the keys to me this week.
So lets take a look at the recent winners.
2019 Gary Woodland
2018 Brooks Koepka
2017 Brooks Koepka
2016 Dustin Johnson
2015 Jordan Spieth
2014 Martin Kaymer
2013 Justin Rose
2012 Webb Simpson
2011 Rory McIlroy
2010 Graeme McDowell
So what does this tell us? Well the first thing to say of course is that with the US Open operating a course rotation system it is usually a lot tougher to identify the type of player you are looking for year in year out compared to at Augusta, or even at the British Open where you know you are getting a coastal links course.
In this major though you can go from a wide open links type test one year to a narrow fairway ball strikers course the next. In addition you can also get different green types dependent on the area of the US the event is being played in.
As a result in the last ten years as examples we have seen Graeme McDowell prosper on his trademark type coastal links track, we have seen Rose’s elite ball striking rewarded at Merion, we have seen Dustin Johnson be last man standing at a traditional US Open type test, and we have seen Koepka start his Major lovefest by bombing his way to victory at Erin Hills where it was almost impossible to miss a fairway.
Whilst the skill sets and the style of player we are looking for might vary to a certain extent year in year out one thing that does connect the recent winners in that they were all having good seasons and in decent form coming in to the event.
Lets look at this in a bit more detail.
Webb Simpson had posted a top 5 finish a few weeks prior at the Wells Fargo Championship and Rose had pieced together four top tens including two top 5s on the PGA Tour that year. Rory had finished 5th at Memorial on his previous start, Koepka had made his last 6 cuts which included a 2nd place finish at the Valero Texas Open in 2017 and he had finished second a fortnight before winning in 2018 at Fort Worth. DJ meanwhile had done everything but win prior to his victory in 2016 with seven Top 5 finishes in the year including two in his previous two starts.
Spieth, Kaymer and Gmac had all posted victories on tour that year already, whether in the US or in Europe and finally last years winner Gary Woodland had finished eighth at the PGA Championship two starts prior to victory.
So in summary everyone of the past ten US Open winners had either had a victory or at least one top 5 finish on tour that season.
Now what we need to bear in mind this year of course is that the US Open is being played far later in the calendar year than normal so the statistic about posting a victory or top five on tour this years is far less significant. What will stand though you would think is good recent form coming in as you wouldn’t expect Winged Foot to be the sort of course where you find your game in the event.
Therefore whilst you can’t rule out victory for a ‘mid division’ player like a Glover this player would need to be someone in decent form coming in as if history is anything to go by the US Open is not the sort of event where someone does a ‘James Hahn’ and wins after missing their previous six or seven cuts.
Finally whilst it is more than likely the event will be won by a bigger named player it’s worth pointing out that the US Open in recent years has seen a bunch of big three figure priced players make the frame.
These include Chesson Hadley last year, Harman, Schauffele and Fleetwood in 2017 [yup Tommy was still going off at triple digits back then!], Lowry, Piercy and Na the year before and Cam Smith the year before that.
Go back a bit further and we saw Eric Compton finishing 2nd at Pinehurst and Michael Thompson and now Real Estate Agent John Peterson making the frame at The Olympic Club.
Finally in 2010 Graeme McDowell was victorious at Pebble Beach at three figure odds unheralded Frenchman Gregory Havret chased him home.
The message is clear therefore, with some bookies going 10 or 11 places e/w don’t be afraid to back a big three figure priced player e/w if you have a hunch for them.
I am pleased to say that as I type we are in for a fine, dry week as a whole and the USGA will be delighted that they will be getting the desired firm, fast conditions. The only day that threatens to spoil this slightly is Friday, which shows the small possibility of a shower.
Temperatures for the week will sit around the mid-70s.
Wind does not look to be much of an issue with nothing more than 10-12mph shown in the forecast.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with 6 players this week as follows;
JON RAHM – 11-1 – 3pts Win. - FINISHED 23rd
As regular followers will know I sided with Jon Rahm at the recent BWW Championship and after a slow opening couple of days the Spaniard stormed through the field over the weekend to reward us with a spectacular play-off victory over Dustin Johnson, which will live long in the memory.
I said at the time of that dual between Rahm and Johnson that we might well be watching a precursor to Winged Foot and nothing I’ve seen since has made me change my mind, basically don’t be surprised if Rahm and DJ are battling it out down the stretch again come Sunday.
While therefore a win for the world number one would of course shock no one my hunch is that he must surely be suffering a slight mental let down from having bagged the Fedex Cup spoils at East Lake last time out.
Moving on and my main reason for siding with Rahm this week is his all-round game, which basically holds no weaknesses. Firstly starting off the tee and as noted earlier Total Driving looks to be the key statistic to me this week with regards to the long game and of the big names Rahm leaps out on this front sitting second in the category last season [56th in accuracy and 22nd in distance], the Spaniard fits this bill perfectly.
Solid in approach play if we then look at the short game, which I expect to be key this week and again we see Rahm is strong in this department as shown by the fact that he was 22nd in putting and 24th in strokes-gained-around-the-green last season.
Over his earlier years Rahm had developed a reputation of being a bit of a ‘hot head’ who would lose patience and wasn’t really suited to the tougher test, however over the past twelve months or so he has certainly shed that reputation in my eyes and his win at Olympia Fields, a course, which really should be an excellent guide to this week rubber stamped this.
Let’s not forget as well at Olympia Fields on Saturday Rahm was given a one shot penalty for a complete mental aberration when not marking his ball on the fifth hole and he then kept his cool to hole the bogey putt from 5ft, which he went on to describe as his most important shot of the round.
In summary Rahm as I said in the lead up to Olympia Fields is that rare type of player that has no particular weaknesses in his game, whether it be accuracy/length, approach play or putting and I can see that combination leading to him lifting his first Major Championship come Sunday.
TONY FINAU – 33-1 - 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED T8th
I’ve long since put a line through the idea of backing Tony Finau for a regular PGA Tour event at odds of 20/1 or thereabouts as time and again he seems to be found wanting when it matters most.
Conversely though I have also felt for a while that he is perhaps most likely to get over the line for a second time in a Major Championship test, which seems to suit his game the best, and particularly in one where he simply may be required to stick around and hang on down the stretch rather than put his foot on the gas and close an event out with a barrage of birdies.
To back this up further we only need to look at Tony’s record in the last nine majors going back to the beginning of 2018, which with the most recent first reads as follows;
4 3 MC 64 5 42 9 5 10.
As we can see based on the modern day e/w terms the layers offer of paying to ten places or more Finau has placed on six of his last nine Major Championship starts, an impressive record indeed.
If we look at the man from Salt Lake City’s recent form this also offers plenty of encouragement as after a sluggish start by his standards after lockdown he has posted four top ten finishes in seven starts since The Memorial.
Furthermore fourth at TPC Harding Park in the PGA and fifth at Olympia Fields for the BMW rubber stamps what we know already and what is needed this week – that he plays tough golf courses well.
Whilst Finau’s lack of accuracy off the key is a slight concern he has the distance to hopefully nullify this to an extent and importantly he is strong around the greens and has great touch.
All in all Finau’s record in Major Championships makes him a value e/w play at the odds on offer and with his form trending very nicely I am happy to roll the dice and chance that this is the week it all comes together for him.
TYRRELL HATTON – 45-1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED MC
The next player I find it hard to get away from this week is Tyrrell Hatton.
Hatton, like our first pick Jon Rahm, had developed something of a reputation as a ‘hot head’ on the course, with his outbursts of frustration, which were often directed at his caddy.
Over the last 12 months or so though the Englishman has certainly matured and there is no doubt now that he is world class performer capable of winning on the biggest of stages.
A four time winner on the European Tour Hatton stepped up in March to bag his first win Stateside, at the last completed event on the PGA Tour before lockdown, the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
What was particularly impressive that week, and certainly significant in relation to the expected test this week, is how Tyrrell managed himself on a course, which prior to Olympia Fields recently was playing as tough as anything the PGA Tour had seen in a long time. Basically the fact that Tyrrell shot 73 74 over the weekend was irrelevant to the mindset, it was all about beating the next man home and Hatton closed things out superbly from the front parring his way in on Sunday after making a double bogey on 11. Exactly the sort of mentality that one would think will be needed this week.
Since the Tours resumption in June the 28yr old has tee’d it up on seven occasions and after a couple of rough weeks at the WGC Fedex St Jude and the PGA Championship he has rounded in to form nicely finishing 25 16 7 in the three play off events.
If we look at the 28yr olds stats on the PGA Tour last season we see that he has the sort of all round game that in theory should suit a tough major championship test well.
If we then look at his results over recent years in Majors in the US there is plenty of positive play to back this up as he finished tenth at the Tillinghast designed Baltusrol in the PGA Championship in 2016, sixth at Shinnecock Hills in the US Open in 2018 in tough conditions and tenth in the PGA the same year at Bellerive.
All in all if you add this to his strong performances in The Open Championship Hatton has certainly served his apprenticeship in the Major’s over the recent years and with his game now seemingly moving on to another level I expect him to be a serious factor this week.
SI WOO KIM – 125-1 – 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 11. - FINISHED MC
Regular readers will know that Si Woo Kim has been very much on my radar of late and of course he had every opportunity to bag the spoils for us at the Wyndham Championship a few weeks back.
That third place finish at Sedgefield CC was the highlight to an end of season run from Si Woo, which saw him make nine consecutive cuts from The Travelers through to the Northern Trust.
The strength of the young Korean’s game through that period was how well he was hitting the ball from tee to green, with his approach play particularly dialled in week in week out.
After a fortnight’s well earned rest Si Woo started his 20/21 campaign by dusting of the rust with an up and down week at the Safeway Open, ultimately finishing 44th, and after a very disappointing 77 on Saturday he bounced back in style on Sunday to close out the week with a 66.
So with the cobwebs hopefully brushed off Si Woo you would think arrives at Winged Foot in good spirits and to a course I suspect may be to his liking [as much as it is to anyone’s anyway!]
My logic here is as follows; Firstly as mentioned earlier Kim’s work with Claude Harmon III has really paid of recently in his long game and he should therefore be comfortable with a test of finding fairways and greens.
Secondly although Si Woo’s weakness is with the putter he is actually an excellent scrambler ranking 23rd in strokes-gained-around-the-green on tour last season and 18th the season before and again as noted earlier this is likely to be a key skill set this week. After all who can forget his performance at Sawgrass the year he won The Players, when he got it up and down from everywhere.
We were on Si Woo at TPC Harding Park recently and while he just failed to bring us a return he had an excellent week finishing 13th and noticeably as well as ranking eighth for the week from tee to green he finished first for the week in scrambling. Now, with his confidence hopefully growing all the time I am optimistic Si Woo can deliver a really strong performance on a track that I feel will play to his strength.
CAMERON SMITH – 150-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 38th
With Winged Foot expected to play firm and fast this week we should be faced with the type of conditions where Australian’s often thrive.
On that basis and with Nick O’Hern and Robert Allenby performing well here in 2006 alongside an Aussie Champion in Geoff Ogilvy, I was keen to have someone from Down Under on side and the one who makes the most appeal to me at the odds is Cameron Smith.
Smith who is undoubtedly a class act landed his first solo PGA Tour title at the Sony Open in January. Following on from them however, and as he seems to have developed a habit of doing over recent years, he went somewhat awol for a period, missing five of his next seven cuts.
Since making the weekend at the Memorial however things have settled down for Cam and while only posting a best placed finish of 18th at the Northern Trust he has played six weekends running.
So what of his chances this week? Well away from the potential Aussie link Smith has shown that he has the type of game that performs well in Major Championships and in his short career he has already notched a fourth place at the US Open and a fifth place at the Masters. In addition in relation to this week he finished third at the Tillinghast designed Ridgewood CC in 2018 at the Northern Trust.
Cameron’s strength is undoubtedly in the short game and when on song there aren’t many better at getting it up and down around the greens and that should certainly hold him in good stead this week.
All in all and with good e/w terms available I am more than happy to side with Smith at the odds to post another strong Major performance.
BRIAN HARMAN – 250-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 38th
I mentioned over the weekend on Twitter that there was one player who really appealed to me on an each way basis at big odds and that man is Brian Harman.
As always when researching a Major Championship I firstly delved in to the course for this week and it’s key characteristics and requirement as I saw it, before looking at the most recent history there, 2006 in this case, before finally of course allying this to players recent form and performance stats. In essence your basic weekly research!
Having done this, outside of the obvious bigger names who lead our team, there was one name that kept popping up wherever I looked and it is that of Harman. I’ll outline more as follows…
While short of the tee Harman is one of the more accurate players out there having finished 53rd in Accuracy on tour last season then if we look at Harman’s short game numbers he finished last season 15th in strokes-gained-around-the-green and 43rd in putting, last time out however he was second for the week in putting at the BMW so he is clearly rolling his rock well at the moment. I also like that Harman finished last season 13th on tour on putting from 5-10ft which as noted earlier I see as a key area this week.
Away from Harman’s stats and Winged Foot is a venue, which seems to set up to marginally favour those who play a draw and of course as a ‘lefty’ for Harman it sets up nicely to play a fade. If we then look at the 2006 final leaderboard here in addition to Mickelson two other left handers featured prominently, Mike Weir and the unheralded Nick O’Hern who finished in a tie for sixth so this backs up the thought that the venue sets up well for a lefty.
Returning to the ‘here & now’ and Harman’s game has rounded nicely in to shape over the recent weeks as after making three cuts on the spin he concluded his season by finishing 11th at the Northern Trust and 12th at the correlating Olympia Fields host of the BMW Championship.
Harman is a gritty character who makes a habit of saving his best for the big events and often, despite his lack of distance, producing it on the longer, tougher layouts. He posted two top eight finishes in WGC’s in the 17/18 campaign along with a third at Kapalua, he has two top tens at the Farmers and back in 2012 shot an astonishing 61 around PGA National the home of the Honda Classic. Finally of course he chased home Brooks Koepka at the bombers paradise that was Erin Hills in the 2017 US Open having lead through 54 holes.
Can Harman win the US Open?, unlikely but I wouldn’t rule it out completely, undoubtedly though with 11 e/w places on offer he makes plenty of appeal to give us a big run at 250/1.
UPDATED 15th SEPTEMBER
FIRST ROUND LEADER - HARRISH ENGLISH 1/pt E/W -66/1 - 1/5 1st 6 & MARTIN KAYMER 1/2pt E/W - 70/1 - 1/5 1st 7. - NO RETURN
Two fairly straightforward picks for the FRL market both of, which come from the AM wave based on the propensity for poa greens to get trickier as the day progressess.
Harris English firstly has been quick out of the blocks all year hence he finished second on tour for 19/20 in round one scoring averages.
I sided with him in this market at TPC Harding Park where he unfortunately failed to deliver, however since then he has opened up with rounds of 64 in two of his four starts.
Solid in all departments he should have a better chance than most at taming Winged Foot and I am happy to chance him in this market again.
As for Kaymer he memorably lead out of the blocks on day one both at Sawgrass and Pinehurst in 2014 when he bagged both TPC & US Open titles.
More recently he has of course been flourishing again on the European Tour and having lead on day one at the PGA I fancy he could start quickly again this week.
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - ROBERT MACINTYRE - DK VALUE - $6500 - FINISHED 56th - DK POINTS 33.5
In his short time on the European Tour Macintyre has developed a reputation as one of the best young players this side of the Atlantic with his main strength being his touch on and around the greens.
As a left hander Winged Foot should set up well for him and I expect him to be with us for all four days as he was at the PGA recently.
PICK 2 - LANTO GRIFFIN - DK VALUE - $6500 - FINISHED 43rd - DK POINTS 33.5
LANTO GRIFFIN arrives at Winged Foot on the back of a career year, which saw him post his first tour win and make it all the way to the Tour Championship.
At his best on the greens Griffin showed when tenth at Olympia Fields recently that he is more than capable of handling a tough test.
Having also finished 19th at the PGA he should be undaunted by the challenge ahead this week.and I expect another strong performance from him.