The US Open
It was a fantastic weeks golf in Canada, which saw the home country end a 69 year drought in their national open as Nick Taylor outlasted Tommy Fleetwood in a four hole play-off. The jubilant scenes that greeted Taylor when he holed a 72 foot eagle putt on the 18th green will live long in the memory, particularly that of his fellow countryman Adam Hadwin being rugby tackled by an over zealous security guard as he ran on to the green to congratulate his friend!
As for Fleetwood as magnanimous as he was in defeat there is no doubt this is one that ‘got away’ and will hugely sting. The Englishman had the event in his hands as he played 18 in regulation, needing a birdie on the par 5, the easiest hole on the course to win. After finding the rough with an iron off the tee though he then inexplicably laid up in to the rough, when the consensus was he could have reached the green, before scrambling to make a five. In addition he then had two putts to win in the first three play-off holes, which both slipped by.
From our point of view it was a frustrating week. Obviously having gone in with a team of long shots you are prepared for a quiet wee, however our 125/1 pick Doug Ghim had every chance of making the frame as he headed in to the easier back nine on Sunday only to play the last eight holes in a disappointing level par thus missing the places by two shots.
So onwards we go and it is time for the third of the four Major’s played over consecutive months, The US Open.
This years edition is the 123rd edition of the event is a venture in to the unknown as it is the first to be held at the Los Angeles Country Club [LACC] and only the second time we will have seen this venue in its modern day guise, with the other being when it hosted the Walker Cup in 2017.
As to be expected of course with a Major championship the field this week is a stellar one with the market headed up by Scottie Scheffler. Scheffler is then followed by Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka who has usurped Rory McIlroy in the top three of the market.
Behind these four we then have the trio of Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland and Xander Schauffele.
LACC was designed by George Thomas in 1928. The course then underwent a thorough restoration/redesign process in the hands of Gil Hanse and in his team in 2010.
The course is situated in is situated right in the heart of Beverly Hills and surrounded by spectacular Hollywood views, which we are sure to see plenty of this week.
Thomas it should be noted is also responsible for the design of the other LA course we know and love and see every year, Riviera CC, however aside from the fact both tracks open with a gettable par five I do not see too much similarity in the lay outs.
Other Gil Hanse redesigns include Brookline CC, which hosted last years US Open, Winged Foot, the host of the 2020 US Open as well several other layouts including Aronimink, Plainfield CC and Ridgewood, which have all held various play off events over recent years, while TPC Boston, which hosted the Dell Technologies Championship and Northern Trust Play off events over many years is a Gill Hanse original.
In addition Hanse was responsible for the redesign at Southern Hills, which hosted the 2022 PGA Championship.
The course is a par 70 measuring approximately 7400 yards long, however with the option to play tees up or back on several holes this could well fluctuate over the week.
The greens it should be noted are not Poa as we would normally expect to see on the West Coast but are Bent Grass.
Unlike most Par 70s the course features three par fives not two, with this being offset by five par three’s. These par three’s will certainly be one of the main talking points this week with one of them, the 11th playing to 290 yards, while the 15th listed at 125yards can play to as short as 78yards!
As noted earlier the par five first is a ‘gimme’ birdie a bit like we see at Riviera, while the other two offer a tougher challenge. Meanwhile the course includes a driveable par four sixth at 330yds all be it with a blind tee shot!
Unusually the course features no water hazards at all however the front nine in particular features barranca meandering through it, which will capture wayward shots.
LACC features wider than average fairways however driving accuracy will still play its part this week as on several holes it will be key to find the right areas on the severely cambered fairways in order to find the right piece of undulating greens. From that point of view approach play will be key this week and with the putting surfaces offering up severe challenges there could almost be an element of Augusta style strategy required. Ultimately then I expect a ‘second shot’ golf course and short game test this week.
To sum up allowing for the lack of rain of late [with none in the forecast], firm fast conditions are anticipated and I expect this to be a strategical test where at times almost links style creativity might be required, with ‘plotters’ more likely to triumph over ‘bomb & gauge’ tactics and I anticipate a fascinating US Open test unlike pretty much anything we have seen over recent years.
So lets take a look at the last ten winners.
2022 Matt Fitzpatrick
2021 Jon Rahm
2020 Bryson Dechambeau
2019 Gary Woodland
2018 Brooks Koepka
2017 Brooks Koepka
2016 Dustin Johnson
2015 Jordan Spieth
2014 Martin Kaymer
2013 Justin Rose
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 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 Jordan Spieth prosper on a more exposed coastal links type 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, we have seen Koepka start his Major lovefest by bombing his way to victory at Erin Hills and we have seen Dechambeau use his length off the tee and brute strength to overpower Winged Foot. Finally then we have seen Jon Rahm and most recently Matt Fitzpatrick bag his first major at courses we already knew they loved.
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 McDowell had all posted victories on tour that year already, whether in the US or in Europe, the 2019 winner Gary Woodland had finished eighth at the PGA Championship two starts prior to victory and most recently Bryson Dechambeau had produced a top five finish at the PGA Championship a month prior to his success.
Finally while he had not won on the PGA Tour in 20/21 prior to his triumph Rahm had been robbed of a victory when holding a six shot lead at Memorial in his previous start through 54 holes at the Memorial before his enforced covid WD and had been eighth at the recent PGA.
This latter point is one worth dwelling on further as although the 2020 Major calendar was severely disrupted we still had the PGA Championship four weeks or so prior to the US Open, which since 2019 is the ‘new normal’. Therefore while we only have three editions to go on it could well be significant that the three winners of the US Open in 2019, 2020 and 2021, Woodland, Dechambeau and Rahm, had all finished top ten at the proceeding PGA.
Finally last years champion Fitzpatrick arrived here on the back of a tenth place in Canada the week before and a fifth place at the PGA the previous month where he had been in the final group heading out on Sunday.
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 [In Bryson’s case the top five at the PGA was in the previous season as the US Open was the second event of the official 20/21 calendar] and I expect this mantra of ‘good form coming in’ to stand true again this time around.
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.
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 Denny McCarthy last year, Chesson Hadley in 2019, 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 while in 2010 when Graeme McDowell was victorious at Pebble Beach unheralded Frenchman Gregory Havret chased him home.
In 2020 this was not so much the case although Will Zalatoris did make the frame at big odds however it is worth noting that 2020 did not see the opportunity for players to qualify in the same way as normal and this will no doubt have led to a more predictable flavour at the top of the leaderboard.
Again in 2021 this was not the case as the top ten was packed with big names/in form players such as Oosthuizen, English, Morikawa, Koepka, McIlroy, Schauffele, Berger and Scheffler, with only really Migliozzi and to a lesser extent Grace, breaking this stranglehold.
As a whole though the message over the years has been clear, 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.
Finally and while the historical thought for the US Open has been that accuracy off the tee is key prior to last year we needed to go back to Jordan Spieth’s win in 2015 to find an edition, where precision triumphed over power as the previous six winners of the event prior to Fitzpatrick, Rahm, Dechambeau, Woodland, Koepka [x2] and Johnson are all among the biggest hitters on tour.
Equally though as already mentioned and similarly to last year I expect strategy to very much play its part this week and particularly allowing for the anticipated firmness of the course I am expecting shorter hitters to have a fair crack.
We look set for a dry week with temperatures sat in the low to mid 70s. Early morning could see the marine layer associated with this part of the world however all four days look sunny as they progress. Conditions then should be firm and fast with the USGA able to control green speeds by watering the course or not as they see fit.
Wind does not look to be an issue with nothing more than 10mph in the forecast across the week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JORDAN SPIETH – 25/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED MC
Let’s be honest as is more often than not the case for the Majors you could make a very strong case for plenty of the players at the top end of the betting, Scottie Scheffler is one half decent putting week away from destroying a field, Jon Rahm has an excellent record in California and Brooks Koepka has, as we benefited from at the PGA, rediscovered his Major prowess. Then of course there is Rory McIlroy who has shown flashes of his former self of late while being worn down with the baggage of being the PGA Tours unofficial spokesman in its battles with LIV. Something, which has ultimately in his own words made him feel somewhat like a ’sacrificial lamb’.
Ultimately though you can’t back them all at the top of the market and with plenty of ‘unknowns’ and a lot of speculation about what exactly to expect from LACC I will skip the very top of the market and take a more prudent each way approach starting with Jordan Spieth.
There have been concerns of late regarding Spieth’s fitness as he has nursed a wrist injury which forced him to withdraw from the Byron Nelson prior to the PGA Championship. He then produced a low key 29th place in the years second Major before missing the cut at Colonial CC, a venue we know he loves.
Allaying fears that the injury was the root of any slump or cause of great concern the Texan then teed it up again the following week at the Memorial and produced a vastly improved display to finish fifth, his sixth top six finish of the year.
At the root of that vastly improved performance was Jordan’s long game, which saw him rank fourth from tee to green on the week, sixth of the tee and second in driving accuracy. It’s also worth noting that on the latter front he found all 14 fairways on Saturday. Meanwhile Spieth’s much vaunted touch around the greens was in evidence as he ranked eighth for the week in that area.
On to this week then and of course with a certain element of ‘unknown’ I can’t help but think LACC will be to the three time Major Champions liking. My logic runs as follows;
Firstly, there has been a lot of talk of how the course features huge changes of contours and elevation both on the fairways and on the greens and to me while I don’t expect huge similarities between the tracks that certainly brings Augusta to mind, where we know Spieth is an expert. In addition with the greens at LACC featuring run of areas off areas rather than thick rough the type of creativity needed at Augusta will surely be called in to play here.
Meanwhile with the rough off the fairways not overly penal while it will still be important to not stray off them players will still have an opportunity to get creative and take advantage of contours to run the ball in in the firm fast conditions, something, which may also be required on the monster 280 yard+ par threes. To me then this conjures up images almost of links style play, which we know again that Spieth is a master of.
Spieth’s record over the years in California has not been fantastic with just the one win in the state at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am to his name. Let’s not forget though we are on Bentgrass putting surfaces this week, not the usual Poa we see in California, and Jordan has had more than his fare share on Bentgrass surfaces. All in all then Spieth makes plenty of appeal to me this week and I am happy to side with him to land his fourth Major.
MAX HOMA – 28/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
There is no doubt that research is the most key part of the process of golf betting particularly when you are presented with a course for a Major Championship that is new to us.
Ultimately though we can pore over potential course similarities and anticipated key attributes for the week as much as we want but sometimes the answer is staring you right in the face. This was the situation last year at Brookline when Matt Fitzpatrick triumphed at a the same venue he had won the US Amateur at, while the previous year we saw it again with Jon Rahm lifting the trophy at his favoured Torrey Pines, and it is quite possible we may see something again with Max Homa at LACC this week.
Homa as I am sure most readers will know is a California native and he has become a serial winner in his home state. A six time winner on tour in four years now Max has bagged four of those trophies in California, twice at the Fortinet, once at nearby Riviera and then earlier this year at Torrey Pines.
In addition over this time he has posted five further top tens in his home state including three more at Riviera.
Furthermore in relation to LACC he holds the course record here with a 61!
So we’ve established that Max is an obvious candidate for this week based on his record in California and his familiarity with the track but what of his form coming in to the week?
Well after his early season form, which saw him win twice on the West Coast and then post a sixth place at The Players he has continued to play solidly, with the only disappointments being a couple of lack lustre down the field finishes in the Majors. Last time out however he posted a strong ninth place finish at the Charles Schwab Challenge to give us the recent high finish we are looking for. Meanwhile Max’s season long stats show us that he is 12th in approach play, fifth in putting and perhaps pertinently for this week, allowing for the five par three’s, second in par three scoring averages.
Returning to the one negative, Homa’s form, or lack of it to date, in Major’s and this obviously is a slight concern, however there is no doubt he has the all round game for a tough Major test and my hope this week is that the ‘California factor’ will outweigh the lack of previous Major form.
To sum up then while probably the most obvious pick on the board there is so much pointing to Homa this week that I just can’t leave him out.
JUSTIN ROSE – 35/1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Next up I am happy to keep faith for the third Major this year with Justin Rose.
As I said both prior to the Masters and PGA Rose has to be given great credit for the work he has done on his game over the past 12 months or so as it would have been very easy for him to move over to LIV and fade away gracefully as many of his fellow Europeans from his generation have done.
As I say though full credit to Justin and he has knuckled down to currently be in the midst of a season, which has seen him win at Pebble Beach and post six other top 20s including a sixth place at Sawgrass and a ninth at last Month’s PGA.
Since we cashed with the Englishman each way at Oak Hill he has shown no signs of letting up as he posted a 12th place at Colonial and ninth last week in Canada.
A look at Rose’s stats for this season show us that he is doing everything really well at the moment as he sits 13th in approach play, 19th from tee to green, 22nd in putting and 31st around the greens. Meanwhile in Canada last week he ranked ninth in Driving Accuracy, 12th in approach, 13th in putting, 14th from tee to green and ninth around the greens.
Like our first pick this week Spieth, Rose is another who has a great track record at Augusta over the years and I therefore expect him to be suited by this weeks anticipated ‘second shot’ test. Let’s not forget also of course that with his lone Major triumph to date coming in the US Open he clearly knows how to handle the challenges the USGA put in front of the players.
All in all Justin is having his best season for many a year now and having been in the mix at both Majors so far this year, and as a player who’s game clearly sets up well for the Major test, I expect another big challenge from him this week.
COREY CONNERS – 1pt E/W – 50/1 – 1/5 odds 1st 10. - FINISHED MC
Moving on and another player who makes plenty of appeal to me this week is Corey Conners.
Conners who notched his second PGA Tour title in Texas earlier this year is known as one of the tours most consistent performers from tee to green, something reflected in his season long stats of eighth in good old fashioned GIR, 18th from tee to green and 22nd in approach play.
Since landing his second victory at the Valero Texas Open in the spring it has been something of a mixed bag from Conners as he missed the cut both at Augusta and at the Memorial, while posting an eighth place at the Wells Fargo and a 12th at last months PGA Championship.
Reflecting on his performance at Oak Hill and Corey was right in the hunt for the trophy deep in to Saturday’s third round as he held the lead on the 16th hole. Unfortunately though he hit his second shot in to the lip of the fairway bunker, [the same fate that befell Viktor Hovland 24hrs later] and this stalled his challenge before a disappointing 75 on Sunday saw him fall further down the board. Taking the positive on that week though and Corey produced a strong overall performance and I am sure learnt plenty from being in the mix that he can bring to this week. After all lets not forget that last years US Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick went through a similarly disappointing final day a few weeks prior at Southern Hills.
While that week at Oak Hill represented Corey’s best effort in the PGA to date let’s not forget that he posted three consecutive top ten finishes at Augusta prior to his missed cut this year so he has plenty of other experience of being involved at the business end of Majors. In addition and as mentioned already I can see some similarities to the skill sets required at Augusta, which may well stand him in good stead this week.
The one slight concern I would have on the ‘Major front’ is that Conners’ form in the US Open to date has been poor, missing all four cuts, however I don’t see any great reason for that based on his steady tee to green game so I am happy to pass that by.
Finally of course, while Corey will be no doubt disappointed with his own final round in Canada at the weekend, I can’t help but think he will be inspired by his fellow countryman Nick Taylor’s win and I would not be at all surprised to see him roll that Canadian momentum in to another great week this week.
KURT KITAYAMA – 125/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/6 odds 1st 12 - FINISHED MC
Finally this week I’ll take a chance that Kurt Kitayama can continue on with his great season and produce another big Major week.
Kitayama is one of those gritty types of player whose ‘whole’ is better than the sum of its parts and this year he has shown that in spades, particularly at Bay Hill where he fended off a stellar field to bag the trophy.
A look at Kitayama’s performances on the PGA tour since he gained his card full time for the start of the 21/22 campaign tells us one thing straightaway, that consistency is not his strong point. What is clear however is when the track is right for Kurt and his game is ‘on’ he clearly makes it count. We saw this at the Honda Classic, the Mexico Championship, the Scottish Open and the CJ Cup last year and this year at the PGA, where he posted top five finishes, and also in his win at Bay Hill of course.
Interestingly then and pertinent for this week four of those top fives including the win came on really tough set ups where single digit totals were good enough to bag him the big finish. Basically Kitayama is someone who seems to produce his best golf in tough set ups where ‘par is your friend’.
Further inspection of Kitayama’s big performances also tell us that he appears to be at his best on tracks where there is a little bit of room off the tee while there is a premium on the second shot, and this is borne out by his strongest statistical asset, his approach play, for which he ranks 41st and I expect this to stand him in good stead this week.
Finally of course as a native of California, I expect Kurt to be very much at home this week back on the West Coast.
While it is a huge ask for Kitayama to win this week we have seen many times over recent years, including very much in this event, that the clue to a Major winner can be found in the previous Major and allowing for that his fourth place at Oak Hill certainly catches the eye. If we then add in how he closed out the API event earlier in the year against a field of the games best and I certainly wouldn’t rule out that possibility and at juicy three figure odds he makes plenty of appeal.
UPDATED 14th JUNE
FIRST ROUND LEADER - ADAM SCOTT 66/1 & ADAM HADWIN 125/1 - BOTH 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7.
FINISHED - NO RETURN
With the wind expected to pick up slightly as the day progresses and softer conditions anticipated in the morning before the sun really breaks through I'll take two from the AM wave in the First Round Leader Market, Adam Scott & Adam Hadwin who tee off at 8.02 & 8.24 local time respectively.
Scott has started to turn his solid but unspectacular form from earlier in the year in to some bigger finishes of late with three top tens in his last four starts. Meanwhile he currently sits fourth in round one scoring showing us he enjoys his Thrursdays.
At Augusta in April he sat sixth after the opening day while he was fast out of the gates again at the PGA to sit in the top ten after round one.
A former winner at Riviera Scott certainly enjoys his time in LA so I'll take him for another quick Major start.
Hadwin meanwhile has always been at his best on a tougher test and it is worth noting his one tour win to date came at the Valspar on another track, which boasts five par threes like we have this week.
The Canadian actually lead the US Open after day one last year before going on to finish seventh and with him surely buoyed coming in to this week by his fellow countryman Nick Taylor's success last week, I'll take him to repeat last years performance.