The US Open
It was a disappointing week for us at Congaree as four of our five picks missed the cut whilst the one remaining heading in to the weekend, Patrick Rodgers, struggled over the final 36 holes.
For obvious reasons it was always going to be a tough event to get a handle on and suffice to say we will move on swiftly.
The tournament itself was one by Garrick Higgo who on only his second start on the PGA Tour found himself as the last man standing as all around him faltered down the stretch,
A three time winner over the past twelve months on the European Tour Higgo now has himself a full PGA Tour card and there is no doubt this this win is the first of many Stateside.
So onwards we go and in keeping with the helter-skelter season we are in the midst of it is time for Major number five of the six Majors in the 20/21 schedule, The US Open.
This years edition, which will be the second US open of the season, is the 121st edition of the event and it will be the second to be held at Torrey Pines.
As most readers probably wont need me to tell them the first edition, which took place here in 2008, is now ingrained in golfing folklore as the ‘one where Tiger Woods won with a broken leg’, memorably beating Rocco Mediate in an 18 hole play off on Monday to take the title.
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 headed up by Torrey Pines specialist Jon Rahm.
Behind Rahm we then have Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Bryson Dechambeau.
Torrey Pines South was designed by William Bell and was opened for play in 1957.
The course is situated in the community of La Jolla on the coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean, in the city of San Diego, California.
The Course has subsequently undergone two redesigns under the guidance of Rees Jones firstly in 2001 and more recently in 2019.
Other Rees Jones designs or redesigns used over recent years on tour include Aronimink GC host of the 2010, 2011 A&T National & 2018 BMW Championship, Baltusrol host of the 2016 PGA Championship, Bellerive CC which hosted the 2018 PGA Championship, Bethpage Black which hosted the 2009 U.S Open, 2019 PGA Championship & the 2012/2016 The Barclays, The Blue Course, Congressional CC scene of the 2011 U.S. Open & 2012-2014 & 2016 Quicken Loans National and finally Medinah Number 3 the scene of the 2019 BMW Championship.
While the course normally plays to a par 72 when the PGA Tour pitches up here every January for the Farmers Insurance Open this week it will play as a par 71 measuring a7643 yards.
The greens are Poa Annua.
The course also features Kikuyu rough, which can also be found at the events held at Riviera CC and Chapultepec in Mexico. In addition it is commonly found in South Africa and has certainly been a pointer to South African’s performing well at Riviera over the years.
So what can we expect of Torrey Pines this time around?
Well with six par fours measuring over 450yds including the 515yd sixth, which normally plays as a par five in January, length off the tee will no doubt be an advantage.
This is rubber stamped by the fact that two of the par fives will play to over 600yds. For what its worth though the closing par five 18th does give some respite measuring ‘just’ 568yds and this hole played as the easiest back in 2008.
I would therefore see ‘long and straight’ [basically Total Driving] as the key off the tee.
The shortest par 4 on the course is the 387yd second.
The par three’s, the third, eighth, eleventh and sixteenth measure 195, 173, 222 and 223 yards respectively.
While ‘long and straight’ will be important as we saw at Winged Foot in September from Bryson the further you hit it the more you can stray and therefore with the usual US Open ‘penal rough’ reports starting to come through we can’t rule out another Bryson type performance where a big hitter manages to use brute strength to overcome the rough from shorter distances. It will be interesting to see what if anything the USGA have done with the set up to try and ‘Bryson proof it’.
One thing is for certain though, short and crooked will be a recipe for disaster this week.
With Torrey Pines running along side the Pacific Ocean wind is sure to play a factor and with 15-20mph gusts predicted an ability to control your ball in breezy conditions looks key. Furthermore with no rain forecast all week we should see relatively firm conditions.
Finally an ability to perform on the notoriously tricky poa annua greens is a must.
All in all patience, the ability stay solid off the tee, to grind out pars and touch on the greens look the keys to me this week.
So lets take a look at the last ten winners.
2020 Bryson Dechambeau
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
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, we have seen Koepka start his Major lovefest by bombing his way to victory at Erin Hills and most recently we have seen Dechambeau use his length off the tee and brute strength to overpower Winged Foot.
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 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.
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 two editions to go on it could well be significant that the two winners of the US Open in 2019 and 2020, Woodland and Dechambeau, both finished top ten at the proceeding PGA.
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.
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 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 Graeme McDowell was victorious at Pebble Beach at three figure odds unheralded Frenchman Gregory Havret chased him home.
Last year 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 lead to a more predictable flavour at the top of the leaderboard. This year with the return of the ‘longest day’ qualifying last week I full expect that someone will ride that wave of qualification to a massive week.
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.
Finally with regards to previous form at Torrey Pines whilst if a player has it, it of course can’t be a negative, the 2008 leaderboard here clearly shows that we should not get hung up on it. In fact if we take Tiger Woods out of the equation only three of the players who finished in the top ten that year have ever posted a top 30 finish in the Farmers.
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 conditions.
Temperatures for the week will sit around the mid to high 70s all week.
Wind which is always potentially a factor here looks set to play its part as the first three days show gusts of 15mph+ while Sunday currently shows the potential of gusts up to 30mph.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JON RAHM – 10/1 – 4pts Win. - FINISHED 1st!!!!
First up this week I am going to throw my hat in the ring with the tournament favourite Jon Rahm and will make no apologies for doing so.
Rahm as I’m sure all readers will know had to withdraw from the Memorial tournament just over a week ago after a covid test came back positive.
To say that the timing of this withdrawal was unfortunate would be an understatement as the news of the positive test was broken to him behind the 18th green on Saturday just after he posted a flawless round of 64 to open up a six shot lead heading in to the final round.
Dwelling on this for a moment and the fact that Rahm has had to isolate for the past seven days or so is probably not ideal however having tweeted out on Saturday evening that he had recorded two negative tests over 24hrs and was therefore now ‘good to go’ I can’t believe that his preparation for this week will have been interfered with too much.
Rahm we believe has remained asymptomatic and he will surely now be 100% raring to go.
So with the one slight negative out of the way lets focus on the obvious positives for Rahm, of which it should be said there are plenty.
Firstly after understandably struggling with his focus earlier this year following the birth of his first child Rahm now appears to be peaking at just the right time for this week as a fast finishing eighth at the PGA Championship was followed by his superb performance at Muirfield Village.
Then of course we have the Spaniard’s course history, which began with his memorable maiden PGA tour win here in 2017 and after a lower key defence in 2018, has seen him post three further consecutive top seven finishes in the past three years. Clearly then it goes without saying Rahm has a huge affinity to Torrey Pines.
One thing we do know of course is that Torrey Pines in June will be a very different beast to the one that the tour sees every January for the Farmers, however my thinking is that the tougher set up will, if anything play in to Rahm’s hands as the 26yr olds all round game is tailor made for tough Major conditions.
Looking at this in more detail and Rahm currently sits second on tour in Total Driving giving us the ‘long & straight’ combination we are looking for, he also sits second off the tee, third from tee to green and 12th in approach play.
With so many strong challengers at the top of the betting backing a player ‘win only’ here is of course a risky business however the more I look at this the more I just can’t get away from Rahm. I also believe his recent misfortune at the Memorial will give him that extra bit of determination needed this week to make up for that disappointment.
To sum up then in simple terms its Rahm for me then to bag his first Major Championship this week.
SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER – 45/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED T7th
It’s undoubtedly been a case over recent years that one of the biggest pointers to finding the winner of Majors has been by looking at who has performed strongly in the recent Majors, and if that mantra is to stay true this week one player that can’t be ignored is Scottie Scheffler.
Backing a player who is yet to win on the PGA Tour at shortish odds to win a Major at first glance might seem somewhat foolish however it goes without saying that the young Texan has been knocking on the door for a while now and with his all round game perfectly suited to this challenge there is no reason why he can’t make his breakthrough in the biggest of events.
Looking at Scottie’s all round game and one fact that sticks out to me this week is that at both 35th in Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy this season he leads the tour in Total Driving, a stat that as mentioned earlier I see as being a key to success this week.
Returning to Scheffler’s performance in the Major Championships to date and his results show that he is clearly suited to the test they present as he has finished fourth, 19th, 18th and eighth in the four Major’s he has tee’d it up in since gaining his full card.
Of these four performances his two top ten finishes have both come in the PGA Championship with the eighth place recently giving us the recent pointer we are looking for while the fourth place last September was achieved in California at Harding Park which featured bentgrass greens mixed with Poa. Scottie also performed solidly enough on the poa mix greens at Riviera earlier this year when finishing 20th.
Scheffler has missed the cut on both of his previous visits to Torrey Pines for the Farmers however as noted earlier, while it is of course useful, I am not going to get overly hung up on past Farmers form this week. Instead I will focus on the fact that the 24yr old bounced back from a rare missed cut at the Charles Schwab to finish third at the Memorial last time out so he should arrive here in really good spirits.
Clearly Scheffler has the modern style of ‘power game’, which is ideally suited to Major Championships these days and from that point of view his name would certainly sit comfortably on a list in an event, which has most recently seen Dechambeau, Woodland and Koepka grab their first Major’s and I am keen to have him onside this week.
MAX HOMA – 90/1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Another player who makes plenty of appeal this week is Max Homa.
Hailing from only a couple of hours further North in Burbank just outside Los Angeles, Max has already shown he has what it takes to win under the microscope in his home state as earlier this year he bagged the Riviera title on his doorstep in Los Angeles.
If we then add this victory to his fifth place in the same event the previous year and his 18th and ninth place finishes in the Farmers over the past couple of seasons, alongside strong performances at the American Express and at Pebble Beach, and a clear pattern emerges that Homa is comfortable whenever he tee’s it up in his home state.
Looking at Homa’s stats this season and while he doesn’t stand out hugely in any particular department he is long enough off the tee to compete here and he is strong on the greens, particularly on the poa of course.
Homa can undoubtedly blow hot and cold at times, however he clearly has a liking for classical tracks such as Quail Hollow where he won his first title, Riviera, which fits very well here with the Kikuyu, Memorial, where he was sixth last time out and of course Torrey Pines itself.
Touching further on that recent effort at Memorial and Max finished 16th for the week off the tee, 25th from tee to green and 25th in approach play so he arrives here with everything working well in the long game department. Furthermore he was third for the week in Ohio in putting.
Homa’s Major Championship record is very poor to date, which is undeniably a concern, however he clearly has that extra touch of class needed to compete at the very top level and I am confident he can put that right this week and turn in a big performance in a part of the world he is clearly loves to play.
BRANDEN GRACE – 125/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED T7th
A player who has been firmly on our radar this season is Branden Grace and with the Major Championship circuit returning to the coast again I once more find it impossible to leave Branden out.
As regular readers will know as well as siding with Grace when he was triumphant in Puerto Rico earlier this year we had him onside at Kiawah Island recently in the PGA Championship and for two days he gave us plenty of encouragement before ultimately falling away poorly on Sunday to cost us any chance of a place.
Following that performance Branden withdraw the next week at the Charles Schwab citing a back problem however one week later he was right back on track at Muirfield Village finishing fourth in the Memorial.
Whilst that result was a great performance for the South African it wasn’t quite the second place finish he needed to make the top 60 in the OWGR to qualify automatically for this week, meaning that he needed to head to the US Open ‘longest day’ qualifying on the Monday and after deciding to head back to Florida and tee it up on his home course he bagged one of the spots available.
So rested up now Grace heads to California to tee it up in his seventh straight US Open and in an event, which despite the fact that he shot 62 in the Open at Birkdale, is the one that has given him his closest taste of Major success.
Although the South African’s best finish in the event was a fourth place at Pinehurst in 2015 his best opportunity undoubtedly came the following year at Chambers Bay, an event which significantly was also held on the West Coast of the US in Washington State, however a stray tee shot out of bounds on the 16th hole on Sunday lead to a double bogey six for Grace and with his chance gone he finished fifth.
What that result did tell us yet again though is that the 33yr old is at his best whenever coastal breezes and firmer conditions are in play.
Since Grace posted his record breaking 62 at Birkdale in 2017 it has been a fairly barren time for him at Major Championships however I can’t escape the fact that when he was at his best he was regularly knocking on the door in the biggest events and in 2015 and 2016 he posted top five finishes at the PGA Championship following on from his big performances at the US Open. From that point of view it could well be the case that his reappearance on the big stage at Kiawah is a prelude for bigger things to come this summer.
Grace has only ever tee’d it up once at Torrey Pines in the Farmers missing the cut on that occasion, however he should be comfortable on the Kikuyu, which as mentioned earlier is common in South Africa and with his approach game, putter and short game in general all looking in good shape at Memorial last time out he should arrive here in confident mood.
At 33yrs old Grace should be coming to his prime career years now and I firmly believe he has a Major Championship in him and I am happy to chance him again this week.
JJ SPAUN – 600/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED MC
Finally with 11 each way places on offer this week I am going to take a roll of the dice and give a chance to JJ Spaun at massive odds.
I mentioned earlier that the US Open has a habit of throwing up players who make the frame at huge odds and more often than not they transpire to be someone who has come through the ‘longest day’ qualifying as Spaun did at Hilton Head.
Born in los Angeles and still a resident of the area JJ attended college in San Diego so to make it through qualifying to tee it up this week will be a huge moment in his career and he will be desperate to perform well.
Having tee’d it up here on five occasions in The Farmers JJ has made the cut three times posting a best of ninth place so we know he can handle the track. The obvious disadvantage JJ will have this week though is at 188th in Driving Distance he is one of the shortest off the tee out there, however on the flip side of the coin at 17th on tour in Driving Accuracy the 30yr old is one of the straightest out there and that could well be a significant advantage to him this week.
In addition at 50th in good old fashioned GIR Spaun finds the dance floor with regular occurrence.
I put up Spaun last week at the Palmetto Championship on the back of a recent upturn in form and his US Open qualification, however what can only be described as an abject putting display, which saw him ranked 145th on the greens over the first two days put paid to any chances he had of making the weekend, what shouldn’t be lost in that performance though is that JJ still ranked 12th in Driving Accuracy over Thursday and Friday and the week could have been very different if he had taken any of the numerous birdie chances he gave himself over his first nine holes or so.
The hope then this week is simply that a return to poa greens on a course he knows well will lead to a big upturn with the flat stick, and if the accuracy with the long game remains things could turn around dramatically from last week.
Spaun has started to play much better of late finishing 18th at Quail Hollow a couple of weeks ago and I will wrap things up this week by taking a chance that he can ride home support to the week of his life and sneak in to the frame.
UPDATED 15th JUNE
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - ERIK VAN ROOYEN - DK VALUE $6700 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 20
With Branden Grace featuring in our main team I am exprecting a big week from the South African contingent and another that could thrive is Erik Van Rooyen.
Van Rooyen has struggled of late and he reached a low point at his last Major Championship at Kiawah Island where he was caught on camera smashing up a tee box after a poor drive and in doing so nearly took Matt Wallace's caddy's head off.
Following that loss of temper EVR appears to have turned a corner though as after coming through qualifying for this week he then played really well last week at Congaree to finish tenth.
Van Rooyen should be comfortable both by the coast and on the kikuyu rough and having played well on his two previous US Open appreances to date I can see him having another good week.
PICK 2 - MARTIN LAIRD - DK VALUE $6600 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 20.5
As regular readers will know Martin Laird is a huge favourite of this column having delivered a win for us at huge odds in Lsas Vegas last Fall. Since that win the Scotsman's form has tailed off slightly however he continues play all four days more often than not and more pertinently for this week he continues to play really solidly from tee to green.
Laird's most recent Major Championship appearance saw him finish 23rd at Kiawah Island and back on a course he has played strongly at before I anticipate an equally solid performance this week.
FIRST ROUND LEADER PICKS
JASON KOKRAK - 60/1 1pt E/W 1/5 odds 1st 8 & CAMERON YOUNG - 175/1 1/2pt E/W 1/5 odds 1st 7. - NO RETURN
My final update for this week is two add two first round leader picks in Jason Kokrak and Cameron Young.
Both players have early tee times meaning, if the forecast is accurate, they should get the lightest breezes of the day and will also get the better of the poa annua greens, which get tougher as the day goes on.
Both players should arrive here in confident mood buoyed by recent victories. Kokrak who triumphed in his last start at the Charles Schwab Challenge has the prototype game for Torrey Pines and could well be involved at the business end come Sunday. My preference though is to side with him on day one as he is prone to a fast start, something shown by the fact he sits first in round one scoring averages on tour this season.
As for Young, with his back to back wins on the Korn Ferry tour recently basically guaranteeing him a spot in the big league next season he will be riding the crest of a wave, something that will have been added to by having come through the 'longest day' qualifying last Monday for this week.
Young has opened with two 64s and a 65 in three of his last four starts showing he is more than capable of getting out of the blocks quickly and while this is a big step up of course he undoubtedly has that extra touch of class to compete at this level.