The US Open
It was a fantastic weeks golf in Canada, which saw Rory McIlroy return to the winners enclosure for the first time this year after he saw off Justin Thomas and Tony Finau in a thrilling final round battle.
Played out to the backdrop of the launch of the first LIV series event it was all the PGA Tour could have hoped for, a fantastic conclusion featuring two of the Tour’s brightest stars in front of a vibrant audience on a great course.
From our point of view it was more frustration. Two of our initial team of five withdrew prior to the off and as a result I added Danny Lee at 250/1 for eight places after he qualified for the US Open on Monday.
After a solid first three days we then had to look on as Lee agonisingly fell one shot shy of a place return after a closing Sunday 65.
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 122nd edition of the event and it will be the fourth to be held at Brookline Country Club and the first to be held here since 1988.
As to be expected of course with a Major championship the field this week is a stellar one, including the big names who remain eligible who tee’d it up in last weeks LIV golf event, and at the time of writing the market is just headed up by man of the moment Rory McIlroy.
Behind McIlroy we then have Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm and Cameron Smith.
The Country Club at Brookline was designed by Willie Campbell in 1895 with the full 18 hole course completed in 1899.
The course is situated in Brookline, Massachusetts, about five miles south west of central Boston.
The Course has subsequently undergone redesigns firstly under the supervision of Rees Jones in 1988 then Gil Hanse in 2009.
Other Gil Hanse redesigns include Winged Foot, the host of the 2020 US Open as well several other layouts in the North East including Aronimink, Plainfield CC and Ridgewood, which have all held various play off events over recent years, while TPC Boston located nearby to here and 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 recently hosted the PGA Championship.
The course is a par 70 measuring just over 7250 yards long.
The greens are Bent Grass.
The course was last used for a Major Championship in 1988 when Curtis Strange triumphed over Nick Faldo in a play off to bag his second consecutive US Open. More recently then the course was used for the 2013 US Amateur Championship, which as many readers will know was won by Matt Fitzpatrick.
The layout the players will tackle this week is a composite layout taking four holes from the neighbouring Primrose track to create the desired Open course and routing, while one hole, the short par three 11th, measuring 130yds, has not been used in Championship golf since 1913.
The course features one short par four, the fifth measuring 310 yards, which longer hitters may choose to attack, while seven of the remaining par fours measure over 450 yards.
The two par fives are the 557 yard eighth hole and the fourteenth, which plays to 619 yards uphill and looks to be a true ‘three shotter’.
With blind tee shots, thick rough and potentially knee high fescue if you stray too far off line off the tee, to be followed then by the challenge of small greens, which are the second smallest behind Pebble Beach on the championship rota, the players are in for a tough traditional US Open style test this week.
Once the players do find the greens they will be faced with plenty of contours and if they find themselves on the wrong side of the hole they will be in three putt territory and facing slick downhill putts.
Unlike the two courses we have seen in play at the Majors so far this year, Augusta and Southern Hills, the Country Club’s greens are also surrounded by thick rough as opposed to shaved run off areas. Finding the putting surfaces this week then is sure to be key.
So lets take a look at the last ten winners.
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
2012 Webb Simpson
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 most recently we have seen Dechambeau use his length off the tee and brute strength to overpower Winged Foot. Most recently then we have seen Jon Rahm bag his first major at a course we already knew he 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.
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 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 we need to go back to Jordan Spieth’s win in 2015 to find an edition, where precision triumphed over power as the last six winners of the event, Rahm, Dechambeau, Woodland, Koepka [x2] and Johnson are all among the biggest hitters on tour. While then the initial view to take could be that finding the fairways will be of most significance this week as we saw with Dechambeau in particular at Winged Foot, brute force often wins the day as obviously if you do miss the fairway the closer you to the green the more chance in theory you have.
Equally though with the smaller than average greens here I would not rule out a shorter, more accurate player having a big week this time around. What is certain though is that ‘short and crooked’ will get you nowhere here!
The beginning of the week shows the possibility of some rain on Monday however beyond this we look set for dry conditions until Friday at least, where at the time of writing there is unfortunately the possibility of rain and even a storm on Friday and Saturday.
Temperatures for the week look set to sit around the mid to high 70s.
Wind could be a factor with gusts of 15-20mph over the week a possibility.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JUSTIN THOMAS – 12/1 – 4pts Win. - FINISHED 37th
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, first and foremost Rory McIlroy who got back in to the winners enclosure on Sunday at Canada.
Ultimately though you can’t back them all at the top of the market and assuming I am going to nail my colours to the mast with one this week that man is Justin Thomas.
Having been a pretty strong supporter of JT in the biggest of events over the past 12 months or so, most recently at Augusta, I will confess to some frustration to having missed out at Southern Hills and I am hoping this isn’t a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Ultimately though there have been numerous cases over the years of players picking up two Majors in quick succession and I am sure JT’s mentor a certain Mr Woods, who is of course absent this week, will have been talking to Thomas about how to reset and go again.
After winning at Southern Hills Thomas understandably missed the cut at Colonial however a week off seemed to do the trick and he was right back on it at Canada last weekend before losing out to McIlroy.
At St George’s JT lead the field off the tee for the week, was second from tee to green and fourth in approach play. Clearly then the long game that will be key this week, as it always is at the US Open, is still firing on all cylinders.
Moving on and 13th in driving distance for this season gives us the length off the tee, which has become so important in US Opens over the years, while his seasons long game stats are of course exactly what we are looking for.
A lot has been made of the addition of Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay to Thomas’ bag this season and there is no doubt that he was instrumental in keeping JT on track at Southern Hills when the frustration of a disappointing Saturday could have boiled over. This week on a course with plenty of blind tee shots, strategy will be key and having an experienced man like Bones on the bag may well again prove crucial.
While back to back Majors for JT would of course be unchartered territory, like many of the games elite he has shown he can strike more than once in quick succession and I am happy to side with him to triumph again this week.
WILL ZALATORIS – 30/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED 2nd
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 Will Zalatoris.
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 Zalatoris has been knocking on the door for a while now and with his game perfectly suited to this challenge there is no reason why he can’t make his breakthrough in the biggest of events.
Since bursting on the scene from a Major Championship point of view at the 2020 US Open where he finished sixth, Zalatoris’ run in the Majors reads as follows;
2020 US Open 6th
2021 PGA 8th
2021 US Open MC
2021 Open WD [Injury]
2022 Masters 6th
2022 PGA 2nd
As we can see then bar the missed cut at Torrey Pines and the injury withdrawal at Sandwich Will has finished no worse than eighth in the other five Majors he has tee’d it up in, that’s some return.
Turning our attention to Will’s recent form and after understandably missing the cut at Colonial on the back of the Play Off loss disappointment at Southern Hills the 25yr old bounced back in great style to finish fifth at the Memorial last time out.
Looking at Zalatoris’ stats for the season and there is nothing there that I am sure most readers don’t already know. He is one of the longest off the tee, currently ranked 15th in this area, so giving us the distance we are looking for, while he is not, it is fair to say one of the most accurate.
With regards to his iron play he is ranked first in approach play and fifth in good old fashioned GIR so that area of his game should be perfect for this week.
As we know though the area Will does fall down in is on the greens where he currently 154th for this season and this proved costly for us when we last sided with him at the Byron Nelson.
That evet though was certainly a ‘birdie fest’ where it was go low or go home and of course in that situation if you’re not holing the putts as Will wasn’t you are going to struggle.
As we have seen though in the Major’s where par is your friend there is not so much accent on needing a hot putter and particularly on tough greens no one will know I am hoping Will can do enough on the dance floor, as he did at Southern Hills, to compete.
To sum up then while the price certainly gives nothing away Zalatoris appears to have the perfect game for this week and having come so close last time at Southern Hills it would be no surprise to see him go one better this time.
JOAQUIN NIEMANN – 30/1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 47th
Next up in what is increasingly a young man’s game I am going to take a chance on Joaquin Niemann.
The young Chilean has for a while now been earmarked as his country’s first Major Champion in waiting however at the PGA Championship recently he, like the rest of the viewing public had to watch on aghast as his fellow countryman Mito Pereira, let the trophy slip through his fingers when all he needed on the 72nd hole was a par to claim victory.
Watching Mito come so close though seemed to inspire Joaquin to push on again is in his first subsequent start to the PGA he produced his best finish since his win at Riviera earlier in the year to finish third.
Looking more closely at Niemann’s stats for the week at Muirfield Village and he ranked second off the tee, a key area for this week, and seventh both from tee to green and in approach play. Clearly then the long game was working.
Furthermore if we look at Niemann’s stats for the season and he sits 13th off the tee, eighth from tee to green and 35th in approach play.
A former world number one amateur Niemann is undoubtedly a player headed to the very top of the game with Major Championships, you would have to think, very much in his reach going forward. Still only 23yrs old though historically you might have said it is still too soon for him to bag one, however the game is evolving all the time and he is very much the type of fearless young player who if it all clicks I could see winning on this stage now.
His results in the Majors since the start of the 20/21 season have seen him make the cut in all seven he has tee’d it up in with a best of 23rd that he has achieved twice including at the recent PGA Championship. This time out though on the back of his great effort at the Memorial, and on a classical type test that seems to bring out the best in him, I can see him pushing on and making a big bid to manage what Mito couldn’t quite achieve at Southern Hills.
TOMMY FLEETWOOD – 55/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED MC
A player who appears to have turned a corner this year and is certainly putting a fine Major campaign together is Tommy Fleetwood and I am keen to have the Englishman on side this week.
Without a PGA Tour card now Tommy has split his time between the DP World Tour and the PGA starts he has got this season and after a sluggish start a 14th place at Augusta appears to have spurred him on to better things.
Since that Masters finish Tommy has posted two tenth place finishes on each side of the Atlantic, firstly at Hilton Head and then in his most recent start at the Porsche European Open.
Tommy’s best effort this season though came at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills where he backed up his 14th place at Augusta to post a fifth place finish, his best result in a Major since finishing runner up to Shane Lowry at the Open in 2019.
At Southern Hills all areas of Fleetwood’s game were in great working order and he gained strokes in all long game areas on all four days. In addition after a sluggish first two days with the putter it warmed up nicely for him over the weekend.
Fleetwood as we know has been knocking on the door in the Major’s for several years now and the US Open is one that in particular has been kind to him as he posted back to back top four finishes in the event in 2017 and 2018. In addition of those two finishes, one, when he was runner up in 2018 to Koepka, came in the North East of the US at Shinnecock Hills so we have some form to go on in this part of the world.
Fleetwood is certainly a player who has served his apprenticeship on the big stage and while all eyes will perhaps have him marked down for next months Open at St Andrews, with his game trending nicely, I can see him grinding out a big result this week.
DANNY LEE – 500/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 12 - FINISHED MC
Finally with 12 each way places on offer this week I am going to chance a player again at massive odds who I added late to our team last week in Canada, Danny Lee.
Lee, a former US Amateur Champion who also won on the European Tour while still an amateur, can as we know be a complete enigma.
Prone to runs of poor form and high scores Lee was last seen in a Major at the US Open when he withdrew after six putting the 18th green from four feet at Winged Foot in 2020.
On the flip side though Danny does have a top 20 finish at Augusta to his name so we know he can cope with a tough Major set up on slick greens!
This season the 31yr old has shown some glimpses of his best stuff this when notching back to back top seven finishes on shorter tracks in Bermuda and Mexico before Christmas. In addition more recently he produced rounds of 64 and 65 on his way to a 23rd place finish at Colonial a couple of starts ago.
More pertinently Danny over the past ten days has followed up his successful qualification effort on ‘the Longest Day’ with a fine tenth place finish in Canada..
Looking at Lee’s numbers for the week in Canada and he was hugely impressive from tee to green ranking 11th in this department and seventh in approach play and on a track, which in the winner, McIlroy’s words himself, bore some similarities to this week’s test, that certainly bodes well.
Expanding the net further and Lee’s strongest efforts on tour over the years have time and again come on Par 70 tracks such as Colonial, TPC River Highlands, and at the Greenbrier where his one tour win to date came.
I mentioned earlier in the preview that over the years plenty of players who have come through qualifying have landed a place at huge odds and with Lee being a talented player who produces his best stuff in short bursts I am happy to take a chance that he can continue his form from last week here.
UPDATED 14th JUNE
FIRST ROUND LEADER PICKS - CAMERON YOUNG 40/1 & AARON WISE 60/1 - BOTH 1pt E/W 1/5 1st 8.
WISE FINISHED T7th
Simialrly to last months PGA we appear to be set for an opening Thursday where the winds will increase throughout the day making scoring conditions progressively tougher.
On that basis I will go for two AM starters here in the shape of Cameron Young and Aaron Wise, both of whom tee off at 8.02 AM local time, Young on the first tee and Wise on the tenth.
The similarities don't end there in that both men have been prone to a quick start this season and currently sit tied with each other in first round scoring averages on tour in seventh.
Young has taken to the PGA Tour like a duck to water in his rookie season and having been third at last months PGA he will be looking for another big week. Hailing originally from New York he should certainly be comfortable in the North East and I am happy to chance him here.
Wise meanwhile while not as prolific as Young has quietly been putting a great season together and his confidence should be high on the back of his runner up finish last time out at the Memorial. Again then, on a course that should suit his strong iron play, i am keen on him in this market.