The US Open preview with Skeeter McGillicuddy
The second major, and Milky Phil’s latest chance to complete the grand slam, heads to Sinnecock Hills, Long Island, New York. Milky, the Jimmy White of the US Open with his six runners up finishes, comes into this event steaming on sentimentality and with a fairly good game to match.
On the face of it, as with most US Opens, you better hit some fairways and greens at Shinnecock – and you might want to be long as well – given a 7,400+ yards par 70. Add in killer rough, dry conditions, and an alleged linksy feel, and distance, and a high ball flight, are a must. Despite the links claims I think Rory nailed it when he said it doesn’t play like a links course, as there are few opportunities to run the ball in. All of which augur well for Rory.
Last played in 2004 the course has been widened averaging well over forty yards wide – not quite in the recent Trinity Forest league – the greens increased in size, and the course lengthened nearly 500 yards since then. I’m not sure the equipment and ball have adapted that much to match this increase so I can’t see a double digit winning score (so brave a prediction). Goosen won in 2004 with four under when the greens became laughably quick and had to be watered. Mindful of that debacle we will still expect super quick greens but not unplayable.
I’ve already alluded to the advantage I think the longer hitters will have and with the removal of hundreds of trees this only strengthens that view. The course also runs hither and thither so throw in the coastal wind factor and you’ve got a real mental test.
Of the top players, beyond Spieth’s putting, and the idea that world number ones hardly ever win this, let alone two in a row, thus supposedly ruling out Dustbin’s chances (absurd), as usual they have a case to be made.
Rory’s credentials, awesome driving and a high ball flight, seem enhanced given he’s actually putting well. Unlike Dustbin who often looks like he’s just put them out, Rory wears his heart on his sleeve, and those missed putts, and the relentless scrutiny. give the impression he’s hopeless on the greens. Players miss putts all day long but commentators lazily opine of many players that “he never used to miss these”. Yes he did, and yes he will. So the perception of Rory’s putting woes is just that. He has a positive strokes gained putting seasonal stat, his first since 2014 where he killed it remember? Since 2014 he’s posted negative strokes gained putting figures every season. A closer examination reveals that in the later part of this season his putting has been even better – including as it does his monster win at the Arnie P. I was going to suggest backing him in-running on Thursday, when his price may have drifted after a score or two were posted, but since he’s off early, the 16/1 looks inviting.
Rose, Thomas, Day, Rahm and Rickie all equally look inviting for one reason or another, but we can’t have them all. As for Tiger I’m sticking to my view that he flatters to deceive, looking good as he does, only to fade away. As for Milky he’s having a great year for sure and for a Hollywood story it would be great for golf. I think though that he might be best saved for when he runs up, what these days seems, an inevitable triple or worse. He seems to do this and then the next thing you know there he is back in contention. If he tempers his game off the tee then he could trot up.
Our shortlist is too long to warrant the name so we’ll just get into it.
I’m sticking to the stable approach as anyone involved has earned their place with the view they are potential winners. To an extent it has thus far proved a solid approach. Now what we need is for them to step up and win a major. Patrick will always be the one that not only won when we were not on, but we actually made a case against.
Bryson DeChambeau 1pt e/w @ $41 with Bet365
Emilliano Grillo 1pt e/w @ $101 with Bet365
Xander Schauffele 1pt e/w @ $101 with Bet365
Kyle Stanley 1pt e/w@ $101 with Bet365
At the Masters…”Bryson DeChambeau is a stable star of ours and comes here in fine form. He’s 31st in strokes gained approaching the green and 128th in stokes gained putting – seasonally. Hardly sets the world on fire given we’re always trying to make a case for players based on performance. What isn’t revealed but these numbers are his most recent efforts and that includes chasing home a rampant Rory at the Arnie P. Not an isolated effort either as he posted a T5 at the Waste Management and a T7 at the Shriners. DeChambeau can be DeShambles but he does things his way and when on looks a world class player. He has a solid debut effort (T21) in 2016 ruined by a few horror holes and is a much better player trending in the right direction. Easy to envisage being in contention and at 80/1 fixed and bigger on the exchanges carries ours.”
At the Colonial: DeChambeau failed to set Augusta on fire but he is in fine form with a 2nd, 3rd and 4th in his last 5 starts. He’s hitting fairways and greens for fun and crucially his robotic putting method is working.
A stable star in much the same way Patrick once was I fail to see why we should abandon Bryson given all the underlying factors still prevail. I think his price is based on the stacked top end of the market and his sole appearance where he finished midfield. He’s yet to win this season but he’s overall game is rock solid and his stats tell a compelling story. A 2nd, 3rd and 4th are the least of it. He’s 21st in scoring average, 11th in strokes gained tee to green, 15th strokes gained total – super solid stats that will place him in positions to win.
So Bryson won the Memorial but what makes me think he can back up? One he’s different, and of all the players I get the feeling he’s the one who would immediately dismiss the idea your chances are less because you are backing up. They aren’t. Beyond that there was a nagging doubt given the way his driving fell apart in the final round at the Memorial. He spoke about it frankly afterwards. What really impressed me was when the heat was on he delivered. Three times he went down 18 and nailed his tee shots all three times. He then progressively got better with each approach attempt – remembering that his opponents were collectively all over the place. So he handles pressure. What then of his US Open record? In 2017 he missed the cut, his eighth in a row. In 2016 he finished 15th. Not a lot to go on, but in 2017 he was in wretched form, and this year is a vastly improved player, not least on the greens.
At the Memorial we wrote: Emiliano Grillo is, regular readers will recall, another stable favourite. We’ve not seen him here for a while as he seemed to be struggling. I was tempted last week and given that performance I have to be on him here. The key to him for me is putting. I’ve long since been convinced of his ball striking – currently ranked 11th and was 7th the previous week – Grillo has had to go on a journey to discover his putting. The bare facts of his game are that he has made strides – huge ones. Four top tens in his last eight starts is no mean feat on the USPGA Tour. A debut 11th here in 2016 was impressive on his first full year on tour. Where I am really impressed with Grillo is the depth of statistical evidence across the main categories. Ball striking is a guide to half the game and as impressive as being top ten is it needs to be underpinned by being able to convert and at 15th in strokes gained putting you have the evidence. He hits the fairways, he hits the greens and now he’s putting. Like Bryson his price appears to be predicated on the sheer number of top ranked players – just how we like it.
Grillo failed to light up the Memorial but he hardly stunk the place out either. Like Bryson his putting has improved markedly, posting a first ever seasonal positive figure, sitting 13th as he does in strokes gained putting, at 0.599. In 2017 it was -0.141, in 2016 -0.56 and 2015 -0.139. He ranks highly in most of the other major stats categories too, strokes gained off the tee (24th), strokes gained approaching the green (21st), stokes gained tee to green (26th) and strokes gained total (9th), that simply reflect a great year only needing a win.
At the Memorial we wrote: Kyle Stanley has yet to make an appearance here but strikes me as a potential contender. The 30-year-old tour winner, ranked 49th in the world, comes her with good course form allied to some solid recent performances including three top tens this season. A missed cut at the Players can be forgiven where he lost nearly one and a half stokes to the field on the greens – it happens. I’m drawn to Stanley for his tee to green game standing 4th as he does in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation. At 102nd on strokes gained putting he would appear to be struggling. Simply put if you hit that many greens then you’ll almost always be down in the strokes gained putting category. Some context then. Tied for 6th last year he gained over 1.8 stokes on the field on the greens – so he can putt. He also posted a 3rd here in 2013 again with a solid 0.814 strokes gained putting. A final putting pointer. Since the 2013 season Stanley has always posted a season long negative strokes gained putting figure – five seasons on the trot. In 2018 his current figure is 0.087. The man’s on fire!
And so it nearly proved. Curiously it was a bad drive on the first play off hole at the Memorial that cost him his chance. The area we were looking for improvement was putting and Stanley duly delivered. His ball striking sits exactly where is was pre the Memorial. A very mediocre record, and first run out in his national championship in five years, are no positives, but he’s earned a pick with his great ball striking and his best ever season on the greens.
Xander Schauffele came into this event last year on the back of a string of missed cuts, found his game with an impressive 5th, and never looked back. We were on him for the Tour Championship, and he was a pick in the Masters , because he reeks of class. 2018 has been a streaky sort of follow up and he comes here on the back of consecutive missed cuts. Time will tell, but he may simply be a player we have to catch at the right time. I’m heartened by his Players performance, a third, and one other top ten this season, to the extent another strong showing would hardly surprise. He boasts an across the main categories strokes gained figure, but the reality is his tee to green game has always been inconsistent. Maybe the 40+ yards off the tee he’ll get at Shinnecock will work for him and afford him the chances to exploit his, when on, high class game.