The 2019 US Open preview with Skeeter McGillicuddy
The third major heads to the legendary Pebble Beach made famous by the likes of Jack in ‘72 and Tiger in 2000 no less. Not to be confused with the regular PGA Tour event played each February, the Pebble Beach Pro Am, this major will be played on the same course only in name. Longer, tighter and faster than the Pro Am the course will eat you if you get out of position. Throw in some fairly chilly high teens temperatures day one and two and even cooler on the weekend and while the newly stretched course is no monster at just over 7,000 yards it will play much longer at 15-19 degrees. Wind will also be a serious factor given its bang on Carmel Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
The question is therefore centred around the relevance of Pro Am form and the strategy employed. I’d say that Dustbin’s record and his status / current form clearly entitle him to his market position along with Rory who has just destroyed the field in the Canadian Open. You can’t quibble with Dustbins form in the Pro Am or under US Open conditions as he handed the title to McDowell in 2010 – not for the first time in a major. The problem with Rory’s form is: Can he back it up after stellar weekend in Canada? And will he like the test. He’s missed the cut the only two times he’s played here but this is a totally different beast and his form is awesome. Sadly I can’t have either of them at the single figure price.
Koepka is seeking a 5thmajor and third US Open on the trot. Is 50thin Canada a good warm up? Regardless he loves the big time but like Dustbin and Rory is too short.
Jordan has come storming back into form but he’s still wayward off the tee and there’s nothing more than the USGA (not the PGA Tour) loves more than epic rough, tight fairways, and super fast greens. The old Jordan ate these conditions with his superior strategy, rock solid short game and the best putting ever. Yes he’s back but I can see perhaps a few too many trips to the rough to get involved at 20/1.
The prevailing wisdom is this will be a plotters course. But to me the increase in length, albeit modest, and cooler temperatures will mean the course plays more like 7400 and may encourage those who like it to melt it and gouge it. Regardless of who you are do you want to gouge it from 100 or 200? Do you want to risk gouging it from 200 and having to gouge it again because the green is the size of your living room? If you are Rory and can take the place on with your driver – accepting that you’ll be in the rough at some point – then maybe that confers an advantage that outweighs plotting. These greens will not be receptive to anything other than high balls with spin – cue Rory, Dustbin and Brooks.
Tiger’s price is based on his Masters win and his effort at the Open last year on a fast track. He will certainly be plotting since this has been his preferred approach for some time now. I thought Bethpage Black would be his undoing given the way he drove it at the Masters where he was left and right but wasn’t punished. Not to take anything away from that but a review of his driving for the last 29 holes alone illustrates how wild he was and can be. Augusta forgave him this……Bethpage Black didn’t. His majors form is solid and he did scrape home here in 2000 but as a result his price has contracted to a point where he’s worth death riding. He will certainly not attempt to over power the course since that is a road to ruin. Tee to green his game is good so he’ll be trying to hit greens from some way back on many occasions. As good as his approach play has been these tiny greens (3500 sq ft) are not the biguns he’s been hitting into in regular season events. These are tiny, hard and fast and with no fun off them. I can see him grinding it out but he’ll need a few too many to falter for me to see him prevail.
I’d go so far as to rule out the plotters so expect to see Jimmy the F..k and McDowell in the final group on Sunday.
Cantlay won impressively at the Memorial which is nice for him and who knows but he’s again too short for me. Jase, Ricky, Rose and Rahm all have credentials but I can’t get excited simply because I feel that one or more of the big three will contend and they have better form – so why?
Milky loves the place, won here in February, and its his turn to attempt to complete the slam. Scott played really well at the Memorial and has some deep majors form. Deshambles has gone off the boil after a run to die for. Molinari could be ideally suited but I fear his Masters experienced might have stung him. Webb Simpson was overshadowed – as was everyone – in Canada but was impressive nonetheless and is back with the putter.
The final factor is the Poa greens. They are not perfect and some players never get their heads around this. If you’re a west coast player they are natural and you accept the variables. The list of multiple Poa winners is littered with the big names – notably Dustbin – another price compressing factor – and Bubba, Milky, Tiger, Jase, Brandt, Jordan, Brooks and Rory.
Our picks? There will be a familiar ring to this lot…
Tony Finau 1pt win at 75 BF
Xander Schauffele 1pt win at 32 BF
Tyrrell Hatton 1pt win at 280 BF
Tony Finau (from our Masters preview) heads our list only because he’s the shortest price. Last week I wrote that he never wins. This week I suspect he can. On debut last year he made a name for himself with his ankle snap in the par three event and then went on to finish an impressive 10th. Leave aside his early exit from the match play and his week-to-week form is hardly awful. Ranked 15thin the world with a season scoring average of 68.86 Finau has the game for Augusta being long and hitting plenty of greens. He makes 4.5 birdies a round and only lets his game down with moderate play around the greens and a middling putter. No doubt finding his feet last year he opened with a 68, muddled it round on Friday and Saturday, and came home hard on the steel on Sunday for 66. Not many players shoot 7 under on their debuts at August and not many can boast a 50% strike rate shooting under 70. Spurious as these “stats” may appear I’m more inclined to think he just has the game to thrive at Augusta. He’s only won once on tour but you don’t get to 15th in the OWGR’s without consistent performances. He looks, much like our next candidate, a value proposition against those ahead of him in the market.Except this isn’t Augusta and he certainly had his chances so why pick him again? Finau has one tour win and that was not a top draw event. He also could have easily won at Augusta where he conspired to let Tiger in finishing 5thin the process – though not alone there. All good stuff then. It gets worse though as he then promptly missed the cut backing up at the Zurich Classic despite opening with a 63. A calamitous final round 79 at Bethpage Black saw him finish down the field before a runners up to Kevin Na and then another missed cut at the Memorial all add up to a massive Masters hangover. I have no idea which Tony the F will turn up but I do know he’s improving for the experience and has the game. Is he capable of producing the goods? At 64/1 I’m prepared to speculate.
Xander Schauffele (from our Masters preview) comes back to Augusta off the back of a debut 50thwhen we were on. Last year was more about his undoubted talent being able to shine and buck the first up challenge. Going off at 100/1 he never got to grips with the place opening with a 71 and then a killer 78 on the Friday. Surprise – player shoots +6 at Augusta. Rory is 23 under for his last 20 rounds including two 77’s. Augusta can eat you. Since last year Schauffelehas gone on to great heights and showed a big time temperament at the majors. Long, with the ability to hit it in high, and not afraid to go low, he’s ranked 10thon the OWGR’s and 3rdin the Fed Ex with two wins already this season. Statistically the man appears to have no weaknesses with an across the board main category positive rank including 21stin putting and 4thin strokes gained overall. Like Finau he’d hardly come across as a surprise winner with the underlying strengths so evident in his game.Like Finau, Schauffele conspired to not quite get the job done at Augusta. Unlike Finau he’s a proven multiple winner and major event performer. His post Masters form is solid peaking at the Memorial where he posted a 7 under for T14. Schauffele is a big time player and while nowhere near his Augusta price we’ll take 31/1.
Tyrrell Hatton (from our Masters preview) represents a stark departure from the logic around previous two selections…but bear with me. Hatton has all sorts of demons but so what? Bubba, Sergio – the game is littered with the unhinged who win. Granted Hatton’s form is nothing to write home about coming of a shocking 81 at the Valspar after an opening 69…and yet….and yet. Lets consider his two appearances at Augusta. He opened his account in 2017 with an 80 followed by a 78 and a flight out of Georgia. Back for more in 2018 he posted 74,75,73 and 70. This boy is getting the hang of the place! Hatton’s form is ordinary to say the least. He looks out of sorts and has missed four of his last eight cuts. I’m not clinging to the progressive nature of his six rounds at the venue other than to point out he may have genuinely learnt how to play the place. Where I’m hanging my hat is his putting – or rather his potential for great putting. For a man who once led the PGA Tour in the category he’s gone spectacularly backwards this season languishing as he does in 143rdplace in the strokes gained putting category. Anyone who has seen him play has witnessed the volcanic nature of his game and that extends to his putting. It’s a leap of faith that he’ll find both his tee to green game and his stroke at Augusta but that leap comes with odds of 269/1.Hatton failed to make any impact at Augusta nor at Bethpage Black. He has since however found a T8 and T33 which, while nice, on the face of it doesn’t look to cut it here. He also comes here having never played the place but his tee to green game is not too shabby. Where he has been let down is his putting and once again I’ll stick my neck out and say that he’s more than capable of a massive week on the greens having once lead the tour in putting. At 279/1 he’s just the sort of left field candidate that could surprise.