U.S. OPEN: The PGA Championship’s move to May has certainly created a different feel around spring and early summer in the world of golf, as it seems that we’ve rolled on from the Masters to the PGA to this week’s U.S. Open in rapid succession, essentially turning formerly “big” events like the Memorial and even the Players Championship into mere tune-ups for the majors. But it sure has been an exciting couple of months for the fans, and now we get to soak in four days of the most beautiful course in the world, Pebble Beach Golf Links, playing at its absolute hardest in the tournament that, most years, is the toughest test in golf. Doesn’t get much better, eh?
Pebble Beach is one of the most famous courses in the world, and it’s also one that nearly everyone in the field is very familiar with, as it plays host to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am every February. But the players will be seeing a massively different course this week than they do when they’re yukking it up with their celebrity partners: the rough will be long, the greens will be firm, and, knowing the USGA, some pins will be ridiculous. The old adage used to be that even par should win a U.S. Open (though changing philosophies of what constitutes “difficult” has resulted in 16-under par winning twice in the past 8 years, but I digress…), and when this tournament was last held at Pebble, in 2010, winner Graeme McDowell finished at even par exactly. In other words, the USGA knows how to make this course a bear. If the wind picks up this week, it could get really, really ugly (which, naturally, is exactly what many fans are hoping to see).
Pebble is relatively short, measuring just a hair over 7,000 yards from the tips, but the fairways will be narrower this week than they are in February, and based on what the Golf Channel has shown us over the past couple of days, the rough looks absolutely nasty. The greens are small and knobby, and the poa annua gives some players trouble, particularly late in the day when things get a bit bumpy. Obviously, you should probably give the guys who are known to be great poa annua putters– the Dustin Johnsons and Brandt Snedekers of the world– a little extra bump this week.
Given the familiarity that everyone has with the course, the relatively modest length, and the unpredictable coastal weather, this truly feels like a major that nearly anyone could win, which is an element that many feel has been missing from some majors in recent years, which have been increasingly dominated by the longest players in the world. Graeme McDowell hoisted the trophy the last time this tournament came to Pebble, driving home the point that length off the tee simply isn’t necessary to compete at a high level here.
That being said, three bombers currently sit atop BETDAQ’s Win Market, but only because those “bombers”– Brooks Koepka (11.5), Dustin Johnson (10.5), and Rory McIlroy (11.0)– also happen to be the three best players in the world right now. McIlroy just delivered a virtuoso performance at last week’s RBC Canadian Open, Koepka is on a historic tear in majors, and DJ is the most consistent player in the game today, contending for a win nearly every time he tees it up. If you’re rolling with any of those guys this week, I’m certainly not going to argue, but several factors– widespread familiarity with the course, the modest length, the potential for high winds and weather– have me shying away from the super-short odds. I think I’ll take my chances with these three instead:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Jordan Spieth (25.0)- As he would be the first to admit, it’s been a disappointing past 18 months or so for Spieth, who earlier this year seemed particularly lost, as he failed to record a single top-25 finish in his first nine events of the season, a stretch that would’ve seemed unimaginable a couple of years ago. But he’s finally come out of the fog over these last few weeks, and now he’s looking very much like the Spieth of old, with top-10 finishes in each of his past three events, including a T3 at the PGA Championship and a T7 at the Memorial in his last start. His putter has come back to life, and we’ve certainly seen that putter work some magic on the Pebble Beach greens, as Spieth won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2017 and has finished 22nd or better in the tournament in 6 of his 7 career appearances. Certainly, a three-time major winner with excellent course history who is coming off three consecutive top-10s should be considered one of the favorites this week, but Spieth’s struggles earlier this year are still affecting his price, making him a must-bet for me.
Brandt Snedeker (62.0)- Snedeker will be a popular pick this week, and with good reason– he’s got a terrific history at Pebble Beach, winning the Pro-Am twice and finishing 8th the last time the course hosted a U.S. Open (2010). He’s known as something of a poa annua specialist, and he showed us why again last week, when he lit up the poa greens at Hamilton Country Club en route to a 4th-place finish in the RBC Canadian Open, a performance that included a 10-under 60 (!) on Friday. That was Snedeker’s third consecutive top-20 finish, so he’s obviously in good form, and he’s been terrific in the U.S. Open over the course of his career, finishing 17th or better in 7 of his 12 career appearances, including three top-10s in the past five years. Considering his current form and course/tournament history, this may be Snedeker’s best chance to capture that elusive first major, and I’m happily aboard at better than 60/1.
Marc Leishman (124.0)- Most players enjoy the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am– the vibe is relaxed, the setup is generally pretty friendly, and three great courses are used (Spyglass Hiss and Monterey Peninsula, in addition to Pebble). Leishman, however, is not of the fan of the format, so he hasn’t played the event since 2011, meaning he has less experience at Pebble than most in the field. But he did finish T21 the last time he played the AT&T, so he obviously knows his way around Pebble, and he certainly has plenty of experience contending in the biggest events, as he’s logged five top-10s in major championships over the course of his career. In his last start, Leishman finished solo 5th at the Memorial, so he comes into this week with a bit of form and confidence. He’s the very definition of a “live” longshot and should be backed enthusiastically at a price like 124.0.