U.S. OPEN: Major championship golf returns this week with the 120th staging of the U.S. Open– though, considering they cancelled the open qualifying this year, perhaps they should call this tournament the “U.S. Invitational” instead. At any rate, it should be a fun week of golf, complete with all the carnage that this event has become known for. It just doesn’t feel right when double-digit under par wins a U.S. Open, as was the case at Pebble Beach last year, and I have a strong hunch that the USGA is going to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
The venue is certainly diabolical enough: this is the sixth time that Winged Foot has played host to a U.S. Open, and it is perhaps the most difficult of all the courses on the rota, with an average score of 76.5 in its Open history– and it’s a par 70. Originally designed by A.W. Tillinghast nearly a century ago and modernized by Gil Hanse in recent years, it measures a whopping 7,477 yards from the tips, which is about 200 yards longer than it played in 2006, when it last hosted this tournament. That week is perhaps best remembered for Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie both throwing up on themselves on the 72nd hole, allowing Geoff Oglivy to walk off with the win at 5-over 285. At Winged Foot, par is a good score. Always.
So, what type of player are we looking for this week? With the narrow fairways and thick, lush rough, accuracy off the tee is obviously important, but the course is so long that distance might trump accuracy this week… you know, the old “everybody’s gonna be in the rough, so better to be closer to the green” school of thought. As you would expect in a U.S. Open, the greens will be rock hard and super-slick, so missing in the wrong spots will make up-and-downs all but impossible, and everybody is going to have plenty 6-10 footers for par. Quality ball-striking, patience, mental toughness, a reliable putter… these are the ingredients needed to win this week. Courses like Winged Foot have a way of revealing champions, rather than creating them (just coined that, and I like it!).
The best two players in the world head BETDAQ’s Win Market, but at 10.0 for Dustin Johnson and 11.0 for Jon Rahm, the prices are a bit short for my liking. Almost no one in the field has any tournament experience at Winged Foot, and those that do, the Tigers and Phils of the world, are in the twilight of their careers, so course history doesn’t factor in much this week, though it’s certainly advisable to look for guys with a history of playing well in difficult circumstances. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Hideki Matsuyama (38.0)- With his unflappable demeanor and ball-striking brilliance, it’s no surprise that Matsuyama has an excellent U.S. Open record, logging five top-25s in seven career appearances, and he seems a likely candidate to break through with a win one of these years. Considering his trajectory over the past couple of months, maybe this is the week– he’s been playing consistently good golf, finding the top-30 in 7 of his last 8 starts, and he gave it a serious run at the BMW Championship a couple of weeks ago, grinding out a 3rd-place finish at a course, Olympia Fields, that was set up very much like a U.S. Open venue. Everyone knows that Matsuyama is a virtuoso ball-striker– he ranks second on Tour (for the 2020 season) in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green– but what some don’t realize is that he also now possesses one of the best short games in the world, ranking 5th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Around the Green. Winged Foot seems like a perfect fit for his style, and at better than 35/1, the price is right.
Tony Finau (42.0)- After a brief rough patch following the restart, Finau has found his winning form again, notching three top-5s and four top-10s since mid-July. Like Matsuyama, he played very well at the BMW Championship a couple of weeks ago, finishing 5th, and that’s pertinent because in terms of both style and difficulty level, Olympia Fields was very comparable to what the players will face this week. Finau also played well at the PGA Championship, finishing 4th, continuing his run of success in major championships: since 2018, he’s played in 9 majors and has found the top-10 six times, with four top-5s. So not only does he seem impervious to major championship pressure, it actually appears to bring out the best in him. With his prodigious length and soft hands, he’s got as good a chance as anybody to tackle Winged Foot, making him a great value at better than 40/1.
Louis Oosthuizen (100.0)- Oosthuizen hasn’t found the winner’s circle since the 2018 South African Open, which goes a long way towards explaining his price this week. He’s only 37 years old, however, still in the midst of his golfing prime, and he has a terrific U.S. Open record, with top-25s in each of his last five appearances and three career top-10s. He certainly has the tee-to-green game to take on a course like Winged Foot, and he’s been better on the greens in 2020, ranking in the top-50 on Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting. Though he didn’t qualify for the Tour Championship, his play has been impressive this summer, with top-25s in three of his past four starts, including a T6 at the WGC-St. Jude last month, so he should be heading into this week with some well-founded confidence. Considering his championship pedigree and recent form, I don’t know why you wouldn’t take a chance on Oosthuizen at a price like 100.0. He has a legitimate chance to win.