It was yet another week with no returns last week as both Colt Knost and Gary Boyd’s fast starts didn’t materialise. Knost was still in 7th place entering the final round but he had a poor round to finish down the field. I’m not going to dwell on that too much as its US Open week and we look set for a very interesting Tournament.
As the blog approaches its 1 year mark it is still showing profit but only just.
Total pts advised – 655.80pts
Total pts returned – 722.80pts
ROI – 10.2%
The 2nd Major of the season is finally upon us and things couldn’t be poised any better in the world game. All the world’s top 3 have won tournaments in recent weeks so they arrive in great form and there are numerous young, exciting players from both sides of the pond who will be relishing the challenge after seeing relative outsider Danny Willet don the green jacket earlier in the year.
We head to Pennsylvania this week and to Oakmont near Pittsburgh for the 116th US Open and by all accounts we are in for a grind at a course that is hosting a record 12th Major Championship having already been the venue for 8 US Opens and 3 US PGAs. Of those 11 Championships, 9 have been won by multiple major winners so I won’t be expecting a Shaun Micheel, Rich Beem or Todd Hamilton to be winning this week from nowhere.
In 1903 Henry Fownes set about designing a course where “par is an indisputable standard of excellence” and after this week’s US Open there won’t be a single player in the field questioning his success. US Opens are usually tough but it’s about as tough as it gets at Oakmont Country Club. Phil Mickelson, who has played a few tough courses in his time, declared after two practice days that Oakmont was “probably the hardest golf course we have ever played”.
From when the course opened, together with his son W.C. Fownes, Henry Fownes tweaked the course over the next 30 years, being the first designers to really take into account the equipment changes that were occurring at the time. They designed a course that was some 30% longer than all its other peers and from the word go it was a considered a brute of a course. They also began to add more slopes to the greens and added bunkers into the landing areas for the elite players.
Some of the biggest changes occurred after Gene Sarazen’s US PGA win in 1922 when W.C. Fownes was annoyed at how easily Sarazen played the course after the greens were watered due to a sun baked summer. The course was lengthened, trees were added to further narrow the fairways and I’d be surprised if the greens were ever watered again during a Championship week.
Indeed so notorious are the greens at Oakmont that it was actually the scene of the invention of the stimpmeter, the instrument used to measure the speed of the greens. In 1935 the greens were perceived to be so fast that a way of quantifying the speed was required in order to keep them fair. Over the next 70 years there would be many more tweaks to the course but for this week’s purposes it will pay to look at the most recent. They occurred prior to the 2007 US Open as Tom Fazio was tasked with bringing the course back to its original design which had been lost a little over time. Many trees were removed, undulations added to the fairways, bunkers were reshaped and deepened and an extra 250 yards was added.
The course now stands at 7255 yards with narrow, undulating fairways. There is a secondary level of rough which looks quite lenient but if it is cleared then there is a mix of thick green rough and longer fescue grasses for the properly errant. Should the rough be avoided then there are still plenty hazards with some 210 bunkers on the course and the fall of the fairway usually ushers the ball in their direction. These are classic links pot bunkers and many of them will only allow a sand wedge back into play. The course has a number of blind tee-shots and approach shots so distance control will be paramount at Oakmont. Additionally either spin or height will be required on approach shots in order to hold the slick, undulating greens. Therefore if you aren’t long off the tee you had better be accurate because hitting 200 yard plus approaches from the rough will soon take its toll on even the best short games. When the greens are missed then some of the thickest green side rough we have ever seen awaits them and they better hope someone was watching their ball as they will be hard to find in many spots. The slick greens are poa annua and while they are as pure as the players will see all year, they are also as fast as they will see all year with the greens likely to be towards 15” on the stimpmeter by Sunday. For those that haven’t seen the videos then they are worth finding just to see the full extent.
The most recent tournaments held at Oakmont and indeed the only ones that anyone in this field has played were the 1994 and 2007 US Opens and the 2003 US Amateur Championship. They were won respectively by Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera and Nick Flanagan (who incidentally is on the bag for fellow Aussie Aron Price at Oakmont).
The most pertinent form would be to look at Cabrera’s win in 2007 when the greens were firm and +5 was the winning score. It is expected to be more of the same this week. I looked in-depth to see what aspects of Els and Cabrera’s game make them suited to the unique Oakmont test and considered the 2007 leaderboard as a whole to find any strong common attributes.
I picked out the following stats to try to gauge whose game might be suited to the test. Driving distance, greens in regulation (GIR), GIR from fairway bunkers, 3-putt avoidance, scrambling, proximity to hole from 200 yards +, bogey avoidance, scoring relative to par from 175-200 yards in the rough, putting inside 10ft and strokes gained:putting. When a test is this tough then there is an argument that stats go out the window especially as Cabrera has never been one to shine in that department. But they are still a valuable indicator of who is performing in certain areas and for me these give a good all round picture of what will be required to grind out a score at Oakmont.
Additionally I looked at courses where Els, Cabrera or others in the Top 10 in 2007 had won. There were obviously a few that cropped up but by far the two most interesting were Golf Club Eichenried in Germany, which has hosted the BMW International Open, and Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in Illinois host of the BMW Championship in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and prior to that the Western Open. Amazingly 6 of the Top 13 from 2007’s Oakmont leaderboard have all won around Cog Hill GCC. While Ernie Els has won at Eichenried so too has Niclas Fasth and Nick Dougherty who finished 4th and 7th at Oakmont in 2007 respectively. That could seem a little tenuous but Dougherty and Fasth didn’t exactly make a habit of contending at Majors. That was Dougherty’s only Top 10 in 14 Majors and Fasth only managed 3 from 24 attempts. It was certainly enough to get me to look closer at the course and Eichenried actually has poa annua greens that play quite fast at 12” on the stimp if weather conditions allow. Unfortunately being a European Tour course most of this field have never played it but it might still be of interest to help throw up some place bets at decent prices.
A case could be made for many of the top players in the field this week. Jordan Spieth is the reigning US Open Champion and arrives having beaten a decent field two starts ago in the Dean and Deluca Invitational when much of the media had written him off after his Masters disaster. Obviously the young Texan is one of the toughest players mentally that we have seen since Tiger and I don’t expect it will have much bearing on him this week. I’m more worried by the fact his long game hasn’t quite been firing in 2016 like it did in 2015 and he ranks a rather lowly 112th in GIR for the last 3 months. While he will probably contend he isn’t quite for me this week at a course that will demand every aspect of the game to be razor-sharp.
Rory McIlroy’s tee to green excellence will no doubt have him on the leaderboard this week but backing him to win tournaments on fast greens is an absolute no-no for me. His scrambling and putting just aren’t good enough and I’d expect to see him cut the now familiar agitated figure on the greens over the weekend as he fails to combine line and pace on the glass-like poa annua surfaces.
Adam Scott won the WGC at Doral in March on fast greens but it is a bombers paradise these days where it is very hard to compete unless you drive it 300 yards plus. He is another I couldn’t consider this week when the short game will be so important.
Dustin Johnson looks to have a great chance and he was probably the last one-off my shortlist this week. He has been in excellent form so far in 2016 but has just failed to get the win. His form figures of 5-3-12-28-4-3-5-14-4 stand up against anyone in the field and that 5th place finish last week was about the most Dustin Johnson performance you will ever see. Some of his golf was unbelievably good and he hit 19 birdies and 3 eagles across the 4 days but still managed to only finish on -9 due to some terrible shots which all seemed to fall on precisely the wrong hole and he found water 4 or 5 times I think. The most interesting thing about DJ this week is how much better he is putting this year, ranking 47th in strokes gained:putting. But I couldn’t quite pull the trigger given his major woes last year. As usual he could be one to follow in the 1st round leader market having shot a 63 on Sunday but I’m happy to leave him out until he gets his first Major under his belt.
Phil Mickelson’s game looks in good order and his putter has been on fire in 2016, ranking 5th in Strokes gained:putting. I’m expecting a huge week from Lefty but he puts so much pressure on himself to win his national Open that unfortunately it is easy to be against him this week. Being a huge Mickelson fan I will be pleased enough if he does get it done.
I have had one player in mind for this for a while and unfortunately it is rather boring, but the same player came out on top of my stats model so if picking one player to win this week it simply has to be the best player in the world and US Open favourite, Jason Day. His 2016 has been absolutely brilliant and while Mcilroy and Spieth have been good in spells, Day is playing to a higher level and he has 3 wins to his name already, with two of those coming at the high-class Players Championship and WGC Matchplay. If he hadn’t hit a triple bogey on the 15th at Augusta on the opening day then who knows what might have happened at The Masters. Crucially he ranks 1st for strokes gained:putting, 15th for GIR from fairway bunkers, 25th in bogey avoidance and 32nd in scrambling.
I was very keen on him for the US PGA last year and he won convincingly at a course that was set up perfectly for his mix of towering irons and brilliant touch on and around the green. I don’t think this is quite as perfect for the sometimes erratic driver but he has proven already in his short career that he can adapt when faced with US Open conditions. He finished 2nd on his US Open debut and while he followed that with a poor 59th place finish at Olympic Club, he has since gone 2nd, 4th, 9th with his 9th having come while suffering from vertigo during his 3rd round last year at Chambers Bay. There isn’t a player teeing it up with a better recent US Open record and for those concerned about him off the tee, he has hit 75% and 73% of fairways on his last two US Open appearances.
Day has won 7 of his last 17 starts and while comparisons to Tiger Woods are completely pointless, the facts alone tell us that he is the first person since Woods to start putting up the same sort of numbers in terms of wins. If he is to start racking up the Majors then he will have to continue winning them when arriving in form. His Masters week while disappointing was yet another Major Top 10 and I was already more than keen on his chances before I heard this little snippet on a European Tour magazine programme a few weeks ago on Sky Sports. Day’s agent Bud Martin is a member at Oakmont and Day played there as a young man when he first moved over from Australia. That is another key factor this week for me and given how meticulous he is in his preparation for all tournaments, I’m sure he will have gathered as much member’s knowledge as possible leading into this and with a week off he will arrive 100% ready and probably with more practice rounds under his belt than most of the field.
Patrick Reed showed how he thrives on quick greens when winning the WGC Cadillac in 2014 when they were as quick as we have seen them and only 3 players finished under Par. For me Reed is in the top 3 or 4 scramblers in world golf and he will relish the testing conditions this week. He hasn’t quite been at his best since chasing Spieth home in Hawaii in January and that has largely been down to a cold putter. However when I have seen him play this year he hasn’t appeared to be putting poorly, more often than not just struggling to get anything to drop. Reed himself has been on record several times stating how enjoys a tough test of golf. Ranks 14th for scrambling and 4th in bogey avoidance for 2016.
Brandt Snedeker has a solid US Open record not least due to his brilliant putting ability. He is one of the best putters around on poa annua greens and finished 8th at pebble Beach in 2010, 9th at Torrey pines in 2008 and he was 23rd at Oakmont back in 2007. His record tailed off a little but at Chambers bay last year when there was some poa present in the greens he grabbed another 8th place finish. As well as his US Open exploits on the surface he has 4 wins on poa annua and it seems to suit his short, stabbing putting stroke. Snedeker is also usually a good scrambler and I think he looks over priced for a player with 8 Top 10s in his last 30 Major starts.
JB Holmes has a similar liking for slick greens and showed everyone just that when shooting an opening 62 at Doral in 2015 on a day when only six others broke 70. He also led the stroke play section of the US Amateur Championship in 2003 shooting a 71 on his round at Oakmont and he then gained further experience of the course as he played two rounds of the Match Play section of the competition. He arrives in decent form with a 4th place finish last month at Memorial where the scrambling was tough with similar lush grass around the greens. He drives it longer than pretty much everyone and he can clear a lot of these fairway bunkers to leave himself shorter approaches in. As another player with towering irons he should be able to hold the slick greens.
Marc Leishman likes tricky conditions and he is another excellent scrambler who goes well on fast greens. He has a 2nd place finish at Cog Hill and he ranked 2nd in my stats model for this. I backed him a few times earlier in 2016 with no rewards but I still feel he has a huge performance in a Major in him and if that is to happen it will surely be on a tough track. He ranks 9th in 3-putt avoidance and 6th in bogey avoidance so he will surely keep mistakes to a minimum.
Paul Casey shot the lowest round of the week at Oakmont in 2007 on his way to a 7th place finish. With his recent upturn in form the last two years he will be looking forward to his return. He arrives with some impressive results so far in 2016 as he finished 4th at the Masters, 7th at the WGC Cadillac and 9th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. All 3 of those were on fast greens and while I think a Major is probably beyond him now he has a great chance of a Top 10 here.
Matt Kuchar rewarded his Top 10 backers on numerous ocassions from 2010 to 2014 such was his consistency. After a poor 2015 he appears to be back to his best with current form figures of 4-6-3-3. He ranks 19th in strokes gained:putting, 31st in scrambling and has seven Major top 10s since 2010. He should be backed for another here where he won’t be phased by the testing conditions. He also won his U.S. Amateur at Cog Hill back in 1997.
Retief Goosen used to be the main man on fast greens 10-15 years ago and both his U.S. Open wins came on lightning quick surfaces. While it is a long time since he has won he has cropped up a few times over the last couple of years where conditions suit. He finished 4th last year at Eichenried and he actually arrives in sneaky form having finished 12th, 12th and 14th on his last three outings. When others will be tearing their hair out the laid back South African will be right at home on the greens and can surely crack the Top 20 again.
Chris Wood won the prestigious BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and it is usually played on some of the faster greens we see in Europe. It is also a course that both Els and Cabrera have won on and it can be a tough test that is normally won by a classy player. Wood has clearly had a touch of class about him ever since he finished 5th at Royal Birkdale as an amateur. It took him a little while to fully get to grips with life on the European Tour but he is a 3 time winner now and he followed up his win at Wentworth with a solid 6th place last week in Austria where he ranked 2nd in scrambling. At Wentworth he ranked 4th for GIR so if he can bring both those aspects this week a Top 20 looks well within his reach.
Dustin Johnson was a cash machine last year on day one of the Majors, leading after 3 of them. Arriving in brilliant form after a 63 on Sunday I would expect him to come flying out of the blocks on Thursday again and looks a decent play in the 1st round leader market.
Aron Price has the 2003 US Amateur Champion, Nick Flanagan on his bag this week and that could help him save a few shots. I quite like silly links like this for 1st round leader bets so I’m going to try him at a big price. He qualified last week so his game must be in ok shape and hailing from Sydney he is used to slick greens. He actually finished 8th at the Australian Open in November at The Australian Golf Club and those greens are extremely fast and the whole course is very testing. He might just take to Oakmont.
Summary of bets
Jason Day – 5pts win @ 8.2
Patrick Reed – 1pt ew @ 50/1
Brandt Snedeker – 1pt ew @ 70/1
Marc Leishman -0.5pt ew @ 90/1
JB Holmes – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1
Matt Kuchar – 2.5pts Top 10 @ 7/2
Paul Casey – 1pt Top 10 @ 7/1
Retief Goosen – 2pts Top 20 @ 6/1
Chris Wood – 1pt Top 20 – 9/2
Dustin Johnson – 1pt ew 1st round leader @ 20/1
Aron Price – 0.25pts ew 1st round leader @500/1
Weekly outlay – 20pts
Total outlay – 673.50pts