It was a blank last week on both Tours after Adam Bland gave up a great chance to place in the Shot Clock Masters while nobody else was really in contention. Bland was 3rd going in to the final round but he seemed to have used up all his birdies on Saturday and he fell down the leaderboard. No time to dwell though as it’s US Open and World Cup week!
2018 pts advised = 250
2018 pts returned = 314.49
ROI = 25.79%
US Open at Shinnecock Hills
The second major of the year is upon us and while it doesn’t have the glamour of the Masters or perhaps the same history as The Open, that doesn’t mean the excitement levels are any less and on the face of it the 2018 US Open should be an absolute cracker.
We go back to Shinnecock Hills for the first time since 2004 and while that was a bit too much of a slog with hot conditions and a completely baked out course, measures have been taken to try to make sure Shinnecock plays hard but fair. With the course being historically the first proper US links course a lot may depend on the weather but the course looks immaculate and we should hopefully witness a brilliant championship with hard and fast links golf.
The Charles Macdonald and Seth Raynor designed course (1890s) was a short 6996 yard par 70 back when Retief Goosen outstayed the field but after a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw redesign in 2012 the course was extended and now stands as a 7445 yard brute. The fairways were widened as part of that overhaul too but apparently the USGA have been growing the rough out into the fairway to make these more like the original narrow fairways. As it stands however they appear to be quite fair for US Open standards and they average about 40 yards wide by all accounts.
With no Shinnecock form since 2004 there are two courses of great interest to me here this week. Coore and Crenshaw have had their hands on two other courses that we have seen recently on Tour. Their original design, Trinity Forest, was used for the Byron Nelson just last month and that was an out-and-out links course. The players didn’t seem to enjoy it but the leaderboard still showed up plenty of US Open and links specialists. The most important course link for me however is Pinehurst No. 2 which hosted the 2014 US Open won by Martin Kaymer. The team went in and carried out a redesign prior to that US Open and it appeared very similar to Shinnecock even before their tweaks. Retief Goosen was actually the 54 hole leader when defending at Pinehurst in 2005 before throwing in a shocker on Sunday. They are also the only two US Open venues to feature tightly mown fringes and aprons. We saw the havoc that wreaked in 2014 and Kaymer was the only man to really get to grips with them as he ranked 1st in scrambling. What was most interesting about that was that Kaymer is a well documented poor chipper and so he putted up the run-off areas and had the pace of both fringes and greens perfectly all week. With run-offs a plenty there will be more than one way to get up and down at Shinnecock and a sharp scrambling game coming in will be crucial. Kaymer’s lag putting from the fringes helped him to win at TPC Sawgrass just 5 weeks prior so it is well worth a look at who has been scrambling well on similar greens. The tricky upturned saucers at Sawgrass or the undulating links greens at Trinity Forest are two good examples.
The greens will be hard and fast poa annua and they will get even trickier as the week goes on but while there will be lots of talk about what a nightmare they will be to putt on, the need for a silky stroke on the greens will be somewhat exaggerated. Obviously you aren’t going to win a U.S. Open 3-putting every green but time and time again when we see hard and fast greens it is a great ball-striker that comes out on top. Hitting greens on a long championship course is difficult enough but when the greens are hard only the best approach shots will stay on the green. Those with a laser like approach game and a towering ball-flight will be sure to go well this week. Even a hot putter will struggle to cover up mistakes for 4 days around this course. In 2016 at Oakmont DJ won ranking 1st for GIR and 51st for total putting and those greens were close to 15 on the stimp meter by Sunday.
With the course being completely exposed to the elements good wind players could well be advantaged should things get breezy. While a high ball-flight will be important in mild conditions those who are capable of shaping their ball to suit might just be best suited to Shinnecock if the weather is changeable as the forecast suggests currently.
Looking back at the 2004 U.S. Open for a moment, it has one of the highest retrospective percentages of major champions inside the Top 40 this century for US Opens. A massive 49% of the players had either won a major or would go on to win one. This is obviously no exact science as the more recent events will obviously not post as high a number but it was still interesting. The rest of these are included in a table below;
You can see that 2 of the highest 4 percentages belong to Retief Goosen and that tells us quite a lot about Shinnecock Hills. The winner will surely be high-class and probably a major winner already if not one in waiting. Despite the recent trend of first time major winners unless someone looks like a nailed on future major winner I’d give second thoughts to backing them for this particular test. That doesn’t make things easy though as the first 10 in the market all fall into one of these categories and several of them arrive in fine form. But a hard and fast US Open test is unlike anything else and therefore I’m not convinced that playing the shorter prices is the way to go despite their claims. Dustin Johnson is the correct favourite and the man to beat after last week but I don’t want to be a backer at just 8/1. Of the chasing pack Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler have unrivalled levels of consistency in majors these days and represent some solid value in the place portion. Again though I can just about pass at the prices with both having let me down in the past when everything seemed in their favour. Rory McIlroy’s recent form makes him of interest but if this plays firm, fast and windy I couldn’t possibly have him on my mind. Jason Day has an excellent US Open record and is considerably harder to ignore here but again I’m just not sure I want to be taking 16/1. Spieth will always have a chance but his putting has been poor enough to put me off even if he is sneaking up to a tempting a price. Tiger Woods can obviously never be written off and it would be typical for him to make his return to winning ways at the U.S. Open. But I’m not sure 20/1 fully takes into consideration the strength in depth of today’s game. That takes me down to the next tier of players and my first outright bet.
I’ve liked Henrik Stenson for this for quite a few weeks but I was sort of hoping he might have posted more inspiring finishes over the last month than he has. However I still think Shinnecock should suit him perfectly so I’m making him the headline bet. Despite not really threatening to win this year he ranks 1st in strokes gained: approaches, 1st in GIR by a distance and 6th in scrambling. That approach play prowess will be crucial at Shinnecock as will his ability to get up and down when he does miss. As the greens firm up only the best ball-strikers will still be able to hold the greens and on his day Stenson is as good a ball-striker as there is. He has plenty of form on hard and fast courses too, he was 2nd to Mickelson around Muirfield which is probably the only true hard and fast links test we have seen recently at The Open. He has also won at TPC Sawgrass, Eastlake, TPC Boston, Golf Club Eichenried and Doha GC which all have firm green complexes.
His best US Open finish to date was at Pinehurst No. 2 where he finished 4th and again ranked 1st in GIR. His current form is very close to simmering but I just don’t think we have had the right test for him so far this season. At the Players again he ranked 1st in GIR but putted poorly all week while that was the same last week at the St Jude Classic where he was 1st in driving accuracy and 2nd in GIR. I don’t see his putting woes being that much of an issue as 2 putt pars will keep him ahead of most of the field this week. It’s also highly likely that he was just preparing for the U.S. Open as he usually likes to play the week before a major and did so before his Open triumph in 2016.
However it is a link with 2004 Shinnecock champion Retief Goosen that really got me interested in Stenson for this.. They are both multiple winners but not as prolific that we can’t still look at the courses which they have both thrived. Indeed there are actually 3 which they have both won around; Gut Larchenhoff, Doha GC and East Lake. Goosen also came runner-up to Stenson at Golf Club Eichenreid in 2006 which has some of the fastest greens on the European Tour. Above all else both are long and accurate ball-strikers who are suited to difficult championship style courses. With his often peerless tee-to-green game and form at all the right types of courses I think he looks like an excellent value alternative to those at the head of the market.
As I mentioned already I think Pinehurst No.2 looks a very good guide this week at Shinnecock. This makes me think that the 2014 US Open form will be crucial but I’ve also looked at Trinity Forest which hosted the Byron Nelson a few weeks ago as that is a Coore and Crenshaw original design. Adam Scott and Jimmy Walker featured in the Top 10 at both events and to me that suggests that they will go well at Shinnecock. Kevin Na was also 12th at Pinehurst and 4th at Trinity Forest. None of these 3 were players that I was expecting to back this week so I wasn’t really sure how to play them (luckily Kevin Na isn’t in field!). This Pinehurst link also brings in Martin Kaymer and gives me a huge conundrum. Besides Stenson however there were no other players that I particularly liked for this, so I have decided just to add these 3 to my team and back them all each way. The downside is that I have none of the market leaders onside and I’m probably putting most of my eggs into one basket but they look like rock solid each way options.
Adam Scott’s career has been a rather weird one in recent years. He has played a very light schedule with a view to focussing more on the majors as he searches for his 2nd of the big events. While that didn’t seem to affect his form too much until this year, he only has one top 10 from 12 events and that isn’t what we have come to expect from Aussie. That top 10 was the afore-mentioned Trinity Forest though and he was absolutely brilliant bar his poor putting as he ranked 3rd in GIR and 11th in scrambling. Despite the mixed results he ranks 12th in strokes gained: approaches in 2018. Scott is now a very accomplished links player and he should really have won at least one Open by now. But he is also building a good bank of US Open form with 4 top 20s in the last 6 years. As we all know his tee-to-green game is as good as anyone given the right test and a links layout in the US couldn’t be a better fit for Scott. I had already been backing him before the news broke at the weekend that he had brought back his old coach and was also going to be using a local caddie from Shinnecock. At first that worried me a little but after hearing some direct quotes I think it will surely be a positive and he looks a good bet at 60/1 with ten places.
Jimmy Walker looks to finally be over the worst of his Lyme disease and is starting to post the sort of finishes we have associated with him since he reinvented himself as a prolific winner in 2013/2014. He was runner-up at the Players Championship and 6th at Trinity Forest so he is clearly in some good form while on his last start he ranked 9th for GIR. As he proved with his US PGA win in 2016 he can mix it with the best when his whole game is working. I think the extra little bit of width will be crucial to helping Walker keep it in the fairway and after that he will relish the test. Another excellent wind player Walker is equally happy towering his irons in the air or flighting the ball down as required which will make him adaptable to the weather. He has missed his last 2 US Open cuts but he was ill last year and Oakmont’s narrow fairways were never likely to suit. The 9th place finish at Pinehurst is the key piece of US Open form for me and we should remember he is also one of the best poa annua putters in the world. His US PGA win was on the slick poa annua greens at Baltusrol in the New York area and that is what he has got again this week 100 miles along the coast. I think we will see a strong showing from the in-form major winner and again he looks over-priced given his form.
Martin Kaymer makes the team this week largely off the back of that 2014 win at Pinehurst but he has also shown glimpses of his class in recent weeks and I think he is too big a price on a course that should suit him perfectly. After that win it would have been impossible to think that he would go some 4 years without another win but through injury, loss of form and a questionable back 9 in Abu Dhabi that is exactly what has happened. The odds of 100/1 have pulled me in though and as well as Pinehurst he has won at several links courses and was considered an Open winner in waiting throughout much of his early career. He has taken a while to recover from a wrist injury but there were signs on his last start in Italy that he might be back somewhere close to full fitness. He ranked 1st in GIR on his way to posting an 8th place finish in Brescia and that should have him ready for this.
Finally I’ve added Byeong-Hun An after I only noticed today that he had been added to the field. I tried to back him last week assuming he had qualified but he only got in last-minute due to his World Ranking. Benny has been in great form of late and we know this ball-striking test should suit. He announced himself on the main circuit with his BMW PGA win in 2015 and that course is a great indicator for future major winners given they are some of the fastest greens on the European Tour. He has gradually become more comfortable on the PGA Tour and posted his best result to date just two weeks ago when Bryson Dechambeau beat him in a play-off at Muirfield Village. In truth he was the most impressive of the leading pack on Sunday and winning a big event doesn’t appear like something that would phase him too much. However the main reason for me backing him this week is the course which he won his US Amateur Championship at, Southern Hills. That was the scene of Retief Goosen’s other US Open win and the other two Shinnecock winners have also done well there. Raymond Floyd won the US PGA there in 1982 while Corey Pavin was runner-up in the US PGA in 1994. To me it looks a very strong link and with everything else we know about An I think he is a great each way price. For good measure he also sits 30th in strokes gained: approaches and 46th in scrambling.
I’m playing all the outrights with 10 places given how strong this field is but for the braver there are still some better prices around than those I have advised.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello’s all-round game is so good right now that he looks set to rack up top 20 finishes everywhere he plays regardless of the field strength. Since 2016, only looking at WGCs, majors and The Players, RCB has racked up 10 top 20s from 21 appearances. He has also posted top 20s in each of his last 3 events. His approach game is at a career best (8th in strokes gained: approaches) as is his scrambling and putting. The markets don’t yet reflect how comfortable the Spaniard is in these types of events and the 7/2 looks a standout piece of value in the place markets.
Aaron Wise looks a fantastic prospect and after his win at Trinity Forest I have to include him in some shape or form for a test that will be similar. It will be only his 2nd major however so I’m not sure how clever a win bet would be. Instead I’m going to have a top 20 bet at a very generous 4/1. With his talent I’m not sure I need to write too much more.
Richy Werenski posted a 4th place finish last week and it was comfortably his best finish of the season. He was also 23rd at the Players where he ranked 2nd in GIR and it makes me think he might be suited to a more diffcult course. We often see a few random young US players pop up on these leaderboards and it could be Richy’s turn this week. Looks worth a small play at a generous 14/1 given we know he is playing well.
Keegan Bradley’s name often appears whenever difficult approaches are the key to a course and I don’t expect anything different here at Shinnecock. He was 7th just two starts ago at the Players Championship and Bradley is yet another player from the top 10 at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014. Sits 2nd in strokes gained: approaches and I can see another solid 4 days for him resulting in a never quite in contention 13th place.
First Round Leader
Steve Stricker is having a great year playing on both the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour with 2 wins and 2 runner-ups arriving on the latter. But his recent form has been very strong on the PGA Tour reading 18-32-23 and especially his fast starts. His recent run of first round scores on both Tours reads 66-65-67-67-67-67-68-70-66-68-69-68. Even those who got bored reading that will notice how low he is going on day 1. He has improved on links layouts over time and that culminated with a best ever 4th at Troon in 2016. Given he is now 51 years old it is perfectly fair that he might start to tire as the week goes on at some of the longer PGA Tour courses. Therefore it looks like backing him when he is at his freshest on a Thursday is the way to go.
For my second bet in this market I’m taking an absolute flyer with Harold Varner III. Varner is proven on hard and fast courses in Australia as he finished runner-up at Royal Pines in the 2015 Australian PGA before going one better in 2016 to win it. That is still his only professional win and he has struggled to really push on from that in the US. However this test might just suit him and bring about a revival. There have been some signs recently though and none more so than when he finished 7th in the Players last month. He led the field in putting on the slick Sawgrass greens and a good putter is always handy for this market. I actually had him picked out before I even noticed he has the first tee time at 6:45am. With some rain forecast on Wednesday and the wind looking like getting up as Thursday progresses, those out early might just get the best of it. At a massive 200/1 with Betfred and Boylesports it’s worth an interest.
Jason Scrivener is quite probably out of his depth here but he is another who thrives on hard and fast courses and has a brilliant record at Lake Karrinyup in particular where greens are hard to hit with shaved run-offs and fast grainy grass. His first professional win came around Twin Creeks Golf course in November and that is another hard and fast links course with similar bunkering and rough. Scrivener is a brilliant scrambler but his iron game improves for playing on firm courses too and it’s not impossible to see him firing one good round in at Shinnecock. Given he qualified for this last week we know he is in decent form and in his last event he finished 21st in a good field in Italy. Also has an early 6:56am tee time and is worth a speculative punt at 300/1.
Summary of bets
Henrik Stenson – 2pts ew @ 28/1 (1/5 odds 10 places Paddy Power)
Adam Scott – 1pt ew @ 60/1 (1/5 odds 10 places Paddy Power)
Martin Kaymer – 1pt ew @ 100/1 (1/5 odds 10 places Coral)
Jimmy Walker – 1pt ew @ 80/1 (1/5 odds 10 places Paddy Power)
Byeong-Hun An – 1pt ew @ 90/1 (1/5 odds 10 places Paddy Power)
Rafa Cabrera-Bello – 2pts Top 20 @ 7/2
Aaron Wise – 1pt Top 20 @ 4/1
Keegan Bradley – 1pt Top 20 @ 11/2
Richy Werenski – 1pt Top 20 @ 14/1
1st Round Leader
Steve Stricker – 0.5pt ew @ 125/1 1RL market (1/5 odds 6 places Skybet)
Harold Varner III – 0.25pt ew @ 200/1 1RL market (1/5 odds 6 places Betfred and Boylesports)
Jason Scrivener 0.25pt ew @ 300/1 1RL market (1/5 odds 6 places Boylesports)
Weekly pts advised = 20
208 pts advised = 270