Shane Lowry ran into an inspired Rory McIlroy on Sunday and if it wasn’t for that we may well have been celebrating a 3rd winner in a row. He had to make do with 2nd place though but it was enough to ensure an 8th profitable week from the last 9. This week the US Open returns to Pebble Beach and we look set for a brilliant event.
2019 pts advised = 286
2019 pts returned = 442.31
ROI = 54.65%
In previous years we have headed into US Open week with a mix of excitement and apprehension. The excitement coming from what is usually one of the best tests of golf that we see each year and the apprehension from wondering how the course is going to play. More recently that apprehension has revolved around a new course to the rotation (Merion, Erin Hills, Chambers Bay) but also how the USGA chooses to set it up. Make no mistake this week however as there will be absolutely no criticism of one of the most iconic courses in the world and if anything doesn’t go perfectly to plan then it will be the USGA who rightly bears the brunt of it. Thankfully that’s unlikely to happen though and we should be set for a tough but very fair week. The winning score in 2010 was level par and while I suspect it will be a little better this year, I’d be very surprised if the USGA let it get to double figures under par.
Pebble Beach Golf Links is one of the shortest courses on Tour measuring in at 7075 yards. It was designed in 1919 by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant and has been gaining in history and prestige ever since. While you couldn’t quite call it a proper links course it is located right beside the Pacific on the California coast between San Francisco and L.A and half of the holes run alongside the coast. The terrain isn’t quite the undulating British links style however and the turf isn’t sand based either like we see at The Open. But the majority of greens are open at the front allowing the players to play that low links style bump and runs and the wind blows more often than not.
Given the lack of length there could have been a worry that it might be overpowered as the game has moved on considerably since McDowell won with level par in 2010. However with the rough looking thick enough, the fairways narrow and the wind set to blow most of the week, it looks like an event where everyone will be able to compete. That is what happened in Canada last week and therefore I’d expect those who played well at Hamilton to hold their form.
The greens at Pebble Beach are some of the smallest the players will ever face at an average of 3,500 square feet. This is really what dictates the difficulty of the course as we usually see them quite fast for a U.S. Open and they will be set up at 12 on the stimp meter for Thursday, no doubt increasing in speed as the week goes on. So even for the powerful players they will be hard to hit and being in the fairway off the tee should certainly be of increasing benefit as the week progresses. There are slightly conflicting reports about how thick the rough is but it will certainly be longer than the set-up for the AT&T in February. The poa annua greens got a little bit of criticism in 2010 due to their extremely patchy colouring but that’s the nature of the beast with poa. They might not look as lush as bentgrass but they will putt well. Maybe better for some than others though as poa can be the trickiest of grasses to read and not everyone enjoys that test. They can break heavily at the hole as a ball dies and it’s perhaps no coincidence that Phil Mickelson and TIger Woods have enjoyed so much success on poa as they both like to hole out powerfully from inside 5ft, often taking any break out of the putt.
The wind currently looks to be quite steady between 10 and 20 kmph and that will keep everyone honest if not quite creating carnage. With such small targets the best iron players should go well as approaches will need to be struck perfectly to remain on the greens. McDowell and Havret weren’t PGA Tour players in 2010 so they didn’t have a ranking but Els (3rd) and Mickelson (4th) ranked 5th and 6th in strokes gained: approaches for the 2010 season.
Looking back at the last 10 US Opens from a stats point of view is interesting if not entirely surprising. Total driving ranks for the winners average 16th, GIR average 7th, scrambling numbers 11th and total putting 17th. The best of all the basic stats was all-round ranking which averaged 4th and that would have been even lower but for Spieth’s ranking of 23rd. This confirms what we know about the US Open; you absolutely have to hit plenty of greens and save par when you don’t but every single area of the game had better be above average. With the smaller greens in play, windy conditions and the greens firming up through the week GIR and scrambling will be as crucial as ever at Pebble Beach.
Trends wise you have to go back to Lucas Glover in 2009 to find a winner who hadn’t already recorded a US Open top 20 before their win. The last 10 winners averaged a 16th place finish on their last start while only Webb Simpson missed the cut. Seven of them had already won that season while seven of them also finished in the top 21 at the previous year’s US Open.
In terms of course correlations there are two fairly random ones that stand-out for me. The 2012 Open at Lytham produced a leaderboard that heavily resembles the 2010 Pebble Beach one. No less than 6 players bagged top 10s at both and despite the Open not having been back since, that leaderboard is worth a look. Jimenez was also in there and he was runner-up to Tiger in his 2000 rout at Pebble. Secondly, I thought it was too big a coincidence that 2010’s 1st and 2nd had both won at Loch Lomond so I did a little more digging and in fact GMac, Havret and Els have all won at the course while Mickelson was runner-up there to Havret in 2007 and Kaymer has also won there. Tom Lehman only won two proper events outside the US and the two courses he won on were Lytham and Loch Lomond while he boasts 5 Top 10s at Pebble beach with a 6th palce finish at the US Open in 1992 being the highlight. Unfortunately all this form is rather dated as we haven’t been back to Loch Lomond since 2010. But it’s another non links course that can still play rather linksy given it has the Scottish weather, green approaches are open and they are very undulating with links style run-offs. While very few of the younger players will have played either course I’ve used them to try to find some potential value with some of the older players in the field.
It’s a long time since I had such a lack of opinion about a major as I normally have a strong feeling way in advance for certain courses, even if they are usually wrong! This week at Pebble there are still enough question marks about the exact course set-up and a competitiveness about the event that makes it quite hard to get a handle on. Therefore I’ve landed on perhaps the most adaptable player in the field, Dustin Johnson. It’s maybe a little boring but such is his love affair with Pebble Beach and his current US Open form I think he is the safest bet from the front of the market. DJ has unfinished business at Pebble Beach after blowing a 3 shot lead after 54 holes in 2010. As brilliant a closer as he can be we have also seen him wobble plenty since then so the 8/1 might not be for everyone but he is almost certain to run his race at the very least and probably return the place money. He has played at Pebble 13 times and won twice recording 7 more Top 10s. With his ability to play in the wind never having been in doubt DJ will be equally happy flighting balls down into these greens or firing the ball up in the air and there aren’t too many in the field who are genuinely world class at both. This season he is 3rd in bogey avoidance, 1st in stroke average, 2nd in par 4 scoring, 16th in strokes gained: approaches, 15th in scrambling and a very impressive 14th in strokes gained: putting. He also leads the Tour in performance on both poa annua and in California since 2014 (from the brilliant http://futureoffantasy.com/poa-annua-specialists-pgatour ). While others have been grabbing the headlines in 2019 DJ has been quietly going about his business and he has been 2nd at both majors this year, 5th at the Players and he won the WGC Mexico. Everything points to another big week at his favourite course.
It would maybe have been hard to advise a big bet on DJ if the blog had been struggling this year but with it in healthy profit a chunky each way bet on the most suited player to the course and the most likely winner looks the best play.
Francesco Molinari was always a player I never really liked backing but things are different now since his transformation last year. He gets in largely on price here for me this week as 33/1 just feels a little big, especially with the 10 places on offer. Molinari is an Open champion and he had a very solid Loch Lomond record with three top 15s. He has been scrambling brilliantly recently ranking 9th over the last 3 months and 26th for the season. He has only played here once and missed the cut in 2010 but he is a far better player now and a course like Pebble really should suit his accurate game. McDowell is a 2-time winner at Le Golf National which features similarly small greens with lush rough surrounding them. Molinari always had a good record around there anyway but then of course he went 5-0-0 at the Ryder Cup in October. His current form since the Masters is a slight worry but I imagine he took a little while to get over not converting his 54 hole lead at Augusta. Another major should be exactly what he needs to get his focus back and he looks a solid back-up to the main DJ bet.
I’d love to be on Patrick Cantlay at the fancy prices that some have got about him but there is no way I can advise anyone to back him at 16-18/1. If he wins I will just have to suck it up and regret not backing him earlier. He is worth watching in play though as his 3 opening US Open rounds to date have been 75-76-75. It’s highly likely he trades bigger after the first round.
Tyrrell Hatton is one of the best links players around and he has proven this with his two wins at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. This makes him look over priced especially as he has also shown that he can handle majors with 4 Top 10s in his last 12, two of those coming on poa annua greens and last year’s US Open 6th also coming on the links at Shinnecock. Hatton ranks 6th for performances on poa annua since 2014. His 2019 has been a little slow but there have been some better signs recently and he ranks 31st in total accuracy over the last 3 months. That long game improvement means he hasn’t missed a cut since March (56th and 48th at first two majors) and given that he should enjoy these quicker greens I’m happy to get him onside at an almost disrespectful price. I’ll also have a back up top 20 bet.
Kevin Na makes the team after delivering the win at Colonial two weeks ago. While its partly out of loyalty I also think plenty of the reasoning behind that win stands true here at Pebble Beach. Both are short courses that reward tee-to-green accuracy and where scoring will be done with the shorter irons. Given his current form and the fact he has two top 5s here from the AT&T, I thought 100/1 seemed a tad on the big side.
Luke Donald opened up far too big at 400/1 with Skybet having shown the odd glimpse of form this year and rightly he was cut to 300/1. Hopefully some maybe noticed me tweeting the 400/1 but I still quite like the 300 to be honest. Again he hits both my course links with 5th at Lytham and 4th, 2nd and 5th at Loch Lomond. He was also 16th at Pebble in 2010, has 3 further top 20s and such is the quality of his wedge play and short game I think he still has what it takes to be competitive on shorter courses like this. It’s far from a confident bet but the 60/1 place portion for a top 10 is just too good to pass up. I’m also going to double up with a top 30 bet at 11/2. There are usually one or two left field, older players that pop up on a US Open leaderboard and there’s no reason why it can’t be Donald this year.
I backed Martin Kaymer at 440 on the Exchange once I saw his run of strong GIR numbers and also noted the Loch Lomond link as he won there in 2009. That was before he went close to winning at Colonial and now he has been cut in to 70/1 to win and that feels about right. So I don’t think I can really advise a bet at that price but at the same time I couldn’t put anyone off and I would like to get him onside in the blog somehow. So I’ve gone for the Top 40 market as I quite like the 5/4 about that. It would have paid out in 21 of his 45 majors and a lot of those were played when he was in no kind of form. Arriving playing as he is and having finished 8th here in 2010 I think a top 40 should be well withing his reaches and it really should be odds on for me.
Adam Scott delivered the Top 20 money at Bethpage Black and while the bookies are on to him this week I think another top 20 bet still looks rock solid at 6/4. His US Open record is probably the poorest of the 4 majors but he still has 4 top 20s in his last 7 starts. That’s just a little bit behind his over all recent major record of 22 top 20s in his last 34 major starts. That is a brutal level of consistency since he took his game to new heights around 2011. His tee-to-green game is so consistent that he can be expected to play well again here and his price of 6/4 has plenty juice in it as you could argue that he should really be odds on. His last start he was runner-up to Cantlay at Memorial and his back 9 was brilliant which will have him arriving in confident mood. While I wouldn’t want to put anyone off an outright bet I think the market probably has him back at the correct outright price of around 30/1. I’m staking the Scott and Kaymer bets with a view to getting the bulk of the event stakes back should they land along with a DJ top 10. Anything else will be a huge bonus. These bets aren’t for everyone but I do think that place bets can be the backbone of any good betting strategy in major golf where finding the winner can be so difficult.
Despite Hao Tong Li coming up just short of the top 20 in the last two majors I’m a glutton for punishment and I’m going in again. He has already showed his love of links golf when flying through the field at Birkdale in 2017 with a Sunday 63. As I’ve already said in the first two major previews he has a brilliant long game for championship courses and some of his numbers look ideal for Pebble Beach. Particularly his ability to score from the rough as he is 7th in scoring relative to par from 150-175 yards and he leads the Tour from 175-200 yards. If these fairways do play as narrow as suggested and the rough is up Li should handle missing them better than most.
Marcus Fraser has a great short game and has always fared well in the wind. He looks over priced in plenty of markets this week having qualified well last week shooting 66-68 for 3rd place. There could well be another Gregory Havret on the leaderboard this year and while it’s very unlikely to be Fraser, I don’t think he should be a 1000/1 shot here. However its the top 40 market I like for him at 7/2.
First Round Leader Bets
Stewart Hagestad the amateur is first up as a very speculative selection. He shot a low round 66 at Pebble in 2018’s US Amateur Stroke-play section before making the quarter finals. Hagestad is a California native who managed 37th on his only Masters appearance but he has missed both his US Open cuts, although they were over on the east coast. That was his 8th attempt at making the US Amateur Match Play section so the fact he did it in California suggests he is happier nearer home on the west coast. He employed a local Pebble Beach caddie that week and hopefully he is doing the same again this week. It’s asking an awful lot for him to even make the cut but it feels like the sort of story that you could hear on a Friday morning and with prices up to 350/1 its worth a little play.
If we are going down the 2018 US Amateur route then we really have to include young Norwegian Victor Hovland who dismantled the field that week. He won his 6 matches 3&2, 2&1, 7&6, 7&6, 3&2 and 6&5. That was quite astonishing stuff and while I can’t quite remember how difficult it played that week he will definitely be bringing some happy memories back to Pebble. The bookies aren’t taking any chances but again I think he looks worth siding with to come flying out of the blocks. He has a potentially off-putting 3-ball as he is alongside Koepka and Molinari but hopefully he will go out and attack the course again with the fearlessness of a 21 year old. That could obviously go horribly wrong but it’s worth a chance at 160/1.
With speculative punts out of the way I’ll get to my main fancy of Paul Casey. Normally I like to side with players who have been lighting it up on a Thursday lately but with Casey this week it’s more of a hunch. I think he will be a little frustrated that he had to pull out of Colonial and then miss both Memorial and the Canadian Open. I don’t know what his scheduling was prior to his bout of flu but I imagine he would have played one of those at least. Casey’s last two AT&T efforts have been 2nd and 8th at Pebble and I really think it’s a course that he has learned how to play. He was a solid enough 40th in 2010 after opening up with a 69 to tie for the lead. I think lightning could easily strike twice here and I like the 50/1 with 8 places. He will be rested up and determined to make amends for two sub-standard major performances so far in 2019.
Gary Woodland has missed 4 cuts in the AT&T but on the only cut he made in 2017 he went on to shoot 65 around Pebble on the Sunday to finish 5th. That’s the joint lowest Sunday round since 2013 and it tells me that maybe it’s the other two courses on the Pro-am rotation that he doesn’t like. He sits 11th in strokes gained: off the tee and 11th in GIR while he was 8th at the US PGA last month. I’ll complete the 1st round team with a powerhouse who could go low here again if everything clicks.
Summary of bets
Dustin Johnson – 4pts ew @ 8/1 and a further 2pts win @ 10.0 on Betfair
Francesco Molinari – 1.5pts ew @ 33/1
Tyrrell Hatton – 0.75pts ew @ 125/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 9/2
Kevin Na – 0.75 pts ew @ 100/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 4/1
Luke Donald – 0.5pts ew @ 300/1 and 1pt Top 30 @ 11/2
Martin Kaymer – 4pts – Top 40 @ 5/4
Adam Scott – 4pts Top 20 @ 6/4
Hao Tong Li – 1pt Top 20 @ 13/2
Marcus Fraser – 1pt Top 40 @ 7/2
(All outrights are 1/5 odds 10 places)
1st round leader bets
Stewart Hagestad – 0.25pts ew @ 350/1 (1/5 odds 7 places)
Victor Hovland – 0.25pts ew @ 160/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Unibet)
Paul Casey – 0.75pts ew @ 50/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Betfair)
Gary Woodland – 0.75pts ew @ 60/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Betfair)
Weekly points advised = 34pts