Monday, 13 June 2016

US Open 2016 - Oakmont

The toughest of all four Majors, The US Open returns to Oakmont GC for the ninth time this week. Angel Cabrera broke through here for his first Major win back in 2007 with a +5 winning score. He was one of only eight players to break par for a round that week and indeed was the only player to do so twice. Located in Western Pennsylvania, Oakmont at first glance looks quite straightforward: no trees, no dog-legs, just bunkers (~300) and the straightest of holes you are ever likely to see. Yet, this course is often referred to as the hardest golf course in America. It's long, its bunkers are deep and the fairways slope, the rough is a no-go area and the greens are tricky, very tricky. It'll be a test of shot making and a test of patience. It will suit those who can apply a strategy to make a score and I'm sure all will have level par as their target this week. It should be good enough to win.(however the experts say +5 again might get the job done). Oakmont has seen the cream of golf prevail in all its US Open hostings, from Tommy Armour, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Larry Nelson and Ernie Els all winning here. Nicklaus won his first of eighteen  Majors here in 1962 beating Arnold Palmer in a play-off, Ernie Els won his first of four Majors here in 1994, beating Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts in a play-off that extended to twenty holes.

What can we learn from 2007 ?

  • Fourteen of the TOP25 ranked inside the TOP20 for GIR 
  • Seven of the TOP25 ranked inside the TOP20 for Driving. 
  • Twelve of the TOP25 ranked inside the TOP20 for putting. 

The winner, Cabrera, ranked 2nd in DRIVING and 3rd in GIR and was 28th for putting. Tiger Woods who finished a shot back alongside Jim Furyk ranked 1st for GIR, 11th in DRIVING and surprisingly just 41st for putting. Furyk ranked down at 44 for DRIVING, 17th for GIR and 12th for putting. If Tiger had putted to his usual high standard he probably would have won, but Cabrera, although had a decent week on the greens, didn't seem to win it in that department. 

If looking at the DRIVING & GIR stats alone, we know that Angel Cabrera, Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson & Paul Casey were the only players to rank in the TOP20 for both of those categories. All four finished in the TOP10. But stats seem only useful after the event but can be used as aguide to who best fits the course. Given the difficulty of a US Open in general, complemented with the difficulty of Oakmont, we need to look at players that have the overall tools to contend. Those players will be needing some 2016 form as it's highly unlikely that the winner come Sunday will produce a miracle week. Some are suggesting that it could be a lottery, probably the same people who said it would be last year at Chambers Bay ! It won't. The best players will emerge over the four days and the field this time round has plenty of contenders just like the way it played out at Chambers Bay twelve months ago.

Class of 2016

Whilst we all anticipated a memorable Masters last April given the form of the current world's best at the time, few would have seen Danny Willett prevailing in the manner that he did or the capitulation of defending champion Jordan Spieth at Amen Corner. Since then, not only has Spieth won,(Dean & Deluca in his native state, Texas), but so too has Rory McIlroy (Irish Open) and Jason Day (The Players). So we come to the second and often regarded as the most difficult of the four Majors and the excitement and anticipation has increased again. The big 3 head the betting market and everyone will have their opinion of who is best suited to Oakmont for the week. From the 2007 stats above, I'd be inclined to favour those with strong Driving & GIR stats and therefore the new Strokes Gained Tee to Green (SG:TTG) statistic would be an ideal marker for who is likely to contend. As always, you need to be putting well, especially here. Jason Day seems the best equipped for Oakmont of the three. But, as with the course itself, we need to delve into something else as well, and that is the "how to make a score" category which the Texan excels at. If Jordan Spieth can find fairways he can make the required score and we can be confident that Jordan has a target number in Mr Greller's notepad. If Rory has a magic week with the flatstick he'll be adding a second US Open title to his haul. But it'll have to be a "magic week". He did show some signs at The Memorial that he was improving and may just time his game to perfection for the week ahead.

Challengers to the "Big 3"

Dustin Johnson arrives this week still scarred from his Chambers Bay failure twelve months ago but its the one Major that I do give DJ a shout in as proven by his form in them. He should have won last year as he should have at Pebble Beach in 2010 when Graeme McDowell prevailed. DJ hasn't won since March 2015, and he blew a glorious opportunity at St Andrews last July having led after 36 holes. So can he win this week ? He'll need a  bit of luck to do so but he can put all those demons to bed here with a strong Tee to Green game. He started well in Memphis last week, faded away only to finish strongly. He can go close and win but he's far too short in the market to trust and to keep his mental aspect intact which will be vital in making scores.

Justin Rose, the champion at Merion in 2013, will tee it up this week having being sidelined for a number of weeks due to injury. Rose was firmly on my radar for this one but the recent injury has cast some doubt about his readiness and sharpness for the challenge ahead. Still, he may have prepped with just this one in mind the past few weeks and by reading many tweets from those playing this week, he could well have more practice and knowledge under his belt. Fellow Englishman, Andy Sullivan tweeted Monday morning "First look at Oakmont...." and hes not the only one to roll up to Oakmont this week for the first time. I find this incredulous that the top world golfers are preparing for a Major in such a manner. They should have had numerous practice rounds under their belt by now if they have any intentions on winning. This enforces my belief that only serious competitors and serial winners will be in contention come Sunday . If it's a maiden winner like Jack Nicklaus in '62, we can be assured it wont be his only win over the ensuing years. Justin Rose has the game for Oakmont, has the temperament as shown at Merion to get it done over the course of the week and is a real contender. In the 2015 Majors, Rose finished 27th at Chambers Bay, a course that wouldn't have suited, 2nd at Augusta, 6th at St. Andrews and 4th at Whistling Straits. He was T10th at August this year to continue his solid Major form. He has five TOP10s from his eleven PGA Tour starts this season and four TOP20s. He was 10th here in 2007. If the back is ok, so too will he. He has a nice grouping with mate Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson

Adam Scott hit form earlier in the year but couldn't keep it going at Augusta. Like Rose, he has a lovely grouping for the first two days in playing alongside fellow Aussie and World Number One, Jason Day.Two TOP10s the past two years at the US Open suggest that Scott feels comfortable at this Major. From his 60 Majors to date he has produced 15 TOP10s and 28 TOP20s. Scott ranks Number One for SG:TTG and he also ranks one for SG:ATG (Approach the Green). At 33/1 there is some value here and should he find a putting stroke for the week, he could be adding to his Masters Title with another Major here.

Henrik Stenson could be the "surprise" packet this week. At 40/1 though I'm not rushing in. He's a player that I haven't really backed much over the years and at this price I find it hard to get excited but I do expect him to go well this week. His Major returns are patchy but he was T4th at Pinehurst two years ago. Hes 7/9 in the US Open with 2 TOPs (9th at Bethpage in 2009). He missed the cut at the Wells Fargo and The Players in his last two PGA Tour starts but finished well in his homeland at the Nordea Masters two weeks ago. Playing with Rose will help greatly.

Phil Mickelson will complete the threeball for the opening two rounds with Rose & Stenson as he goes in search of his first National Title. "Lefty" has only missed two US Open cuts from twenty five starts. He has finished runner up on six occasions and needs this title to complete a career grand slam. He warmed up by playing last week in Memphis and finishing T2nd stating his putting was good. If patience is key this week, Mickelson is the man to get in the mix. 28/1 with Paddypower paying 7 places is fair (30/1 available for 6 places elsewhere widely available)

Patrick Reed most definitely has the short game to combat the greens at Oakmont. He tees it up this week in only his tenth Major (3rd US Open). The ever improving  Texan, who was a TOP15 last year, excels in the scrambling department, a key attribute required for this task at hand. Should he get a decent opening round under his belt, I expect him to figure. An early tee time alongside Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson, Reed will have many supporters @ 50/1

Bubba Watson @40/1 interests me greatly. Oakmont will test patience and the mental aspect of the game, something which Bubba doesn't do well at ; if not playing well. If playing well and in the mix, its a different Bubba and his length and power will serve him well. Highly ranked in the SG:TTG and SG:ARG, Bubba will eneter the week fresh and relaxed having cooled off on Tour the past two months. Bubba has two wins this season (Northern Trust & World Challenge) and returns to Oakmont where he had his best US Open finish in finishing 5th in 2007. Missed cuts at Pinehurst and Chambers Bay may appear off putting as does his last three outings, but come Thursday we will see a well prepared Bubba ready to go on a course that just may prove to be his kind of course.

Brooks Koepka continues to be consistent on tour finishing second last Sunday for the second successive tournament. He will make his fourth US Open appearance this week as he chases his third TOP20 in them. 2015 Majors results are encouraging too (33-18-10-5) and he followed those up with a T21st at August in April. Recent form cannot be ignored and he might offer better value @ 50/1 than Reed?

Rickie Fowler certainly has the short game to tame Oakmont. At 33/1 best price we can take encouragement from his 2014 Major Form (he finished TOP5 in all 4 Majors including 2nd at Pinehurst) as well as Pennsylvania form. He was TOP10 at Merion and won the Sunnehanna Amateur back to back as an amateur in 2007 & 2008 at the Sunnehanna GC in Pennsylvania, just 100Km away from Oakmont (he was third in 2009 also). Has missed the cut at the Players and Memorial tournaments in his last two starts but was T4th at The Wells Fargo prior to them. 2016 has seen Rickie produce six TOP10s from his eleven starts and will play with good mate Rory McIlroy as well as Masters Champion, Danny Willett.

Hideki Matsuyama aims to become the first Japanese player to win a Major and has been in solid form all season having pipped Rickie at Phoenix Open to land the title back in February. Four TOP10s in his next nine starts include a brace of T7ths at Augusta and Sawgrass. Ranks 5th in SG:TTG and 3rd in SG:ATG , Matsuyama is real live contender although I do have concerns over his putting especially on these greens. At 33/1 I'll leave him be.

Branden Grace went close at Chambers Bay twelve months ago when finishing 4th and followed that up with a TOP20 at St Andrews and a 3rd place finish at Whistling Straits. He won his first PGA Tour title at Harbour Town this year before following up with a TOP10 at the Texas Open. Will tee off in the afternoon with fellow countryman, Charl Schwartzel as well as in form Kevin Kisner and if the wind blows as expected could be  solid T10/T20 bet.

Louis Oosthuizen showed solid 2015 Major form, losing in a playoff to Zach Johnson at The Open and finishing runner-up to Spieth in the US Open. Form has been solid this season with a 2nd  at the WGC Matchplay following a TOP10 at The Valspar. Two missed cuts at the Byron Nelson and Dean & Deluca tournaments though hardly ideal but he has the temperament for a US Open. He'll have his backers @ 80/1.

Matt Kuchar is probably as consistent as Jason Day at the moment and the 40/1 reflects those chances.I'm glad he took last week off after a four week run from the Players through to the Dean & Deluca saw him yield results of 3-3-6-4. US Open form is not brilliant though with just one TOP10 from thirteen attempts, a 6th place at Pebble Beach in 2010). Hard to ignore recent form and his scrambling game should serve him well.

Martin Kaymer is a favourite of mine and rewarded the blog with Major victories in 2011 & 2014. He can do so again in 2016. A return to The European Tour seems to have raised the confidence and recent form is encouraging. Last time out at Wentworth saw a T7th having finished strongly at The K Club the week previously for a T5th placing. Two TOP40 finishes on the PGA Tour (Wells Fargo & The Players) came after yet another strong showing at Valderrama for a T6th. He's 7/8 in the US Open. What I like about the German's chances this week is the ability for him to perform in the big ones. He produced T12ths at The Open & PGA Championship last year, a year where he seemed to have lost form. He had a TOP40 at Augusta this year, the one course where he usually misses the cut. At 80/1 he can't be dismissed so lightly and should he get a decent start he can repeat the performance of 2014 and stay the distance.

Sergio Garcia is not one I would normally put up for a Major but I just can't get away from the Spaniard this week. Is this the week he finally ends the drought? Recent form is very strong, being a winner last time out at the Bryon Nelson. Garcia is 14/16 at The US Open having produced four TOP10s (nine TOP20s). He missed the cut effectively after day one in 2007 shooting a 79, just one more than Padraig Harrington, before both players contested a playoff for The Open the following month)
Ranking in the TOP10 for both SG:TTG and SG:ATG, Garcia's game is in fine shape and is a fair price @ 40/1.

Outsiders to Consider

Can we consider anyone else apart from the BIG 3 and the fifteen players mentioned above? Paul Casey has Oakmont form , has decent current form and put in a bold bid at Augusta in April. His compatriot and Masters Champion,Willett, is far too short in the market and has also shown tiredness in his weekend efforts since winning the green jacket and can be easily overlooked. Daniel Berger won for the first time last Sunday and it was coming....can he go back to back ? Kevin Chappell has been every bit as consistent as Berger and holds claims @ 100/1. JB Holmes and Billy Horschel might find Oakmont to their liking but I'd prefer to take a chance if pushed on Jason Dufner or Webb Simpson here despite obvious putting concerns. Both have shown big signs of vast improvement of late. Instead though I've looked at the chances of three others that could put in a good week here. I had Graeme McDowell on the radar up to a couple of week ago but his performances with the putter have been a worry and he's discarded form the final shakeup.

At 6/1 for a TOP20 is twice winner, Retief Goosen who is having a solid season and has hit form of late by finishing inside the TOP15 in his last three starts."The Goose" is 11/17 at the US Open, making TOP25 on no fewer than eight times. Always unflappable, Goosen will have the patience for Oakmont although he missed the cut back in '07. It was in 2007 that he underwent swing changes which saw his ranking decline following his near miss at Augusta.He simple relished the US Open challenge!

I wanted to have a TOP20 bet in the shape of another last time out winner, Matt Fitzpatrick. I've been very impressed in his rapid rise within the golf world and he certainly fits the bill of a future Major Champion already. Having won the US Amateur at Brookline in 2013, the English youngster made his professional debut at the 2014 Irish Open at Fota Island before winning his first title last October at the British Masters. He won his second title last month at The Nordea Masters. On his debut major as a professional, Matt finished T7th at Augusta last April to cap a very successful week for English golf. It was a slow start to 2016 but the win in Sweden could very well be the catalyst for another strong second half of the year in much the same vein as 2015. He is not daunted by the big events as proven not only at Augusta, but in the European Tour Final Series last Autumn by finishing 26-7-13-4. He produced twelve TOP20s from his twenty five starts (48%) but @ 3.75 he represents no value.

Robert Streb will play in just his sixth Major and was a respectable T42 at Chambers Bay, T18th at St. Andrews  and T10 at Whistling Straits in 2015. He finished T20 at the Memorial last time out and he continued that form back in Kansas last week when practicing, by shooting a 59 at one of his local courses. At 10/1 for a TOP20 he may just be worth a flutter. He ranks inside the TOP40 for SG:TTG & SG:ATG and will tee it up on the back of solid Major attempts of twelve months ago.

Selections

With 6 places widely available the US Open selections are finalized as each way selections.

1.0 pts e/w J. Rose @ 29.00 
1.0 pts e/w A.Scott @ 35.00
1.0 pts e/w B.Watson @ 46.00
1.0 pts e/w S.Garcia @ 41.00
1.0 pts e/w M.Kaymer @ 71.00