Here we go again, Major week! We have already seen Adam Scott get suited up in his Green Jacket after winning the first major of the year The Masters, in Augusta. Now it’s time to move on to the upcoming U.S Open, where unlike The Masters, the course changes every year, and we are at Merion Golf Club this time around. Since 2000, we have had 10 different winners, with two multiple champions, coming in the form of Tiger Woods (2000,2002,2008) and Retief Goosen (2001,2004). What the U.S Open does do however is throw up a few surprises, with winners such as Michael Campbell (2005) and Lucas Glover (2009) etching their names on to the honours list, and that’s what makes this tournament all that more exciting. Many may argue that both players had cases before winning the event, but when you look at Major championships these two wouldn’t come straight to mind. Campbell had to go through sectional qualifying at Walton Heath to even get in the tournament, and even started round 4, four shots behind defending champion Retief Goosen. Goosen would go on to shoot 81 that day, where as Campbell shot a -1/69 round, the only player in the final two pairings to break 80. Glover, who was in a rich vain of form coming into the event was ranked 71st in the World Rankings coming into the event and had missed the cut in all of his previous three showings at a U.S Open, so it goes to show that picking the winner in this event is by no means an easy task.
Roll on to 2013, and we are in Ardmore, Pennsylvania at Merion Golf Club, who are ready to host their fifth U.S Open, their first however since 1981, so changes will have been made since David Graham won 32 years ago. Two events that have been hosted here in recent years, were the U.S Amateur in 2005 and the 2009 Walker Cup, with well known players impressing in both. The winner of the 2005 U.S Amateur Edoardo Molinari unfortunately failed to qualify for this years U.S Open, however we will be seeing two players that were part of the 2009 American Walker Cup team, as Rickie Fowler and Morgan Hoffmann both prepare to tee it up at Merion this week. Fowler is one player who will certainly look to turn his fortunes around at the U.S Open, in four attempts Fowler has missed the cut twice, finished T60 in 2008 and also T41 last year, so there’s definitely room for improvement. Hoffmann on the other hand has played in just two U.S Open’, missing the cut in 2010 and then placing T29 in 2012. Hoffmann joined the PGA Tour full time this year, after qualifying through the Web.com Tour last season. It has certainly been far from an easy ride for the young American, as last year he got by on the Web.com with Sponsor Exemptions and Monday qualifiers, but he took full advantage, finishing 19th on the money list, which was good enough for the promotion. He was once No.1 in the World Amateur Rankings, and his talent has begun to shine through this year. He finished T5 in the HP Byron Nelson, after finishes of T14 at the Puerto Rico Open and T21 at the Zurich Classic, so he is showing signs of becoming a well rounded player. Young golfers are much better prepared for the European and PGA Tours in recent years, and this leads to them being full of confidence going in to majors, and both Fowler and Hoffmann will look to draw confidence from their win at the Walker Cup ahead of the 113th U.S Open.
Looking ahead to the upcoming week, and many players have started to stake their claim for this years U.S Open, with many players hitting form at the right time. Tiger Woods is the stand out candidate this year, with four wins already to his name, and he will be looking to win his first major since winning the 2008 U.S Open. It will come as no surprise that he is the market leader this year, with 11/2 currently the top price available on him. He didn’t live up to expectations at Augusta for this years Masters and you know full well that he will be as keen as ever to set the record straight. Woods’ is a man driven by success, and any chance he has at further bettering his career, he tends to try and take at any cost. When winning the U.S Open in 2008, Woods’ was virtually playing on one leg, due to an injury to his knee when he beat Rocco Mediate in a play-off at Torrey Pines’ and he still to this day describes that as his best ever victory. It’s hard to avoid talking about Tiger Woods, no matter what happens in golf, no matter who wins, it all comes back to him. Like it or not Woods’ is the figure head of the sport, and you have to acknowledge that he has been a major part of what had made the sport what it is today. He will no doubt be centre of attention again this week, and that will suit certain players as they look to go under the radar and get the job done.
One player who won’t be able to avoid the media attention is World No.2 Rory Mcilroy who is still yet to make his impression on the 2013 season. The highlight of his season so far is his solo 2nd finish at the Valero Texas Open, the week before the Masters, and had it of not been for Martin Laird’s 63/-9 round on the last day, Rory might just of got the win. He had a disappointing T57 finish at the Memorial last week and that has only added pressure on him to turn his season around. Although he has had some good finishes this season, the majority of it has been spent struggling, should it be down to his equipment or swing and he will be keen to get on a run of consecutive finishes, hopefully starting thus week. After winning it in 2011, Rory missed the cut last year at the U.S Open and he will be hoping to rectify that immediately this time around. Rory is available at 18/1 if you fancy him to turn his season around in spectacular fashion.
Plenty of other players have a side story going into this week, but if I was to write about all of them you’d get extremely bored. One thing that needs to be noted this week is the weather, rain has already fallen, and lots of it. According to weather reports there is a very definite chance of more rain come Thursday, which could set the tone for the weekend. Friday onwards is meant to be clear however with the course already suffering from flooding early Monday it could prove to be very wet come the start of play. Many people on Twitter were sceptical about the course drying completely out by Thursday, and with more rain expected it’s unlikely we are going to see a dry start to the week. With this is mind the greens will be softer, and damp fairways can often suit certain types of players. Two players in recent times that have won the U.S Open in rainy conditions are, 2009 champ Lucas Glover and 2011 winner Rory Mcilroy, both of whom will be ready for the challenge again this year. With the weather and everything else mentioned mind, let’s look at how the course will set up this week, and who will be defending their title this week.
The Course: Merion Golf Club, 6,996 yards, Par 70. This course is set up to test players to absolute limits of their games, just like a major course should. This is the shortest course picked for a major since 2004, when Shinnecock Hills (also 6,996yards) was used for the U.S Open in 2004, the winner that year… Retief Goosen. Maybe surprisingly is the fact that at the 2004 U.S Open at the very same yardage as this year Phil Mickelson came 2nd. Many people might think that Mickelson is too wild of the tee for shorter courses, but the fact is he can play anywhere. The difference between this year at Merion and back in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills.. Merion has five par 4s under 400 yards, four of them being between holes 7-11. This is where scoring will be expected and it should be where players are looking for 3s. Any player that has played this course competitively has done so playing in a match play situation, so that may be something to think about when looking at certain players course form. Accuracy off the tee will obviously be important, with the fairways only stretching 25 yards wide, and with the rough looking fairly brutal (see below pic) it would be a great idea to keep it in the short stuff. There’s only two par 5s on the course so par 4 scoring is a big part of the event this week, so players high in that category should be considered.
(The rough at Merion)
Defending Champion: Webb Simpson. Since winning the U.S Open in 2012, Webb Simpson has had some highs and lows, with one major disappointment coming when losing in a play off to Graeme McDowell at the RBC Heritage. He has however looked like a player that can win again, and I certainly wouldn’t put it past him to win a major again in the future, he has a great attitude to the game, but is it too soon for him to win again? In terms of majors, since his win at the U.S Open win last year, he did not play at the British Open and then went on to miss the cut at the PGA Championship at the end of the year. In his first major of 2013, Simpson missed the cut at the Masters, in Augusta and never looked particularly comfortable, shooting 73 and 76. This however shouldn’t be too important ahead of this week, his record at the U.S Open is T14 and 1st in his only two starts, so you feel the U.S Open is the major to suit him most. Since missing the cut at the Masters, Webb has finished, 2nd (RBC Heritage), T32 (Wells Fargo), T15 (Players) and a missed cut at the Memorial. This is not a bad run of form by any means, and he shouldn’t feel too worried about his game coming into the event, whether or not you fancy him to do the very rare thing of winning back-back majors, let alone back-back U.S Open is entirely up to you, but he is a fair price of 55/1 (PaddyPower) if you think he can.
Enough of talking about the past, below I will be sharing with you who I believe can go well this week, with the odds shortening for a couple of players I fancied it was a tough decision but I have decided to leave out a couple that should they win I will feel very disappointed, the weather has also led me to give others more of a chance, so I do believe that from the six players below we can have a run for our money, and I hope as much as any other week that I can find you a winner. Best of luck with your selections, and enjoy the second major of 2013!
Charl Schwartzel 33/1 (BetVictor 1-7, General 1-6) 2pts e/w: I struggled to leave Schwartzel out of my Masters picks back in April, and this time a round I cannot ignore him. He has ticked several boxes for me this week, with his U.S Open record being somewhat of a bonus as well. Schwartzel finished in the Top-10 in the 2011 U.S Open, finishing in a tie for 9th and that was following on from his T16 in 2010. He did flatter to deceive last year, but still managed a T38 finish in a season of disappointing majors. I’m forgiving him for his major finishes in 2012, due to his win at Augusta in 2011 and I think he’s now playing well enough to make an impression once again. He has 7 Top 25 finishes, including four Top 10s and two 3rd place finishes, an impressive return on one of his busier schedules on the PGA Tour to date. His last time out resulted in a T8 finish at the Memorial and that should only increase his confidence ahead of this week. Although he is a lowly 93rd in Driving Accuracy, he is 26th in Greens in Regulation off the fairway, and that could be a telling stat in itself this week. Other than that he ticked every other box I wanted him too, 24th in Greens in Regulation, 24th in Par 4 Performance, 16th in Total Putting, 23rd in Greens in Regulations from 175-200 yards, which is important due to emphasis put on long iron shots and then finally 9th in Proximity to the Hole. All of this makes impressive reading, however he will need to be on point on his short putts this week, as he 131st from 3-5′, he is however putting well from range (6th Putting from 20-25′) and again that could be important this week. All in all I think Schwartzel will win another major in his career and I certainly wouldn’t rule him out at a U.S Open. His form in America this year has only strengthened my belief in that and hopefully he can go well this week.
Brandt Snedeker 33/1 (General) 2pts e/w: The reason this preview has taken so long to go up, is because I was toying backwards and forwards as to whether to include Snedeker in it or not. I was disappointed with his performance at the St.Jude last week, where he missed the cut, but he has hardly excelled at that tournament in the past. The U.S Open is the major that I believe Snedeker is most suited to, and if he’s going to win a major in the near future, I feel this could be his time. Although he has had the recent injury setback, he does always show signs that he’s ready and he again like Schwartzel he checks a lot of boxes. He’s now, even through his recent struggles 3rd in Par 4 scoring and 12th in Proximity to the Hole. His playing style is popular with many, no small part down to his quick play. His U.S Open record in recent years is outstanding and it I don’t see it getting any worse here. Since 2007 he has gone T23, T9, CUT, T8, T11 and DNP. He will keen to impress after having to sit last year out with injury, so let’s hope he can do it this week. Snedeker is value at 33/1 even with his recent results and hopefully he can get the job done.
Dustin Johnson 50/1 (PaddyPower 1-6, Coral 1-5) 1.5 pts e/w: Two weeks ago Dustin Johnson I had started to rule him out of my mind for this week, and if it wasn’t for last week he wouldn’t be involved. Up until last week, off the back of his T13 at the Masters, Johnson had failed to complete a tournament, when he withdrew from the Players’ after Round 1, and missed the cut at the Memorial. I had him tipped up for the Masters and after round one it looked like a great pick, then came the 76 in round 2. He would of been bitterly disappointed with that finish, but after a T10 last week at the St.Jude Classic he may just of found something just in time. Johnson would not immediately strike you as a U.S Open contender, but he may well of won one back in 2010 had he of had the mental strength to hold a 3 shot lead going into the final round, and although that is a worry, he looks to be more prepared for that type of situation. He has four PGA Tour wins since then, and also posted some great finishes at majors since, he has finished in the Top 10 of each major except the Masters and one week I really believe he’s going to hold it together and get the job done. If, like many expect he misses the fairways, he should be one of the best players of getting out of it. Not only does he have one of the most athletic swings, but he also backs that point up by being 7th in Greens in Regulation from off the fairway. One stat that looks really good when taking Johnson’s chances into account is his 2nd in the Bounce Back category. This means that should he bogey, he is 2nd on Tour on scoring birdie or better. He isn’t just about power, his all round game is absolutely superb and with him proving his fitness last week I’m struggling to see why he is 50/1. Like Schwartzel I see him winning majors in the future, and although Charl already had his Dustin constantly looks like he’s ready to challenge for his own.
Ernie Els 80/1 (WilliamHill &Ladbrokes) 1pts e/w: You cannot deny Ernie Els’ Major record, none more so than his U.S Open record, two-time winner in 94′ and 97′ and he has continued fine form from then on. Although he has not won the event again, he has won two other Major championships in that time, winning The British Open in 2002 and 2012, and again has placed well in others. He came T13 at the Masters this year, after the disappointment of being left out the field in 2012, this coupled with his recent showing of form and you have to feel he will go well again. Since his win at the U.S Open in 1997 he has been in the Top-10 5 times, including 3rd in 2010 and 9th last year, so he’s shown no signs of slowing up. He had a good week back at Wentworth just three weeks ago finishing in a tie for 6th, and this was after his T15 at the Zurich Classic back in America. Els’ was T37 last time out at the Memorial, so he isn’t in the worst form coming into Major week, and he obviously likes to step up his game in this type of situation. He also came 2nd to Bernd Wiesberger in Indonesia so he has that challenging feeling under his belt this season, whether a big event or not. No stats particularly stand out for me when looking at Els but I just feel he cannot be ignored here, he can still challenge and I full expect him to do so.
Russell Henley 125/1 (Coral) 1pt e/w: Henley is the first of my “outsiders” this week, and I feel that he may just be slightly overpriced. Henley has two previous showings at the U.S Open, both as an amateur, firstly coming T16 in 2010 at Pebble Beach, following up with a T42 in 2011, two respectable scores. Two years on and Russell Henley has turned professional, winning three times on the Web.com Tour, once in 2011 and twice in 2012. Not satisfied with that, Henley then came out onto the PGA Tour and introduced himself, by winning his very first attempt, the Sony Open in Hawaii. Many were sceptical about how he was going to deal with the added attention, but since then he has posted two T6 finished, first at the RBC Heritage and then again at the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago. Not only is that impressive, but he got himself to T6 at the Memorial after a 2nd round 77, something that highlights his character. These are the sort of things you look for in a major winner, the nerve to get a win, especially first time out on Tour, then to prove mental toughness and keep a good year going, I truly believe he is a major winner in the making. Now that he is a fully fledged professional with more attention than ever, we will see how he copes, I can only hope he takes it in his stride and proves himself on one of the biggest stages in golf! He’s 11th in Par 4 Performance, 6th in Total Putting, 5th in Greens in Regulation Percentage 150-17 yards and also 40th in Driving Accuracy. If he can continue to keep it on the fairway and make putts like everyone knows he can, why can’t he win?
Morgan Hoffmann 300/1 (StanJames, WilliamHill, Betfed) 0.5pts e/w: Hoffmann is not a player who I expect to be at the forefront of many people’s minds this week, but knowing how well he performed in the 2009 Walker Cup at Merion I was interested to see how his rookie season on Tour panned out leading up to this week. He missed the cut on his first attempt at a U.S Open in 2010, but then bounced back with a T29 last year, and he has shown flashes of what he can do on Tour this season. Hoffmann’ best finish of the season came at the HP Byron Nelson where he came in a tie for 5th and really impressed me. He also finished T21 at the Zurich Classic and T14 at the Puerto Rico Open, so three reasonably good finishes for a Tour rookie. He is 34th on Par 4 Performance, something I have put a lot of emphasis on this week, and that was another reason for me to pull the trigger on what in my opinion was a big price. Another stat he is fairly high up in is, Greens in Regulation 175-200 yards where he lies 26th and again long irons will definitely be a factor this week. One last stat that really impressed me was his 31st place in the Greens in Regulation off the fairway, if he is to find the rough hopefully, based on statistics he could find a way out, and this may serve him well. This pick is purely on price, and down to a gut feeling I’ve had since the HP Byron Nelson.
Total Points staked- 18
Profit/Loss for 2013: 144.3
This is another week where I’m really to keen to get it right, I felt hard done by at the Masters, with both Snedeker and Dustin Johnson ultimately falling short. I have included both of them again as yet again I think they’re value and I do think that they will eventually get over the line. I would feel disappointed not to be on when that happened, and they fit in nicely with the other players I have selected. Good luck with your bets this week, and I hope you enjoy the U.S Open. Follow me on Twitter @TomJacobs8 any feedback would be greatly appreciated.