The US Open is historically the toughest scoring major and Winged Foot will be no different. Here is a comprehensive look at who has a chance over the four days.
I’m putting it out there that only a maximum of six players can win this week.
It will be one of the quality experienced names, not some journeyman roughie – the course is just too tough.
Think Harding Park six weeks ago but HARDER.
The rough will be even thicker and harder to predict and add much more undulation, both raised greens and the greens themselves.
Its classic vintage Tillinghast so think Oakmont and Baltusrol and more like that brute of a course Bethpage Black.
US PGA CEO Mike Davis called Winged Foot “the quintessential US Open golf course” and as Jack Niklaus said “you can’t make a mistake and get away with it here” and he once called it “the most difficult set of greens I’ve ever seen.”
It’s even money the winner will be under par.
When last held here in 2006 our own smooth swinging Geoff Ogilvy did a Steven Bradbury to claim the trophy.
He was sitting in the clubhouse at +5 before Phil Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie and Jim Furyk all bogied and double bogied their way out of contention.
Unlike 2006, there won’t be any spectators or marquees to save errant tee shots. There are no lakes or water hazards just a couple of creeks and it’s not overly tree lined.
Just 18 tough holes, three of which are par 3s over 200 yards. There are only two par 5s and only two of the par 4s are under 400 yards (6th and 11th).
The fairways will narrow down close to 20 yards on the short par 4s, dog legs that require placement off the tee, but really it’s the approach to the green that is key.
When I played it (yes I took one for the team) it was nothing like as crazy hard as this but I do remember the steep raised greens tough targets to hit and all of the last three holes 16th, 17th and 18th are all brutal par 4s.
This thing will be lost with bogies rather than won with birdies coming in on those three holes.
The weather hasn’t helped either – heavy rain the past fortnight mean the rough has thrived and is now just awful.
Gary Woodland had his caddie toss a few balls in it Tuesday so he could practice his chipping and they couldn’t find one of them!
This tournament was supposed to be played in June before the Covid postponement and the course has grown legs in three months with possibly the thickest rough ever.
There’s not one, not two, but THREE stages of it!
The weather moving forward looks fine, less than 20 per cent chance of rain and winds of 10 to 15 kph so enough to make the golfers think but not enough to drastically change things.
It will, however get chilly.
After a lovely Thursday high in the 20s it’ll drop into the teens so don’t be surprised with the odd beanie here and there and rain pants for warmth. It will add an extra layer of difficulty for those already out of contention.
The greens will get harder too – no more rain forecast to soften them up – and they have the sub air they can use anyway.
They are a poa annua (80 per cent) / bent grass (20 per cent) mix and as they quicken up over the weekend that poa will see some odd lines later in the afternoon. You’ll need conviction on them which ain’t easy as they’ll be stimping like 15 (on the stimp meter) downhill. Watch for the lead to keep changing as each time someone gets in the lead they’ll do that choke thing with the cautious putt that falls away as it gets to the hole. It’s just going to be a battle of survival come Sunday. Who would you put your money on for that?
THE WINNING FACTORS
The number 1 weighting this week is mental toughness. You know, the “Street Fighters” – never give up – can handle adversity and move on. Look at “Bounce back’ stats (bounce back birdie after a bogie or worse) … think Brooks Koepka (if he was playing he would be standout in this category), JT (Justin Thomas), Xander Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood, Tony Finau and the players who annoyingly (when you’re not on them ) just won’t go away like Webb Simpson and Daniel Berger.
Fatigue will be a huge factor. These boys have played their most hectic schedule ever squeezing six months into the last three, and then this brutal test? If they’re not on the pace come Friday afternoon on the cut line it’ll be very easy just to fall away.
In the Sunday Pairings lay all those “giver upperers” like Bubba Watson (Lay him and or bet against him in all Head to Heads you can find).
ACCURACY OFF THE TEE and APPROACH SHOTS stats not just GIR (Greens in Regulation) will as always be important. It’s that gnarly twisted wiry bluegrass/ryegrass stuff, you know the one when you think for once you’ve flushed your 5 iron onto the green (admittedly they’d be hitting 9 irons) but when you get up there it landed on the hard and fast green ran through and popped merely two feet into that horrible thick stuff bordering the fringe and you’re having to hack a full 56 degree back at it taking your chances how it comes out. This can be lottery like even for the Pros sometimes. Those irons to the green are key and hence playing off the fairway is key.
The “smash it hard as you can go find it and hit a wedge or short iron to the green” strategy doesn’t work at Winged Foot. The ball can come out dead left or barely 10 feet … sorry Bryson (DeChambeau).
If there was ever a tournament long hitters have no advantage it’s this one and as mentioned there are no crowds to be stomping down that thick rough. So think Ryder Cup Paris two years ago where they deliberately put the ropes way back to get the same effect. It killed the inaccurate American long hitters who couldn’t handle it.
UP and DOWN – STROKES GAINED AROUND THE GREEN. Winged Foot was also the Number 1 toughest scrambling stat on Tour in 2006.
LAG PUTTING – the greens are fast and undulating … not quite Augusta National but not far off. The lag component will be the key. Adam Scott would be close to leading this stat yet he’s towards the bottom of overall putting stats as he can be so unreliable from even six feet in. The point is making two putts could be enough to win. It’s not a birdie fest. Caddies will be extra important. I’ll be liking those who have a close relationship and use them for the lines on the greens – as well as course management
MY TOP 3 PICKS
Justin Thomas $15
He’s Number 1 or Top 3 in most ball striking stats – particularly his approach shots. He’s probably the best iron player in the world right now and has added his up and down out of the thick stuff game this year been working on that deliberately. It’ll come down to his putting. He can be hot but also can be sketchy as evidenced by recent results patchy with “only” 37th then 49th then 25th after his WIN at the WGC Fedex St Jude, but building nicely to his second place two weeks ago.
He did miss cut last year and 25th and 9th prior but he’ll feel he deserves to be there. He came early had his practice round last Thursday (which he wasn’t able to do for Harding Park), he’s got his buddy Jimmy back on the bag. He’s experienced winning a Major and frankly is due. He’s comfortable in the space. If he’s page 1 Sunday he’s my pick to handle it
Xander Schauffele $16
As well as being up there with JT in general ball striking stats – irons to the green are his forte – he’s got all the momentum. I think he’s less mentally cooked as the other top 10 as he hasn’t had the pressure of being at the top. He’s been building nicely up to his second place two weeks ago (which he “won” actually as in had the lowest 4 round score without the handicap start thing) – with a couple of 25s and previous top 10s this could be his chance to focus.
People have missed that his last three outings at US Opens (yes not quite as relevant as other weeks as not the same track but similar testing conditions) are 3rd, 6th and 5th. You don’t reckon he’s been looking forward to this one? One downside is hasn’t won a Major yet and might choke Sunday so will need to lay some off if he’s in contention.
Webb Simpson $27
I know I know I hate watching him too – when he does that annoying back off (again) thing when you think he’s about to putt. It fools even the TV Producer sometimes but he just won’t go away. Boring off the tee – tick – boring to the greens – tick. Only one of his last 20 rounds have been over par, then when he gets the putter going on that 10-20 foot range look out.
He also won’t choke – as seen at Olympic where he prevailed (annoyingly at the time for me I recall ) – recent US Opens 16th, 10th, 35th and has form coming in with 12th, 6th, 3rd, 37th and 12th. He’s the best value at $27 – can lay some Sunday in single digits if in contention.
A NOTE ON THE FAVOURITES AND WHY I’M PASSING ON THEM (INITIALLY)
Dustin Johnson $10
I’m worried about his inaccuracy off the tee. Remember he only hit two fairways Day 3 at East Lake?
It’s a miracle he won really. He won’t get away with that this week but of course he should be $10 favourite given recent form.
If he’s disciplined and hits those stinger 3 irons off the tee and stays patient he can be in the mix like he was at Bethpage Black in the US PGA last year, second only to Koepka.
But will he be patient enough? That implies smart golf. I think there’s a bad day in there like his pair of 80s only eight weeks ago which he followed with a 79 and WD.
It’s amazing how often he has a bad start but somehow sneaks back on the front page come Sunday. If he starts well and runs away with it as he did at East Lake then I’m in trouble and have to rely on the cash cow Head to Heads.
Jon Rahm $11
“Hothead” Jon Rahm – he’s just not proven to me yet under the pressure of a Major to be remotely close to bringing it home. When he does I’ll respect him but until then I’ll never back him in a big four event. In addition even if he starts well he’s proven he doesn’t handle leads.
He’s better coming from behind – not a good record in thick rough. Before last year’s third he missed the cut the previous two years. His recent form is undeniable hence the price – but I think if it remotely starts going wrong he’ll start doing that Blubber Watson impersonation turn his head away viciously when misses a putt – like he was robbed – like it’s clearly not his fault. That’s when you lay him (hmm I might have to eat these words one day – hopefully not this weekend)
Rory McIlroy $20
What does one do with Rory? Can’t back him, can’t sell him. His patchy year suddenly made sense when he announced an impending child only two weeks out! Right now nothing else in the world matters – golf is a distant second. He’ll be tired, but energised. Has he been practising hard? I doubt it. He’s dangerous because if he plays with abandon / nothing to lose he could go low, but I’m wagering even then if he’s in contention he’ll choke. It’s been too long and that’s when the putter starts letting him down.
People forget before last year’s ninth he missed the cut at the previous three US Opens. They don’t suit him really. If he’s not in contention he might really fall away Sunday just want to get home but your guess is as good as mine where his head is at.
Colin Morikawa $18
They all want him don’t they. Yep, great ball striking but his putting is still un proven to me. It’s too inconsistent and he doesn’t have enough experience in these conditions. His scrambling stats are also poor. He he had a dream 9 holes with no pressure at Harding Park that’ll do him for this year. Don’t get me wrong his skill set and stats have my attention for next year but just not this week – certainly not at $18.
THE VALUE TOP 3
Daniel Berger $40
Talk about under the radar at this price … he’s a bit same same Schauffele / Simpson combo frankly but twice the price twice the value. He’s also possibly the least exciting player to watch … notice the TV producers never seem to show him unless he’s leading. That’s perfect for me – nothing too fancy – just has that all round game no frills but no weaknesses. This is the one you hedge tiering a top 5, top 10 and top 20 – he’s the most likely to be consistent and just might get that “Ogilvy style” collapse around him and fall into the win. Last US Open outings 49th and 6th. Recent form 15th, 25th, 3rd, 13th and 2nd (like I say, beautifully boring).
Tony Finau $40
“Tony, Tony” (say it like an old time New York Gangster) – the consummate street fighter – he’s so hot and cold you don’t know what you’re going to get result wise. He isn’t the one you hedge the place. His recent form is 17th, 5th, MC, 4th, 65th, 3rd, 8th – And recent US Opens MC, 5th, MC.
The inconsistency is mostly down to his putting. Some days he can’t miss and other days he misses six footers, but one thing you know is he will fight til the end. He’s been close at Augusta and he’ll handle these greens.
He can be boring straight if he dials back the driver and he’s done it before. I feel like it’s a toss of a coin that he’ll be in contention so well worth it at $40. Would give you something to play with come the weekend.
Tiger Woods $60
I know I know I’m a Tiger tragic. It’s a throwaway but I’ve made so much money off him in the past – admittedly given a piece of it back looking for him – although Augusta last year helped! Indeed he is entirely focussed on The Masters in November. Even this US Open is just preparation for that really, and worse, in 2006 he shot 76, 76 and missed the cut so not exactly happy memories (but it was just weeks after his Dad Earl passed).
Imagine if he clicked this week.
He’s been working on the power fade driver off the tee. It was so reliable earlier this year than ever in his life. However, recent form has been a mixed bag. His irons to green are top 5 but it’s his putting that’s let hi down, particularly lag putting but that was on the slower greens.
He is the best putter who ever lived so I’m backing (hoping) just a little something in case that clicks with the faster greens better suited to him. He’s paired with his new best mate JT which will be good for both of them actually. He’s the king when it comes to course management and that’s exactly what you need at Winged Foot.
I don’t like this betting market for this US Open.
Normally I like it as a hedge but a) it feels like a lottery with the tough course and no Aussie with enough consistency lately to justify my cash and b) while Scott is the obvious thought for ball striking and lag putting prowess, both he and Jason Day are just too tightly priced both around $2.60 for best Aussie. That puts the value down the order if you like Cam Smith (he’s been a bit better lately 24th, 20th and 18th) or Leishman – each are around $7.
The one I DON’T like is Day. He might blow up and might even miss the cut – not exactly the one you think of when you’re valuing “mental toughness.” Hope he doesn’t feel a bit faint again. Remember that one at Chambers Bay when things started going awry – or gets a head ache, or back ache? The last two outings 64th and MC although was proper before that 4th, 6th, 4th, and 7th (two of them at his home course though Muirfield Village).
This course is one of life’s gems and it will be an awesome four rounds. The lead will change many times – many will have the chance and fall away. Someone will hang in there. It is a seasoned name who will prevail.
I welcome your comments below – whether agreeing or disagreeing and I’m happy to answer any of your questions or thoughts on other players.
Oakesy is a new writer on The Roar who has been trading in sport for more than 20 years. He believes research is the key to betting. “If you’re going to have a bet don’t ‘gamble.’ Gambling is just a game of chance like the toss of a coin. If you can’t back your bet with good reasoning or research then it’s just gambling so don’t do it.”