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Best bets for the U.S. Open

By Wes Reynolds  () 

USATSI_14934657
Earlier this year, we were not sure we would even have the 120th U.S. Open in 2020. This week it becomes a reality, although three months later than scheduled.
 
The Open returns to Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., about a 45-minute drive north of Manhattan. This will be your mother and father’s U.S. Open with narrow fairways, thick and high rough and fast greens. World No. 2 Jon Rahm played a practice round here two weeks ago and said he would be surprised if anyone shot under par. Initial indications are this is the type of Open we all hope for and expect, with the world’s best players being humbled a bit and having all facets of their games tested. 
 
World No. 1 and FedEx Cup champion Dustin Johnson has been good to this column by winning three times this summer (Travelers Championship, Northern Trust and Tour Championship). He is favored at 8-1. Perhaps he’ll continue his torrid play, which has even picked up a notch after Brooks Koepka — who withdrew this week with an injury — made his comments at the PGA Championship about Johnson having only one major win. 
 
Rahm (10-1) has won twice this summer (Memorial, BMW Championship) and is still seeking his first major title. But at 25 he already has 12 worldwide professional wins in just four years as a pro. Justin Thomas (14-1) also picked up a win in early August at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and, like Johnson, is seeking to give his lone major trophy (2017 PGA) some company on his mantel. 
 
Rory McIlroy (14-1) was the 2011 champion but has not found his form during the restart this summer. He welcomed his first daughter into the world two weeks ago and could get a boost from the “nappy factor” that other new fathers have had. Xander Schauffele (14-1) has only three U.S. Open appearances but has finished T5, T6, T3 the last three years to go along with runners-up at the Masters and the British Open. The most recent major champion, Collin Morikawa (18-1) won the PGA Championship last month and, at just 23, has shown he can stand up to major championship pressure. Bryson DeChambeau (20-1), 2012 champion Webb Simpson (25-1) and Patrick Reed (35-1) round out the OWGR top-10 players this week. 
 
The field features 10 former champions, including Tiger Woods (50-1), Justin Rose (40-1), Jordan Spieth (100-1) and last year’s winner, Gary Woodland (80-1).
 

The Event

The U.S. Open returns to Winged Foot for the first time since 2006, when Geoff Ogilvy won the championship at 5 over par (285). The field is slightly reduced from 156 to 144 players. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, local and sectional qualifying was canceled, so revised exemption criteria were released in June. Here is how the 144 players qualified:
— Winners of U.S. Open the last 10 years (2010-19): Martin Kaymer, Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Gary Woodland, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Webb Simpson.
— Top 10 finishers from 2019 U.S. Open: Chesson Hadley, Louis Oosthuizen, Jon Rahm, Chez Reavie, Xander Schauffele, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson.
— Winner of 2019 U.S. Senior Open: Steve Stricker.
— Winner of 2019 U.S. Amateur: Andy Ogletree.
— Winners of 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur and 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur plus 2019 U.S. Amateur runner-up (must still be an amateur): John Augenstein, Lukas Michel,
Preston Summerhays.
— Winners of Masters from 2016-19: Danny Willett, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Tiger Woods.
— Winners of PGA Championship from 2016-20: Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Jason Day.
— Winners of British Open from 2015-19: Zach Johnson, Shane Lowry.
— Top 30 players in FedEx Cup points who qualified for 2019 Tour Championship: Lucas Glover, Charles Howell III, Jason Kokrak, Abraham Ancer, Patrick Cantlay, Paul Casey, Corey Conners, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, Sungjae Im, Matt Kuchar, Marc Leishman, Hideki Matsuyama, Brandt Snedeker, Kevin Kisner.
— Winner of 2019 Amateur Championship: James Sugrue.
— Winner of 2019 Mark H. McCormack Medal (Men's World Amateur Golf Ranking; must be an amateur): Cole Hammer.
— Top 70 players in Official World Golf Ranking as of March 15: Byeong Hun An, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Keegan Bradley, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Joel Dahmen, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Adam Hadwin, Tyrrell Hatton, Lucas Herbert, Billy Horschel, Viktor Hovland, Shugo Imahira, Jazz Janewattananond, Sunghoon Kang, Chan Kim, Kurt Kitayama, Tom Lewis, Robert MacIntyre, Phil Mickelson, Kevin Na, Shaun Norris, Eddie Pepperell, Victor Perez, Ian Poulter, Andrew Putnam, Cameron Smith, Brendon Todd, Erik van Rooyen, Matt Wallace, Bubba Watson, Lee Westwood, Bernd Wiesberger.
— Top two players, not otherwise exempt, who finish in top 10 and ties at Memorial Tournament, 3M Open, WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, Barracuda Championship and Wyndham Championship; top three players, not otherwise exempt, who finish in top 10 and ties at 2020 PGA Championship: Daniel Berger, Cameron Champ, Jim Herman, Mackenzie Hughes, Si Woo Kim, Adam Long, Troy Merritt, Ryan Palmer, Michael Thompson, Richy Werenski, Matthew Wolff.
— Top five players, not otherwise exempt, from final 2019-20 PGA Tour FedEx Cup points list: Tyler Duncan, Brian Harman, Mark Hubbard, Danny Lee, Sebastian Munoz.
— Top 10 aggregate points earners from European Tour UK swing (Betfred British Masters through Wales Open): Thomas Detry, Justin Harding, Rasmus Hojgaard, Romain Langasque, Adrian Otaegui, Renato Paratore, Andy Sullivan, Connor Syme, Sami Valimaki.
— Top five players, not otherwise exempt, from 2020 Korn Ferry Tour regular-season points list through WinCo Foods Portland Open: Paul Barjon, Lee Hodges, Taylor Pendrith, Davis Riley, Will Zalatoris.
— Top five players, not otherwise exempt, from 2020 Korn Ferry Tour Series events: Stephan Jaeger, Curtis Luck, Dan McCarthy, Greyson Sigg, Brandon Wu.
— Top two finishers from 2019 Japan Golf Tour Organization Final Order of Merit not otherwise exempt as of July 15: Ryo Ishikawa.
— Top finisher from 2019 Sunshine Tour Final Order of Merit not otherwise exempt as of July 15: JC Ritchie.
— Top finisher from 2019 Asian Tour Final Order of Merit not otherwise exempt as of July 15: Scott Hend.
— Top finisher from 2019 Australasia Tour Final Order of Merit not otherwise exempt as of July 15: Ryan Fox.
— Top three finishers not otherwise exempt from 2019 PGA Professional Player of the Year Standings: Danny Balin, Marty Jertson, Ryan Vermeer.
— From Aug. 19 World Amateur Golf Ranking, top seven players not otherwise exempt: Ricky Castillo, Takumi Kanaya, John Pak, Eduard Rousaud, Sandy Scott, Davis Thompson, Chun An Yu.
— Remaining spots in championship field filled in order using Official World Golf Ranking as of Aug. 23: Branden Grace (replaces Scottie Scheffler), Harris English, Lanto Griffin, Max Homa, Matt Jones, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Joaquin Niemann, Alex Noren, Thomas Pieters, J.T. Poston, Rory Sabbatini (replaces Sam Horsfield), Matthias Schwab, Kevin Streelman, Paul Waring (replaces Brooks Koepka).
— Special exemptions as selected by the USGA.
 
The U.S. Open also has a cut line of the top 60 players and ties to make the weekend.
 

The Course

Winged Foot Golf Club was designed by A.W. Tillinghast in 1923 and renovated in 2015 by Gil Hanse. Here are some other Tillinghast designs and Hanse renovations and redesigns that have featured on the PGA Tour in recent years:
 
A.W. Tillinghast 
— Baltusrol GC: PGA Championship (2005, Mickelson; 2016, Walker) 
— Bethpage State Park, Black Course: U.S. Open (2002, Woods; 2009, Glover); PGA Championship (2019, Koepka); The Barclays (2012, Watney; 2016, Reed)
— Ridgewood Country Club: The Barclays (2010, Kuchar; 2014, Mahan); Northern Trust (2018, DeChambeau).
 
Gil Hanse
— Ridgewood CC: The Barclays/Northern Trust 2010, ’14 and ’18.
— Plainfield CC: The Barclays 2011 (D. Johnson), 2015 (Day)
— Trump National Doral: 2014-16 WGC Cadillac Championship (Reed, D. Johnson, Scott) 
— TPC Boston: Deutsche Bank/Dell Technologies Championship through 2018 (Scott, Woods, Mickelson, Stricker, Simpson, McIlroy, Stenson, Fowler, Thomas, DeChambeau) plus 2020 Northern Trust (D. Johnson) 
Winged Foot plays as a par-70 of 7,477 yards, 200 yards longer than it played for the 2006 U.S. Open. Winged Foot also hosted the 1997 PGA Championship. This track will be a traditional U.S. Open setup with narrow Poa Annua fairways (19-25 yards wide) that are tight and sloping and include many doglegs. The vintage U.S. Open rough will return with the intermediate cut at 3.5 inches and the primary cut at 5+  inches. Patrick Reed said this week this is the thickest rough he has seen at a U.S. Open. Not having spectators will also be a factor since the players will not have galleries stomping down the tall grass, so errant shots will get buried. Greens that are 80% Poa Annua, undulating and fast (12-13 Stimp) will mostly slope from back to front. It remains to be seen if the carnage will be at 2006 level, when the average round was 74.99 at almost 5 over par. The 13th through 18th holes are the toughest stretch, so be on the lookout for potential draw biases against players starting on the back nine. Breezes will be up to about 15 mph in the mornings. From a statistical standpoint, strokes gained off the tee, total driving, ball striking, greens in regulation and scrambling will be important this week. Players must be confident with the putter, as greens that are mostly Poa Annua tend to give most players trouble. 
 
Although the course has been lengthened in recent years, the difficulty remains the same. Here is how the last two major championship winners at Winged Foot fared during their winning weeks:
 
2006 U.S. Open 
— Winner Geoff Ogilvy (+ 5) was sixth in driving distance, 21st in driving accuracy, 13th in greens in regulation, fifth in scrambling, second in total driving, third in ball striking and 34th in putting. 
 
 
1997 PGA Championship
— Winner Davis Love III (-11) was first in driving distance, 21st in driving accuracy, 12th in greens in regulation, fourth in scrambling, fourth in total driving, fourth in ball striking and second in putting. 
U.S. Open Recent History 
 
2019: Gary Woodland (-13/271), Pebble Beach, 80-1 
2018: Brooks Koepka (+ 1/281), Shinnecock Hills, 25-1 
2017: Brooks Koepka (-16/272), Erin Hills, 45-1 
2016: Dustin Johnson (-4/276), Oakmont, 16-1 
2015: Jordan Spieth (-5/275), Chambers Bay, 9-1 
2014: Martin Kaymer (-9/271), Pinehurst No. 2, 40-1 
2013: Justin Rose (+ 1/281), Merion, 28-1 
2012: Webb Simpson (+ 1/281), Olympic Club, 80-1 
2011: Rory McIlroy (-16/268), Congressional, 22-1 
2010: Graeme McDowell (E/284), Pebble Beach, 80-1 
U.S. Open Champions Lead In-Form 
2019: Woodland (OWGR No. 24): 1 Top 5, 4 Top 10s 
2018: Koepka (No. 9): 1 Top 5, 1 Top 10* 
2017: Koepka (No. 22): 1 Top 5, 1 Top 10 
2016: D. Johnson (No. 6): 5 Top 5s, 7 Top 10s 
2015: Spieth (No. 2): 2 Wins (Valspar, Masters), 7 Top 5s, 9 Top 10s 
2014: Kaymer (No. 28): 1 Win (Players), 1 Top 5, 1 Top 10 
2013: Rose (No. 5): 3 Top 5s, 5 Top 10s 
2012: Simpson (No. 13): 2 Top 5s. 4 Top 10s 
2011: McIlroy (No. 7): 3 Top 5s, 6 Top 10s 
2010: McDowell (No. 36): 1 Win (Wales Open), 2 Top 5s, 4 Top 10s 
* - Koepka had missed the first four months with injury. 
Last player to win the U.S. Open ranked outside the top 30: Graeme McDowell in 2010. 
Last time a U.S. Open winner did not have a preceding top-5 finish in the calendar year: Steve Jones in 1996. 
Last world No. 1 to win the U.S. Open: Tiger Woods in 2008. 
Statistical Angles
We are just one week into the wraparound 2020-21 season, so these are statistics from the 2019-20 PGA Tour season.
Strokes gained off the tee 
1. Bryson DeChambeau (1) 1.039
2. Cameron Champ (2) 0.999
3. Sergio Garcia (3) 0.848
4. Jon Rahm (4) 0.756
5. Rory McIlroy (6) 0.702
6. Bubba Watson (7) 0.649
7. Xander Schauffele (8) 0.648
8. Jason Kokrak (9) 0.633
9. Dustin Johnson (11) 0.612
10. Matthew Wolff (12) 0.607
Note: Rasmus Hojgaard (fourth, 0.89), Connor Syme (seventh, 0.83), Thomas Pieters (ninth, 0.78), Ryan Fox (12th, 0.68) rate in this category on European Tour.
 
Total driving 
1. Paul Casey (1) 75
2. Jon Rahm (2) 78
3. Lucas Glover (4) 92
4. Tommy Fleetwood (6) 96
5. Corey Conners (8) 102
6. Sungjae Im (10) 111
7. Daniel Berger (12) 119
8. Sergio Garcia (13) 120
9. Webb Simpson (14) 125
10. Xander Schauffele (T15) 128
11. Collin Morikawa (T15) 128
12. Dustin Johnson (T15) 128
Note: Driving distance +  driving accuracy rank
 
Ball striking
1. Corey Conners (1) 14
2. Paul Casey (2) 15
3. Jon Rahm (3) 20
4. Webb Simpson (T7) 25
5. Xander Schauffele (T7) 25
6. Chesson Hadley (T11) 41
7. Harris English (13) 43
8. Lucas Glover (T17) 54
9. Dustin Johnson (19) 55
10. Collin Morikawa (T20) 59
Note: Total driving +  GIR rank
 
Greens in regulation
1. Corey Conners (6) 71.55%
2. Harris English (9) 70.91%
3. Xander Schauffele (10) 70.87%
4. Webb Simpson (11) 70.83%
5. Paul Casey (14) 70.63%
6. Jon Rahm (18) 70.31%
7. Chesson Hadley (20) 70.21%
8. Justin Thomas (31) 69.61%
9. Shane Lowry (T34) 69.44%
10. Tyrrell Hatton (38) 69.31%
Note: Connor Syme (seventh, 72.58%), Martin Kaymer (eighth, 72.44%), Thomas Pieters (ninth, 72.41%), Thomas Detry (13th, 71.38%), Ryan Fox (14th, 71.02%) rate in this category on the European Tour.
 
Scrambling
1. Daniel Berger (1) 67.45%
2. Xander Schauffele (2) 66.49%
3. Brendon Todd (3) 66.10%
4. Kevin Na (4) 65.96%
5. Harris English (6) 65.33%
6. Brian Harman (9) 64.94%
7. Abraham Ancer (10) 64.77%
8. Jon Rahm (11) 64.52%
9. Webb Simpson (12) 64.47%
10. Kevin Kisner (16) 63.96%
Note: Andy Sullivan (second, 64.78%) rates in this category on the European Tour.
 

Selections

 
Jon Rahm 10-1
While we have slightly better than this number (15-1) in pocket, it is tough not to have this man on your card even at such a short price. The closest event we’ve had to a U.S. Open this year in terms of difficulty was three weeks ago at the BMW Championship, where world No. 2 Rahm battled world No. 1 Dustin Johnson down the stretch and Rahm came out on top at the first playoff hole, draining a 66-foot putt with 10 feet of break. Would it shock any of us if history repeated itself with these two battling for the championship?
Rahm checks all the boxes from a statistical standpoint. You cannot just bomb and gouge your way to win on this course. You also cannot just be accurate yet too short on almost a 7,500-yard track. Rahm has the proper balance of distance and accuracy, as evident by his No. 2 ranking on tour in total driving. He also ranks third in ball striking, which is a combination of total driving plus greens-in-regulation rankings. Rahm also rates top 10 in this field for scrambling and strokes gained off the tee. The short game is good enough to win major championships as well, considering he was in the top 25 on tour in putting and strokes gained around the green.
Aside from being a match in nearly every statistical category, Rahm has shown maturity this season. He always will have a bit of a hot temper, but now he just lets it out and moves on. Nowhere was that more evident than three weeks ago at Olympia Fields in the third round. Rahm was given a one-shot penalty when he forgot to mark his ball on the fifth hole. But he kept his cool to hole the bogey putt from 5 feet, which he later described as his most important shot of the round. 
Rahm said Winged Foot was similar to Oakmont, where he finished as the low amateur at the 2016 U.S. Open right before turning professional. 
 
Xander Schauffele 16-1
This could be the week when X marks the spot for Schauffele. He has finished T5, T6 and T3 in his three U.S. Opens. Seven of the last 10 Open winners have been first-time major winners. 
Schauffele, like Rahm, tends to gain more off the tee than on his approaches, but he rates 10th in this field for total driving and fifth for ball striking. 
However, it just might be the short game that gets Schauffele the trophy. He rates second on the PGA Tour for scrambling. Being from Southern California, he has experience on Poa Annua greens. Plus he comes in with a great deal of confidence with the putter after ranking second in the field at East Lake (Bermuda grass) for strokes gained putting, gaining over 8.5 shots for four rounds on the greens. Schauffele bested the Tour Championship field by three strokes but did not win due to the starting strokes allocated for the FedEx Cup standings. That could serve as even more of a motivator this week knowing he beat many of the world's best just two weeks ago and can do it again. 
Daniel Berger 30-1
Two years ago, Berger was in Sunday’s final pairing at the 2018 U.S. Open. He shot 66 on Saturday on a tough Shinnecock Hills course while taking advantage of the better weather in the early groupings. But Berger fell prey to being a first-timer in that situation for a major championship and fell to a T6 finish. That moment started the wheels in motion for Berger to fall from a OWGR top-40 player all the way out of the top 150. 
However, he seemed to find something this year and posted three straight top-10 finishes (T9 Phoenix, T5 Pebble Beach, T4 Honda). Then the pandemic hit and play stopped. It seemed like his momentum was halted, but then he came out on the restart and won the first event at Colonial and nearly won in back-to-back weeks with a T3 at the RBC Heritage. Berger has posted two other top-3s (WGC FedEx and Northern Trust) and was in the mix at the PGA going into Sunday.
Berger is still not in the Masters for November since Augusta National cut off the field before the PGA Tour restarted. This is likely serving as motivation for Berger, whose ability to grind is perfect for the U.S. Open.
 
Tony Finau 33-1
 
The other member of that final pairing with Berger two years ago was Finau, who ended up finishing T5. Finau has four top-5s and five top-10s in the last nine majors. 
It’s the same song, different verse with Finau as he continues to come close but not quite get to the finish line. But it seems like when he finally ends this jinx that it will be in a big-time spot, and none is bigger than the U.S. Open. 
Finau was fourth at Harding Park for the PGA and fifth at Olympia Fields in the BMW Championship, so he has shown he can do well at difficult courses. 
 
Adam Scott 40-1
 
Scott has played a light schedule this summer, but that could be a good thing for him. He won the Genesis Invitational in February, which seems like 10 years ago, at Riviera on similar Poa Annua greens. 
Fellow Aussie Geoff Ogilvy, the last U.S. Open champion at Winged Foot in 2006, mentioned that these greens were similar to Royal Melbourne, where Scott has a win and just played there for the 2019 Presidents Cup in December. 
Scott has also seemed to figure out how to approach U.S. Opens with three top-10 finishes in the last six years.
 
Jason Day 45-1
 
Day gave it a run at the PGA by leading the field in strokes gained: approach, but he settled for a T4. He is not there yet, but he seems closer to his form of a few years ago than what he showed the last couple of years, although he wasn’t good in the FedEx Cup events. 
Day had five top-10s in his first six U.S. Opens from 2011-16. Despite the missed cut at TPC Boston, he has an excellent record on these Tillinghast and Hanse designs.
 
Tyrrell Hatton 50-1
 
Other than the tournament three weeks ago at Olympia Fields, no event played tougher this year than the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March under windy conditions. Hatton won that event. The Englishman has long had a reputation for being hot-headed but kept his cool under pressure to bag his first stateside victory. 
While he doesn’t match the statistical profile as much as some other selections, Hatton has played well in recent years at the majors in the Northeast with a T6 at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and a T10 in the 2016 PGA at Baltusrol. He is ranked 14th in the world, his career high. Hatton has also shown progressively good form in the FedEx Cup playoff events with finishes of 25th at the Northern Trust, 16th at the BMW and fifth at the Tour Championship. 
 
Shane Lowry 125-1
 
The reigning British Open champion likely will not see much support this week, considering he missed the cut in a weak field at the Safeway Open last weekend. 
However, if you look a little deeper, Lowry has shown well in recent majors in the Northeast. He was the 54-hole leader in 2016 at Oakmont before finishing T2. Rahm said Winged Foot was similar to Oakmont, which could be a good omen for Lowry. He also finished T8 at the 2019 PGA on another tough course at Bethpage Black. 
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