It feels like only yesterday Sergio Garcia was presented with the Green Jacket after winning his first major championship, at the Masters in April. Roll on two months and we are now preparing for the second major of the year, the U.S. Open.
Golf is currently on an extraordinary run of first-time major winners, starting with Jason Day at the 2015 US PGA Championship. Danny Willett then triumphed at Augusta in 2016 before Dustin Johnson went on to win the U.S. Open two months later. Henrik Stenson (Open Championship) and Jimmy Walker (US PGA) took down the remaining two majors in 2016, ensuring the run continued. A lot of experienced pros may well look at the likes of Garcia, Johnson and Stenson’s major wins as signs that perseverance does pay off. All three of them have knocked on the door for several years before their respective major wins, none more so than Garcia.
Erin Hills, 7,741 Yards, Par 72
As we all know, the Masters is the only major that has the same host each year and we are stepping into the relatively unknown this year. Erin Hills in Erin, Wisconsin plays host for the first time in U.S. Open history and only a few of the players teeing it up this week have any competitive experience at this course.
The 2011 U.S. Amateur in which, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas amongst others both played in, was held here but given the difference in format (match-play) and the time that has elapsed, there isn’t too much to be read into from that week in my opinion. Of course if you liked Spieth or Thomas anyway, it can only be a bonus that they have already played some competitive golf here. The other players who teed it up at the 2011 U.S. Amateur and will also do so this week are; Russell Henley, Peter Uihlein, Harris English, Bryson DeChambeau, Jonathan Randolph and Stephen Jaeger.
A lot is going to be made of the length of the course here at Erin Hills, but as we have seen in the past we cannot rule any type of player out, even if they tell you the course is too long for them (yes I am looking at you, 2015 Open Championship winner, Zach Johnson!!). The course length will also vary somewhat, with No.1 playing anything from 560-630 yards on each day, whilst 18 will range from 622-675 yards.
With generously sizes fairways and greens in relation to previous U.S. Opens, and the course being listed as a Par 72 (first U.S. Open setup as Par 72 since Pebble in 92′) there is a chance scoring could be low here, should the wind not get up.This course is susceptible to windy conditions and the USGA will be desperate for the wind to blow, in order to make scoring difficult.
Another hazard for the players this week will be the bunkers. Much has been made of the penal rough this week but given the size of the fairways only the widest of tee shots will really be punished. The bunkers however can be found a little easier, much to the dismay of the players. Nicknamed “erosion bunkers” these irregular shaped bunkers vary in size, from both extremes of narrow and wide, and will generally need to be avoided.
With a small amount of time on my hands this week, I am going to go straight into my picks. Here are my picks for the 2017 U.S. Open.
Jordan Spieth 16/1 (Betfred 6 places 1/4 odds. WilliamHill 6 places 1/5 odds) 2pts e/w:
Jordan Spieth has not had his best season so far, but the fact we are saying that is a testament to the lofty expectations placed on him by both us and himself.
Before winning at Pebble Beach in February, Spieth started the season T3-3-T9, but it his play since that has raised question marks. He has missed three cuts in the nine events since his win and also failed to make it out of his group at the WGC Match Play.
Apart from his missed cuts though, Spieth has finished T22 or better in every other stroke-play event since that win, and has picked up again in the last two starts. A T2 at the Dean & Deluca a week before a T13 finish at the Memorial Tournament suggests he is finding his better stuff at the right time.
The reason Spieth is not dominating as he has in the past is his play with the putter this season. Before, Spieth was just streets above on the greens, but so far this season he ranks just 40th in Strokes Gained: Putting. His rank of 109th in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee is also worrying, but he still a man for the big occasion.
Spieth’s lacklustre figures in Putting and Off the Tee are slightly negated by his hugely impressive Approach-the-Green (1st) and Tee-to-Green (10th) numbers. Spieth also ranks 4th in Par 5 Scoring Average which may well come into play at this Par 72 track. Another pleasing statistic is that he ranks T4 in Par 4 Birdies or Better, so even during a “lull in form” Spieth still ranks highly in a lot of key areas.
He has got to avoid the rough, but his play off the tee has never been his bread and butter anyway, so if he can raise him game on the greens to his previous standard he should find himself in contention.
Other than his win at Chambers Bay, Spieth has finished T21 (Low Amateur 2012), MC (2013), T17 (2014) and T37 in 2016 in the U.S. Open. We know that the Masters is by far and away the major he is most likely to win each year, but as he showed two years ago, he has every chance in this one also.
The 16/1 available looks to be an overreaction to his mid-season slump and given his form over the last two starts, I think it is worth siding with the major specialist this week.
Kevin Kisner 60/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
2017 looks to be the year where we find out just how good Kevin Kisner is. At 33, Kisner is somewhat of a late bloomer but he has now put himself in a very good position to win on several occasions over the last two and a bit years, and a good performance in a major is the next natural step.
Before breaking through at the 2015 RSM Classic, Kisner had lost out in three play-offs, just in that season alone and also had another 2nd at the WGC- HSBC Champions. Fast forward to 2017 and Kisner has added another win (Dean & Deluca Invitational) and another play-off loss (Zurich Classic) plus another 2nd place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Kisner followed his win at the Dean & Deluca with a 6th at the Memorial one week later, ensuring there was no dip in form after getting his second PGA Tour victory.
He now comes into the week rested, after taking last week off and will look to improve on his T12 finish at the 2015 U.S. Open. This will be his fourth start at his national Open, so he has some experience to draw on.
Statistically, Kisner has been solid this season, which has allowed him to accumulate five top-10’s including his win. He ranks 37th in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee which is vital this week, but more impressive is how he ranks in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green (9th), Stroked Gained: Tee-to-Green (9th) and Stroked Gained: Putting (23rd). Add to this his ranking of 38th in Stroked Gained: Around-the-Green and Kisner ranks an impressive 5th in Strokes Gained: Total. Kisner also ranks 12th in Driving Accuracy, but ranking just 132nd in Driving Distance (286.4 yards) meant his Total Driving ranking couldn’t be any better than 32nd.
Distance isn’t everything, and for someone of Kisner’s accuracy off the tee, his relative lack of power isn’t too much of a concern. Of course if he suddenly goes crooked off the tee, we have issues but that risk is factored in to his price.
His current form (Win-6th last two starts), world ranking (19th) and previous U.S. Open experience to draw on makes him an intriguing option at 60/1.
Shane Lowry 80/1 (BetStars) 70/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
Shane Lowry has started to become a consistent feature in big events, taking his form in Europe over to America. He won the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone CC in 2015 and also finished runner-up at last year’s U.S. Open, so I am hoping he can go one better this time around.
Lowry held the lead after round three last year but a relentless Dustin Johnson kept the pressure on, which became too much for the Irishman. Through 12 holes in the final round, Lowry was within one of Johnson, but went on to make three consecutive bogeys at 14, 15 and 16 to put to sword any chances of winning.
That experience at Oakmont last year may just be what he needed, to not only realise he is good enough to win a major championship but also provides a learning curve on how to or in last year’s case, how not to cope under the pressure of leading such a big event.
For me there were so many positives in that performance last year, even if he ultimately failed to get over the line and I truly believe he can not only build on his recent fine form in this event but also win this time around. After missing the cut in his first two U.S. Open’s (2011 & 2014), Lowry went on to finish T9 in 2015 and T2 last year, to suggest he is now comfortable with U.S. Open setups. If that remains the case this week, he looks a good price to continue his current form in the event.
Lowry has struggled to keep bogeys off his card this season, something he will have to improve on this week, however he tends to bounce back from a bad hole fairly often. He currently ranks 11th in the Bounce Back category on the PGA Tour, so he is following up bogeys with birdies or better on a regular basis.
Another reason I like Lowry this week is his performance off the tee this year. He currently ranks 8th in Total Driving, so he is hitting the ball plenty straight and long enough. Whilst I have said it won’t be all about distance this week, it certainly helps to hit it long enough off the tee, that you are not miles back should you unfortunately find this difficult rough. Lowry is by no means the longest (68th in Driving Distance) but he is powerful enough to advance the ball from the rough, should he find himself in the situation. Given the fact he ranks 28th in Driving Accuracy, I wouldn’t be too concerned about him finding the rough that often though. Lowry currently sits 19th in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee so all in all, I am confident in his ability off of the tee and it will be his play elsewhere which will be the difference in whether he can win this week.
We know that if the wind gets up, Lowry will be more than comfortable and that may well play into his hands, should he find himself in a similar situation to last year.
In his last two starts he has finished T6 at the BMW PGA Championship and followed that up with a T15 at the Memorial a week later, so he comes into the event with a solid bank of current form also. This is just another positive factor for Lowry this week and given the form he has shown in flashes all season, I see no reason to leave him out at 80/1.