The US Open begins Thursday, and the municipal course at Chambers Bay promises to be one of the most unpredictable tracks in recent memory. The bar is quite high—the USGA are infamous for the cruelties they visit on the poor professionals each June, from briar-patch rough to absurdly long par-4s to devious humpback greens. But even by those standards, Chambers Bay is an oddball—this is the kind of place where even the tee boxes are sloped. (For an in-depth look at the course, there’s no better writer than Shane Bacon).
When I make my picks below, I’ll take current form and major history and various other forms of armchair psychology into account, but here are three key points you need to know about the course:
A. The fairways are wide, and by Pacific Northwest standards, it figures to be a relatively dry week. On one hand, the extra roll-out should make things easier for the shorter players. On the other, the wide fairways also mean that the long hitters can unleash their full fury on the ball without fear—a unique feature at a US Open. Advantage: Bombers.
B. But hold up just a moment! The greens are also massive and deceptive, which means that approach shots could be the most important shot on the course, giving the edge back to the precision players—who shouldn’t lose much of an advantage off the tee anyway, assuming the fairways stay dry.
C. Finally, every player will face long putts on very fast greens, which means that, as ever, putting—especially of the lag variety—will separate the wheat from the chaff.
I know what you’re thinking: “So, a player has to drive, approach, and putt well to win? Thanks for the hot tip.” Let me take a firmer stance—based on the information above, I believe that players who excel at both iron play and putting will have an advantage over those who rely on driving distance.
In that vein, there are two critically important statistics to consider from the excellent crew at the PGA Tour. The first is proximity to the pin from the fairway, which simply measures who hits the closest approach after a good drive—of which there will be many at Chambers. The second is strokes gained, a beautiful metric that ranks the best putters in the game. With the sheer size of the greens, putting will be more important than scrambling for the simple fact that fewer balls will fly astray. Take note: You will see these stats again.
Paddy Power is paying out six places for each-way wagers, so here are the six best value bets, as well as five players you’ll want to avoid, along with a few dark horses.
The six players you need onside
1. Jordan Spieth — 8/1
Captain Obvious here, reporting for duty: Jordan Spieth is really, really good. He’s in the top 30 in both categories mentioned above, and we already know that he can compete with the bombers at courses like Augusta that put a premium on driving. Then there’s this: His caddie, Michael Greller, actually began his career at Chambers Bay, and has intimate knowledge of the course. As if Spieth needed another edge, right?
My only concern here were the early pairings—Spieth’s lone missed cut since February came at the Players Championship, when he failed to stand toe-to-toe with the intimidating presence of Rory McIlroy. But he’ll be paired with Jason Day and Justin Rose on Thursday and Friday, and that’s a far less daunting prospect. In fact, he won his first major at Augusta this year paired with the Englishman on Sunday. Speaking of…
2. Justin Rose — 20/1
What do we know about Rose? First, he’s in great form, coming off a second place finish at the Masters and, more recently, a win at the Zurich Classic and a second-place finish at the Memorial. Second, he has every shot in the bag and has proven grinding ability at tough courses, as we saw at Congressional last year and the U.S. Open at Merion in 2013. Third, he seems particularly keen to make a dent in 2015 and snag his second major. If I had to pick a winner today, Rose would be my guy.
3. Rickie Fowler — 18/1
How many times does the man in orange have to play well at major events before we accept that he’s a legitimate gamer? At the Players Championship, just days after his peers voted him one of the most overrated players in an anonymous survey, Fowler turned in the best Sunday pressure performance of his career to shed the choker label and take home a huge trophy. It wasn’t a major, but it was the next-best thing, and to me, Fowler is a player very much on the verge of a big result. Like Rose, there’s no weakness to his game, and we saw at Pinehurst last year how he excels on a tough course—only Kaymer’s dominance kept him from his first major win.
4. Jimmy Walker — 35/1
If the tournament were played on paper, Jimmy Walker would be your winner. He’s the best putter in the sport, 11th in fairway approach proximity, and 20th in driving distance. He has every single tool Chambers Bay demands, plus he’s in great form, plus he’s won five times in the past two years, plus he’s been knocking on the door of a major ever since his 8th-place finish at the Masters last year. I would be shocked if Jimmy Walker didn’t finish top five this week.
5. Hideki Matsuyama — 35/1
Here’s your quintessential flies-under-the-radar pick—the last time the Japanese young gun finished outside the top 25 was early February, and he drives and putts with the best (only his irons are very slightly suspect). Having watched him under pressure in a few big moments over the last two years, I’m not sure he’s quite ready to win a major at age 23, but he’s very close. Even if he can’t crack the top spot, know this: He’s a cut-making machine who’s bound to play very, very well at Chambers. Don’t be surprised when he matches or exceeds his fifth-place showing at the Masters.
6. Kevin Kisner — 80/1
No need to complicate this one: Kisner has played six tournaments since mid-April, and he’s had a great shot to win four of them. He’s the hottest player on the PGA Tour right now, and his eighth-place finish at the Memorial shot him into the top 60 of the world rankings, which gained him last-minute entry into Chambers Bay. Can’t you just see that story playing out as the week goes on? “Unheralded journeyman with zero career wins contends at the national open after barely making the field!”
The five players you’ll want to avoid
1. Rory McIlroy — 15/2
James Corrigan at The Telegraph recently wrote a piece indicating that Rory has regained his confidence, but let’s face facts—it’s been a rough month for the world no. 1, and he probably wishes he never left America after his Wells Fargo win. I think his season is building toward a victory at St. Andrew’s, but regardless of his incredible talent, nobody comes off two (badly) missed cuts and a period of fatigue to win a major. Great things lie ahead, but this will not be his week.
2. Adam Scott — 33/1
In American college football, there are always a couple of coaches who use a “quarterback platoon” system, forcing two players to alternate at the most important position on the field. It never, ever works—it sows discord among the team, makes both players insecure, and inevitably leads to terrible results. Essentially, this is what’s happening with Adam Scott’s putter right now. Pick him at your peril.
3. Martin Kaymer — 40/1
The odds here are a total sucker bet—they exist for people who don’t study current results, and simply say, “hey, isn’t that guy the defending champ??” Kaymer has not been up to snuff this season—in his last 16 PGA Tour rounds, he’s shot in the 60s exactly once—and there’s no reason to think he’ll magically put the scattered pieces together at Chambers.
4. Patrick Reed — 45/1
Two things here. First, he’s gone slightly cold after a very strong start to the season. Second, despite his impressive wins on the PGA Tour, he’s yet to contend at a major in five tries. With few exceptions, players don’t win a major the first time they get close, and I see Reed throwing up at least one high 70s round this week to dive out of contention.
5. Tiger Woods — 60/1
This is the ultimate sucker bet. Ask yourself how many other golfers could put up Tiger’s results in the past year and change, and still be listed at 50/1. The answer is: None. You would be an idiot to make this bet at 100/1. Please don’t do it at 50/1.
Three dark horses that might go close
1. Chris Kirk — 80/1
Simple: When he’s in contention, he wins. I wrote about Kirk’s surprising toughness after his Colonial victory, and with his current form and his accuracy with the irons, I think he has a real shot to stun the field.
2. Danny Willet — 125/1
The 27-year-old Brit has been cleaning up in Europe all season, and made a big splash in the States with this third place finish at the Match Play Championship in San Francisco. He keeps getting closer, and I think he’s got a rare kind of toughness for someone so young. I love him this week, especially at these odds.
3. Bernd Wieseberger — 175/1
Plays well in majors, especially of late, and has a second-place finish at the Irish Open—a tough track that absolutely crushed some of the world’s best players. Sound familiar?