Dave Tindall

Across the Pond

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U.S. Open Preview

Monday, June 11, 2018


After wins for Graeme McDowell (2010 Pebble Beach), Rory McIlroy (2011 Congressional), Justin Rose (2013 Merion) and Martin Kaymer (Pinehurst No. 2), home players have wrestled back control of the U.S. Open.

 

That said, Shane Lowry had a four-shot lead after 54 holes at Oakmont two years ago before finishing T2 and Tommy Fleetwood played a prominent part last year.

 

With this year’s tournament heading back to Shinnecock Hills, described by many as the closest American course to a true links, the European challenge could well be a significant one.

 

McIlroy and Rose are only headed in the betting by Dustin Johnson in most lists and links specialists Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia are bound to be in the thoughts of gamers given the challenge ahead.

 

That said, 2004 was a collective disaster for the Europeans with Garcia the highest finisher in T20. Surely a very different story will unfold this time.

 

As usual with majors and WGCs, this preview will focus on all those available for the official European Tour fantasy game, including Americans and Internationals who hold membership.

 

 

Top 10 at Shinnecock in 2004

 

-4 Retief Goosen, -2 Phil Mickelson, -1 Jeff Maggert, +4 Shigeki Maruyama, Mike Weir, +5 Fred Funk, +6 Robert Allenby, Steve Flesch, +7 Stephen Ames, Chris DiMarco, Ernie Els, Jay Haas.

 

 

Keys to U.S. Open success

 

Here’s how the last 10 U.S. Open winners fared in various categories during the week of their triumphs (presented below as an average position):

 

Driving Distance: 16.6                     
Driving Accuracy: 25.7                    
Greens In Regulation: 8.1                             
Scrambling: 11.1                                               
Putting Average 14.2                      

 

Yes, in recent years, hitting it miles has been more important than finding lots of fairways although long and straight is the golden ticket. GIR is the standout stat.

 

 

Shinnecock Hills

 

We’ll see a different Shinnecock than the brute from 2004. The greens are bigger, the fairways wider (a 50% jump to 41.6 yards on average) and the course much longer – a rise from 6,996 yards to 7,445 yards (10 yards more than Augusta National). Conditions got out of hand on the Sunday in 2004 so the USGA won’t want a repeat although neither will they want to see the crazy 16-under shot by Brooks Koepka at Erin Hills last time. Will it suit those with length? Some interesting lines come from Bubba Watson’s caddie, Ted Scott, via Twitter: “Today was my first walk ever around Shinnecock Hills. I will say this with confidence. Long hitters will have the advantage and one of ‘em will hoist the trophy. I define long as able to fly it 290 plus on a warm day. At least 20 in the field can do so. Fairways are generous for a U.S. Open. Temps are cool this week too. Rough is brutal.” The greens are predominantly Poa which seemed to help Corey Pavin (grew up on them in California) when winning in 1995.

 

 

The Weather

 

Some showers could soften the course a little for Thursday morning but the aim to get it playing firm and fast should be assisted by the elements after that. All four tournament days look similar with temps around the early-to-mid 70s. Gusts could get up to around 18mph at times on Thursday and Saturday but may drop a little for Sunday’s closer.

 

 

The Leading Contenders

 

Rory McIlroy

A brilliant winner by eight at Congressional, Rory has managed just two other U.S. Open top tens and just one since that 2011 triumph. That came at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014 so if Rory’s going to bounce back from his MC at freaky Erin Hills it’s probably going to come on another classic like Shinnecock. The Bay Hill champ heads in after a 64-69 weekend at Memorial (T8) and with a much more confident putting stroke.

 

Justin Rose

Produced an awesome display to win at Colonial and backed it up with a top six at Memorial so it’s easy to see why many view Rose as the man to beat this week. It’s a different test to Merion though and a slight concern is that the Englishman just hasn’t produced the goods on links courses in his home Open Championship (one top ten since 1998). Shot 77-78 in 2004 although a different player now. Also a different putter from last year – 10th in SG: Putting compared to 2017’s 123rd.

 

Jon Rahm

Suffered a horror show at Erin Hills last year but T23 at Oakmont was a decent debut, especially after an opening 76. The Spaniard has been surprisingly slow to come to the boil in majors given how fast he’s rocketed up the world rankings but solo fourth at Augusta National last time (no top 20s in first six starts in majors) suggests his career at this level will now take off. Since the Masters he’s won his home Spanish Open and posted a top five at Colonial last time (2nd GIR).

 

Henrik Stenson

The 2016 Claret Jug winner will hope this really does play like a true links test. Stenson’s U.S. Open record is modest but at least his best results came at venues with certain correlations (9th at nearby Bethpage in 2009 and T4 at Pinehurst with its similar run-off areas to Shinnecock in 2014). A T5 at Augusta National in April was his best ever Masters finish and, after some decent but unspectacular form (T13 Memorial, T26 St. Jude but top three for GIR at both), don’t be surprised to see him up his game here.

 

Tommy Fleetwood

The leading European at Erin Hills (solo fourth), there’s every chance Fleetwood could fill that berth again. He grew up playing links golf around Birkdale (T27 there in last summer’s Open) and showed he’s now starting to step it up in majors with T17 at Augusta. Also T7 at Sawgrass, the Englishman will hit enough greens but will he make enough putts? Watch out if he does.

 

Paul Casey

Still without a major and now the wrong side of 40 but Casey, at 11th, is one spot above Fleetwood in the world rankings and is playing the most consistent golf of his career. That said, all the good stuff hasn’t translated to U.S. Opens. Casey has gone 6-4-6-15 in the last four Masters but 56-39-MC-26 in this event. His only top ten was way back in 2007 and he missed the cut at Shinnecock in 2004. There’s no obvious reason why it hasn’t suited him but the facts are there.

 

Sergio Garcia

With a wife, baby and Masters green jacket to love and protect in recent times, has Sergio, understandably, taken his eye off the ball a little bit? An in-form, hungry Garcia would love this course and, indeed, he cracked the top 20 at Shinnecock in 2004. That’s one of five top tens in the event. His form in the majors since Augusta National 2017? 21-37-MC-MC. Current form? MC-70-MC-MC-MC.

 

Alex Noren

A lingering suspicion that his left-to-right shot-shape wouldn’t work well at Augusta National seemed to have validity when he fired 74-79 but his fade works well in the wind and Noren has shown that at Torrey Pines (2nd), PGA National in Florida (3rd) and Royal Birkdale (T6 in last year’s Open). Third when defending at Wentworth (1st GIR), the Swede will have to overcome a U.S. Open record which shows T51 on debut and four MCs since.

 

Francesco Molinari

The Italian has taken his career up several notches in the last year. The owner of a very modest record in the majors, he put that behind him with T2 in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow last August and since then he’s posted T20 at the Masters and taken victory in the prestigious BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Runner-up at the Italian Open a week later, this GIR machine has also been scrambling superbly.

 

Rafa Cabrera Bello

At 24th in the world rankings, the betting market (125/1 in places) isn’t paying him much respect and it’s a little hard to understand why. RCB has progressive form figures (T17 Sawgrass, T8 Wentworth, T4 Italian Open) and showed his links credentials by winning last year’s Scottish Open at Gullane and finishing T4 at Royal Birkdale. He could be Europe’s surprise package here.


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Dave Tindall is former golf editor at Sky Sports.com in the UK and has been writing betting previews for the European Tour since 1997. He can be reached via e-mail on tindall_david@hotmail.com and on Twitter @davetindallgolf.
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