Europe’s golfers have been overshadowed by their United States counterparts in the first two majors of 2019.
Americans occupied the first four places at The Masters while Matt Wallace was the only Euro in the top seven at the PGA Championship.
But recent editions of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach tell a different story.
And while Tiger lapped the field, and then some, when winning by 15 shots in 2000, Miguel Angel Jimenez was tied second and there were four Europeans in the top seven.
That suggests, after four straight U.S. Open triumphs for home players, Europe’s finest can be a big factor on the Monterey Peninsula this week.
Pebble Beach Golf Links is a par 71, measuring 7,075 yards, so considerably shorter than what we tend to see in the vast majority of majors. The more the course dries out, the tougher it will be to hit and hold the small Poa Annua greens if not finding the fairway. On paper, the course will be a very different one to the one laid out for the early-season Pebble Beach Pro-Am (that has more generous fairways to help the amateurs and is played in softer conditions) although past Pebble form has counted for plenty in previous U.S. Opens held here. The first four winners (Nicklaus, Watson, Kite and Woods) had all won the Pro-Am while 2010 champ Graeme McDowell owned a top eight from the regular PGA TOUR event played at Pebble.
From Accuweather: “Much like in 2010, this year’s Open is expected to be a difficult one as the course dries out. The last measurable rain at Monterey, California, occurred on May 26, and record-high temperatures baked the course on Monday as the mercury soared to 96 degrees Fahrenheit. With no rain and breezy conditions in the forecast for the duration from Thursday, June 13, to Sunday, June 16, the best golfers on the PGA Tour will be challenged with fast greens and rock-hard fairways.”
Justin Rose: “I had the pleasure of being here Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And obviously to have a venue like Pebble Beach pretty much to yourself, in U.S. Open condition for three days was, yeah, just enjoyable. The fairways are generous-ish here, especially the holes where you've got the ocean down the right-hand side. There are some camber and tilt to the fairways, but they're still generous enough. There's obviously a premium on having to hit the fairways, but you have a decent chance to hit the fairway."
Ernie Els: “It's a great golf course. It tests everything of your ability, and that's the way U.S. Opens should be like. If you just look at these par-3s, you've got everything from a 2- or 3-iron to a lob wedge on the par-3s. So it really covers every par-3 you've ever seen in your life. You've got great par-4s, long ones. You've got doglegs. You've got elevation changes, and you've got small greens with heavy rough. If you're ever going to have a blueprint on a U.S. Open, this is the one. It's just been fantastic to have played here in the past. I played in 2000 and 2010. And it's very similar. It's a little bit greener at the moment. The rough is really, really up. It's a classic setup. There's no runoffs at the greens. If you miss a green, you're into the thick stuff.”
Brooks Koepka: “The setup is really good. The rough is definitely going to be a factor this week, we all know that. It's very, very thick. Very juicy. You've got to put the ball in the fairways. Not many drivers here. I don't need driver that much, maybe four times this week. But you need to put the ball in the fairway. These greens are so small, you can almost put it in the center of every green and have 20 feet, no matter where the flag stick is. It really comes down to who's going to make putts. These are some of the best poa greens that I've seen.”
Jordan Spieth: “Certainly a very different golf course than we're used to seeing in February. It's in immaculate shape. With the weather we have, the USGA should be able to control the golf course the way they want to. And again, you know, February sometimes it's good to hit it in the rough. You don't spin it as much into the greens, I don't think that's the case this time of year.”
Top 10 Euros
Sensational seven-shot victory at Canada on Sunday was completed with a sensational set of stats. After watching that, it’s a case of trying to find reasons not to get with Rory but, look hard enough, and they emerge. Yes, he won the 2011 U.S. Open (by eight shots!) in 2011 but he’s missed the cut in the last three and is 0-for-2 in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. And it also remains the case that he’s never won a tournament with anything less than 12-under. That looks an unlikely score this week.
Rose also has a U.S. Open trophy to his name after winning on a short course at Merion in 2013 with 1-over. He also added T10 last year. The 2019 majors have not been kind to him so far with a first MC at Augusta National and T29 at the PGA but he’s got a strong record in California, including a win at Torrey Pines on his last start in the Golden State. Just two appearances at Pebble but the first was T6 in 2016. Warmed up with T13 at Memorial.
Likes Poa Annua greens and his two solo PGA TOUR wins have come in California – the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open and 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge. Adding to that is a Pebble Beach Pro-Am record of 5-26. Gamers have to be aware of a feast-or-famine record in the majors of late however – 4-MC-MC-4-9-MC. And talking of early exits, he followed his MC at Bethpage Black with another at Colonial so his stellar early-season form has vanished.
Fuelled by a T2 in the 2017 PGA, Molinari was a stud in the majors with a run of 2-20-25-1-6-5 to this year’s Masters. But the T5 at Augusta National was riddled with disappointment after he buckled on the back nine when the green jacket looked within sight. Has he got over it? A run of MC-48-53 since suggests not. The Italian’s only memory of Pebble is shooting 79-75 to miss the cut in the 2010 U.S. Open. Class is permanent but form has temporarily left him.
Europe’s main man in the last two U.S. Opens with fourth place at Erin Hills in 2017 and second place at Shinnecock last year when he had an eight-footer at the last to become the first player to shoot 62 in the tournament’s history. Not really a factor in this year’s majors but he’s made the cut in his last nine and popped back home recently to host and finish T8 in the British Masters on the links at Hillside. Played this year’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am, taking T45.
T40 in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble but has been a leading light in the last two PB Pro-Ams with T8 in 2018 and runner-up behind Phil Mickelson earlier this year. Casey has added a top three in the WGC-Mexico, made a successful defense at the Valspar Championship and taken fourth at Wells Fargo since then but he’s yet to bring that form to the majors, opening with a bizarre 81 at The Masters and settling for T29 at Bethpage.
Without much attention over the last couple of seasons, Sergio has compiled one of the worst records in the majors even seen from a player of his undoubted class. Perhaps we’re giving him a pass after he finally got it done by winning the 2017 Masters. He followed that with T21 and T37 but, remarkably, he’s since missed the cut in his last seven majors. Garcia is 5-for-5 at Pebble although without a top 20 and he crashed out at halfway in Canada last week. A dangerous play.
Stenson was T6 in last year’s U.S. Open but has gone 35-MC-36-48 in the majors since then. Also T4 at Pinehurst in 2014, he finished tied 29th at Pebble in 2010 and it makes sense he would enjoy a coastal track on which you can club down. Hasn’t been able to go through the gears this season but he’s still made his last eight cuts and was T8 in Canada last week so don’t be too quick to dismiss the Swede here.
Wallace has big ambitions but he’s walking the walk too. A fast learner, he’s quickly compiled four European Tour wins and is now starting to flex his muscles in the majors. T19 in last summer’s PGA was a start and, after being caught out at Augusta National (MC), the Englishman was an excellent tied third in the PGA, a week on from finishing runner-up on the Hillside links at the British Masters. Debut at Pebble.
A shorter U.S. Open track should work well for Poulter and he was T10 at halfway in the 2010 edition at Pebble before falling to T47 on the weekend. He’s returned to play the Pebble Beach Pro-Am three times since but with no success (50-MC-MC). Poulter rode some impressive early-season form to T12 at The Masters but MC at the PGA and 70th at Colonial on his last two starts suggest he’s having a dip.