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.
Rory isn’t the only European to be an eight-shot winner of a U.S. Open in the last eight years. Kaymer managed it too with a wire-to-wire victory at Pinehurst in 2014. He’s had a rough ride since but things are clicking again. Third at Memorial and T8 at the British Masters in his last four starts. The eyebrow rises further when noting he was T8 in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble.
Took him a while to find form again after a lengthy injury absence but, after top 25s in India and China, the Austrian returned to the winner’s circle with a win at the Made In Denmark and backed it up with eighth at the Belgian Knockout. Played in the final group alongside Rory at the 2014 PGA (T15) and 4-for-4 at Augusta. First look at Pebble.
Won the DP World Tour Championship in November but then went back to the cut-missing mode of the previous few seasons. He’s trending again though after a run of T41 at Bethpage, T27 at Memorial and T8 in Canada. Tee-To-Green numbers getting better by the week so his first start at Pebble could be a happy one.
Loves golf by the sea and, after some very average form over the last few months, has ranked in the top 11 for greens in regulation in his last three starts. That helped him to a first strokeplay top ten on the PGA TOUR this season when T8 at Colonial. Another new to Pebble but it should suit him.
Had a big January when winning in Abu Dhabi but then vanished. Came back to life with a top three at Hilton Head and a latest thermometer check shows T8 in the PGA and runner-up in Canada last week so he’s one of Europe’s form golfers coming in. He’s also a Pebble Beach Pro-Am regular, making four of five cuts, including T14 and T21, and let’s not forget that Lowry led the 2016 U.S. Open by four shots after 54 holes before finishing T2 behind DJ.
The ultimate course fit as he won the 2010 U.S. Open here. Also has T8, T7 and T20 at Pebble and is on a high after qualifying for next month’s Open in his own backyard of Portrush thanks to a top ten in Canada last week.
Owns a T4 at an Open Championship and T10 in last summer’s PGA. Plenty of good form on the links in Ireland and Scotland and has finished T22 and T26 in the last two Pebble Beach Pro-Ams.
Hardly in great form although making cuts. Qualifies for this section due to his second place at Torrey Pines last season. Also T16 at Riviera so has enjoyed his visits to California.
If you’re looking for the most recent winner on a links course in Europe, step forward Sweden’s Kinhult, who took victory in the British Masters at Hillside.
Six finishes of T26 or better at Pebble Beach and his most recent top ten on the PGA TOUR wasn’t that long ago – March’s Valspar Championship. Also played four rounds at Muirfield Village.
Top Internationals available for Euro Tour Fantasy Game
Pebble form can correlate well with St. Andrews where the South African has a win and a second in Open Championships. Also runner-up in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Five top 30s in his last six majors although not in great form and MC at Pebble in 2010.
Fourth in his home China Open and T43 (Masters) and T36 (Bethpage) in two majors either side. Wind back and he took a shock third place in the 2017 Open at Birkdale and was T16 in last year’s U.S. Open. This guy can play.
Racked up five top sixes in the majors from 2015-2017 but not at the races this year with T58 and MC. Last strokeplay top 50 was back in February although T28 and T20 in two starts at Pebble paints a slightly brighter picture.
Top Americans available for Euro Tour Fantasy Game
Has played nine majors, making eight cuts, twice finishing runner-up and adding another pair of top sixes. The latter pair were both in the U.S. Open so has taken immediately to this event. Ranked 1st for SG: Off-The-Tee when T14 at Memorial last time and shot 69 in only round at Pebble in the 2017 Pro-Am although record shows missed cut.
Another great option for Euro gamers as Finau has banked four top tens in his last six majors, two of those doubling as top fives. T38 and T23 in regular PGA TOUR events at Pebble, twice a runner-up in last six starts in California and also second at Colonial two starts ago.
‘The Scientist’ ended a run of does-not-compute missed cuts with T22 at Memorial (R4 66). Now needs to adjust his dial for Pebble where he’s only managed T55 and MC.
Lots of good course form at Pebble, with two top sevens and three further top 25s. He’s also got a win, a second and a fourth in the last seven majors although, less convincing is Reed’s current form. Two MCs in last four and no top 20 since February.
Note: Matt Cooper will take an in-depth look at the lower-ranked Euros in his European Sleepers preview.
1. Rory McIlroy
2. Justin Rose
3. Paul Casey
4. Tommy Fleetwood
5. Jon Rahm
6. Francesco Molinari
7. Shane Lowry
8. Henrik Stenson
9. Matt Wallace
10. Sergio Garcia
11. Ian Poulter
12. Martin Kaymer
13. Graeme McDowell
14. Tyrrell Hatton
15. Danny Willett
16. Rafa Cabrera Bello
17. Bernd Wiesberger
18. Alex Noren
19. Thorbjorn Olesen
20. Lucas Bjerregaard