2019 US Open Championship
Two majors down, and two runner ups to show for it for this column with Dustin Johnson nearly winning both of them without being anywhere near his sparkling best. Pebble Beach in theory should be another huge opportunity for the major underachiever and of those at the top of the market he looks to hold most of the aces. Pinehurst, Erin Hills and Shinnecock to name a few have seen the USGA stray from the traditional US Open setup that we were accustomed to when cubs. From 2014 through to 2017 the combined winning scores for this event totalled 34 under par. Shinnecock was won at 1 over par but once again they lost control of the greens and came up against a fair amount of criticism and protest most unforgettably from Phil Mickelson who hit a moving ball which was heading 20 yards off the front off the green. Pebble Beach promises to restore the Championship's pride and reputation with a difficult but fair test.
We have a wealth of history from the Pro Am at Pebble beach to pour over but the course plays remarkably different as to how it will play this week. It will be a longer par 71 as opposed to a shorter par 72 and the general toughness of the layout will be ten fold what it is in the early part of the year. Poa Annua greens make the putting task tricky and those with an aggressive, brisk, clean strike of ball with the flat stick tend to fair better on this surface. There are those who have grown up on it or won on it numerous times who will have an advantage over the rest. Rough will be extremely penal this week especially around the greens and those who manage to hit the small greens with regularity will have better scoring opportunities than the rest. Off the tee is no cake walk but scrambling from the extreme rough greenside will be a huge factor as the week continues. Course correlation is always useful and I'll be looking to seaside courses and Poa Annua greens as well keeping one eye on courses that two previous Pebble Champions (Tiger and GMac) have both performed well on.
With a handful of wins at Pebble Dustin Johnson looks the one to beat having held a 3 shot lead heading into day four of the US Open here in 2010. It went the way of the pear that Sunday but there's no doubting he should love it here. He has had his fair share of disappointing results here also but the Pro Am is a unique event and those who have won it a few times have clearly shown their credentials for the test. The US Open test is chalk and cheese though and I think a shorter price than the PGA and Masters represents poor value. I gave him better chances of winning those first two majors than the Everest like task he will have this week of keeping it together for 72 holes here. Koepka's talents I think bets lie on tracks he can overpower also and I think single figures about any of those two lads are very skinny. I'd need to to be talked into backing either at their current price if I'm honest.
Tony Finau still remains an underachiever on the tour but in the major sphere he has an impressive record. Two top 5s and a further two top 10s in the last six majors is an indication that Finau is suited by these demanding tests and his second win on the tour has every chance of being one of the big four. Recently big Tone flexed his muscles by finishing 2nd at Coloniol, a track which has always favoured those who can keep their ball in play from tee to green. His only win on tour came at Puerto Rico by the sea which can be seen as a positive here also. He has also shown a love for the Poa Annua surfaces, most notably at Torrey Pines where he has finished 5th, 6th and 13th on his last three visits. He did everything but win at Sheshan in the HSBC being edged out by Schauffele in a playoff there. McDowell and Tiger have also shown form there so track correlations add up also. I thought he would have built further upon that WGC result but he has failed to do so. Runner up at the Coloniol looks a sign his game must be there and I'm gambling that his missed cut at the Memorial was as a result of one eye on this Championship. His major credentials are hard to knock and looks a lot more appealing at more than five times the odds of his Ryder Cup team mates at the head of the market.
1.75**u - Tony Finau To Win @+5000**
1.75**u - Tony Finau To Finish Top 10 @+500**
McDowell looks to have every chance of contending again and will be riding high following his finish in Canada and subsequent qualification for Portrush. Maybe the fact that he has his major in the bag is enough for me to reluctantly remove him from my list, but I expect him to go well. Simpson and Snedeker have obvious claims and once again I think they're too big in a market that has not accounted for the course setup. Poulter and Hatton are two English street fighters who could go all the way and I wouldn't be surprised if either play in the final few groups on Sunday. Willett has shown some guts over the last twelve months and should also be suited by the test at Pebble. Justin Harding is a South African playing great stuff all year and may be worth a glance in some extra markets. CT Pan has impressed over the last few months and an excellent attitude should help him this week. Byeong Hun An has an awful major record which is enough to put me off, but regardless I think the test will suit and his price looks tasty enough for someone just outside the top 50 in the world. Walker holds claims also having shown signs lately and all these types of golfers are all worthy of consideration. For me a winner from this crop is highly probable and I think they all represent value. Having a few shillings savers on a handful of them may be sound advice.
Andrew Putnam should be everyone's slips this week. In less than a year Putnam has managed five top 5 finishes including a win at the Barracuda and runner up finishes at the Sony Open and St Jude. Both those courses are relevant this week and a top 5 at Sheshan in the WGC is certainly no negative either. This will be only be his fourth major championship appearance the first being here at this venue in 2010 when he missed the cut. Now still only 30 years of age he has made the cut in his last two majors and must have a lively chance of appearing on the leaderboard this week. He ranked 1st in putting on his way to a top 20 last time out at the Memorial having finished 3rd at Coloniol previous to that. It may surprise some to hear he is now inside the worlds top 50 and I was particularly taken by his performance when runner up to Kuchar at the Sony earlier in the year where he showed great tenacity all weekend to stay with the eventual winner. If I had a gun to my head I would say the +1800 at 10 places is the biggest value bet of the week.
1.25**u - Andrew Putnam To Win @+35000**
1.25u - Andrew Putnam To Finish Top 10 @+1800
Kevin Na makes the grade this week having notched his second win in the last twelve months by winning at Coloniol. Coloniol can be considered a great warm up for Pebble, as can Hamilton for that matter but coming here off winning form must give Na supreme confidence. The manner of his wins were all too impressive winning by 4 most recently, and the Greenbrier by 5 last Summer. The Greenbrier performance lead me to back him at Carnoustie where he went well for a while before limping him in 51st place. Pebble Beach may just be the place for Na to contend with a bright outlook on life and some past demons long washed away. He has two top 5 finishes here at the Pro Am and looks far too big to me at +10000.
1.25u - Kevin Na To Win @+10000
1u - Kevin Na To Finish Top 10 @+1000
Kisner makes it double Kevin trouble on my staking plan given that he too has a solid major record. 7th at the 2017 PGA was followed by a tied runner up spot at Carnoustie and then just outside the top ten at the 2018 PGA. A top 25 at this years Masters is another example of how his neat and tidy long game is suited to the demanding layouts we see for the majors. I was extremely impressed by his comfortable victory over Matt Kuchar in this years Matchplay having ended Molinari's fine matchplay run in the Semi Finals. He showed a lot of determination that week having been humiliated in the final 12 months previous. Kisner has a host of course form relevant to this weeks test with a win at the Coloniol and by the sea at the RSM. Runner up finishes at Sawgrass, Sheshan, Bayhill and Harbour Town are all examples of how his game holds up the worlds best whenever the course setup plays into his hands. A return to a traditional, tough tee to green US Open should be welcomed by KK and I hope he capitalises.
1.25u - Kevin Kisner To Win @+12500
1.25u - Kevin Kisner To Finish Top 10 @+1200
The value lies elsewhere for me this week and I'll start with the in form Matt Kuchar. A couple of weeks shy of his 41st birthday the Floridian is playing arguably the best golf of his career. Never too far from controversy the past six months I believe he has done extremely well to continue to perform and not let his on/off course issues effect his game. He ran out of steam a bit last week having shot a sensational 63 on Friday which looked to me one of the best rounds he has ever played. After his win in Mexico at the back end of last year he did what a few others have done in recent years and gone on to win the Sony Open also. Certainly not an irrelevant track that either with wind blowing off the sea and a necessity to keep the ball on the fairway. As Dylan Beirne from the 15th Club mentioned in our podcast recorded Monday, missing a fairway here will account for an average of 0.44 over par on that particular hole. Hitting fairways may not end up being the most important aspect of the week, but if you miss them, Irene will be receiving some late night pleasantries. Runner up at the Heritage is another pointer that Kuchar is performing best this year on the tracks that play into his tidy long game. A beaten finalist in the Matchplay is another addition to the 2019 CV and overall he arrives as one of the most form guys of the season. World Number 12 now this years renewal of the 2019 US Open is one of his best opportunities to grab a major. Molinari grabbed one last year in the throws of the best golf of his career, Kuchar may just do the same here.
1.75u - Matt Kuchar To Win @+5000
1.75u - Matt Kuchar To Finish Top 10 @+450
Ever since I backed Fitzpatrick for his maiden win at the British Masters I have found him a tough nut to crack. Another four wins have followed and although the two in Crans are predictable the others haven't been easy to land. Inconsistency has plagued the Englishman and maybe a more relaxed attitude on course and little less pressure on himself would help. A former US Amateur Champion he should be suited to the test at Pebble this week. Like Kisner he plays his best golf on courses that allow him to play to his strengths and not have to worry about golfers bombing it 80 yards past him off the tee. His success is built on an entirely different foundation to that of the worlds best, but that doesn't mean it won't translate into a major or two during his career. Just look at Zach Johnson for a prime example. Fitzpatrick holds just as much if not more talent than Zach and has high expecations of himself and for his career over the next 10 to 15 years. A runner up at this years Bay Hill was his best finish in the States to date and could be a sign of his game maturing on the PGA Tour. There haven't been many signs lately that a win is around the corner, but he hasn't been playing tracks that will suit him as much as Pebble will here.
1u - Matthew Fitzpatrick To Win @+12500
1u - Matthew Fitzpatrick To Finish Top 10 @+1100
Jim Furyk tops the driving accuracy this year and his resurgence shows no signs of wilting just yet. At 49 it may be difficult to see someone like him gain his second major but plenty have contended at his age around tracks that suit and he should be licking his lips with Pebble. His lack of length off the tee this week should not be an issue which further puts him into the conversation. Runner up to Rory at the Players was his best performance of the season and he'd be coming here a Sawgrass Champion only for some late heroics by the Irishman. Had he won that I don't think we'd be seeing triple figures here and once again he is another who I think has been underestimated by the bookmakers.
1u - Jim Furyk To Win @+12500
1u - Jim Furyk To Finish Top 10 @+1000