10-Fer Fantasy Picks: US Open

by: Eric Evans Staff Writer

The US Open is only a couple of days away, so that means it's time to sign up for the Pick-6 Majors Challenge (pick any six golfers, total their earnings, highest total wins $1K) It is an easy, fun, inexpensive game and you can win some big cash. We appreciate your support!

The season’s second major, our National Championship, heads back to one of the country’s more famed tracks, Pinehurst No. 2. Located in the heart of the North Carolina sand hills, No. 2 is designer Donald Ross’ most famed piece of work. Designed in 1907, the course is most famous for its crowned green complexes with severe runoffs on every side. The big change this year from the ‘99 and ‘05 US Opens is the recent (2011) restoration by the team of Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore, who have brought the course back to its original 1900’s Ross design. They have taken out the modern US Open-style rough -- all of it, in fact – and have brought back and featured native grass and waste areas lining the fairways. It’s a distinctive, classic look that is generating rave reviews from both players and fans alike. The 7,562-yard par-70 layout will feature the typical USGA set up, firm and fast -- if Mother Nature cooperates (and that’s a big ‘if’). On the surface, the yardage would seem like a typical US Open course but with the lack of rough, this will play unlike and other US Open to date.

Weather will certain play a major role this week in determining what type of player can and will contend, and if the course plays as the USGA intends it to – firm and fast – it really is a wide open event. If it rains consistently, we could have another US Open like Congressional in 2011 – guys throwing darts into normally protected areas of greens. The current forecast calls for a chance of storms everyday through Sunday, but Thursday looks like the day that could really be disrupted. If an inordinate amount of rain falls – No. 2 also has a new drainage system that will offset normal amounts of rain -- the bigger advantage the bombers will have.

Here are some of the feature pairings and local times:

Sergio Garcia, Jason Day, Brandt Snedeker – 7:18 AM
Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood – 7:29 AM
Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell – 7:40 AM
David Toms, Angel Cabrera, Zach Johnson – 7:40 AM*
Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Matthew Fitzpatrick(a) – 7:51 AM*
Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama – 8:13 AM*
Dustin Johnson, Victor Dubuisson, Jimmy Walker – 1:03 PM
Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel – 1:25 PM
Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer – 1:47 PM
Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Bill Haas – 1:03 PM*
Luke Donald, Harris English, Paul Casey – 1:25 PM*

Using the format for golfmanna's US Open Pick-6 Majors Challenge game -- my top six picks and a few other options. Let's get to it:

1. Rory McIlroy. I tried really hard to find reasons NOT to put him on my team, but I just couldn’t. If Mother Nature were to shoot me a text saying that it was definitely going to rain, and rain a lot on Wednesday night in Pinehurst, then Rory is probably going to win. And win by four or five shots. That’s what he does on really long Major Championship setups with softer fairways and greens – he boat races the rest of the field. But, if the rain is minimal and the course plays firm and fast, he won’t have a big advantage. In seven PGA Tour events since March, his worst finish is a T25 and he has five top 10’s during that run (he also won the flagship BMW Championship on the European Tour). He has all of the tools to win whenever he tee’s it up, it is just a matter of eliminating that poor stretch of nine holes that has prevented him from winning more thus far in 2014.

2. Phil Mickelson. There isn’t a point in looking at any numbers, is there? Zero top-10 finishes this year? So what. This is the one he has been waiting for since last June (since 1999 really) and could quite possibly be his last shot at completing the Grand Slam. Phil himself called his putting “pathetic” last week in Memphis, but the T11 has to be somewhat encouraging considering his 2014 season thus far. If Phil can find some confidence with the flat stick – he’s gone back to ‘the claw’ grip with a favorite putter -- combined with his chipping/pitching wizardry, he might come full circle at Pinehurst No. 2 and erase his six runner-ups in this event. (And I’m not worried about the insider-trading distraction for Phil – this event has his full focus.)

3. Adam Scott. This is the lone Major Championship in which Scott does not own a top-10 finish, and in fact he has only made the cut in half of his US Open appearances. But the No. 1 player in the world is a completely different player than he used to be, now a fixture on major leaderboards (seven top 10s in his last 13 Major starts). Everybody sees the perfect golf swing and many think it is the short game that holds him back, but he’s 41st in Scrambling and 15th in Strokes Gained Putting, which are excellent numbers for as well as he strikes it. There isn’t much negative to say about Scott, so expect to see him on the first page of the leaderboard.

4. Matt Kuchar. Best player yet to win a major? He has to be in the debate as he has become the most consistent player on Tour. A top-10 machine, Kuch has already racked up nine (!?!?!) of them this season. While he isn’t the longest or straightest off the tee, he has one of the best short games in the world – evidenced by his 12th in Strokes Gained Putting and 6th in Scrambling. The US Open is usually about being patient and avoiding the big mistake, something which Kuchar all about with his 5th in Bogey Avoidance ranking. Pinehurst No. 2 is a great setup for Kuch, allowing him some leeway off the tee and giving him the opportunity to separate himself around the greens.

5. Jordan Spieth. Age and lack of experience don’t matter with this kid, as he proved at The Masters and The Players. His goal is always to win and seems to play his best in the biggest events, when par really matters. While some have questioned his ability to close, those tough finishes at Augusta and Sawgrass should serve him well going forward. Spieth is no stranger to the USGA course set up, and the restoration at No. 2 should even the playing field a little bit for the Pinehurst first-timers. Statistically, Spieth excels closer to the greens with his 29th Strokes Gained Putting and 11th Scrambling rankings, but he is also in the top 25 in both Par-3 and Par-4 Scoring Average, both of which will be useful this week. No one would be surprised to see the 20-year-old holding the trophy come Sunday night.

6. Sergio Garcia. Similar to Justin Rose leading up to last year’s US Open, Garcia JUMPS off the page statistically. He has a pretty dominant stat line: 30th in Total Driving, 8th in GIR %, 41st in Strokes Gained Putting, 5th in Scrambling, T2 in Par-3 Scoring, 1st in Par-4 Scoring and 1st in Bogey Avoidance. Clearly, the numbers don’t directly correlate with wins as many guys would own a major championship if that were the case, but when it comes to the US Open, and specifically Pinehurst No. 2, Garcia checks all the important boxes and then some. In addition to the stats, Garcia has made 12 cuts in 14 US Open appearances with eight top-25 finishes, including a T3 at this venue in 2005. Concerns with Sergio would be the ghosts of majors past and potentially a bit of rust since he hasn’t teed it up since The Players. But his “recent” form couldn’t be much better as he has only missed one cut in eight starts this season – five of those starts going for top 10 finishes. He is dealing with a left knee injury that is still bothering him during practice rounds so far this week, or else he would be my favorite this week.

Webb Simpson. The North Carolina native has played No. 2 dozens of times – including several since the renovation – and broke out of his first-half slump with a T3 this past week in Memphis. The 2012 champ has never missed a cut in this event and has the short game (T23 in Scrambling and 9th in Strokes Gained Putting) to survive at Pinehurst. Simpson’s form has been really bad this season but when he gets playing well, he typically stays hot for a couple of weeks.

Dustin Johnson. A weird fact about DJ – three of his eight PGA Tour wins have come at events shortened to 54 holes -- does that skew his win total? Maybe a little. Johnson has cooled off since his blistering start to the season but is still playing some solid golf. The wider fairways and zero rough should provide him with his best opportunity to win a US Open outside of Pebble Beach. Obviously he has the distance advantage off the tee, but his ability to hit shorter irons into these crowned greens could prove very valuable this week. His proximity to the hole numbers between 150 to 200 yards rank near the top of the Tour and his T8 Par-3 Scoring Average ranking with the par-70 course also come in handy. If he can find a putting stroke this week, DJ has to be one of the favorites.

Bill Haas. You might not think so, but having Haas’ name mentioned anywhere other than the “Busts” section should be shocking. As shocking as Adam Scott’s goose egg top 10’s in this event, how about the fact that Bill Haas doesn’t own a single top 10 in any major! That has to change. He is simply too high caliber of a player for that trend to continue, and there is no better week than this one at Pinehurst in the state where he was born. Haas hasn’t missed a cut thus far in 2014 and is really trending with a T26, T21 and T8 in his past three events. I say he picks off his first career major top 10 this week.

Player to Avoid: Bubba Watson. Not a name that you would typically see on a US Open list but Bubba is likely on a lot of short lists with the lack of rough this year, the imagination needed around the greens and the room off the tee to shape shots. He comes in on great form with seven top 10s in 11 events this season and most recently a solo 3rd at The Memorial. Numbers wise, Bubba is T11 in Total Driving, 6th in GIR %, 2nd in Ball Striking, top 25 in both Par 3 and Par-4 Scoring and 2nd in both Bogey Avoidance and Three-Putt Avoidance – all great stats. But if you saw his press conference on Tuesday, it was easy to tell he didn’t like No. 2, was going to be hitting a lot of irons off the tee (which partially negates his biggest advantage - driving), and just generally didn’t seem to have much fire for the event. Plus he’s only had one good US Open in his career (2007) and has only ONE under-par round in this event. He’s going to have a lot of five- to eight-footers on the greens, and that’s not exactly his strength – and he just saw the course for the first time on Sunday. As well as he’s playing, I’m staying away this week.

Other Potential Busts:

  • Brandt Snedeker – new putter in the bag this week after eight years with the old one, tough week to be making that switch.
  • Lee Westwood – His US Open record is fantastic, but 91st in Ball-Striking and 101st in Strokes Gained can’t be a good recipe.
  • Louis Oosthuizen – The bad back is still an ongoing issue and the short-game statistics are near the very bottom on Tour.
  • Angel Cabrera – Nearly dead last in the Scrambling and Driving Accuracy stats, worse than 100th in GIR % and Strokes Gained. And it’s not Masters week.

Potential Sleepers / Other Mentions

  • Matt Every – T3 this past week in Memphis after a string of MC’s, Every is an excellent putter and long iron player. Usually gets hot in streaks.
  • Brendon Todd – On the short list of guys stats wise: 7th in Strokes Gained, 8th in Scrambling and comes in on fire finishing 1st, T5 and T8 in consecutive weeks.
  • Kevin Na – A late add to the field and comes in on form after losing in a playoff at The Memorial to Matsuyama. Not the longest off the tee but Na has a great short game and is T4 in Par 4 Scoring.
  • He's certainly no sleeper, but Jason Day is always on the consideration list at a major. He says his wrist is 100%, but his lack of competitive play is concerning. He certainly has the game to win here. 
  • Jonas Blixt is the only player to have top-5 finishes in the last two majors. He is a top drawer scrambler and putter, so it wouldn't be shocking to see him in play again this week.


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