US Open

The Punter's US Open In-Play Blog: Is Scheffler poised to pounce?

Golfers Rickie Fowler and Wyndham Clark
Rickie Folwer and Wyndham Clark at the end of the third round

There's just one round to go at the 123rd US Open and the stats suggests we have five realistic candidates...

  • Clark and Fowler tied at the top
  • Rory still heads the market
  • World number one lurking in fourth

12:40 - June 18, 2023

Any major on the West Coast is a challenge for viewers in the UK but when they decide to assign the leaders a 15:40 tee-time to appease the East Coast viewers, it becomes even more demanding.

With the final two-ball kicking off just before midnight in the UK, I hadn't intended to watch any of the third round of the US Open but having woken up and checked the leaderboard to see 120.0119/1 Find Me a 100 Winner pick, Wyndham Clark, in front after ten holes, I decided to watch the rest of the day's play and I'm glad I did. I'm not quite sure what tactics I'll deploy today and tonight but I thoroughly enjoyed the finish.

Typically, Clark bogeyed the first two holes I saw him play (11 & 12) and when Rickie Fowler drained a birdie putt from 70 feet on the 13th hole, I was cursing my decision to check the scores on my phone but with a thunderstorm rolling and the chances of sleep slim at best, I stuck with it.

Moments after Fowler had holed his bomb on 13, the world number one, Scottie Scheffler, produced this bit of magic on the 17th hole to get to within five strokes, and my man holed for a birdie of his own on 13 from just inside 13 feet.

The hole-out eagle on the penultimate hole by Scheffler was a monumental moment but Clark's birdie, after back-to-back bogeys, and following Fowler's remarkable birdie from 70 feet, felt like a pivotal point for him and if he goes on to win, that will be the putt he'll look back on.

Scheffler backed up the eagle two at 17 with a birdie three at 18 but the big turning point came in the final two-ball at the final hole.

Clark had dropped to two behind on 17 after a poor approach shot led to a penalty drop and a bogey five but with darkness descending, he showed just how gutsy he is with this approach shot on 18 to set up a birdie three.

After Clark had rolled in the birdie putt, Fowler missed his par save and just like that the two were tied at the top and if the stats are anything to go by (12 of the last 15 US Open winners sat first or second with a round to go), it's odds-on that one of them will lift the trophy. Here's the 54-hole leaderboard with prices to back at 12:30.

Rickie Fowler -10 3.953/1
Wyndham Clark -10 4.84/1
Rory McIlroy -9 3.412/5
Scottie Scheffler -7 5.95/1
Harris English -6 48.047/1
Dustin Johnson -5 38.037/1
Xander Schauffele -5 40.039/1
-4 and 140.0139/1 bar

Making up ground at this major is nigh on impossible. Conditions get worse as the week wares on it's always a case of hanging on in round four. And the stats suggest that only the top-five on the leaderboard have a realistic chance of victory...

The last 24 US Opens (and 48 of the last 49) have been won by someone within four strokes of the lead with a round to go.

Lee Janzen trailed by five at the Olympic Club in 1998 but he was only tied for fourth and his cause was helped considerably by the poor final round by the late great, Payne Stewart, who had led by three through 54 holes.

With only five men within four of the lead, it would be daft to dismiss the likes of Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele, who both trail by five.

But for his disastrous quad on two on Friday, DJ would be bang there and of the two, he's the one I'd favour.

The 2016 winner is in fine form and although Xander can't be dismissed out of hand, with rounds of 62-70-72, he's going the wrong way.

The stats suggest Harris English is close enough, but I can't imagine he can continue to scramble as well as he has so far this week and I'm happy to dismiss him. So, let's concentrate on the leaders...

Both the front two are leading a major through three rounds for the first time and although the raw stats suggest they're the two to beat, both have more negatives than positives.

Fowler, who's finished second in three majors previously, has only an ordinary record when leading.

He's led 11 times worldwide and he's gone of to win four times. That's not a bad strike rate but on the four occasions he's won, he's led by four, four, four and two strokes and on the last seven occasions he's led or co-led he's shot rounds of 74, 74, 71, 73, 74, 71 and 70. Only twice has he shot rounds in the 60s when in front and they were in Korea and Abu Dhabi on low-scoring layouts.

With just one win on the PGA Tour (the 2019 Phoenix Open) in the last six years, I'm happy to leave him alone at 3/14.00.

In contrast to Fowler, Clark won on the PGA Tour as recently as last month, at the Wells Fargo Championship in impressive fashion.

Leading by two, Clark shot a three-under-par 68 in round four to win by four and a repeat of that steely display could see him lift the trophy but it's a huge ask. He's in search of just his second win on the PGA Tour.

On the previous occasion that he'd held a clear lead on the PGA Tour - at the 2019 Honda Classic - he shot 72 to fall from one clear to seventh, and he would have been disappointed with his final round last time out at the Memorial Tournament.

Clark sat tied for fourth and just one off the lead with a round to go but he shot 76 on Sunday to finish 12th - beaten by six.

Rory McIlroy, who is looking for his fifth major, nine years after his fourth, is the man to beat according to the market and it's very hard to disagree.

He's had a professional and determined manner all week so far and it's hard to imagine him shooting a poor round today, although he hasn't been brilliant in-contention on a Sunday of late.

He was one of the three men tied at the top at the Memorial two weeks ago, but he shot 75 to finish fifth and only last week he fell from second to fifth at the Canadian Open when he shot 72 in round four.

Scottie Scheffler's remarkable finish to round three has given him a chance and the fact that he's produced positive Strokes Gained figures with the flatstick over the first three days for the first time this season is a significant plus.

Scottie Scheffler at the US Open.jpg

I've backed Scheffler modestly at 6.05/1 but I shall be cheering on Clark tonight/this morning and I'm mildly hopeful. Last night's finish will stand him in good stead and if he can draw on the memory of his recent win at Quail Hollow, anything's possible.

If you're going to be trading on tonight's round four, if anyone does make a remarkable move today (Tom Kim was seven-under-par at once stage yesterday) then bear in mind how much tougher the back-nine is at Los Angeles Country Club.

After three rounds, the filed is 86 over-par on the front nine and a colossal 595 over on the back-nine. It's a tough finish!

11:50 - June 17, 2023

Rickie Fowler leads the 123rd US Open at the halfway stage and given he was drawn AM-PM, that's quite an achievement.

Rickie Fowler US Open 23.jpg

The sun came out yesterday afternoon and the playing conditions were significantly worse as a result. The afternoon starters averaged 72.94, compared to the 71.5 shot by the morning wave, and overall, those that began the tournament on Thursday afternoon were advantaged by almost two strokes (1.84) over the two days.

Xander Schauffele, who like Rickie, had shot an incredible eight-under-par 62 on Thursday morning, birdied the last two holes to remain within two and fellow Friday afternoon starter, Scottie Scheffler, posted a two-under-par 68, but the leaderboard is largely dominated by those drawn PM-AM. Here's the state of play after 36 holes, with exchange prices to back at 11:40.

Rickie Fowler -10 5.14/1
Wyndham Clark -9 9.08/1
Rory McIlroy -8 4.77/2
Xander Schauffele -8 5.85/1
Harris English -7 32.031/1
Dustin Johnson -6 16.5
Min Woo Lee -6 30.029/1
Scottie Scheffler -5 8.88/1
Sam Bennett -5 150.0149/1
Cameron Smith -4 29.028/1
Tony Finau -3 90.089/1
-2 and 160.0159/1 bar

Having played the front-nine brilliantly on both of the first two days, Rory McIlroy heads into the weekend as the clear favourite but I'm of the opinion that the harder it gets the tougher it will be for the world number three.

It would be ridiculous to state that a player of Rory's calibre can't play in firm, fast and demanding conditions but I do feel he's at his absolute best when conditions are soft, and it isn't as mentally draining as it's going to be over the next two days.

He's the correct favourite, but he's not for me.

I'm also happy to remain against the next two in the betting, the leader, Fowler, and Schauffele, who are just not players I like in-contention. I wouldn't be surprised if one of them went on to win but at the prices on offer, I'm happy to pass them by.

Rory McIlroy US Open 23.jpg

Given how tough it is to make up ground at a US Open, I'm happy to have Find Me a 100 Winner selection, Wyndham Clark, onside at 120.0119/1 and he looks a fair price at halfway but this is the first time he's been in contention at a major, and as impressive as he was at Quail Hollow when he won the Wells Fargo last month, this is a very different kettle of fish.

Matt Fitzpatrick sat tied for 13th at halfway last year and he was the first winner in a decade not to be inside the top-five at halfway, but he was only three adrift.

The 2012 winner, Webb Simpson, sat tied for 29th and six off the lead but as an indication of just how tough it is to win this championship from off the pace, he and Fitzpatrick are the only two winners not to be inside the top-six through 36 holes since Corey Pavin won the 1995 edition form tied 11th and six adrift.

Looking at the state of play today, I'm still tempted to get the world number one, Scottie Scheffler, onside but his poor putting remains a major concern.

If the front four don't all tumble back to him, he's going to have to hole more putts and although he's putting better than he did in his last two starts, at the halfway stage, he's still ranking only 58th for Putting Average and 47th for Strokes Gained Putting. And that's simply not quite good enough.

Yesterday's in-play pick, Dustin Johnson, was matched at a high of 100.099/1 after his calamitous start to round two. He failed to birdie the par five first and then racked up a quadruple bogey eight on the second, but that hole aside, he's still playing superbly and he's still in the argument.

I was happy to have a little top-up on DJ at 16/117.00 and I've also added Min Woo Lee at 32.031/1.

The Aussie looks fractionally over-priced, and he has a little more scope than Harris English at the same price.

English is a shot closer to the lead than Lee and DJ, but he holed some ridiculous putts yesterday (surely not sustainable) and of the leading nine or ten, he's the one I'd most fancy to drift out of the picture today.

The incredibly promising Sam Bennett, who's the only player to be inside the top-10 through 36 holes at both the US Masters and US Open this year, is clearly a phenomenal talent but winning a major so soon after turning pro is a huge ask and he's priced up accordingly.

I haven't given up on pre-event pick, Cam Smith, who trails by six but that's as far down as I'm prepared to scan given the stats.

With the leaders not teeing off until 23:40 UK time, I haven't yet decided whether to attempt staying up to watch tonight or whether to catch up on the action in the morning but either way I'll be back tomorrow with a look at the state of play with a round to go.

11:25 - June 16, 2023

Until July 22, 2017, nobody had ever shot lower than 63 in a major championship and up until yesterday, nobody had bettered or equalled the 62 shot by Brandon Grace in the third round of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. But in the space of just 22 minutes, both Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele posted opening eight-under-par 62s in the first round of the 123rd US Open yesterday. And Dave Tindall tipped them both to lead after round one!

Xander schauffele US Open 2023.jpg

Like Fowler and Schauffele, Dustin Johnson started on the 10th hole yesterday and he stood on the par three ninth tee needing a birdie to join the leaders, but he made a bogey four to drop into a tie for third with one of my two Find Me a 100 Winner picks, Wyndham Clark.

Having been bogey-free all day, Rory McIlroy was matched at a low of 5.39/2 as he played the 18th (his final hole of the day). But he whiffed his third shot from the rough around the green and needed to hole an 11 foot putt for bogey to remain within three of the lead, alongside the only other player to beat 67 on day one - Brian Harman. Here's the first-round leaderboard with prices to back at 11:10.

Xander Schauffele -8 4.47/2
Rickie Fowler -8 8.415/2
Dustin Johnson -6 9.89/1
Wyndham Clark -6 19.018/1
Rory McIlroy -5 7.06/1
Brian Harman -5 85.084/1
Scottie Scheffler -3 8.27/1
Bryson DeChambeau -3 38.037/1
-3 and 44.043/1 bar

The scoring was lower than anticipated yesterday and I certainly didn't hear anyone predict that we'd witness the lowest round in US Open history. But with no wind and a cool morning mist keeping conditions relatively soft, Los Angeles Country Club played as easily as we're going to see it play, although I don't expect it to be much tougher until the weekend.

The first-round scoring average was 71.38 (1.38 over-par) and, although the two leaders teed-it up early, the afternoon wave averaged 0.4 of a stroke better than the morning wave (71.18 compared to 71.58).

I suspect we'll witness a similar scoring average today before the screws are turned on Saturday. The greens won't receive water, pin positions will be trickier, and holes lengthened (especially the par threes) so the likes of Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Viktor Hovland and Patrick Cantlay, who all disappointed yesterday, will need to get their skates on today.

Matt Fitzpatrick sat tied for 13th and three off the lead at the halfway stage 12 months ago but he's the only winner in the last 10 years not to be inside the top-five places with two rounds to go.

I'm keen to take the front two on and I'm also happy to be against Rory.

Schauffele and Fowler are very often unconvincing in-contention and I'm not entirely convinced that McIlroy will hang tough as conditions worsen.

Scheffler at around 7/18.00 makes plenty of appeal but I'm going to keep an eye on his price as the day wares on. He doesn't tee off until 21:43 UK time and if the early starters press on, he may drift a bit but I have backed Dustin Johnson at 10.09/1.

Dustin Johnson US open day one 23.jpg

The 2016 winner played brilliantly yesterday, ranking first for Strokes Gained Tee-to Green and Driving Accuracy, 14th for Greens In Regulation, fourth for scrambling and sixth for Putting Average.

His wedge play was extremely impressive and with a nice early start (16:02 UK time), I can see him hitting the front today if he doesn't get ahead of himself.

US Open Pre-Event Selection:
Brooks Koepka @ 13.012/1
Cam Smith @ 34.033/1

In-Play Picks:
Dustin Johnson @ 10.09/1
Min Woo Lee @ 32.031/1
Scottie Scheffler @ 6.05/1

Find Me a 100 Winner Selections:
2 u Sam Burns @ 110.0109/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1
2u Wyndham Clark @ 120.0119/1
Place order to lay 10u @ 10.09/1 & 10u @ 2.01/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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