US Open 2021: Three-ball picks for the opening round at Torrey Pines

Golfer Stewart Cink
Stewart Cink is tipped for another good week in a resurgent season

Paul Krishnamurty recommends a quintet of three-ball selections for the opening round at Torrey Pines...

"Jason Kokrak had a fortnight off to prepare since winning the Charles Schwab and his combination of power and ball-striking is perfect for Torrey Pines."

Back Jason Kokrak 4u @ 2.6413/8

As one would expect, the opening day of the US Open has plenty of stellar, competitive three-ball groups. No doubt the featured groups on Sky will kick off with the likes of Koepka/Thomas/Morikawa (starts 15.29) or ten minutes later, Hovland/Hatton/Fitzpatrick.

Great entertainment, but not groups I'm too keen to pick the bones out of. Instead let's focus on groups where at least one of the trio looks weak. Where winning might not require a particularly impressive first round score.

Woodland's power game to pay dividends

This will surely be featured too, as it involves three former champions. The weak link is Martin Kaymer. There were hints last season that the German was on the comeback trail but he comes in off three straight missed cuts, involving a best round of just 73, at a lower level on the European Tour. He isn't driving it long or straight enough for Torrey Pines.

Of the remaining two, Webb Simpson has generally been in much better form in the past two years. However he's much shorter off the tee than Gary Woodland and the 2019 champ is creeping back to form. His power will be a major asset this week.

Kokrak primed to contend again

One obvious player to oppose is Cameron Champ, after only five cuts and no top-30s in 13 starts this year, and he's up against two lively outsiders for the title.

Jason Kokrak is preferred to Corey Conners. He's had a fortnight off to prepare since winning the Charles Schwab and his combination of power and ball-striking is perfect for Torrey Pines. Conners' accurate long game also commands respect ahead of this challenge but he was disappointing at the Memorial last time.

Reliable Poulter the one to beat

Jimmy Walker produced his best performance in ages at the Memorial but it would be dangerous to read much into it. The former PGA champion misses more cuts than he makes these days, and is wildly inaccurate off the tee. That generally spells disaster on this course.

Ian Poulter should set a solid standard and target. He's in good form, finishing third at the Memorial. Whilst not long enough to win at this or most US Open layouts, he's got a consistent record of making cuts, and has finished six of the last ten first rounds in 16th place or better.

The third man here, Ryan Palmer, is hard to call. Though, twice a runner-up on this course, his US Open record is abysmal.

Pendrith's power could hold the key

Next, I'm going to shamelessly copy one of golf's great judges. Ben Coley tips big-hitting Kornferry Tour player Taylor Pendrith to be Top Canadian and that's a good enough recommendation for me to select him here, against two European Tour players who are at a massive disadvantage off the tee.

Wade Ormsby is one of the shortest hitters anywhere near top-level golf, while Dave Coupland only got here via his best ever finish on the European Tour, and cannot have high hopes.

Resurgent Cink rates good value again

Finally Stewart Cink is having a cracking season and is nicely priced as outsider against Paul Casey and Lee Westwood. Whilst superb earlier this year, the latter has gone off the boil. Casey is obviously strong, consistent and very well-suited to this challenge. The bet is therefore driven by price.

Cink finished 14th here in 2008 - one of ten top-30s in US Opens. 20 years ago at Southern Hills, he missed a tiny putt on the 72nd hole to miss out on a three-way play-off. This year has yielded a win at the Heritage and 12th at the Masters. His long and short games are in excellent order so expect another solid week, even if challenging for the title is a bit too much to ask.

Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty

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