2021 US Open: The Punter's in-depth preview

Golfer Xander Schauffele
Xander Schauffele - a great fit for the US Open

We're off to Torrey Pines this week for the third major of the year and Steve Rawlings has everything covered ahead of Thursday's start with his comprehensive preview...

"Xander’s US Open form figures read an impressive 5-6-3-5 and he was the only man to press Hideki Matsuyama in round four of the US Masters in April so the stars appear to be aligning nicely for him to bag his first major championship."

Tournament History

First staged back in 1895 and won by Englishman, Horace Rawlins, who picked up a whopping $150 after posting a 36-hole total of 173 (rounds of 91 and 82), the US Open has been a 72-hole stroke play event since 1898.

The US Open is a nomadic championship staged by the often heavily criticised United States Golf Association. It used to follow the US Masters as the second major of the year but after a reworking of the PGA Tour schedule in 2019, which saw the USPGA Championship moved from August to May, it's now the third of four.

This year's US Open is the 121st edition and it returns to the South Course at Torrey Pines in California.

The South Course was last used for the tournament back in 2008 when Tiger Woods beat Rocco Mediate in the championship's last ever 18-hole playoff. The pair were the only two to finish the week under par (-1). Lee Westwood finished alone in third, one behind the playoff protagonists and two strokes ahead of Robert Karlsson and DJ Trahan.

Playing just months after arthroscopic knee surgery, Woods had looked more likely to withdraw than he had to win as he struggled on in obvious pain with what transpired to be stress fractures in his left leg and just nine days after the win, he was back under the knife to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

No moment encapsulates Woods' incredible will to win than his birdie putt on the 72nd hole to tie Mediate and it's one that's well worth revisiting.

Venue

The South Course, Torrey Pines, La Jolla, California.

Course Details

Designed by Billy Bell Jr. and opened in 1957, the South Course is a familiar venue for regular watchers of PGA Tour golf as it's used each year, in conjunction with the North Course, for the Farmers Insurance Open, won impressively by Patrick Reed in February.

The South Course was extensively revamped in 2001, by Rees Jones; after it was awarded the 2008 US Open, and in preparation of this year's edition, Jones has been back for another tweak.

Following its latest Rees Jones tinkering, the South Course is now the longest ever to be used on the PGA Tour. This piece here has more on the latest renovation.

The South Course greens were converted to Bentgrass by Rees in 2001 but the native poa annua has taken over again now and they're back to being described as poa annua.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 15:30 on Thursday.

Last Ten Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 - Bryson DeChambeau -6 30.029/1
2019 - Gary Woodland -13 110.0109/1
2018 - Brooks Koepka +1 34.033/1
2017 - Brooks Koepka -16 60.059/1
2016 - Dustin Johnson -4 17.016/1
2015 - Jordan Spieth -5 11.010/1
2014 - Martin Kaymer -9 50.049/1
2013 - Justin Rose +1 28.027/1
2012 - Webb Simpson +1 100.099/1
2011 - Rory McIlroy -16 16.015/1

What Can We Expect From the South Course?

The 2008 US Open winner, Tiger Woods, has a phenomenal record in the Farmers Insurance Open (formally the San Diego Open), winning the event a record seven times, but if the 2008 result is anything to go by, the Farmers Insurance Open is not as good a place to start for clues as one might imagine.

As Dave Tindall pointed out last week, the top-nine and ties, excluding Tiger, had dreadful form in the Farmers Insurance open, both before the 2008 US Open and after it.

Below are the Torrey Pines form figures for the top-nine and ties in 2008 (excluding Tiger) with the US Open result in bold.

Rocco Mediate 54-57-MC-2-48-MC-MC-WD
Lee Westwood MC-3-47
Robert Karlsson 4-68
DJ Trahan 42-MC-MC-4-MC-MC
Miguel Angel Jimenez MC-MC-6
John Merrick 60-6-MC-MC-33-MC-47-MC
Carl Pettersson 2-MC-30-43-MC-19-6-50-MC-77-49-MC
Eric Axley MC-MC-MC-9-WD-MC
Geoff Ogilvy 67-MC-MC-MC-9-50-MC-MC-MC-MC-MC
Heath Slocum 70-37-9-MC-MC
Brandt Snedeker 3-MC-9-42-2-9-1-2-MC-19-1-9-45-62-3-32
Camilo Villegas MC-MC-13-9-3-44-22-MC-MC-27-MC-54-77-WD

Strong Farmers Insurance Open form may not be something to give too much credence to but I certainly wouldn't dismiss it and anyone with Torrey Pines form and US Open form has to be respected greatly.

Patrick Reed, who won the Farmers by five back in January has twice led the US Open at halfway and he came from off the pace to finish fourth in 2018 so he's starting to look like a bit of US Open specialist and he had this to say about the South Course recently.

"You have to hit the fairway, you have to hit greens, you got to make putts. And any time you're playing a US Open you know how penalising the rough's going to be. So, you got to have full control over your golf ball and when I won back there earlier this year it was the same thing, you hit it in the rough you're going to pay a penalty for it.

"So, you have to go and hit fairways and have to attack the golf course and I feel like if I do that, then I feel like it would be a good test."

Patrick Reed Augusta.jpg

The South Course will play narrower than it does in January, the rough will be thicker, and the greens will be faster so it's going to be a very different test but I'm far from convinced Reed is correct to say you have to hit fairways.

What Will it Take to Win the US Open?

We've had a couple of instances over the last decade when the set-up has not met with the expected weather and it's given us a winning score that we're just not used to seeing at a US Open.

After the 16-under-par Rory McIlroy romp at rain-soaked Congressional 10 years ago, the next two winning scores were over-par, suggesting that the USGA didn't want a repeat, and following Brooks Koepka's low-scoring demolition at Erin Hills four years ago, again with a record-equalling -16 total, when the expected Wisconsin winds were non-existent, the USGA toughen things up a bit too much at Shinnecock and we got another over-par winning score.

A number of the players complained about the set-up at Shinnecock and last month's USPGA Championship winner, Phil Mickelson, staged his own leftfield protest but it worked to a degree.

Gary Woodland won the 2019 edition at Pebble Beach in 2013 in -13 and that looked a low total. When Graeme McDowell won the US Open there in 2010 he was the only player that didn't finish the event with an over-par score and although Tiger got to a dozen-under in the 2000 edition at Pebble, that performance is considered as one of the best major performances of all time and he finished 15 clear of the rest!

Although it's a nomadic event, played at different courses every year, and hiccups do occur, because the USGA tend to set-up the courses similarly tough, an analysis of the statistics is still a worthwhile exercise, so here are the average rankings of the last ten US Open winners in all the main categories.

Driving Accuracy - 21.8
Driving Distance - 16.4
G.I.R - 5.2
Scrambling - 9.3
Putting Average - 16.5

The first two home last year, Bryson DeChambeau and Matthew Wolff, ranked seventh and second for Driving Distance and 26th and 49th for Driving Accuracy and that was typical. A straight and lengthy long game is ideal but length is far more important than accuracy, despite all the scaremongering we'll no doubt hear and see before the off about the brutality of the rough.

US Open rough is nearly always penal and the fairways narrow, but even the most accurate drivers will stray from the short grass at some stage and when they do, they'll usually be too far back to have a chance of rescuing par. In contrast, the big hitters will be closer to the green and will have a better chance of saving themselves. They'll also have the advantage of going in with much shorter irons when they do find the fairway and nobody has ever highlighted that better than Bryson at Winged Foot.

Bryson averaged 325.6 yards off the tee (the highest ever measured by a US Open champion) but he hit just 22 fairways throughout the entire week and it was a similar story here in 2008. Woods ranked second for DD and only 56th for Driving Accuracy.

The stats are clear. Only four winners in the last 17 years have ranked higher for accuracy off the tee than they have for length and 13 of the last 17 winners have ranked inside the top-ten for DD, compared to just four inside the top-ten for DA. It really does make sense to favour length over accuracy at this major.

To win a US Open you need to find plenty of greens and scramble well when you don't. As the averages show, Greens In Regulation and Scrambling are the two main stats to consider.

DeChambeau ranked fifth for GIR and third for Scrambling last year and two years ago, Gary Woodland ranked second for GIR and first for Scrambling. And back in 2008, although the first three home only ranked 18th, 14th and 29th, the beaten playoff protagonist, Rocco Mediate, and Lee Westwood, alone in third, ranked second and first for Scrambling.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

The US Open produces its fair share of event specialists - remember Andy North? He only ever won three PGA Tour events and two of them were US Opens! Jeff Maggert only won three PGA Tour events too and none of them majors but between 1994 and 1999 he finished inside the top-ten in this championship four times.

Brooks Koepka missed last year's edition through injury but he's finished first, first and second in his last three US Opens and there are several other players that enjoy this event more than others...

The 2003 champ, Jim Furyk, was runner-up five years ago and that was his seventh top-five. Jason Day has finished inside the top-ten in five of his 10 US Open appearances, Xander Schauffele has played in four and never finished outside the top-six and then there are the likes of Tiger Woods (three wins and eight top-sixes), Ernie Els (who's finished first, second, third, fourth and fifth twice), and of course Phil Mickelson, who has finished second an incredible six times. Previous US Open form is worth plenty.

It's very easy to concentrate too hard on previous major champions whenever we start looking at form for any major championship but it's odds-on that the winner won't have tasted success before if recent history can be believed.

Even though Mickelson won his second USPGA Championship and his sixth major overall last month, 15 of the last 22 (68%) major championships have gone to a first-timer. And if we look at this major in isolation, four of the last five were breaking their major duck.

Don't be surprised if we get another first-time winner but do expect them to feature fairly highly in the Official World Rankings because Lefty was the first major winner to be ranked outside the world's top-50 since Keegan Bradley had won the USPGA 10 years earlier.

For more clues ahead of Thursday's tee-off, Dave Tindall's 10-year trends piece here is a cracking read.

Could the Locals Shine Again?

When I looked at this event before Christmas, the 2020 USPGA Championship staged at Harding Park in California was still fresh in the memory and I highlighted how well the locals had fared in that major.

Those that have only played Torrey Pines in January in the Farmers Insurance Open are going to be at a disadvantage to those that grew up in the state playing Torrey in all conditions, as well as other coastal Californian tracks with regularity, like Pebble Beach and Harding Park. They will be more familiar and more comfortable with the poa annua greens and although not a huge advantage, it's an edge that's worth considering.

Last Six Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2020 - Bryson DeChambeau - solo second, trailing by two 3.55/2
2019 - Gary Woodland - led by one stroke 3.1511/5
2018 - Brooks Koepka - tied for the lead with three others 5.59/2
2017 - Brooks Koepka - trailing by one 5.59/2
2016 - Dustin Johnson - trailing by four 4.84/1
2015 - Jordan Spieth - tied for the lead with three others 3.3512/5

In-Play Tactics

Last year's renewal was a good demonstration of how a US Open tends to pans out. As many as 22 players were under-par after the opening round but as the course firmed up and the conditions got harder the scoring rose and by the end of the week, the number of players under-par had fallen to one. DeChambeau was the only player to break par on Sunday and he was the only one to finish the week under-par.

This major tends to be an almighty grind, making headway up the leaderboard as the week progresses is incredibly tough, and up with the pace is where you need to be in a US Open. DeChambeau sat second after rounds two and three last year and he was the seventh US Open winner in-a-row, and the 11th in 13 years, to sit first or second with a round to go. And the last 22 US Opens have been won by someone within four strokes of the lead.

Bryson DeChambeau wins US Open.jpg

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.

Back in 2008 at Torrey Pines, Stuart Appleby, who shot 79-75 over the weekend to finish tied for 36th, had led by a stroke at halfway but the two playoff protagonists, Woods and Mediate, sat tied for second and just one off the lead. Tiger led by a stroke over the eventual third, Lee Westwood, with a round to go, and Mediate sat third, trailing by two.

I'll look at the past stats in the In-play Blog but concentrating on the leaders is the way to go.

Market Leaders

Despite his subsequent withdrawal due to a positive COVID test, Jon Rahm has been at the head of the US Open market ever since his incredible third round at The Memorial Tournament, which saw him scoot six clear of the field.

Rahm's first victory on the PGA Tour was in the Farmers Insurance Open back in 2017 and he's fared well at Torrey Pines since, producing course form figures that now read 1-29-5-2-7, but his US Open form, which reads 23-MC-MC-3-23, isn't brilliant, although his standout performance, third in 2019, came at another Californian coastal track - Pebble Beach.


Having won the US Masters last year, world number one, Dustin Johnson, is now in search of his third major championship and his second US Open title. DJ won the 2016 edition at Oakmont.

DJ's Farmers Insurance Open form figures, that read 37-19-MC-3-43-51-MC-18-MC, aren't anything to write home about but since making his US Open debut here in 2008 (finished tied for 48th), he's become something of a specialist in this major, with figures reading 48-40-8-23-MC-55-4-2-1-MC-3-35-6 and the fact that he's found a bit of form this week is a big plus.

Johnson hasn't been close to his best since winning in Saudi Arabia in February but he hit a low of 1.454/9 on Friday when he tied the lead at the Palmetto Championship with a couple of holes to play. He's drifted since after a disappointing third round yesterday but it's been an encouraging performance so far.

Like DJ, the defending champ, Bryson DeChambeau, hasn't been at his best of late and since finishing third at the Players Championship, one week after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, he's managed just one top-ten finish.

He's missed the cut in his two outings at Torrey Pines in the Farmers Insurance and his ongoing feud with the fourth favourite, Brooks Koepka, isn't helping his game.

Koepka missed the cut in the Palmetto Championship and like Bryson, his Torrey Pines form is poor, reading 41-MC-MC, but don't be surprised to see him primed and ready come Thursday.

Having won the US Open back-to-back in 2017 and 2018, and having finished second to Gary Woodland at Pebble Beach, he was forced to miss the event last year through injury, so he's clearly a US Open specialist and having finished runner-up to Phil Mickelson in the USPGA Championship last month, a major he also won back-to-back (2018-19), he's the man for the majors.

Missing the weekend this week may transpire to be a plus and he missed the cut in Texas the week before the USPGA Championship too so it's certainly not a big negative but there's no denying he was a bit disappointing in round four at Kiawah Island after he'd hit odds-on after birdying the first in round four.

Selections

Xander Schauffele was my ante-post pick at Christmas and he was the last man standing in Dave's 10-year trends piece so I'm more than happy to stick with the San Diego native.

Xander's US Open form figures read an impressive 5-6-3-5 and he was the only man to press Hideki Matsuyama in round four of the US Masters in April so the stars appear to be aligning nicely for him to bag his first major championship.

Schauffele's Torrey Pines form is largely poor, reading MC-MC-MC-25-MC-2, but he ranked first for Scrambling when finishing second to Reed in January and he topped the Greens In Regulation stats last time out when finishing 11th in The Memorial Tournament.

Another of my ante-post picks, Justin Rose, has been quite lightly raced this year but he's finished inside the top-eight in the year's first two majors and he's both a US Open winner and a Torrey Pines winner.

Justin rose US Open.jpg

Rose won the US Open at Merion in 2013 and he won the Farmers in 2019. I'm somewhat concerned by his slight lack of length off the tee but at 70.069/1 that's more than factored into his price.

Selections:
Xander Schauffele @ 24.023/1
Justin Rose @ 70.069/1

I'll be back later in the week with the Find Me a 100 Winner column and a look at the side markets.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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