US Open

2023 US Open: The Punter's in-depth preview

Golfer Matt Fitzpatrick
A very happy Matt Fitzpatrick after winning the US Open last year

We're off to Los Angeles for the third major of the year and Betfair's golf betting expert Steve Rawlings is here nice and early with his preview ahead of the 123rd US Open...

  • Riviera form could be key at Los Angeles Country Club

  • Greens In Regulation and SG T2G the stats to ponder

  • Recent form vital at the year's third major


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 US PGA Championship moved from August to May, it's now the third of four.

This year's US Open is the 123rd edition and it's to be staged around the North Course at the Los Angeles Country Club for the first time.

Venue

The North Course, Los Angeles Country Club.

Course Details

Par 70, 7,423 yards

The Los Angeles Country Club first came into existence in 1897 and a nine-hole course called the Windmill Links was laid out.

The club soon became overcrowded so it was moved and another nine hole track was laid out called the Convent Links but by the spring of 1899, this course and clubhouse had also become too restricted for play so the club moved for a third and final time.

The clubhouse was moved intact to the new site and an 18-hole course was laid out before a second 18 was added by club member, George Clifford Thomas Jr, in 1921 under the supervision of Herbert Fowler - the man responsible for Walton Heath and the redesign of the iconic 18th hole at Pebble Beach.

In 1927, Thomas and William P. Bell (the father of Torrey Pines designer, William F Bell), reworked the North Course.

Over time the course changed somewhat, lots of trees were planted, and it lost its original feel so in 2010 Gill Hanse, with the assistance of Thomas biographer, Geoff Shackelford, restored the course to its original Thomas ethos.

The video linked in the below tweet, which includes extensive conversations with Hanse and Shackelford is fabulous and gives a real feel for the venue. It looks like we're in for a treat.

This will be the first time that the North Course has been used for a major championship but it was the host course for the inaugural Los Angeles Open (now the genesis Invitational) in 1926 and it staged that event on four further occasions between 1934 and 1940.

The fairways are laid to Tifway II bermudagrass and the greens are Pure Distinction Creeping Bentgrass.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 15:00 on Thursday.

Last 12 Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

  • 2022 - Matt Fitzpatrick -6 32.031/1
  • 2021 - Jon Rahm -6 12.011/1
  • 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 20.019/1

What Will it Take to Win the US Open?

We clearly don't have any previous course form to ponder but we can look back at the stats from previous editions for clues.

The US Open is a nomadic event, played at different courses every year, but the USGA tend to set-up the courses similarly tough.

We've had a couple of instances over the last 12 years 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 12 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 six 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. That event delivered another over-par winning score but the last three winners have all posted a six-under-par total and I'm sure the USGA would be delighted with something similar this time around.

Here are the average rankings of the last ten US Open winners in all the traditional main categories.

Driving Accuracy - 21.5

Driving Distance - 13.3

Greens In Regulation - 4

Scrambling - 12

Putting Average - 17.1

Last year's winner, Matt Fitzpatrick ranked fifth for Driving Accuracy and only 16th for Driving Distance and long and straight is obviously ideal but ordinarily length is 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 (the straighter hitters tend to be the shorter hitters).

In contrast, the bigger 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. No golfer has ever highlighted that better than Bryson DeChambeau at Winged Foot in 2020.

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.

Only six winners in the last 20 years have ranked higher for accuracy off the tee than they have for length and 13 of the last 20 winners have ranked inside the top-ten for DD, compared to just six inside the top-ten for DA.

It really does make sense to favour length over accuracy at this major and it's worth noting that prior to his victory, Fitzpatrick had worked really hard to add length to his game.

The North Course is quite wide so I suspect length will be particularly advantageous this year.

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 traditional stats to consider and the last four results have highlighted that perfectly.

Fitzpatrick only ranked 36th for Scrambling but he hit more greens than anyone else, the 2021 winner, Jon Rahm ranked fourth for GIR and third for Scrambling, DeChambeau ranked fifth for GIR and third for Scrambling in 2020 and four years ago, Gary Woodland ranked second for GIR and first for Scrambling.

There have only been Strokes Gained figures produced for the last four US Opens and as is the case most weeks, the most important metric has been SG Tee-to-Green.

Here are the average Strokes Gained rankings, with the average number of strokes gained in each SG category by the winners over the last four years.

SG Tee - 7.75 (ranking average) 3.917 (strokes gained average)

SG Approach - 6.25 (ranking average) 6.78 (strokes gained average)

SG Around the Green - 15.5 (ranking average) 3.446 (strokes gained average)

SG Tee to Green - 3.25 (ranking average) 14.07 (strokes gained average)

SG Putting - 21.75 (ranking average) 3.731 (strokes gained average)

One interesting thing to note, especially if you're keen on the favourite, Scottie Scheffler, is that the four winners have ranked only fourth, 20th, 21st and 42nd for SG Putting.

That's broadly in-line with the Putting Average stats and it highlights that this major is not all about putting.

Is There an Angle In?

The only other Bell and Thomas design used on the PGA Tour is Riviera - the host course for the Genesis Invitational - so that's an event to scrutinise.

It's impossible to know whether the two courses will correlate really well but I suspect they will.

Riviera, which stages the Genesis every February (formerly the Los Angeles Open), has produced a ridiculously strong rollcall of winners with the 2021 US Open winner, Jon Rahm, taking the title four months ago.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

The US Open produces more than its fair share of event specialists.

Andy North 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.

An out-of-form Brooks Koepka finished 55th last year when on the verge of joining LIV and he missed the 2020 edition through injury, but he finished first, first, second and fourth in the four US Opens he played in before last year.

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.

The first two majors of 2023 have gone the way of Rahm and Koepka, who had both won majors previously, but 20 of the last 31 (65%) major championships have gone to a first-time major winner and if we look at this major in isolation, six of the last seven 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 44 of the last 45 majors have gone to someone inside the top-50. Phil Mickelson's shock win at the 2021 US PGA Championship is the odd one out.

It's never easy to know what tactic to employ in the week before a major. To play or not to play, that is the question.

Fitzpatrick played in the Canadian Open the week before last year and he finished tenth but the three winners before him and seven of the last 11 winners, all took the week off before winning this major.

A recent high finish looks a very solid pointer

Whether the winner has teed it up the week before or not, the chances are they're going to have been placed recently and as many as eight of the last 10 winners have posted a top-15 finish in one or both of their previous two starts.

US Opens are really tough, and you simply can't just rock up and find your game from nowhere. Last year's edition demonstrates this perfectly.

Collin Morikawa, who was matched at a low of 3.7511/4, had finished fifth at the US Masters back in April, but he and Adam Hadwin were the only players in the top-nine not to have a top-five finish in any of their previous four outings.

And one could reasonably argue that it was Morikawa's lack of current form that caught him out in the tough conditions on Saturday when he fell from tied first to tied 17th thanks to a dreadful 77 in round three.

Hadwin had been an alternate at Brookline 12 months ago and he only got in because Martin Kaymer withdrew. His current form wasn't anything to write home about, but he did have three top-tens in-a-row in March and April.

Here are the form figures for the top-nine prior to the off.

1 Matthew Fitzpatrick - 2-5-MC-10
T2 Will Zalatoris - MC-2-MC-5
T2 Scottie Scheffler - 15-MC-2-18
4 Hideki Matsuyama - W-14-3-60
T5 Collin Morikawa - 29-55-40-MC
T5 Rory McIlroy - 5-8-18-1
T7 Denny McCarthy - 25-48-27-5
T7 Adam Hadwin - MC-71-18-35
T7 Keegan Bradley - 4-2-48-37

The front three had all finished second in one of their previous four starts and Hideki Matsuyama in fourth had finished third in the Byron Nelson Championship in his penultimate start.

Recent major form a huge plus too

Having finished 10th in the US Masters in April, Fitzpatrick then contended strongly at the US PGA Championship a month before he won this event, finishing fifth behind Justin Thomas at Southern Hills, and he was the ninth US Open winner in ten years to post a top 10 in at least one of their previous two majors.

Very recent form, and recent form in either the US Masters or the US PGA Championship, or better still, both, is a huge plus.

Winner's 54-hole Position and Exchange Price

  • 2022 - Matt Fitzpatrick - tied for the lead with one other 4.3100/30
  • 2021 - Jon Rahm - tied sixth, trailing by three 13.012/1
  • 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 - tied second with two others, trailing by one 5.59/2
  • 2016 - Dustin Johnson - tied second with one other, trailing by four 4.84/1
  • 2015 - Jordan Spieth - tied for the lead with three others 3.3512/5

In-Play Tactics

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.

Looking at last year's edition, Fitzpatrick was never more than three adrift in-between rounds, and he was the 12th winner in 15 years to sit first or second with a round to go. Denny McCarthy was the only player inside the top-nine, that was any further than four back after the opening round.

The 2021 winner, Rahm, sat tied for sixth and three off the lead with a round to go but that was as far back as he'd been all week long and most winners are in the van throughout.

The last 24 US Opens 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.

I'll look at the past stats in plenty of detail in the In-play Blog once we're underway but concentrating on the leaders is the way to go.

The finish to the North Course looks particularly tough so if someone does come from slightly off the pace, they'll have quite an advantage being in the clubhouse over anyone with two or three holes to play.

Hanse describes the finish as "Tough, tough, tough" and I'm not surprised. The last three holes are all par fours and they measure 542, 520 and 490 yards.

Market Leaders

The world number one, Scottie Scheffler, hasn't finished outside the top-12 all year and with recent form figures reading 5-2-3-3, he's playing some ridiculously good golf from tee-to-green.

He finished third at the Memorial Tournament last time out (beaten by a stroke) where he topped the Stroke Gained stats for every category apart from Putting and here lies the big problem.

Since ranking 12th for SG Putting when defending his Phoenix Open title in February, 28th a week later at Riviera, when he finished 12th, is his best performance with the flatstick, and in his last two starts he's ranked 70th and 65th.

He lost 4.563 strokes to the field at the Charles Schwab, where he finished third, and he ended the week at the Memorial with a -8.503 figure! Looking at the traditional stats, he's ranked 49th and 51st for Putting Average and 61st and 62nd for Putts Per Round in his last two starts.

As highlighted above, a really strong week with the putter hasn't been essential in this major but the last four winners (since Strokes Gained data has been available) have still all finished the week with a positive SG Putting figure.

Will Scheffler find the required improvement on the greens, whilst maintaining his remarkable long game? If he does, odds of around 8/19.00 on the Betfair Exchange will look huge but it's a sizable if.

In contrast to Scheffler, this year's US Masters winner and the 2021 US Open champ, world number two, Jon Rahm, has lost his way a bit of late.

Rahm's victory at Riviera in February has to be viewed as a huge plus (Scheffler's best finish there is seventh in 2022), as, of course, does his victory at Augusta, but since just coming up shy when defending his Mexico Open title, two weeks after winning the Masters, the Spaniard has finished 50th in the US PGA Championship and only 16th in the Memorial Tournament, around a venue (Muirfield Village) that he adores.

Brooks Koepka has played Riviera four times in total and his form figures there read an uninspiring MC-43-38-MC and that's a possible negative if form between the two Thomas tracks translates but, if it is a negative, it's arguably the only one.

Koepka's recent US Open form figures reading 1-1-2-4-55 are extremely strong and we can disregard his 55th last year as his form was awful at the time.

Having failed to convert a two-stroke 54-hole lead at Augusta, Koepka ticked over on the LIV Golf Tour, finishing 11th third and fifth, before winning his third US PGA Championship at Oak Hill last month and we can completely disregard his 12th placed finish the following week on the LIV Tour as celebrations will have hindered his preparations greatly.

The 33-year-old Floridian was back to his stone-cold killer best at Oak Hill and it would be no surprise to anyone if he were to win his third US Open title this week.

In contrast to Koepka, whose victory in the US PGA Championship may well have been instrumental in bringing about the changes, I initially thought that the LIV, PGA, and DP World Tour merger would likely have hugely negative ramifications on Rory McIlroy's game.

Having been a staunch critic of the Saudi-backed LIV Tour from the get-go, which he reiterated prior to this week's Canadian Open by saying he hates LIV, I thought the merger was highly likely to have a detrimental effect on the five-time major winner, and that this may not be the week that he finally wins his sixth.

But he also said prior to his Canadian Open defence that he will block all the merger news out and concentrate fully on his game, and that appears to be doing the trick as he's tied second - at the time of writing - going into the final round in Canada.

It's now a dozen years since Rory's sole US Open win and nine years since he won his fifth, although he has finished inside the top-ten in each of the last four US Opens.

Rory is the only market leader teeing it up in Canada and he has a very good chance of defending the title, which bodes very well for the aforementioned 'high finish is key' metric, especially given he also contended last week.

Prior to this week, Rory had inconsistent 2023 form figures reading 1-32-29-2-MC-3-MC-47-7-7 and his form at Riviera reads 20-20-4-5-MC-10-29.

Those numbers aren't terrific but he led the 2020 edition of the Genesis with a round to go and I've always felt the track suits him far better than his figures suggest so he may well take to the North Course, and his play in Canada this week has been very encouraging.

Viktor Hovland has been a big market mover since his playoff success last time out at the Memorial Tournament and he looks ready to pick up his first major having contended in each of the last two - finishing seventh in the US Masters and second to Koepka at Oak Hill.

With Riviera form figures reading 5-4-20, the North Course should suit him nicely and the world number five looks a perfectly fair price at around 18/119.00.

Selections

I was happy to get Brooks Koepka onside at 13.012/1 and I thought 34.033/1 about fellow LIV rebel, Cam Smith, was reasonable too.

The reigning Open Champion has been ticking along nicely enough on the LIV circuit since his disappointing 34th in the US Masters, producing form figures there reading 3-7-2-9, and he has a pair of top-six finishes at Riviera.

Smith burst onto the global stage when finishing tied for fourth in this event on the last occasion it was staged at a new venue, in 2015, and when looking at the North Course for the first time, the quirky 2015 host course, Chambers Bay, came to mind.

Smith started slowly at the US PGA Championship last month, but he signed off the event with a five-under-par 65 to climb into the top-ten and I was happy to take 34.033/1 about him here.

I'll be back on Tuesday and/or Wednesday with a look at the outsiders with the Find Me a 100 Winner column and I'll also look at the myriad of side markets.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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