The second major of the year gets underway this week in New York, as Shinnecock Hills Golf Club plays host to the 118th U.S Open Championship. A field of 156 players will battle it out in the event that is well known for its severe difficulty. Despite the full field, only the top 60 and ties will advance to the weekend, which deviates away from the usual top 70 and ties at almost every other PGA Tour event.
The last US Open to be hosted at Shinnecock Hills was back in 2004, where Retief Goosen took the title finishing at 4 under par. Goosen was just one of two players that year to finish in red numbers.
At last year's US Open, Brooks Koepka prevailed at Erin Hills to win his maiden major, posting a total of 16 under par to triumph by four strokes.
Should a playoff be required this year, it will be a two-hole aggregate playoff, with the USGA deciding to abolish the traditional 18-hole playoff earlier this year.
The Course: Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
Due to alterations to the course back in 2012, Shinnecock Hills will play and look different to when it last hosted the US Open. For starters, this is a much longer golf course than it was back then. One of the significant changes made to the course was the addition of over 400 yards length, and it now measures 7,440 yards long. The fact that this is a par 70 accentuates the difficulty, and there's no doubt that distance off the tee will be a huge advantage this week.
Another significant change was the removal of a plethora of trees that surrounded the course. The result now is that Shinnecock Hills is completely exposed and if heavy wind arrives then we could be in for carnage. The course will play fast and firm, and although the fairways are slightly wider than usual at a US Open, it is essential to find them as heavy rough and fescue awaits wayward drives.
Prices listed as of Tuesday afternoon; subject to change
Dustin Johnson, who just strolled to victory at the St. Jude Classic to reclaim the World Number 1 ranking, is the rightful favorite as he looks to win his second US Open title. However, with that victory, all value in Johnson's price evaporated, and he looks set to go off in the single digits. Regarding value at the top of the market, Justin Thomas did catch my eye, someone who the market continually undervalues, and at 16/1 it's not difficult to make a case for him considering his high level of play all year.
Instead, however, I have gone with a man who's coming into a major championship about as unpopular with bettors as I can remember. Jordan Spieth has an awful lot of people to prove wrong, but there's reason to believe he can do just that. Spieth's year has been a frustrating one thus far; his excellent long game has gone unrewarded thanks to the worst short game stretch of his career. Though Spieth is someone you should never count out of any major championship. He entered the Masters this year with putting woes that suddenly vanished as he came agonisingly close to capturing a second green jacket.
Concerning his play in majors, Spieth has the lowest scoring average over the past five years of anyone in these events. He thrives in the cauldron of these elite championships and his level of play this year does not justify him going off at the number he is at right now. The 2015 US Open champion is fourth this season for strokes gained-tee to green, and second for greens in regulation percentage, hitting 71.98 percent of greens in regulation.
Spieth also loves long and challenging golf courses. Over his career on courses longer than 7,400 yards, he ranks second, and he leads the field in scoring on par-70 golf courses. Additionally, Spieth is excellent on tracks where the score is difficult relative to par, and over his career, he ranks first on such courses. All of this will be of little use should his putter still fail him this week. Over his previous 24 rounds, Spieth ranks a dismal 114th in this field for strokes gained-putting. At 18/1 with ten places, Jordan Spieth leads off my outright bets for this week.
Despite possessing on paper the perfect game for US Opens, Henrik Stenson has never excelled in them. Stenson has just two top-20 finishes in his career at this event; however, the signs are there that the Swede could make a significant impact at Shinnecock Hills.
Last week in Memphis, Stenson continued his impressive play tee to green. Stenson was sixth in last weeks field for strokes gained tee to green, and for his previous 12 rounds he is ninth in the same category, and even more impressively he ranks fourth in ball striking. Stenson is also first this season for greens in regulation percentage, which bodes very well for the tough test ahead this week.
Further, Stenson is first this season for strokes gained-approaching the green, and his iron play has been trending positively over his previous three events, which suggests that he may be close to hitting peak form. With 12 par 4s in play this week, par-4 performance will be crucial, another category which Stenson has excelled in all year. He is tied first for the season for par four scoring average, and over his last 24 rounds, he ranks eighth in par four performance for holes measuring over 450 yards, of which there are six this week. At 35/1 and seven places on offer, he looks overpriced to have a big week.
With five top-10 finishes this year, including a brilliant win at the WGC-Mexico, Phil Mickelson comes into this year's US Open in his best form in years. Lefty has suffered so much heartbreak over the years at the US Open, the elusive major that has prevented him from completing the career grand slam. But so far as US Open courses go, Shinnecock Hills may be the perfect fit for Mickelson.
The main reason Mickelson has some doubters this week is his driving accuracy. A part of his game which has always been an issue. But Mickelson has proven that he can get by with errant driving at this venue. He finished T-4 here back in 1995 and solo second in 2004. Shinnecock Hills suits Mickelson, who is always a massive threat on courses that fit his eye.
The last two events have been very positive tune-ups for Mickelson too. He's recorded back-to-back top-20 finishes entering this year's US Open and is 11th in strokes gained-total for that period. Mickelson's putting is a massive asset this week too, as he comes into the event ranked second for strokes gained-putting for the season. At 35/1 with seven places on offer, it's well worth backing a resurgent Mickelson to perform at an event which he is desperate to win.
He scraped into the event through sectional qualifying, but Adam Scott's elite ball-striking should allow him to have a decent week around Shinnecock Hills. Despite having little chance of winning the event, a top-20 finish at 3/1 looks a bit on the large side. Scott ranks second in this field for ball striking and third for strokes gained-tee to green over his last 12 rounds. The Australian has played a lot of golf as of late, and it has undoubtedly benefited his long game that appears to be razor sharp entering this championship.
Even though the putter is stifling him massively, Scott has still recorded two top-20 finishes in his previous four events, and from his past four US Opens, he would have landed this particular bet three times in that period. At Memorial, Scott produced his best performance of the year both off the tee and with his approach play, and the Australian is third for greens in regulation percentage for the season. With his ball striking close to its notorious best, Scott should be able to claim another top-20 finish at this event for himself.
Another man who struggles mightily with the flat-stick is Keegan Bradley. But just like Scott, Bradley's long game has been incredibly impressive all year. Over his last 24 rounds, Bradley ranks fifth in this field for strokes gained-approaching the green and 18th in ball striking. While his recent form is even more impressive, ranking fifth in ball striking and fourth in strokes gained-tee to green over his past eight rounds. Despite all this, Bradley only has one top-20 finish in his last ten events, which is a concern. But his recent play shows that his game is where it needs to be, and the length of the course combined with the demand on premium ball striking makes him a bet at 11/2.
72 Hole Match Bets
For those of you who find Dustin Johnson's outright price a little short, one way to have him onside is through some match-up bets. One I particularly like is the 5/6 on offer for him to beat Rory McIlroy over 72 holes. Johnson is striping it currently. He's first in ball striking and strokes gained-total for his last 12 rounds, and he has finished in the top-5 in three of the previous four U.S Opens. Mcilroy, on the other hand, is well known to prefer wet golf courses and the fast and firm conditions that Shinnecock is likely to provide combined with the fact that he has missed the cut at the last two US Opens doesn't bode well for him. Considering that Johnson is half the price of McIlroy in the outrights it seems strange that they are both 5/6 in a head-to-head 72-hole match-up on SkyBet and a price which I don't think will last all the way up to Thursday.
In his 12 starts on Tour this year, Rickie Fowler has recorded three top-10 finishes and has missed three cuts. In Justin Thomas' 10 starts this year, he has a victory and another three top-10 finishes with no missed cuts. Thomas has finished no worse than 22nd all year and has won six times on the PGA Tour in the past 16 months, while Fowler has won four times in his career. Over their past 24 rounds, Thomas ranks first in strokes gained-tee to green, third in ball striking and second in strokes gained-total. In the same categories, Fowler sits 37th, 42nd and 14th respectively. At 20/23 with Boylesports, it's not a difficult choice to fade Fowler against a player of Justin Thomas' calibre.
Finally, Bubba Watson's US Open record is abysmal for such a gifted player. Whatever it is about the set up of these events he doesn't like them and the left-hander comes into this week having missed four of his last six US Open cuts with his best finish in that period being a T-32 back in 2013. I'm going to lean on Scott's excellent long game and consistent US Open record to overcome Watson this week at 17/20. The Australian has made five of his last six US Open cuts and has recorded four Top-20 finishes in that period.
2018 US Open recommended bets
Outright Winner (All Each Way)
- Jordan Spieth 18/1 (10 places, PaddyPower)
- Henrik Stenson 35/1 (7 places, Betfred)
- Phil Mickelson 35/1 (7 places, Betfred)
Top 20 Finish
- Adam Scott 3/1 (PaddyPower)
- Keegan Bradley 11/2 (Boylesports)
72 Hole Match Bets
- Dustin Johnson over Rory Mcilroy 5/6 (SkyBet)
- Justin Thomas over Rickie Fowler 20/23 (Boylesports)
- Adam Scott over Bubba Watson 17/20 (BetVictor)