Betting on any golf tournament is often as much about eliminating players from consideration as it is about who to back – and this is especially so in Majors and even more especially so in Majors where there is a longstanding tradition of making par a challenging number.
What follows is an attempt to logically and progressively cull the field to produce a shortlist of 20 players from whom who I reckon the winner will emerge.
I’ll then rank that elite group in order, to commence the process trying to identify betting value.
We start with 156 players, as is traditional. Since this is the most open of opens, in terms of the breadth of its entry opportunities, there is a high percentage of players for whom, while this may be the week of a lifetime, there exists no chance of winning! I believe that % is 50%.
So, this first cull removes all amateurs as in the modern era no amateur wins a Major. Incidentally, the last amateur to win a US Open was John Goodman; no, not Dan Conner, Roseanne’s husband! Haven’t heard of John? Well, that’s fair enough as he won in 1933.
At this point we also drop those tour players who didn’t make the field on their rankings.
This cull, sadly, removes sectional qualifiers from 11 events around the USA plus the two international qualifying events: in Japan & England. My logic here is that those pro’s who qualified this way haven’t been playing sufficiently well, as evidenced by their engagement in a regional qualifier, to win a Major on one of the world’s toughest courses against the likes of Tiger, Phil, Rory, Ernie, Brandt, etc.
Yes, I’m aware that Michael Campbell qualified regionally prior to winning in 2005 (I backed him) but in my opinion he’s simply the exception who proves this rule.
One of my favourite players and one who I believe will crack the world’s Top10 within a few years, Hideki Matsuyama, thus disappears though he would have been culled later anyway because he is Japanese (see below). The almost equally promising Jung-Gon Hwang also disappears from our radar at this point.
The likes of Paul Casey, David Howell & Jose Maria Olazabal are also lost at this point. Some may believe Casey has legitimate claims for inclusion among the chances but his US Open history, when he was a much better player than he is in 2013, is mediocre; in the past 10 years he’s played 9 Opens for 10th, 15th, 40th, 65th, WD & 4xMC’s.
We’re thus quickly down to just 75 players, so the cull is certainly well underway! The group of 75 is:
VAN PELT Bo
Next to get the chop are those players who made ‘the 75’ but whose form in recent times has simply not been good enough for them to remain under serious consideration henceforth.
Here I’m referring to the likes of: Michael Campbell, Stewart Cink, George Coetzee, Darren Clarke, Nicolas Colsaerts, Jamie Donaldson, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Robert Garrigus, Branden Grace, Padraig Harrington, John Huh, Thongchai Jaidee, Paul Lawrie, Geoff Ogilvy, John Peterson, John Senden, Marcel Siem, Richard Sterne, David Toms, Casey Wittenberg & YE Yang.
Old man Roger Chapman, a winner of consecutive Senior Majors last year, also clearly must be ditched at this point.
So, now we’re down to a list of 51.
The Fourth Cull
This is a two-dimensional cull, based on nationality & US Open pedigree.
By nationality, I refer to nations that, despite having a welter of quality players and development programmes, have never produced Major champions. This includes Sweden, Italy, Japan, Denmark, etc and removes: Thorbjorn Olesen, Freddie Jacobson, Peter Hanson, Francesco Molinari, Henrik Stenson, Matteo Manassero, etc. at this point.
Why is this ‘nationality failure’ so? I don’t know! One might expect ‘excitable’ Latino temperaments to crumble under pressure but Spain & Argentina have given us Olazabal, Ballesteros & Cabrera while Italy has given us no winners.
Scandinavia has produced Bjorn, Stenson, Karlsson, Pettersson, Parnevik, etc but only the Swedish Ladies have got it done in the heat of Major battle: Annika Sorenstam, Helen Alfredsson, Liselotte Neumann & Anna Nordqvist. Reflecting on these names, perhaps it’s a Swedish hoodoo and Olesen can break my alleged Scando curse?
By US Open pedigree, I refer to players who have played a reasonable number of US Opens but achieved nothing of note, and mostly abject failure, in the majority of those appearances, players such as: Adam Scott, Bill Haas, DA Points, KJ Choi, Kevin Streelman, Luke Donald, Martin Laird, Nick Watney, Rickie Fowler & Zach Johnson.
While all these players are perhaps capable of contending at some Majors (and Scott & Zach have already won one each) it seems the uniquely tough demands of US Opens are beyond them and there’s certainly no reason to think Merion might treat them any more leniently than past Opens!
So, now we’re down to a list of 35 contenders and it’s time to get really choosy! Who disappears next from this list?
VAN PELT Bo
The Fifth Cull
This cull is also multi-dimensional, including issues such as: temperament, ability, form and age. On the temperament front, several players readily present their heads for the chopping block:
Sergio Garcia is probably the most pure talent never to win a Major and his recent capitulation to Tiger Woods at The Players Championship, and some of the verbals which ensued, probably guarantee he’ll never in future be allowed to concentrate hard enough to win a Major on US soil?
Lee Westwood has built up a fantastic US Open resumé, doubtless due to his excellent driving, but now at age 40 it seems his time has passed and that Major victory will forever elude him. Also, he hasn’t beaten a decent field, despite a few asian wins, for three years.
Jim Furyk has an even better US Open resumé than Westwood and his record over the past 10 Opens (a win, two seconds, a 4th and only one missed cut) exactly matches Tiger’s over the same period!
However, he has tossed away a few tournaments down the stretch in recent times, including, arguably, the 2012 US Open, and at age 43 his window of opportunity may also be closing. He hasn’t won anywhere since 2010.
Steve Stricker has seemed ageless for the better part of two decades but is now 46 and it’s impossible to contemplate that he’d win his first Major at such an advanced age. He’s played eight of the past ten Opens and made the cut in all bar one but has never got into contention on Sunday and has only one finish inside the top 15.
Bo Van Pelt has not recaptured his stellar form of 2012 and also has never won a Major in over 20 attempts. In fact, he has just one career Major finish inside the top 10 (Masters 2011). He therefore has to be sacrificed at this point on the basis of lack of performance on the big stages.
Dustin Johnson is an awesomely talented athlete and probably should have won at least two Majors of the 17 he’s contested to date: the 2010 US Open & PGA (remember the 2-stroke club-grounding penalty!).
However, my view is he has not made the most of his talent in recent seasons and in particular, his US Open performances have been ordinary with only one top20 – in 2010 when he probably should have won after leading into the final round by three strokes and then shooting 82! Not the first time he led into Sunday and blew it (cf 2011 WGC-Cadillac) and perhaps also related to the fact that nearly half his career wins have come in weather-shortened events with no final round Sunday stress!
Several players have been in fantastic form of late but have no Major pedigree and seem unlikely to change that at a challenging layout like Merion. So, on the basis of lack of ability to produce in the big ones, we next need to lose:
Tim Clark has a good US Open pedigree with four top20’s in the past 10 years but, as always, he presents that naggingly repetitive inability to win; this trait seems highly unlikely to change at age 37 and in his 39th Major attempt.
Billy Horschel has come of age in 2013 with a string of solid performances, culminating with a win in New Orleans (his only career win to date, on any tour). This will be his first Major as a pro, having missed the cut in 2006 after qualifying as the US Amateur strokeplay medalist; he shot 60:78 to win that!
He’s been to QSchool three of the past four years and missed the cut at The Players in his first start after his big win and fair enough too! In The Memorial this week he was a so-so 41st. For me, the jury’s still out on Billy and having just turned 26 I suspect his best is ahead of him but I don’t see that ‘best’ including a Major win in 2013.
Louis Oosthuizen is somewhat of an enigma to me. His Open Championship win in 2010 was majestic, and mature beyond his years, but he simply hasn’t kicked on from there. His Masters playoff loss to Bubba Watson in 2012 must have been heartbreaking and he was in contention several times for PGA titles later in the season but somehow always found a way to lose on Sundays. He’s good but he doesn’t make the Top20 cut here.
Scott Piercy is a better player today than in his past US Open appearances, which yielded nothing: two missed cuts and a 51st. However, to my mind he simply does not drive the ball well enough to ever contend at Merion. This year, for example, he ranks 155th in driving accuracy and 124th in GIR on the PGA Tour.
Ian Poulter had a tremendous 2012, highlighted by his inspirational Ryder Cup play as well as a WGC win and top10’s in 3 Majors. However, his form in recent months has been mediocre by comparison, he’s never won a Major in over 40 attempts nor has he ever won a strokeplay tournament on US soil.
His US Open history is only so-so; he’s played nine of the past ten Opens without achieving a top10 so, combined with the other boxes he doesn’t tick, he gets the cut here.
Russell Henley is a class act and developing quickly into a future Major winner. He’s already played two US Opens and ,made the cut both times, including in 2010 when he finished 16th as an amateur!
He won twice to finish off his WebCom season in 2012 then won his first PGA start of 2013, in Hawaii. Since that time he’s been up and down and life on tour may be taking a bit of a toll so I see 2013 as a year or two early for him to begin his Major collection.
Lucas Glover is a former US Open winner but outside that victory he has been a non-event in Majors for most of his career. He was injured early in 2012 and it was a year before he made a top10 (Honda, Feb2013) and he secured another 4th recently in New Orleans.
However, despite these recent signs of life there’s been nothing in his game in recent years to suggest he’s up to beating the best at a place like Merion on a testing Sunday afternoon so he gets the chop at this point.
Boo Weekley has got his mojo back in 2013 after a long period in the golfing doldrums, with a Tampa Bay 2nd and a win at Colonial. The past 10 years he’s only qualified to play 3xUS Opens where he missed one cut and secured a pair of 26th placings.
He’s been a true late-developer as he only turned pro in 1998 and he’s almost 40 now yet didn’t win his first title until 2007! Tough to discard, he ranks 21st with me.
The End Result
That’s the final cull completed and my list of the 20 remaining players I think have the best chances of winning this year’s US Open is complete.
Here they are in order of how strongly I rate their winning chances along with their Betfair prices today (Monday 3 June):
1 Tiger Woods 5.80
2 Rory McIlroy 19.50
3 Matt Kuchar 26.00
4 Charl Schwartzel 36.00
5 Brandt Snedeker 29.00
6 Graeme McDowell 34.00
7 Justin Rose 32.00
8 Keegan Bradley 50.00
9 Phil Mickelson 34.00
10 Bubba Watson 100.00
11 Webb Simpson 75.00
12 Jason Day 50.00
13 Ernie Els 100.00
14 Jason Dufner 80.00
15 Hunter Mahan 70.00
16 Martin Kaymer 110.00
17 Angel Cabrera 85.00
18 Marc Leishman 200.00
19 Michael Thompson 150.00
20 Kevin Chappell 80.00
Cheers and good luck with your punting!
© Copyright Mike J Miller: 9 June 2013
Historical Note: Justin Rose won from Phil Mickelson & Jason Day.