U.S. Open

U.S. Open 2019: Assessing every player’s chance of contending at Pebble Beach

Dustin Johnson plays his shot from the 18th tee during the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links on February 09, 2019 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

By Stephen Hennessey and Christopher Powers
Part of the U.S. Open’s romanticism and charm is that pretty much anybody with a good enough game can qualify. Sign up for a local qualifier, make it to sectionals and then earn your spot into the big tournament—and you have a chance to compete for our nation’s championship. The thing is, though, that while you might have a chance to make it to the big show, the odds of you winning are … well, they’re not in your favour, son. Gone are the days of Francis Ouimet and an amateur seriously competing to win. Truth is, even a large number of pros teeing it up at this week’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach don’t even have a realistic chance at victory. (Facts is facts.)

We broke down this year’s field—156 players—into various segments based on their likelihood of winning. Sure, there’ll always be a surprise contender: Think Jason Gore at Pinehurst in 2005 or Erik Compton in 2014. And who will be the actual champion at the end of the week? Here’s an idea of who that surprise contender might be—and which of the favourites are most likely to separate themselves from others (all odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook).

TIER 1: The “biggest favourites” tier

Brooks Koepka +750; Dustin Johnson +750; Tiger Woods: 10-1; Rory McIlroy: 12-1.

Oddsmakers have marked this range as the four most likely players to take home the U.S. Open title. And for good reason: At points this season, Brooks Koepka, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have shown their dominance. And Dustin Johnson has the history at Pebble Beach, plus the game to overpower any venue. If you’re entering any sort of pool for the U.S. Open, you’ll likely be starting your picks with one of these players. So how do you pick among them?

Brooks Koepka: If you’ve only watched the biggest events over the past two years, you’d ask yourself: How is Koepka not the runaway favourite? Being a co-favourite with Johnson here isn’t any sort of slight to Koepka. Winning four of the past eight majors has put Koepka in an elite category. And over those eight majors, he has finished worse than 11th only once. It will be a surprise than if he’s not a factor this week, even if he doesn’t have much course history at Pebble Beach, playing only once at the AT&T Pebble Beach, finishing eighth in 2016. That’s probably a reason he isn’t more of a favourite. Also, Koepka ranks 59th in strokes gained/short game in this field over the past 50 rounds. You need a great short game at Pebble given its tiny greens. Those two factors lead us to think Koepka is somewhat vulnerable. His game at the RBC Canadian Open didn’t look as sharp as it did at the PGA Championship. Perhaps the rest of the field has a chance.

Dustin Johnson: Aside from Tiger and his historic 15-stroke romp at Pebble Beach, nobody in this field has the kind of history at this course as DJ—Two wins (2009, 2010), two T-2s (2014 and 2018) and three other top-fives at the AT&T Pebble Beach. Also consider that DJ carried a three-stroke, 54-hole lead at the 2010 U.S. Open (forgetting for a moment the Sunday 82 he shot), and you realize why DJ is on equal footing with Koepka odds-wise. What you might also consider, though, is that DJ is in the process of changing coaches from Claude Harmon III. We’re not exactly sure where his head is at the moment. Fact is, it might not matter at Pebble for DJ, and given he has two runner-up finishes in the first two majors of the year (T-2 at the Masters and a solo second at Bethpage), you’d be silly not to consider DJ.

Tiger Woods: Pebble Beach and Tiger Woods will always be synonymous for one of the greatest sports performances of our lifetime. A 15-shot victory, on a golf course that played so difficult for every other competitor, is mind-blowing. We’ve now seen Tiger’s return to glory with his Masters victory. So how could this legend not contend at Pebble Beach? Tiger’s irons have been a strength all season, currently ranking fourth in this field in strokes gained/approach over the past 50 rounds, according to FantasyNational.com. We know Tiger knows Pebble. The question is: Do we know where Tiger’s game is? He certainly looked sharp in the final round of the Memorial, en route to shooting a 67. That’s enough for us to mostly discount his missed cut at the PGA, where he seemed out of sorts all week. Already at Pebble, Tiger has played a practice round, so he appears more ready to go. A healthy Woods at Pebble having already won the Masters in the same calendar year? That’s a potent recipe.

Rory McIlroy: It must be tough for Rory to hear others questioning his year. The guy won the Players and added the RBC Canadian Open title on Sunday for his second victory of 2019. If Rory brings his game from Canada to Pebble, he might be unbeatable. Rory had total control of his golf ball, and picked up a whopping seven strokes on the rest of the field tee-to-green. What might hold Rory back is his short game—ranking 32nd in strokes gained/short game and 59th in strokes gained/putting, over the past 50 rounds, according to FantasyNational.com. There’s not much course history for Rory at Pebble, either (two missed cuts in two appearances, 2010 U.S. Open and 2018 AT&T). Rory came into the RBC Canadian Open ranked 154th on tour in driving accuracy this season. With the extremely penal rough reportedly awaiting players at Pebble, Rory will need to excel off the tee á l`à last week. Some might discount Rory this week, but we say it’s dangerous to do so.

TIER 2: The “not huge favourites, but an extremely talented crop” tier

Jordan Spieth: 17-1; Patrick Cantlay: 19-1; Justin Rose: 21-1; Justin Thomas: 24-1; Xander Schauffele: 24-1; Jason Day: 29-1; Jon Rahm: 29-1; Rickie Fowler: 29-1; Hideki Matsuyama: 32-1; Tommy Fleetwood: 32-1; Adam Scott: 34-1; Francesco Molinari: 34-1; Tony Finau: 37-1.

This group is best categorized by the following statement: Nobody would be surprised if any of these players were to win. You have more value in this tier than the top four players, too, so let’s dissect who might have the best chance at Pebble:

Patrick Cantlay is coming off the biggest victory of his career at Muirfield Village two weeks ago. Jack’s place is a venue where total control of your golf ball is necessary, and Cantlay had it. Better yet, it’s been season-long thing as you look at his stellar stats over the past 50 rounds: Fourth in strokes gained/ball-striking; fifth in strokes gained/tee-to-green and fifth in strokes gained/approach. Cantlay can be trusted to hit these narrow fairways and give himself opportunities on his approach shots, where he’s top in the world. The one troubling trend for him is his short game and putting, where he’s ranked worse than 50th in each category. But he is second in proximity from 150-175 yards and fourth from 175-200 yards, so that might negate the need to lean on his short game. Out of this range, we like Cantlay to be a factor this week.

Jordan Spieth also appears to be trending toward a breakthrough. He’s coming off three top-10s in his past three starts, including the T-3 at the PGA Championship, but weekend scoring continues to be a struggle for the three-time major champion. Spieth still ranks 116th in this field in strokes gained/off-the-tee in the past 50 rounds, and his proximity stats put him in the second half of this field. We know Spieth is closer than ever to returning to the winner’s circle, but we’re not quite ready to predict a win for the 2015 U.S. Open champ.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Xander Schauffele is someone we’d also rule out for Pebble. The Southern California native should have good vibes back in his home state. But like Rory’s, Schauffele’s struggles with driving accuracy (117th this season) will put him in some tough spots from the thick rough at Pebble. We’d go elsewhere in this tier, like Tommy Fleetwood, who carded a 63 in the final round of last year’s U.S. Open to finish in second, and had a fourth-place showing at Erin Hills. We trust Fleetwood’s iron play over many others in this group. He faltered on the weekend at Bethpage, but Fleetwood has proved to have the game to contend at a U.S. Open. He might not be our pick to win, but he should compete for a top-10 here. He also made a scouting trip in February to Pebble to familiarize himself, which will surely help.

When you talk about control of your golf ball, Francesco Molinari has to be in this conversation. The Italian has proved himself to be one of the elite players in the world the past two years. We’d be surprised not to see his name near the top of the leader board entering the weekend. Same goes with Adam Scott, who finished second to Cantlay at Muirfield Village and has been consistent in the big events over the past year. Scott ranks in the top 10 in strokes gained/approach and 11th in strokes gained/tee-to-green. The putter is no longer a huge weakness, either, as Scott ranks 17th in the past 50 rounds in putting on Poa annua.

Tony Finau and Jon Rahm have the firepower and elite iron play to excel at Pebble, but how will their short games hold up? We’re not sure they’re quite strong enough to contend here. Jason Day, on the other hand, has one of the best short games in the world, so the bigger question is how will his long game hold up? Somewhat shockingly, J-Day has been eerily quiet this season. He ranks 75th in this field in strokes gained/approach and 55th in sg/off-the-tee. So he might be putting too much pressure on his short game at Pebble. If Hideki Matsuyama’s ball-striking is on, he figures to factor at Pebble. Same with Rickie Fowler, whose bugaboo has been a couple blow-up holes in these big events. But he has a balance of ball-striking and short game that would figure to do well at Pebble. Same with Justin Rose, who had a decent week at the PGA Championship. Justin Thomas had a solid week in Canada last week, but he did not show us that his game is entirely where we’d expect it to be during major season, and he’s still working his way back from a wrist injury. We’ll wait to pick him until we see him contending at a bigger event later in the year.

TIER 3: The “not considered a ‘favourite,’ but at least one of these players is likely to contend” tier

Bryson DeChambeau 46-1; Matt Kuchar: 46-1; Phil Mickelson: 46-1; Webb Simpson: 46-1; Paul Casey: 50-1; Shane Lowry: 50-1; Brandt Snedeker: 55-1; Henrik Stenson: 55-1; Martin Kaymer: 65-1; Sergio Garcia: 65-1; Marc Leishman: 70-1;

When looking at this tier, the first names that jump to mind are the players looking for that major breakthrough. Bryson DeChambeau, Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey, Marc Leishman. All have come close in majors, save for Bryson, who opened with a 66 at the Masters in April but eventually tied for 29th. As long as Bryson doesn’t end up in an insane asylum first, the Mad Scientist will win a major, and Pebble Beach could be just the place to do it as it presents such a strategic challenge for him.

David Cannon

Then there’s Kuchar, Casey and Leishman. Will it ever happen? Kuchar and Casey are already in their 40s, though many players conjure up their best golf during that time. Leishman’s got some time before the 4-0, and he has shown enough in majors to prove a breakthrough is coming.

A major has also alluded Brandt Snedeker and Shane Lowry, who both putted beautifully last week at the RBC Canadian Open. As for the trio of Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer, they’ve all got it done in a major before, so they’re always a threat.

No, we didn’t forget about Phil Mickelson. Lefty is still in search of the career Grand Slam, and this could be his last real chance. It would be perhaps too fitting, though, if he pulls it off at Pebble.

RELATED: Will Pebble Beach be Phil Mickelson’s last shot at a U.S. Open?

TIER 4: The “a ton of potential. We bet one of these players will hold a share of the lead at some points, and attempt to hold onto it on the weekend” tier

Graeme McDowell: 75-1; Matt Wallace: 75-1; Gary Woodland: 80-1; Louis Oosthuizen: 80-1; Patrick Reed: 80-1; Kevin Na: 90-1; Branden Grace: 120-1; Bubba Watson: 120-1; Cameron Smith: 120-1; Ian Poulter: 120-1; Jim Furyk: 120-1; Jimmy Walker: 120-1; Kevin Kisner: 120-1.

This is a sneaky, sneaky tier with a ton of great potential. These golfers need to play near perfect golf to fend off some other, more talented foes—but it is definitely possible. We’ll start by highlighting Bubba Watson’s name. 120-1? That seems inordinately high for a two-time Masters champion. Sure, he can be erratic off the tee, so Pebble isn’t the ideal fit for him. But you might say the same about Riviera Country Club, where Bubba is a multiple-time winner. Don’t discount him.

Other players who are dangerous in this category: The ultra accurate Kevin Kisner, winner of the WGC-Dell Match Play in March. Kiz is a bulldog who has contended in a couple majors the past few years. Pebble is a place you’d think he’d be able to compete with the longer hitters (he’s 21st in driving accuracy), and his putting (19th in strokes gained/putting over the past 50 rounds, per Fantasy National), should keep him in the mix.

Ian Poulter might also factor at Pebble. Stats-wise, nothing is really popping for the Englishman over the past couple of months. But he has five top-25 finishes in the past four years. So we like him for, say, a 22nd place this week.

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Matt Wallace might be a better version of his countryman Poulter—someone who can flight the ball and excels ball-striking wise, ranking 30th in strokes gained/tee-to-green and 39th in sg/off-the-tee this season. With a stellar short game to go with it, Wallace also contended a bit at Bethpage. So a leader board appearance wouldn’t be a shocker for Wallace.

Jim Furyk ranks first on tour this season in proximity to the hole and driving accuracy, and he nearly won the Players, so he might contend at Pebble, though his lack of length might rule him out of the winner’s circle. Branden Grace and Gary Woodland might hit the ball too low to hold these small greens. Kevin Na, meanwhile, might be the ultimate sleeper, having just won at Colonial Country Club, a layout where you need total control of your golf ball. Na is also a California native, but he doesn’t have the best Pebble record: two top-five finishes but four missed cuts in 11 appearances. Still, we like how his game looked a couple weeks ago en route to a win, and that should translate to Pebble.

TIER 5: The “these pros are good enough to contend, but they’ll need to play perfect golf in order to contend” tier

Matthew Fitzpatrick: 120-1; Keegan Bradley: 140-1; Daniel Berger: 160-1; Erik Van Rooyen: 160-1; Lucas Glover: 160-1; Rory Sabbatini: 160-1; Si Woo Kim: 160-1; Tyrrell Hatton: 160-1; Emiliano Grillo: 160-1; Zach Johnson: 160-1; Scott Piercy: 160-1; Alex Noren: 190-1; Billy Horschel: 190-1; Charles Howell III: 190-1; Danny Willett: 190-1; Haotong Li: 190-1; J.B. Holmes: 190-1; Jason Dufner: 190-1; Lucas Bjerregaard: 190-1; Luke List: 190-1; Rafael Cabrera Bello: 190-1; Bernd Weisberger: 250-1; C.T. Pan: 260-1; Aaron Wise: 280-1; Byeong Hun An: 280-1; Justin Harding: 280-1; Keith Mitchell: 280-1; Kiradech Aphibarnrat: 280-1; Joel Dahmen: 350-1; Andrew Putnam: 350-1

Who can actually win a U.S. Open out of this group? Probably only four or five of these guys, which is enough to really like someone to come out of this tier at those odds. Short hitters—Matthew Fitzpatrick, Zach Johnson and Tyrrell Hatton—all have a chance at Pebble Beach. Keegan Bradley will hit enough greens (first in sg/approach at RBC, third on tour overall) to be in the mix if he can roll in a few putts. Both Daniel Berger and Erik Van Rooyen have flashed in majors within the last year, as have Luke List and Justin Harding. Past U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover’s iron play makes him a nice sleeper as well. Same goes for the latest additions to this field, Joel Dahmen and Andrew Putnam. Feels like a nice value to get Putnam, the 50th ranked player in the world, at 350-1 odds. If the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble taught us anything, it’s that a guy from a lower tier like this has just as good of a chance to steal a major as any of the big boys.

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

TIER 6: The “it would be a shock for any of these guys to contend—but not entirely impossible” tier

Kyle Stanley: 280-1; Scottie Scheffler: 280-1; Thomas Pieters: 280-1; Thorbjorn Olesen: 280-1; Abraham Ancer: 350-1; Chez Reavie: 350-1; Jhonattan Vegas: 350-1; K.H. Lee: 350-1; Viktor Hovland: 350-1; Aaron Baddeley: 430-1; Luke Donald: 430-1; Matthew Jones: 430-1; Ollie Schniederjans: 430-1; Ryan Fox: 430-1; Harris English: 430-1; David Toms: 490-1; Anirban Lahiri: 550-1; Brian Stuard: 550-1; Ernie Els: 550-1; Patton Kizzire: 550-1; Roberto Castro: 550-1

We like this tier as more of a “first-round leader” type of bet rather than a crazy long shot. Could Scottie Scheffler, who has had a great season on the Web.com Tour actually win the U.S. Open? Probably not. But could he shoot a low first round to lead? That’s definitely possible. Same goes for Chez Reavie or Thorbjorn Olesen, who won’t shy from the spotlight. Outright bets aren’t going to give you return in this tier, but a top-10 or top-20 bet could—and if you need to fill out a fantasy lineup with one of these guys, then you’ll pay attention to this section.

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Web.com star Scottie Scheffler

Brian Stuard’s iron play has been strong all season, ranking 27th in strokes gained/approach, with a stellar short game, ranking 17th in strokes gained/around the greens. Those are stellar enough to take a flier, though his lack of distance will hold him back. Matt Jones has also proven to be a great wind player and has played decently at times this season. He could be a good bet to make the cut. Same with former World No. 1 Luke Donald, whose form has returned somewhat with a couple top-25s this season. Same with Ollie Schniederjans and Jhonny Vegas, who can be wildly inconsistent, but like we said with this tier: It just takes one good round to cash a bet.

TIER 7: The “there might be a few intriguing names here, but for the most part, it’s not worth it” tier

Luke Guthrie: 550-1; Marcus Kinhult: 550-1; Michael Thorbjornsen: 550-1; Dean Burmester: 550-1; Nick Taylor: 550-1; Sam Horsfield: 550-1; Tom Hoge: 550-1; Adri Arnaus: 650-1; Alex Prugh: 650-1; Andreas Halvorsen: 650-1; Billy Hurley III: 650-1; Brendon Todd: 650-1; Cameron Young: 650-1; Carlos Ortiz: 650-1; Chesson Hadley: 650-1; Chun An Yu: 650-1; Clement Sordet: 650-1; Collin Morikawa: 650-1; Devon Bling: 650-1; Guillermo Pereira: 650-1; Joseph Bramlett: 650-1; Jovan Rebula: 650-1; Julian Etulain: 650-1; Justin Walters: 650-1; Kevin O’Connell: 650-1; Lee Slattery: 650-1; Marcus Fraser: 650-1; Matthieu Pavon: 650-1; Nate Lashley: 650-1; Nick Hardy: 650-1; Renato Paratore: 650-1; Rhys Enoch: 650-1; Richard Lee: 650-1; Sam Saunders: 650-1; Sepp Straka: 650-1; Shugo Imahira: 650-1; Zac Blair: 650-1; Rob Oppenheim: 1000-1

Is Chesson Hadley or Sepp Straka worth a couple of bucks on a longshot top-20 bet? Sure. But both players have enough weaknesses to make the case against them. Hadley has been a near-elite ball-striker for the past couple of years. His short game has been quite weak, though, so he’d have to hit nearly every green to have a good week. Same goes for Straka, who medaled at the ultra-competitive Columbus qualifier. A lot would have to go right for Straka to get to the top of the leaderboard, even for one round.

TIER 8: The “biggest longshots” tier

All 1000-1: Andy Pope; Austin Eckroat; Brandon Wu; Brett Drewitt; Brian Davis; Callum Tarren; Chandler Eaton; Charlie Danielson; Chip McDaniel; Connor Arendell; Daniel Hillier; Eric Dietrich; Hayden Shieh; Kodai Ichihara; Luis Gagne; Matthew Naumec; Matt Parziale; Mike Weir; Mikumu Horikawa; Noah Norton; Ryan Sullivan; Spencer Tibbits; Stewart Hagestad; Merrick Bremner; Chan Kim

Sorry, gents. There’s really no chance at Pebble. Could Matt Parziale and Stewart Hagestad, with great amateur pedigrees, or Mike Weir, channel a couple of good rounds? Sure. But making the cut would be a success.

 

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