The second of the majors takes place this week from Oakmont Country Club and all the talk is of an extremely tough test. From the snippets I've seen from the course it looks like it will be exactly that. The term "Grand National Of Golf" comes to mind and it may well be a case of last man standing come Sunday. Phil Mickelson declared Oakmont as the toughest course he's ever played, and only 6 players broke double digits over par, yes over par, the last time the US Open was held here in 2007. The winning total was +5, recorded by the big hitting Angel Cabrera, and this type of scoring is being mooted once again. Cabrera hit only 48% of fairways en route to success and circled just 13 par breakers.
Indeed, a look at the 2007 US Open leaderboard is intriguing: I've never seen more of a mix and match with bombers and short hitting plotters featuring at an approximate 50/50 split. Jim Furyk - 81.00 - was 2nd - sandwiched between Cabrera and Tiger Woods, while chalk and cheese David Toms and Bubba Watson - 41.00 - were tied 5th. Interestingly Furyk hit more (68%) fairways but less greens than both Tiger and Cabrera. There are a couple of pretty straight forward explanations for the mix of players on the leaderboard; In short, the test at Oakmont comes on and around the greens.
Yes, the rough along the fairways is thicker than you'll see in most places but the track is wide open. Some of the holes are 'less than driver' for everyone, while on the lengthier holes, bombers will be coming from the fibre more often but they'll be coming in with shorter clubs, while the plotters will be coming in with long irons from the fairway. Basically, the pins won't be very accessible for either due to slopes, so it's all down to the short and mental games of the players
US Open Betting market
Jordan Spieth - 9.00 - is prepared for a tough test at Oakmont after recent practise there: "I’d sign for even-par right now for 72 holes in June. Obviously, given the history, but also having played it”, and the defending champion is unsurprisingly taking up most of the book together with the other members of the "big three" - Rory McIlroy - 8.00 - and Jason Day - 6.50. For my money, Spieth and Day are the most likely but given the nature of the beast they can certainly be taken on here and it's big Phil - 26.00 - who I'm repeatedly drawn to in the top echelon of the market. Most people would like to see nearly man Dustin Johnson take down a major. Dustin 3-putted from 15 feet at Chambers Bay in 2015 to hand the title to Spieth and DJ is 13.00 to put that right at Oakmont. Masters champion Danny Willett comes in quietly at 41.00.
The course - Oakmont Country Club
Oakmont is an exposed track playing 7, 254 yards to a par of 70. According to Simon Holmes who was there a couple of weeks ago, Fairways are 20-25 yards wide but camber towards a 3 feet first cut and then the cabbage takes over - "wet rye grass 4 inches deep" were the words of Holmes. Penalising sand traps are also a big feature from tee to green, while the wind was up in Sunday's practise. Jordan Spieth likened some of the bunkers to the Open championship pot bunkers and many of them will require just a pitch back out to the fairways.
Moving down to the real acid test of Oakmont and the surfaces are supposedly some of the fastest in world golf, set to run 14-15 feet on the stimp in places. Greens are large and undulating and many of them will be sloping away from the players approach shots. The fast, firm "pitched" surfaces will be surrounded by sand traps and severely deep spinach as Justin Thomas demonstrated on Instagram over the weekend. An excellent short game should prove the key to success while a very strong mental attitude and grinder like mentality will prove essential.
Snippets from the pros
"There's only going to be one key shot that matters this week and it's this one" - Graeme McDowell - 151.0 - before attempting an open face pitch from thick green side rough.
"Bit of slopes and fast green speed..." - Tweet from Benny An - 101.0 - on playing one out of a green side bunker in practise on Sunday that turned 90 degrees towards the hole but didn't stop until 20 feet past due to the undulations and green speeds.
“I know that if you win a U.S. Open at Oakmont, you can go ahead and say that you’ve conquered the hardest test in all of golf, because this is arguably the hardest course in America day-to-day,” - Jordan Spieth after recent practise round
Best US Open Betting tips
This is the big one for Phil Mickelson - 26.00 or 6.00. He's been oh-so-close and he desperately wants to win the US Open before his careers ends to complete the grand slam of majors. Phil warmed up nicely and got the competitive juices flowing which was the aim at the ST. Jude Classic where he was tied for 2nd. Phil ranked 1st in strokes gained putting in Memphis. That followed a top 20 at Memorial and Phil also notched a top 4 finish at the Wells Fargo. The American was a bit wide off the tee at TPC Southwind but the open feel around Oakmont should suit. He ranks 19th in strokes gained around the green and an eye catching 5th in strokes gained putting this year. Mickelson sits 2nd from putting inside 10 feet and there will be a lot of testers for par this week. His imagination and short game ability along with his attitude really stand out here.
There's a strong theme with all my US Open Picks and Matt Kuchar - 41.00 or 9.00 - also comes with the laid back, nothing phases him style approach. Kuchar is a top 10 machine who seems to grind them out for fun. Kuch has made his last 7 cuts with 5 top 10s posted in that spell. The American has contended strongly in his last 4 events. Kuchar ranks 3rd in scoring average, 19th in strokes gained putting and 25th in scrambling. He led Memorial before the weather delays down the stretch with hardly a bogey on the card due to course management skills, and he looks primed for another victory.
Patrick Reed - 51.00 or 11.00 - has more top 10s than anyone else this season, posting up 9 thus far. His last two outings were a T15 at Dean & Deluca followed by an 8th at Memorial. Reed is another mentally very strong golfer and is now renowned as one of the best pitchers of the ball in the game - the key ingredient for success at Oakmont. To confirm the case in point, Patrick actually sits 1st in strokes gained around the green. The Texan ranks 4th in scrambling and if the putter is even lukewarm at Oakmont he could win.
Graeme McDowell - 151.0 or 31.00 - is in the same mould as the other guys and he's already used these attributes to win the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010. As alluded to above, Graeme has been practicing at Oakmont and in terms of course management and the right attitude he will have a head start on most. This is Graeme's type of test so I'm prepared to ignore patchy form of late. A top 10 at The Players Championship doesn't go unnoticed though, and ranking 12th in driving accuracy in 2016, he'll at least have an advantage off the tee. Again though Graeme's real strength is the mental side of his game and play around the greens where he sits 39th in scrambling and 4th in putting inside 10', despite a mediocre season.