The third Major of the year is upon us! The PGA Tour returns to Torrey Pines South Course in La Jolla, California for the second time this season. Torrey Pines plays host to the Farmers Insurance Open every year, and was host to the U.S. Open in 2008. One of the USGA’s top priorities is to ensure that this course will be a challenging test of golf. Torrey Pines will be setup much differently than it normally is, so looking at course history might be noisy. The U.S. Open tends to see the cream rise to the top. Each of the last ten winners of the U.S. Open were ranked inside the Official World Golf Ranking Top 30. This tournament has not traditionally yielded longshot winners, so you should not expect to see another Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship scenario.
Torrey Pines South Course will play as a Par 71, and measures over 7,600 yards. The major defense of this course will be the thick, kikuyu rough. Kikuyu is not common on the PGA Tour and is more prevalent in Australia. This grass type is a bit sticker which means golfers will struggle to control spin. The fairways will be narrowed, and distance will be a factor. U.S. Open’s have shown to favor bombers, but with the rough being so penal looking for fairway finders might prove to be beneficial. One thing we have seen recently at longer courses is that short-game specialists are still relevant. Players who excel Around-the-Green, can make up for lost strokes Off-the-Tee. The ability to save par will be crucial this week, as avoiding bogeys is the real key to success. Players who play clean, consistent golf are the ones who are most attractive to me this week. The greens at Torrey Pines are Poa Annua, a bumpier grass type that leads to more missed putts from short ranges. Other courses on the PGA Tour that have Poa Annua greens are Pebble Beach, Riviera, and Club de Chapultepec.
With thick rough, narrow fairways, and a tough putting surface this course should favor players who are strong Greens-in-Regulation players. While the greens will be more frequently missed, targeting golfers who can find ways to avoid long par putts will be vital this week. It is also worth noting that only the Top 60 and ties will make the cut this week. With 156 golfers in the field, it is imperative to find golfers who can make it to the weekend.
The course will likely play firm and fast. Scoring will be brutally tough, and avoiding double bogeys will be something to look at. Double bogeys or worse will be in play this week, and one hole could derail an entire tournament. I am targeting players who have avoided massive mistakes on one hole. Consistency is something I am valuing pretty heavily this week. I will be looking for players who are a complete player, and gains strokes in almost (or every) major stat category.
Key Stats: Distance, Tee-to-Green, Total Driving, Ball-Striking, GIRs Gained, Around-the-Green, and 3-Putt Avoidance
Scoring Upside: Bogey Avoidance, Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 yards, Par 5 Birdies or Better, and Total Strokes Gained
U.S. Open Tips
Viktor Hovland 29-1
Viktor Hovland has been one of the most consistent golfers this season. In 18 total events played, Hovland has made 17 cuts and has six Top 10 finishes. Hovland constantly finds himself in the mix on Sundays because of his ball-striking abilities. A runner-up finish at Torrey Pines back in January is a promising sign, as course familiarity might add confidence to his game heading into the week. Hovland has played in two U.S. Opens in his career, and has finished 12th and 13th. The #13 player in the world has never missed the cut in his five Major Championships which shows he can contend at this level of event.
Hovland’s biggest weakness has been his short-game, in particular his Around-the-Green play. Last year, Hovland was ranked 168th among all PGA Tour players in Around-the-Green, and this year he finds himself currently ranked 99th. While it is still a weakness, the improvement he has shown in such a short timeframe is an encouraging sign. The 23-year-old from Olso, Norway is primarily a ball-striker. Over his last 35 measured rounds, Hovland has gained 1.30 strokes per round with his ball-striking. Over his last 36 rounds, in this field Hovland ranks: fourth in Ball-Striking, eighth in Total Strokes Gained, eighth in Bogey Avoidance, and 19th in GIRs Gained. Hovland is a balanced player who consistently gains strokes on the field. This tournament will come down to his short-game, and Hovland’s recent improvement instills confidence in me that he has what it takes to become a U.S. Open champion.
Tony Finau 29-1
Tony Finau is one of the best golfers in the world, but has been unable to close events and win on the PGA Tour. His last win was at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, and since then he has had multiple chances at claiming victory, but has continuously fallen just short. While Finau has not won, he continues to put himself in positions to win. At the U.S. Open where scoring conditions will be brutally tough, it is far less likely for someone to out-pace Tony on Sunday and steal a win from him, like we have seen during normal PGA Tour events. If Finau can find himself in the mix on Sunday, his ability to avoid mistakes and play clean golf is very attractive. Finau has some of the best course history at Torrey Pines. Finau has played at Torrey Pines seven times in his career, and he has never finished worse than 24th. While the course will be setup differently, his stellar course history shows his love for this course and this is the type of place where Finau can finally breakthrough and win.
Finau has also been successful at U.S. Opens where he has three Top 15 finishes in only five attempts. As mentioned earlier, Around-the-Green play becomes vital at longer courses because it is more likely for golfers to miss greens. Finau is the seventh best Around-the-Green player on the entire PGA Tour this season. Finau’s finesse and touch Around-the-Green does not come at the expense of his ball-striking. Over the last 36 rounds, in this field Finau ranks: third Around-the-Green, fourth Tee-to-Green, ninth in Total Strokes Gained, 18th in Ball-Striking, and 20th in Approach. Finau possesses the rare combination of being able to drive the golfer ball exceptionally well, while also having a great scrambling ability. This combination should lead to a great week for Finau, and if he can find his putter for four days, I think he finally gets that elusive second victory.
Daniel Berger 50-1
Daniel Berger has been one of the best players on the PGA Tour since golf returned to play over a year ago. Since the restart, Berger has won twice. Berger’s most recent win came in February at Pebble Beach. Pebble Beach was the site of the 2019 U.S. Open and also has Poa Annua greens. Berger’s four PGA Tour victories have come at either tough courses, or against tough fields. He has wins at Colonial, Pebble Beach, and two wins at TPC Southwind. Berger’s recent history at Majors has not been pretty but he has had some good showings. Berger’s pathway to victory will not be an easy one given his length Off-the-Tee. However, Berger is a golfer who lives on the short-grass and gets himself onto the greens-in-regulation. Berger also comes into this event in relatively good form, with five Top 20 Finishes in his last seven starts which also includes two Top 10 Finishes.
Over his last 35 rounds, Berger has gained 1.17 strokes Ball-Striking per round, and 1.42 total strokes per round. Berger’s a complete player, and he’s a good putter. With his lack of distance, he will need to compensate with a strong performance on the greens. He is a consistent player, and I really like his ability to avoid trouble. If he can stay out of the rough, and stick to his general blueprint of scoring on the Par 5s, and grinding Par 4s then this should be a good setup for him. Berger ranks second in Par 3 Scoring Average, tenth in Par 4 Scoring Average, and 18th in Par 5 Scoring Average. Berger’s ability to turn possible bogeys into great Par saves is a quality that will go a long way this week.
Paul Casey 50-1
Paul Casey has been on a heater for the better part of six months. Casey won on the European Tour back in January, and turned that good form into positive results on the PGA Tour. Casey has five Top 10 Finishes in fourteen events this season. Casey’s most recent appearance resulted in a T4 finish at the PGA Championship. Casey has played his best golf this season on difficult courses such as Kiawah, TPC Sawgrass, Bay Hill, and Pebble Beach. Casey has made eight straight cuts at Majors and is playing some of the best golf of his career.
The #19 ranked player in the world has been elite with his ball-striking this year. Over his last 25 rounds, Casey has gained 1.08 strokes per round on Approach and 1.41 strokes per round Tee-to-Green. Casey is fifth among all PGA Tour players in Total Driving which means he has a good combination of both distance and accuracy. Casey’s pure ball-striking has been so good that it has allowed him to avoid bogeys. At 50-1, Casey is one of my favorite outright bets and I expect a big week from him.
Will Zalatoris 66-1 (Placed in February)
Zalatoris catapulted onto the PGA Tour scene with an incredible T6 finish at his PGA Tour debut at last year’s U.S. Open. Zalatoris has followed up his impressive debut with a barrage of Top 25 Finishes. In 20 PGA Tour events this season, Zalatoris has recorded thirteen Top 25 Finishes and has played exceptionally well at Majors. Zalatoris has finishes of T6 at the U.S. Open, T8 at the PGA Championship, and T2 at the Masters. Zalatoris is a tee-to-green machine which allows him to frequently find himself at the top of leaderboards.
The 24-year-old has shown no stage is too big for him, and he has quickly risen into the Top 30 OWGR. Over his last 36 rounds, in this field Zalatoris ranks: fifth in GIRs Gained, 12th in Double Bogeys Avoided, and 13th in Ball-Striking. Zalatoris has questionable putting but with much of the field struggling with short putts this week, I think his Tee-to-Green game will excel and keep him in the mix all week.
Abraham Ancer 70-1
Abraham Ancer’s first PGA Tour victory coming at the U.S. Open is a big ask and rather unlikely. However, there are plenty of reasons why it is possible. Ancer is not long Off-the-Tee but he is the epitome of consistency. Similar to Berger, Ancer’s game is reliant on his ability to hit fairways and greens. Ancer does both of these exceptionally well, ranking third in Driving Accuracy and 12th in GIR Percentage among all PGA Tour players. Ancer is a great ball-striker but unlike other ball-strikers his strokes gained are almost a perfectly even split. Ball-Striking is Off-the-Tee + Approach, so being excellent in one of those categories could skew your Ball-Striking number. Over his last 35 rounds, Ancer is gaining 1.39 strokes per round Ball-Striking with .67 strokes per round coming from Off-the-Tee and .72 strokes per round coming on Approach.
Ancer’s balance is very appealing in a week where Par is a good score. Playing error-free will be the pathway to a victory, and Ancer avoids mistakes on tough Par 4s, ranking third in Par 4 Scoring Average among all PGA Tour players. With eleven holes being a Par 4, avoiding bogeys on these holes, while scoring on the Par 5s will be the most likely path to a win. The 30-year-old from Mexico has made ten consecutive cuts, and has five consecutive Top 25 Finishes. Ancer is the model of consistency and hovering around Par should keep him live to make a Sunday run.