Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fantasy Golf: The U.S. Open Preview

This will serve as initial notice that I survived Sunday's bay crossing and we will certainly have a full recap of that fool's errand soon but this website is first and foremost devoted to promoting and demeaning the game of golf and we have a major looming so first things first. We're going to abandon the traditional FGR preview format this week because frankly my picks stunk last week (I'm sure I was not alone) and I don't want that to taint what could be an epic weekend at Pinehurst (we're certainly due for one).

Pinehurst No. 2 is not your typical U.S. Open course where the fairways are lined with six inch deep unplayable rough from which a player is forced to "take his medicine" and gouge the ball back into play with a wedge. This course set-up has apparently been inspired by the other built-in obstacles at Pinehurst including sandy waste areas and some extremely challenging greens - both to hit and to putt. It may also have something to do with the fact that the USGA does not want a return to the days when a player like Lee Janzen, Andy North or Scott Simpson would put his hazards on, pull into the right lane and drive 52 m.p.h. straight into the winner's circle. Those three combined to win five of the most boring U.S. Opens of all-time but only thirteen other PGA Tour events. Only once did any of them ever finish top ten at a Masters or a British Open (Simpson tied for 7th at the '90 Masters) so I'm not sure the USGA was accomplishing much in the way of identifying the best player by eliminating everyone who couldn't hit 75% of the fairways. Good for them for realizing that there is more to the game than hitting 270 yard drives down the middle.

The book on Pinehurst this year is that it's set-up for shot makers to make shots based on how much they want to gamble when attacking some of the most elusive greens in the world. That immediately conjures-up images of Bubba and Phil slashing all manner of recovery shots from behind, under and around bushes in waste areas. But remember, every one of those miracle recovery shots takes its toll on a man's patience and psyche and in Bubba, we're talking about the guy who just gave away the Memorial because he decided to hit driver on a par five (that he could have reached with 3-wood + 5-iron) where there was really no place for him to land it so he flailed it out of bounds to the right and lost by one.

An all too familiar pose.
And in Phil, well you know . . . driver on No. 18 at Winged Foot, three quarter pitching wedge from about 100 yards over the green on No. 13 at Merion, etc. Everyone loves Phil this week because of his short game but he's at his best when he's hitting it relatively consistently and making putts while only having to make the occasional miracle up and down. This is still the U.S. Open so the winner is going to have to hit some fairways and greens. If you think Phil has that in him this week, then by all means jump aboard.

Let's take a spin through the other favorites. Rory McIlroy can't put four rounds together and decision making is not his strong-suit. Adam Scott has never finished better than tied for 15th at a U.S. Open - probably because his short game and putting have been weak but this year he's 15th in putting and 3rd in sand saves so he could be in the mix. Jordan Spieth is not ready. Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose just don't seem sharp this season though Stenson's game would seem to be a great fit for the course.

Then we get to some guys who are worth a look in Matt Kuchar, Jason Day, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson. If you believe in the logical progression of a golf career, then Kuchar is the next guy due for a major with Day not far behind. If you also believe that some players are doomed to never win one, well then I give you Sergio and D.J. both of whom have the talent to do it but also an uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. If I hadn't used Kuch at the Masters, he might top my list at Pinehurst and if I was throwing some money down, he'd definitely be worth a look at 28 to 1. Here is how the bookies see the top 15.    

The U.S. Open also marks the beginning of
summer movie season.* Happy Father's Day.
The U.S. Open Favorites

1. Rory McIlroy - 10 to 1
2. Adam Scott - 14 to 1
3. Phil Mickelson - 16 to 1
4. Bubba Watson - 18 to 1
5. Jordan Spieth - 25 to 1
6. Henrik Stenson - 28 to 1
7. Justin Rose - 28 to 1
7. Matt Kuchar - 28 to 1
9. Jason Day - 33 to 1
9. Dustin Johnson - 33 to 1
9. Sergio Garcia - 33 to 1
12. Hideki Matsuyama - 40 to 1
12. Luke Donald - 40 to 1
12. Lee Westwood - 40 to 1
12. Martin Kaymer - 40 to 1

So those are the favorites but what else ya got? Well let's start with an obvious one like Jim Furyk who has been rock solid this year and has a U.S.Open win to go with his two ties for 2nd and a tie for 4th. Then you have guys like Martin Kaymer and Graham DeLaet who currently rank 4th and 5th in total driving (I like them both this week - we had a New Zealander win the last time we were here, why not a Canadian?). For a longer shot, I'd take a look at Victor Dubuisson who is going to make a couple of mind blowing up and downs. I then spent a good half hour trying to make a case for a deep sleeper considering everyone from Geoff Ogilvy to Brian Stuard to Hudson Swafford but I can't in good conscience recommend any of them (I really wanted to go with Swafford because he looks so much like the guy with the Jamaican accent from the Volkswagen commercial). The contenders this week are going to come from the top 50 (he says optimistically).  

So where does that leave us? Well, in the spirit of keeping it somewhat fresh, we're going to follow the same pattern that we used at the Masters where we went chalk for the top five and then mixed in some longer shots down the list. Remember, the no. 1 spot is influenced by players I have already used this year so Kuch, Stenson and Furyk among others are not eligible. I normally avoid guys with even a hint of an injury issue like I avoid interacting with women when I've been drinking (it's just better for everyone that way) but in this case I feel like we have a course that matches-up perfectly with a particular player's skill set. Brace yourself for a slew of cheesy "Father's 'Day'" headlines on Monday.

The FGR One and Done Picks
"But ay've meest four
street cuts mon."

1. Jason Day
2. Matt Kuchar
3. Jim Furyk
4. Sergio Garcia
5. Rory McIlroy
6. Martin Kaymer
7. Adam Scott
8. Graham DeLaet
9. Bubba Watson
10. Victor Dubuisson

Email the Fantasy Golf Report at fgr@fantasygolfreport.com.

* Allow me to introduce "actress" Irina Shayk. Her acting credits include, Exposure: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2011MTV Europe Music Awards 2011 and Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit 2009. Prior to that I believe she spent four years studying at Juilliard. This summer she will be getting her big break starring alongside Dwayne Johnson in Hercules. I think she's going to be great.