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Let's get to the heart of the matter. The 2016 US Open features an international field of 156 players and is being played at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania. The classical course is renowned for being one of the toughest in the United States, a fact that the club and its members have always focussed upon.
As well as my preview below, Paul Williams looks at some longer priced players and other markets - you can read his thoughts here.
Course Guide: Oakmont, as you would expect of a US Open venue, tests every aspect of a player's game. A truly classical, up-state test with tight fairway landing areas to punish errant tee shots, the real key to Oakmont are the legendary fast and undulating green complexes. Mike Davis has described a fast Oakmont as 'truly one of the great tests in the United States'. The course, which plays as a 7,254 yard par-70 in 2016, played as an absolute brute in 2007 which, despite the course being receptive on the opening Thursday, saw a tournament scoring average of 74.75 (+4.75).
Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania: Designer: Henry Fownes 1903 with Tom Fazio re-design 2006; Course Type: Classical, Technical; Par: 70; Length: 7,255 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 0; Bunkers: 210; Fairways: Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass with Perennial Ryegrass and Poa Annua, Rye 4- 8"; Greens: 7,000 sq.ft average featuring Poa Annua; Tournament Stimp: 13ft; US Open Scoring Average: 2012, Olympic Club: 73.84 (+3.84), Difficulty Rank 1 of 49 courses. 2013: 74.55 (+4.55), Difficulty Rank 1 of 43 courses. 2014: 73.08 (+3.08), Rank 1 of 48 courses. 2015: 73.45 (+3.45), Difficulty Rank 1 of 52 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Oakmont and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: Oakmont Country Club will undoubtedly be a stern test in 2016. No other course has held more United States Open Championships with this being the ninth time that the USGA have chosen to visit this part of Pennsylvania. At 7,255 yards it's obvious that in today's modern game the course's defence is not overall length. Instead Oakmont is defended by clever course design which includes the fastest poa annua putting surfaces on the circuit, severely canted green complexes, 210 bunkers of the deep variety, sloping fairways, a number of blind or semi-blind tee-shots and traditional US Open-style Kentucky Bluegrass with Perennial Ryegrass and Poa Annua rough.
The fast greens grab a lot of the media attention pre-tournament and rightly so. 2007 winner Angel Cabrera mastered the greens and his close association with Augusta is worthy of note. Another aspect of the course which deserves note is its tactical usage of length. Oakmont contains the longest par-3 in U.S. Open history with the 8th playing either 288 yards or 252 yards dependant on USGA preference. At its maximum this hole is on the edge of the shorter players' driving distance ranges. It also includes one of the two longest par-5s in U.S. Open history if played to its maximum length at 667 yards. It will be interesting to see if Rory, D.J. or Jason can even attempt to reach in two. 210 bunkers add bite and it's interesting that one of the few changes from 2007 is the fact that rough has been reduced around those bunkers to maximise the number of captures. Rough around the greens has been described as treacherous and expect tough rough along the fairways, although Brandt Snedeker has described it as 'slightly lighter' than 2007.
Winners: 2015: Jordan Spieth (-5); 2014: Martin Kaymer (-9); 2013: Justin Rose (+1); 2012: Webb Simpson (+1); 2011: Rory McIlroy (-16); 2010: Graeme McDowell (E); 2009: Lucas Glover (-4).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week which are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published US Open predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Rory McIlroy (Predictor Number 1), Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to The Masters and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Spieth 9/1; 2014: Kaymer 40/1; 2013: Rose 28/1; 2012: Simpson 80/1; 2011: McIlroy 22/1; 2010: McDowell 80/1; Average: 43/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Oakmont is here. If the latest weather forecast is correct then the USGA won't be overly amused with thunderstorms which hit late Wednesday evening and may well delay the start of the tournament. Forecasts are forecasts, but in the worse case scenario Thursday could be a wash-out with up to 40mm of rain. Friday through Sunday will see the course bake with warm temperatures and light winds, but the course will undoubtedly be more receptive than intended for the opening round before it shows its teeth.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of the US Open since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this type of test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
You can work statistics to form any kind of argument, but taking the last 6 US Open renewals, Scrambling and Greens in Regulation have been the most important skills followed by Putts per GIR. Oakmont is a traditionally classical course which is just plain difficult, so focus on those who can hit plenty of greens and can fathom the extreme poa annua putting surfaces.
Below are the tournament skill statistics for the last 2 US Opens hosted here in 2007 and 1994:
Tiger topped the Greens in Regulation category back in 2007 around Oakmont with his famous Saturday round featuring an amazing 17 greens hit, 2 birdies and no bogeys. That tee-to-green performance fired Woods into second spot after 54 holes, 2 shots back from Aaron Baddeley. However it was power-hitter (2nd in Driving Distance with 302 yards) Angel Cabrera who eventually prevailed with his aggressive distance from the tee generating 13 birdies as opposed to 18 bogeys whilst Woods +6/286 featured 12 bogeys and a double-bogey, but only a scant 8 birdies. The Argentine finished 3rd in Greens in Regulation (65.3%) and 10th in Putts per GIR.
1994 saw Ernie Els capture his first Major Championship at Oakmont - like Cabrera and Woods in 2007 he was at the summit of the Greens in Regulation performances (at70.8%) and was also 5th for Driving Distance.
So let's take a view from players as to how Oakmont has set up in the past and what specific skills it requires:
Phil Mickelson (2016): "The reason why I'm optimistic about Oakmont is that it doesn't require me to hit a lot of drivers. It requires me to get the ball in play off the tee, but when I'm not hitting drivers, if I'm hitting 3-woods, hybrids, I feel confident I'm able to do that a fairly high percentage of the time. I really think it is the hardest golf course we've ever played. A lot of golf courses, when it challenges you tee to green the way Oakmont does, it usually has a little bit of a reprieve on the greens, and you really don't at Oakmont. They're some of the most undulating, fast, difficult greens to putt. It really is the hardest golf course I think we've played."
Daniel Berger (2016): "Over par will win. You have got to hit the fairway and the greens are fast. It’s a major championship test. I played the Open at Pinehurst (2014) and it’s nothing like that. You miss the fairway and you are screwed.”
Jordan Spieth (2016): "It's going to take an extreme amount of patience and discipline off the tee. A lot of people talk about Oakmont's greens but the most important thing I think for this year's U.S. Open will be driving the golf ball. You don't have to hit it very far. It will be helpful to hit it far and straight as it is anywhere, but you are going to have discipline to take iron off the tee, knowing you can hit 3-wood and still be ok. You just have to give yourself shots out of the fairway into a lot of these greens, given they slope front to back with false fronts. So you have to be coming out of the fairway with the right amount of spin. Your depth is thrown out on a lot of these holes because it's well bunkered. Whether it's an approach shot or a tee shot, there are some bunkers that you think are green-side, or you think you can fly them and actually it's completely the opposite."
Brandt Snedeker (2016): "It's a little kinder than the last time we were here as there is some rough that is not quite as thick off the fairways, so you have some more chances to play. Oakmont is just tough - it's a bear. The greens are drying out, but it's just a very fair test of golf. You know if you go around here and play some good golf you are going to be rewarded. The greens are so undulating and so fast, that all they need to do is give them an extra-roll than standard and they have them ready to go. The course is in pristine condition; as good as I have seen an Open golf course, because the course has plenty of rough, the fairways are perfect, the ball is running-out very, very hard right now. The course just challenges every part of your game."
Spencer Mellon - Oakmont Course Specialist (2016): "No. 3 features the famous Church Pews bunker and a canted fairway that shoots balls into the rough. The green is tilted away from the fairway, making an approach from the rough almost impossible. The 7th hole takes about 240 just to get to the fairway, to a narrow target that looks even narrower. That's a scary shot. And the 8th hole plays circa 300 yards as a par-3. The player who wins is going to realize that position is way more important than distance. "You hit 2-iron, 3-wood, 3-iron, whatever it takes to get in position to hit the green. If you hit it close, a kick in birdie isn't any sure thing, either. You are reading 15-footers to break five feet. There aren't many places you're going to see that."
Mike Davis - USGA Chief Executive (2016): "If Oakmont has a signature, it has to be these lightning fast greens. These greens that have plateaus in them, valleys going through it. But the point of Oakmont is they are extremely fast, but they're extremely strategic. You always want to be below the hole. And I think that as far as Oakmont the golf course, it's a very balanced test. This is not an overly long U.S. Open, by U.S. Open standards. But there's a nice blend between short holes, long holes. But what is interesting is when you look at and study the routing and architecture of Oakmont, the holes actually are very straight. 16 of the 18 holes play really straight away. And what Fownes did was really lay the golf course on those hills, used the topography to really make an incredibly exciting, but challenging golf course. But I think that element of being blind or semi blind really makes a golfer from a strategic standpoint have to commit to a shot.
In terms of course conditions expect plenty of sameness. From 2007 we are playing it the same yardage. Every hole is exactly the same yardage as 2007. The same fairway widths and contours as we played in 2007. In fact, these are the same fairway widths and contours the members here at Oakmont have been playing for years and years. They're the same grass heights from 2007. The same green speeds as 2007. The same general hole locations as 2007"
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Poa Annua and Bentgrass Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
This US Open was always going to be intriguing but a weather forecast which, if correct, will impact play on Thursday adds more variables to the mix. That opens the window to a Monday close and a potential Tuesday, 18-hole Play-off if play is a total wash-out on Thursday, but it certainly looks like play will be impacted on the opening day and that the course will receive a good dousing prior to Friday. For reference 4mm fell on Wednesday prior to the start in 2007 with Nick Dougherty shooting -2/68, Angel Cabrera -1/69 and Bubba Watson shooting Par/70 to lead the field after 18 holes.
A slightly softer course on Thursday/Friday will be a brief, but significant window of opportunity where players can build a buffer. Jason Day over the weekend voiced the idea that somebody could catch a fast start at Oakmont and be difficult to overturn. He also mentioned it wasn't necessarily going to be him! From Friday onwards the course will bake, with Oakmont's sub-air green systems sure to be on maximum power to relieve the poa-annua greens of as much moisture as quickly as possible. So let's keep it simple. I have gone with players who can play well on poa annua set-ups and the fact that 7 of the last 9 winners of the US Open ranked in the top 10 for All-Round in their last appearance has influenced my team. A top-10 finish in a player's last 4 appearances seems a pre-requisite and both Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera arrived at Oakmont at the top of their considerable ball-striking powers. For reference Cabrera was a 150/1 shot.
My selections are as follows:
Jason Day in my mind is the best player on the planet right now and although only Tiger Woods has won this title as World Number 1 in the last 12 attempts, trends are there to be broken. The 7/1 price-point nibbled in from an opening 15/2 is fair on the Australian who loves poa annua putting surfaces and whose US Open record reads 2nd (Congressional), 59th, 2nd (Merion), 4th (Pinehurst) and 9th (Chambers Bay) despite suffering with vertigo. Day's main weakness is driving accuracy and talk of being able to use 3-wood or Day's trusty 2-iron for strategy from the tee alleviates that issue for me. Instead the Australian's brilliant all-round game (3rd in All-Round at TPC Sawgrass, 6th at TPC Louisiana) which includes a great short game and an accurate wedge game from within 125 yards will be hard to beat. He sits atop the Stokes Gained Putting stats right now which has to be a positive at Oakmont but also has the strength to hit greens when he misses the fairway which will prove a hugely valuable asset this week. Wins at Torrey Pines (2015), Bay Hill (2016) and Plainfield (2015 - Bentgrass poa annua mix) tie in beautifully with Oakmont and strong finishes at Augusta, Firestone plus TPC Boston correlate with Els and Cabrera. Day sits 2nd in Round 1 Scoring Average and has been at the course since Saturday when he was the first to register with the USGA. RESULT: T8
Rickie Fowler arrives in Pennsylvania with no pressure, no expectation and a great chance of lifting his first Major Championship. He disappointed punters at Augusta where the expectation of four straight top-10 finishes seemingly got to him as Spieth fired birdie after birdie on Thursday. Two immediate straight missed cuts hardly inspire either going into this week, but it's worth remembering that the first was at TPC Sawgrass where he was defending and the second was at a Muirfield Village, a set-up he has fallen out of love with. Those failings are built into the price. The positives though are that Fowler plays his best golf on technical set-ups and it's probably no coincidence that 3 wins last year at TPC Sawgrass, Gullane and TPC Boston came after stroke-play missed cuts. Game-wise Fowler sits 11th in Total Driving, 5th in Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 5th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 1st in Bogey Avoidance, 17th in Scrambling and 32nd in 3-Putt Avoidance. Growing up in California makes Fowler comfortable putting on poa annua and it's worth recognising that Rickie was 4th at Quail Hollow last month on a tough, classical set-up where he ranked 1st in All-Round. I like positive results across Bay Hill (3rd 2013), Augusta (5th 2014), Firestone (2nd 2011 within 3 top-10s) and TPC Boston (1st 2015) which correlate well with Els/Cabrera and his Round 1 early grouping with McIlroy and Willett should motivate the Butch Harmon product. RESULT: MC
Brandt Snedeker has been on my U.S. Open team before and was in line to appear in this preview after Colonial where a 17th place was underpinned by a great tee-to-green game. 17th in Driving Accuracy, 5th in Greens in Regulation and 5th in All-Round are excellent numbers for a player whose short game is waxed about lyrically and Sneds also averaged 301 yards from the tee. At a track where straight and long driving will be a huge asset, Brandt has added over 10 yards per drive since his 2-win season of 2013 and the fact that he can reach up to 300 yards can only help his chances this week. But the real beauty of Snedeker's game is his all-round ability married to the fact that he has the best poa annua green results since 2010 across the whole field. 4 wins across Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach is impressive stuff, and let's not forget 3rd at Plainfield (2011) and 2nd at Beth Page Black (2012) at The Barclays tournaments - which both feature Bentgrass Poa Annua mix green complexes. His US Open record of 4-top 10 finishes highlights his ability to grind and includes west coast top-10s at Torrey Pines (2008), Pebble Beach (2010) and Chambers Bay (2015). Links well to Els/Cabrera with excellent finishes at Bay Hill (8th 2014), Augusta (3rd 2008, 6th 2013), Firestone (12th 2014) and TPC Boston (3rd 2011, 5th 2010 & 6th 2012). RESULT: MC
Regulars will know I've tipped Aussie Marc Leishman since the start of April at Augusta, TPC Four Seasons and Muirfield Village and lost my stakes each time, but the amiable Aussie is a threat yet again at Oakmont this week. 4th at Augusta (2013), 5th at Royal Liverpool (2014) plus 2nd at St Andrews (2015) highlights a player who can operate at Major Championships and although his US Open record is poor, Leishman has undoubtedly worked hard at his game across 2016 to make it more rounded and that becomes crystal clear when looking at the current PGA Tour All-Round stat which reads Rose, Day, McIlroy, Fowler, Scott and then Leishman / Mickelson. Leishman is confident on both Bentgrass Poa Annua mix and Poa Annua putting surfaces and it's abundantly clear that the 32-year-old prefers 'up-state' golf courses and conditions. With little expectation on his shoulders he's a high-class classical course performer with results that include 2nd at Torrey Pines (2010 & 2014), 4th at Riviera (2015), 3rd at Bay Hill (2011), 3rd at Firestone (2014), 12th at Oak Hill (2013 PGA Championship) and 2nd at Cog Hill (2009). RESULT: T18
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