The First Round Leader (FRL) market is fascinating given there are many ways to review the data to hand. How does the weather forecast impact conditions? Will it be softer earlier, firmer later, windier for some, warmer for others? What tee times have the recent FRL winners had? Have the recent FRL winners started well here in the past? Have the recent FRL winners started well in their recent events, have they even been playing well in recent events? Lots of questions and the odd red herring along the way I'm sure, however I think there are a few factors to consider which might help point us in the right direction.
Going back to 2010 at the US Open, the morning wave has produced the winner on 5 out of 8 occasions and although that's hardly a representative sample size, it does however tell a story about course conditions. Unless there's a change in weather during the course of the day, early starters will often get the most receptive greens from overnight watering a well as first use of the putting surfaces; that's typically offset by lower temperatures meaning that the ball doesn't fly through the air quite as far. Wind conditions will vary from year to year, however if there's no significant weather pattern influencing the area then we also often see calmer conditions in the morning and this year is likely to adhere to all of these principles.
The latest weather forecast for Southampton, New York is here. Clear, dry and sunny conditions are expected for all with temperatures rising from 65 Fahrenheit when play starts at 6.45am to a high of 75 Fahrenheit in the afternoon. The wind will pick up from 8mph in the morning to 14mph with gust in excess of 20 mph likely. With overnight thunderstorms a possibility (although by no means a certainty) on Wednesday, it's possible that the early starters will be presented with a softer course than anticipated with pristine greens and a lighter breeze. The temperature differential from morning to afternoon is only 10 degrees Fahrenheit which I don't feel will offset the other factors, plus we know that Poa Annua greens can get trickier as the day progresses and the grass starts to grow - even minute changes can impact putts and make them trickier to read.
I've gone for a small team of morning starters accordingly for my US Open FRL selections:
A personal grand slam beckons for Phil Mickelson this week as he looks to go one better having finished runner-up at the US Open an incredible six times over the course of his glittering career. Winless since his Open Championship triumph in 2013 as he arrived in Mexico for this year's WGC, Lefty had been written off by many as he seemed to be on the slippery slide down from the top of world golf, however the 47 year-old was having none of it as he held off Justin Thomas in a play-off. Phil steadily improved that week with rounds of 69/68 before producing a 65/66 weekend which was ultimately good enough, however he's just as adept at getting off to a fast start as he showed at the 2016 Open Championship (63 - first round leader) and at the 2013 US Open at Merion (67 - first round leader) and another fast start from a prime 8.02am tee time alongside Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth could well be on the cards. He started his warm-up for this well last week in Memphis with an opening 66 (2nd after day 1) and a closing round of 65 was the joint best of the day. Phil's putter has been on fire of late and he could hit the ground running here at a price that's a good 10 points longer than his outright odds. Betfair are paying 8 places, 1/5 odds at for FRL bets at the US Open. RESULT: Lose
If there's one thing we know about Charley Hoffman it's that he likes a fast start, particularly when it comes to the biggest stages in world golf. 4th after round 1 at this year's Masters, 6th at the 2017 Open Championship, 1st at the 2017 Masters, 5th at the 2016 WGC Bridgestone Invitational, 1st at the 2015 Players Championship and 2nd at the 2015 Masters are just his elite-company headlines when it comes to performances over the first 18 holes and, at the price on offer, he's very difficult to ignore. An opening round of 63 on his penultimate start at the Fort Worth Invitational should have been enough for yet another FRL win for the 41 year-old Californian, however a miracle final hole birdie from Kevin Na denied him that accolade. Nevertheless, an 8.24am tee time in an understated group alongside Charles Howell III and Bill Haas is the perfect springboard for another early assault at a Major. Betfred are paying 6 places, 1/5 odds at for FRL bets at the US Open. RESULT: T6
A couple of longshots to finish, playing alongside each other from the first group off of the 10th tee at 6.45am on Thursday. Sebastian Munoz has only a missed cut at last year's Open Championship to his name when it comes to Major Championship golf so you won't find him on the history stats this week; nor will you find him on any PGA Tour skill stats as he plies his trade on the web.com Tour. The Colombian has a solitary win at that level to his name, back in his homeland in 2016, so why should we invest here this week? Fact is the 25 year-old has been the first round leader on an impressive 4 of his last 10 starts on the web.com Tour, racking up first round efforts of 64, 67, 65 and 64 over those 4 rounds. Throw into that another round of 64 to open at the BMW Charity pro-am and we quickly build a picture of a player who's flying out of the traps lately. Of course translating that form to a Major Championship is another challenge entirely, however from an incredibly low-key group at the very start of the day in what may well prove to be the very best conditions, I'm willing to take a chance at the price on offer. RESULT: Lose
I mentioned in this week's podcast that I wanted to find a market for Scott Stallings and I suspect the best chance of a return, aside from trading him on the Exchange, is to attack the first round leader market. Contrary to my other selections, Stallings hasn't got a recent history of fast starts on the PGA Tour, however what he does have is a potentially perfect tee time and some interesting stats from last week's St Jude Classic to give us some hope this week. The 33 year-old is the kind of player who finds small, short-lived pockets of form before quickly tailing off again - 7th at Pebble Beach and 4th at Riviera earlier this season are perfect examples - so a much improved 30th place finish last week after 4 straight missed cuts needs further inspection. 1st for Total Driving, 3rd for Ball-Striking and 5th for All-Round performance in Memphis are the kind of stats that would excite had they been attributed to one of the favourites here ahead of this week and with Scott we know that he's a very capable player when everything clicks. A winner and also a play-off loser at Torrey Pines in the past - which is a tough, long course played in firm and fast conditions typically and Poa Annua greens - is a positive pointer historically and he's another I'm happy to take a punt on given the price on offer. bet365 are paying 5 places each way, 1/4 odds for FRL bets at the US Open.v
Top 20 Market Bets
I do like to pick a couple of strong top-20 players and back them for level stakes at the Majors, safe in the knowledge that if one or other of them obliges then I'll turn an overall profit - of course if both finish inside the top 20 then happy days. Matt Kuchar is one of the most consistent players in world golf and although he doesn't win anywhere near enough for the times he finishes high up on the leaderboard, that does make him perfect for a top-20 bet. 17th at TPC Sawgrass and 13th on his last start at the Memorial are two typical performances in his last 4 starts and he's been sufficiently strong in all departments to suggest that another top-20 finish this week is more than possible. Last year's 4 Majors produced a form line of 4/16/2/9 and it was only a final round 73 at Augusta this year that prevented him from extending his top-20 Major streak to five on the trot. He's got a better than 5/2 chance of producing a top-20 here in my view. RESULT: Lose
The other player in this market who I fancy is Adam Scott and, like Kuchar, he's got an excellent record of top-20 finishes in recent Majors. Using our top 20 Majors stats, the Australian tops the list going back to 2011 and in total he's produced 18 top-20 Major finishes from 29 appearances in that time. The former Masters champion is using a local caddy this week who knows the course intimately and there have been enough hints in his game recently to suggest that another decent finish in Major is quite possible this week. 11th at TPC Sawgrass was followed by 9th at the Byron Nelson Championship where he hit 91.1% of fairways and 88.9% of greens in regulation; that long game form continued at Fort Worth the week after where he ranked 2nd for Driving Accuracy and 5th for GIR despite finishing 52nd overall and his last outing at The Memorial continued in a similar vein as he ranked 6th for Total Driving and 4th for Ball-Striking. Clearly the long game is working very nicely and although his putter may well hold him back from truly contending, 3/1 for a top-20 finish looks like a price worth taking on. RESULT: Lose
For the latest World Cup promotions and offers read our World Cup 2018 Offers page.
* Coral New Customer Offer - Significant Terms: 18+. New customers only. 18+. UK+IRE only. Min first bet £10 at odds 1/2 or more. Tote and Pool excluded. Must be placed within 14 days of account reg. £30 credited as 3 x £10 free bets. Not valid with CashOut. Free bet valid for 4 days. Free bet stake not returned. T&C’s apply. T&Cs Apply.
** Betfair new customer offer: Place 5 x £10 or more bets to receive £20 in free bets. Repeat up to 5 times to receive maximum £100 bonus. Min odds 1/2 (1.5). Exchange bets excluded. T&Cs apply - full details here.
*** Betfred New Customer Offer - Significant Terms: Only available to new customers from UK & Northern Ireland. You must stake £10 or more at single/cumulative odds of Evens (2.0) or greater on your first bet. Free bet balance of £30 credited within 48 hours of your first bet being settled. Free Bets expire after 7 days. E-Wallet restrictions apply. Minimum 5 game rounds. Game restrictions apply. Maximum 30 Free Spins on selected games. Free Spins expire after 7 days. Full T&Cs apply.
**** bet365 New Customer Offer - Significant Terms: New Customers only. Up to £100 in Bet Credits. Sign up, deposit £5 or more to your account and bet365 will match your qualifying deposit in Bet Credits when you place qualifying bets to the same value and they are settled. Min odds/bet and payment method exclusions apply. Returns exclude Bet Credits stake. T&Cs, time limits & exclusions apply - claim your offer here using bonus code SPORT100 during registration.