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 as far back as 2010 at the US Open, the morning wave produced the winner on 5 out of 8 occasions prior to last year’s renewal where 4 players tied for the lead, two of whom were from the morning and two from afternoon, and although that’s hardly a representative sample size, it does however tell a story. Unless there’s a change in weather during the course of the day, early starters will often get the most receptive greens as 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 Pebble Beach is here. Clear, dry and sunny conditions are expected for all with temperatures rising from 60 Fahrenheit when play starts at 6.45am to a high of 65 Fahrenheit in the afternoon. The wind will pick up from 3mph in the morning to 10mph in the afternoon. With no rain forecast between now and the start of the event, the course is likely to get progressively firmer and faster as the day and tournament progresses, so in that respect I’d veer towards early starters for the best Thursday score. The temperature differential from morning to afternoon is only 5 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.
Looking at recent US Opens since 2002, of those playing here this week Dustin Johnson leads the way in terms of FRL performance with 2 FRL wins in that time and 3 top-5 finishes in total. Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Mike Weir, Ian Poulter, Scott Piercy, Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer have all finished top, or tied top, after 18 holes once in that time:
|Events||FRL||FRL Top 5||Av R1|
A little more tenuous given the course rotation, the same analysis at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am produces some similar names. Of course, some players will have started their campaign on one of the other tracks used for the event, however for background information this may be of use:
|Events||FRL||FRL Top 5||Av R1|
Perhaps of more relevance though is how players have performed in the first round of Major Championships in recent times – the following table lists all players in this week’s field with a FRL win in a Major since 2010:
|Events||FRL||FRL Top 5||Av R1|
Again there’s some overlap here with players and although that’s inevitable with the US Open data being a subset of the overall Majors data, it’s interesting nonetheless that some names keep popping up.
Going back to 2010 here at Pebble Beach specifically, 3 players tied the lead after round 1 – Paul Casey, Brendon de Jonge and Shaun Micheel. Taking them in that order, Casey had progressive FRL form of 30/14 over his previous two starts and had recorded 3 rounds of 66 on his way to 13th overall at Colonial on his last start. 5th after day 1 at the WGC CA Championship was his best first round effort of the year to that point and being a WGC it had been achieved in elite company. De Jonge had less tangible FRL form that year with a best of 15th at Quail Hollow the previous month, however a 3rd round 65 on his previous start at Memorial had shown some intent as it was beaten by just 1 player on the day. Micheel had a season’s best round 1 finish of 4th at the Heritage prior to arriving at Pebble in 2010, however like De Jonge he’d shown promise on his last start, eventually finishing 4th at St Jude courtesy of a fine round of 67 to close.
Tiger Woods led from wire-to-wire here in 2000, opening with a round of 65 and never looking back – he’d won at Memorial on his previous start in what was his most productive season in terms of trophies with 10 lifted altogether.
The summary I’d take from the above is that a player with at least a snippet of recent form – even if that was just for one round on his last start or two – should be favoured, ideally with a morning tee time, and any specific FRL form either here at Pebble, at the US Open or at the Majors in general is a bonus. I’ve gone for a small team of morning starters accordingly for my US Open FRL selections.
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