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2018 U.S. Open: Breaking down how the favorites should fare at Shinnecock

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This week, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club will host the best golfers in the world as they attempt to conquer Golf’s Toughest Test, the U.S. Open. Whether they’re a hardcore or casual golf fan, almost everyone viewing the Fox broadcast will be familiar with the 10-or-so “fan favorites” this week. Will Tiger make the cut? Will Rickie finally win his first major? Does the course set up well for Rory? Questions like these monopolize golf conversations during the weeks leading up to the U.S. Open. This article seeks to give clarity to such questions, but first, we must examine the course.

Shinnecock has hosted four U.S. Opens, the most recent being in 2004. The landscape is now wide open due to recent tree removals, leaving it very exposed to wind. The fairways will be significantly wider than they were in 2004 even after being tightened by the USGA in preparation, however; they are lined with thick and penal fescue and rough.

Shinnecock is expected to play firm and fast, and the USGA will likely welcome carnage after a 16-under par winning score last year at Erin Hills. The course played brutally tough in 2004 with only two players finishing below par (Retief Goosen finished 4-under, two shots clear of Phil Mickelson). The USGA infamously lost the seventh green, adding to the controversy about the setup on Sunday that many deemed unfair. In that final round in 2004, no one broke par and only Robert Allenby managed an even-par round.

The course this year will come in at 7,440 yards and a par-70. It will favor players who can avoid trouble off the tee, hit greens and withstand bad breaks and mental hurdles that will inevitably come with a U.S. Open. The winner must also make some putts along the way.

In 2004, a plethora of elite ballstrikers dominating the leaderboard. Winner Retief Goosen ranked 21st in Strokes Gained Approach the Green, 10th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 17th in Greens in Regulation. Mickelson, the runner-up, ranked 22nd in Strokes Gained Approach the Green, fifth Tee to Green, and 10th in Greens in Regulation for the season. Other high finishers such as Fred Funk, Chris DiMarco, and Ernie Els had similar statistical years.

The consensus once again is that Shinnecock sets up great for players that can hit greens and gain strokes on their opponents with their approach shots, while putting the ball in play, making some putts and avoiding big mistakes during the week. Now, we can assess the fan favorites of 2018.

Tiger Woods 

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: DNP, 2016: DNP, 2015: MC

Previous Shinnecock Appearance: T-17

Evidence for Success: Tiger has won three U.S. Opens, all at tough classic courses (Pebble Beach, Bethpage Black, and Torrey Pines). He has hit his irons beautifully this year, ranking fourth in Strokes Gained Approach-the Green and fifth in Strokes Gained Tee to Green. He is coming off a strong week at the Memorial, where he also hit 71 percent of his fairways.

Evidence for Failure: Tiger ranks 120th in Strokes Gained Off the Tee and a horrible 184th in Driving Accuracy. He is 102nd in Greens in Regulation. He also putted terribly at the Memorial, losing 1.924 strokes to the field.

Consensus: This isn’t a great setup for Tiger with his driving and recent putting woes. If he can get the ball in play and putt well, however, he can certainly make some noise.

Justin Thomas

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: T-9, 2016: T-32, 2015: DNP

Evidence for Success: Despite losing the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings this week to Dustin Johnson, Thomas is still arguably playing better than anyone else on the PGA Tour right now. He ranks 15th in Strokes Gained Off the Tee, sixth in Approach the Green, second in Tee to Green and third in Total Strokes Gained. These stats aren’t good… they’re great. Thomas is coming off a T-8 at the Memorial, and he has played well on courses with firm greens. TPC Boston, Quail Hollow, and PGA National are just a few in the past year.

Evidence for Failure: Thomas is not an accurate driver of the ball, ranking 148th in Driving Accuracy. Other than that, there is little evidence against him.

Consensus: The stats indicate the Thomas should be a favorite without question.

Rory McIlroy

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: MC, 2015: T-9

Evidence for Success: Rory ranks 21st in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 15th in Total Strokes Gained. He has a win under his belt this year, and he played great at the Masters.

Evidence for Failure: Rory’s weak spots in his stats are Driving Accuracy (154th) and GIR (169th), not good for a place like Shinnecock. Additionally, firm and fast courses are usually not his friends, with all his major wins coming at rain-softened golf courses. His performances in the last two U.S. Opens have also been poor.

Consensus: While Rory is a great pick most weeks of the year, it’s not likely that he will play particularly well at Shinnecock.

Dustin Johnson

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: 1, 2015: T-2

Evidence for Success: Coming off a sensational win at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic and an emphatic reclaiming of the No. 1 ranking in the world, Johnson’s game is in top form. He ranks first in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and first Off-the-Tee. He is 17th in GIR, and he has contended on firm courses (Chambers Bay) and won on tough, classic courses (Oakmont, Pebble, Riviera). He has a superb ability to deal with poor breaks on the course.

Evidence for Failure: DJ can be wild off the tee, hitting only 58 percent of fairways on the year.

Consensus: DJ’s stats and recent form show that he should be contending come Sunday at Shinnecock.

Phil Mickelson

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: DNP, 2016: MC, 2015: T-64

Previous Shinnecock Appearance: 2

Evidence for Success: With his first win since July 2013 coming this year, Phil has been playing great. A second-place finish in 2004 and his rank of 12th this year in Strokes Gained Approach the Green suggest good things. He has also been putting superbly this year, ranking second in Strokes Gained Putting.

Evidence for Failure: Phil is 202nd in driving accuracy. That will not lead to success at a place like Shinnecock. He also ranks 139th in GIR, another poor sign. Finally, the immense amount of extra pressure of trying to win the Career Grand Slam will most likely affect him in some capacity.

Consensus: Phil’s driving accuracy issues, coupled with the fact that he is trying to accomplish the Slam, point to a poor week. Shinnecock is almost certainly not the place for him to complete the Slam.

Jordan Spieth

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: T-35, 2016: T-37, 2015: 1

Evidence for Success: Spieth is the usually the best iron player on the PGA Tour, and his No. 1 ranking in Strokes Gained Approach the Green last year back that up. This year, he ranks 17th in Approach the Green, second in GIR and fourth in Tee-to-Green. His U.S. Open victory came at Chambers Bay, a firm and fast setup.

Evidence for Failure: Spieth has putted terribly this year, standing 186th in Strokes Gained Putting. He is also 203rd from three feet. Since the Masters, Spieth has no top-20 finishes. He also missed the cut at the Memorial, his last tournament before the U.S. Open, and he only has four top 10-finishes this calendar year.

Consensus: Spieth should not be expected to play well at Shinnecock. His poor putting and recent form are bad signs heading into this week.

Rickie Fowler

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: T-5, 2016: MC, 2015: MC

Evidence for Success: Rickie ranks 18th this year in GIR and 54th in driving accuracy. He is 10th in Proximity from 125-150 yards, and he finished runner-up at the last major, the Masters. Additionally, a T-8 at the Memorial shows that he is in good form. Finally, Rickie is widely regarded as an excellent wind player, and his win at the 2015 Scottish Open provides evidence for that claim.

Evidence for Failure: None of Rickie’s stats this year standout, although none are particularly poor, either. The pressure of winning his first major will make things more difficult for Fowler.

Consensus: Rickie is a very solid pick this week. Statistically, he doesn’t jump out as an overwhelming favorite, but little seems to be working against him. He’s also recently engaged to long-time girlfriend Allison Stokke, which may alleviate some pressure on the course.

Jon Rahm

Previous 3 U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: T-23, 2015: DNP

Evidence for Success: Rahm is 20th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and second in Strokes Gained off the Tee. He is 13th in GIR. His peers speak very highly of his talent, and it would appear that a major championship win is coming soon given his two career wins, a fourth-place finish at the Masters and his peak position of No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings — all by the age of 23.

Evidence for Failure: Rahm ranks 119th in Strokes Gained Approach the Green. More importantly, he has a temper on the golf course. While it’s something he says he actively works on — and there is no doubt his fiery emotion can be helpful to his game — it may not be helpful for a very difficult U.S. Open setup.

Consensus: Jon Rahm could be a good pick, but his emotions could hurt his chances to win at a tough U.S. Open course. With this being said, if he can manage his temper, he could be contending come Sunday.

Jason Day

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: T-8, 2015: T-9

Evidence for Success: After a winless 2017, Day has won twice on the PGA this year at difficult golf courses (Torrey Pines and Quail Hollow). He ranks first in Strokes Gained Putting, fourth in Strokes Gained Overall and 14th Off the Tee.

Evidence for Failure: Day ranks 175th in Strokes Gained Approach the Green. For an elite player, that’s bad. He is 113th in GIR and 94th in Driving Accuracy. Contrary to what many might believe, his ballstriking has been very shaky this year. He won at Quail Hollow hitting just eight greens on Sunday, and that will not fly at a U.S. Open.

Consensus: Day’s ball-striking issues of late show that he is not a good pick to play well at Shinnecock.

Justin Rose

Previous Three U.S. Open Finishes: 2017: MC, 2016: MC, 2015: T-27

Evidence for Success: Rose is second in Strokes Gained (Total), 11th in Strokes Gained Putting, seventh in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 57th in Driving Accuracy. He has claimed two Tour wins this year and is coming off a top-10 finish at the Memorial. He has also won a U.S. Open on a tough golf course (Merion, 2013).

Evidence for Failure: Surprisingly, nothing jumps out statistically that will hold back Rose. He seems to have fewer drawbacks than any other player.

Consensus: Justin Rose is be a fantastic pick; it would be surprising if he is not in the mix on Sunday.

To Recap

Players Projected to Play Well: Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler

Players That Will Likely Not Play Well: Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, and Jason Day

Players in the Middle: Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods.

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Malcolm is an incoming freshman at Tufts University, and he recently graduated from Boston College High School in Massachusetts. He plans on playing on the golf team at Tufts and has a 2.5 index. He plays out of The Country Club in Brookline.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Josh

    Jun 12, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    “Rose is be” is be a typo 🙂

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GolfWRX forum celebrity “Warrick” explains what he loves so much about Mizuno irons, where he got his name from, how he became a gear head, what’s in his bag currently, his all-time favorite golf course and more. Also, GolfWRX equipment expert Brian Knudson talks about playing Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan for the first time.

Checkout the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Golfholics Course Review: Spyglass Hill Golf Course

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Redkacheek’s DFS Rundown: 2018 CJ Cup

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Wow, what a crazy start to this season! Not only has the cheat sheet and slack chat plays over at the Fantasy Golf Bag been on complete fire, but the new golf betting model has now hit on two outrights and one FRL in back-to-back weeks! We get a much better field this week so definitely plan to keep this heater going here at the CJ Cup this week. Brooks Koepka will be teeing it up for the first time since being named the 2018 POY, along with guys such as Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Paul Casey, Billy Horschel, and our new favorite Sungjae Im. As you can see, this will be a fairly exciting event for a setup as similar as last week’s tournament.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at this course and see if we can pinpoint some key stats to take us to another Big GPP win or at least a couple good choices for an outright win.

The CJ Cup will be played at the Club at Nine Bridges, a 7,196 yard par-72 golf course in South Korea. Although this may appear like a similar course to TPC Kuala Lumpur last week, this one will play quite significantly tougher. As you can see below, in 2017 there were more bogeys than birdies for the week which doesn’t happen much outside of majors. Justin Thomas won last year’s event after shooting 63 in the first round but failed to break 70 the following three days. JT finished at nine under, which tied Marc Leishman, who coincidentally won this last weekend (2019 Fall Swing narrative). So why so tough if it appears so short? Let’s take a look.

So first off, let’s get this out of the way first. These greens are brutal. No joke; these greens were the single most difficult greens to putt on all of last year. Everything from one-putt percentage to 3-putt avoidance, these ranked the No. 1 most difficult on Tour all year. But here’s the problem: We all know putting is the single most variable stat, so using SG:P will tend to lead to a very disappointing pool of players. For example, coming into last year the players ranked Top 10 in SG:P finished 11-33-47-40-28-64-36-26-71-36, respectively. There is a still a stat that helped fine-tune player pools last year that I will recommend this year: my first key stat to consider this week is 3-putt avoidance.

The next section here I will just briefly touch on the driving accuracy and GIR percentage for this course. It is very average for the PGA Tour…that is really all you need to know. Driving accuracy ranked 48th and GIR percentage ranked 38th in 2017. This course is not difficult tee-to-green, plain and simple. I will certainly add the usual SG:T2G this week along with GIR percentage, but this course will favor most guys this week.

So besides putting, why are these scores so poor considering the appearance of an easy course? Well besides putting on these greens, scrambling here is brutal. Scrambling also ranked No. 1 most difficult here last year but again, this is a stat that is extremely tough to see useful trends. I will, however, encourage you to use SG:ARG to help narrow down your player pool more efficiently.

Remember that this segment of the Fall Swing will not yield strokes-gained data, so we must only utilize the traditional stats the PGA Tour keeps. On top of all the micro-scoring stats mentioned above, let’s take a closer look at this course from a macro level. This will be fairly straightforward when building your model. The par 4s here are extremely difficult, so add SG:P4 Scoring to your research (par 3 scoring is also very difficult but sample sizes are usually too small to include each week). Par 5 scoring was difficult as well but there is a better stat we can use than the P4 scoring mentioned above. The final stat we will be using is simply bogey avoidance. This will do a fantastic job of incorporating T2G, scrambling and putting into our model/research.

Overall this course is really an amazing layout but will pose a difficult task for the players. Just like last week, I encourage you to ease into the season by playing light and also primarily playing GPPs.

With all that out of the way, let’s get into my core plays for this week…

Justin Thomas (DK $11,600)

Justin Thomas finally makes the core writeup. After a mediocre finish last week (5th place), he comes to Nine Bridges as the defending champion. Ironically, he beat out Marc Leishman, last week’s winner, in a playoff last year and I think he is going to be the guy to pay up for over $10k. JT won both CIMB Classic and The CJ Cup last year, and I would be very surprised if he doesn’t leave this leg of the Fall Swing (Asia) without a win. There’s a lot going for him outside of his recent form and course history (if that wasn’t enough), he ranks first in both SG:T2G and SG:APP, second in par 4 scoring, eighth in bogey avoidance and finally, surprisingly, 11th in 3-putt avoidance. If you are building only a few lineups this week, I think JT should be in around two-thirds of them.

Byeong-Hun An (DK $8,700)

Mr. Ben An makes the list again! Byeong-Hun An received a lot of praise from both Jacob and myself on the FGB Podcast last week and he did not disappoint with a 13th place finish, and really a strong chance to win going into the weekend. As part of a common theme you will see here, Ben An is the kind of consistent ball-striker to rely on each and every week. On the PGA Tour in the last 50 rounds, he ranks third along with a strong ranking in bogey avoidance (third) and GIR percentage (also third). He did play this event last year, finishing 11th at 4-under par, and if it weren’t for a final round 73 he had a realistic chance for the win! The price on Ben An is getting a little steep but I think we can still get some value out of it this week.

Kyle Stanley (DK $8,200)

Kyle Stanley should be considered a core play almost every week he is under $9K on DraftKings. One of the most elite ball strikers on Tour, ranking ninth in SG:T2G, 11th in SG:APP, sixth in GIR percentage and 14th in par 4 scoring, he sets up for another solid top 20. Last week Kyle finished 13th in Kuala Lumpur and now comes to Nine Bridges where he ended the tournament in 19th place last year. Kyle tends to be very “mediocre” so upside for a top 3 always seems to come sparingly during the season, but you still cannot ignore his skills at this price.

Charles Howell III (DK $7,700)

Charles Howell III is a lock for me this week. Coming off a strong showing last week (T5) but also an 11th-place finish at this event last year, he grades out as one of the strongest values this week at only $7,700. CH3 hadn’t played on the PGA Tour for over a month before appearing at Kuala Lumpur, causing him to fly well under the radar on his way to a solid top five finish. Always known as a superb ball-striker, Howell actually rates out 16th in bogey avoidance and 10th in 3-putt avoidance, both key stats for this golf course. Additionally, CH3 ranks inside the top 20 of both par 4 scoring and GIR percentage. In a no-cut event on a difficult ARG golf course, count on CH3 to gain enough placement points to pay off this solid price tag.

Ian Poulter (DK $7,600)

Ian Poulter may be extremely sneaky this week. We haven’t seen him since the Ryder Cup and most people that play DFS have severe recency bias. Poulter is a grinder, and considering the winning score should only be around 12-under par with lots of opportunities for bogeys, he should keep the wheels on all four days and have a chance on Sunday. One of the most surprising stats for me in my research on Poulter is that he ranks first in 3-putt avoidance, along with some impressive tee-to-green stats where he ranks inside the top 25 of all of my key stats mentioned above. Why is the 3-putt avoidance stat so important? As I noted in the course preview, these were the single most difficult greens to putt on last year with the worst 3-putt percentage. Outside of the key stats, it does seem like this course fits his eye as he finished 15th here last year. Ian Poulter will be another core play but I think he may come in quite under owned from where he probably should.

Joel Dahmen (DK $6,900)

Chalk Dahmen week is upon us and I am going to bite. Dahmen has been a DFS darling this year and last week was no different. Dahmen ended up finishing 26th which was largely due to a poor final round 71, which dropped him 11 spots. Even with that poor finish he was able to pay off his sub-$7K price tag, which is where we find him again this week. Dahmen ranks top 10 in this field in several key stats, including: SG:T2G, SG:APP, and bogey avoidance. If you need some salary savings but unsure about anyone under $7K, Dahmen should be your first look this week.

Also consider

Brooks Koepka
Jason Day
Marc Leishman
Paul Casey
Ryan Moore
Sungjae Im
Kevin Tway

Good luck this week everyone!

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