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Fantasy Preview: 2018 U.S. Open Championship

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The year’s second major is upon us as we head to New York for the 118th U.S. Open Championship. New look Shinnecock Hills will play host to what is often the toughest test of the year. What will greet the 156 players in the field this week will be a firm and fast golf course that will play very long. At over 7,400 yards, Shinnecock Hills will prove a daunting prospect to the players, and the fact that it’s a par-70 will make things even tougher for the elite field.

An exposed golf course, wind could play a significant factor this week (although the forecast suggests it shouldn’t do so). Shinnecock Hills last hosted the U.S. Open back in 2004, where Retief Goosen triumphed and only two players finished under par for the week. Length, ball striking, approach play and greens in regulation will all be vitally important this week, and as always at this championship, the ability to hole clutch par putts will be significant. Last year, Brooks Koepka won his first major at Erin Hills, posting 17-under par for the week to win by four strokes. Don’t expect any numbers like that this week.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Dustin Johnson 8/1
  • Rory McIlroy 14/1
  • Justin Rose 16/1
  • Justin Thomas 16/1
  • Rickie Fowler 16/1
  • Jason Day 18/1
  • Jordan Spieth 18/1

Ten years on from one of Tiger’s most incredible achievements, which saw him triumph against all the odds on one leg, Woods returns to this year’s U.S. Open still in search of his elusive 15th major. Do I think Woods can win at Shinnecock Hills? Absolutely. His iron play currently is electric. Over the past 12 rounds, Woods ranks first for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, fifth in Ball Striking and fourth in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green.

Many detractors will point to his putting woes of late, but that is the one part of a player’s game that is most liable to change in a short space of time. Proof of this was at The Players Championship in between Woods’ two poor putting weeks, an event where Woods finished in the top-20 for Strokes Gained-Putting. He led the field at the Memorial tee to green, and with slightly wider fairways than usual at a U.S. Open, there is no doubt that Woods is a contender this week. As is usually the case with Woods, however, not much value is offered at his price.

Still, let’s enjoy the moment of where we find Woods and his game compared to the last few U.S. Opens.

With a 156-man field and only the top-60 and ties making it through to the weekend, there is an even greater demand and reward on building a lineup capable of making it through all four days. It’s safe to say that if you can get all your players through to the weekend, then you’re looking at a very successful week. For that reason, Dustin Johnson (9/1, DK Price $11,700) is the man to lean on with your DraftKings lineup despite his skinny betting odds. Form-wise, what is there to say? He just lapped the field at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis with consummate ease to reclaim the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings, and the big man hasn’t finished outside the top-20 in an event all year.

Over his previous 12 rounds, Johnson ranks first in Ball Striking and Strokes Gained-Total and second in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. He hasn’t missed a cut in 12 months, and Shinnecock Hills should be a golf course that suits his game. For his last 36 rounds on courses measuring greater than 7,400 yards, Johnson ranks second for Strokes Gained-Total, and there was a sense with his victory last week that there is still more to come. Despite U.S. Opens often exposing even the best players in the world, Johnson is the only man in the field that I would genuinely be shocked to see not make the cut. Many see him as a virtual lock to be in contention come Sunday, and I agree. Bite the bullet with his salary.

With a win and four other top-20 finishes in 2018, Paul Casey’s (50/1, DK Price $8,000) level of play has been consistently good all year. The Englishman has the game capable of competing at Shinnecock Hills with his excellent ball striking as his primary asset. Over his last 12 rounds, Casey sits 10th in Ball Striking, 15th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and 14th for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green. Even his putting, which has often been his nemesis, has looked good recently. He ranks a solid 14th in Strokes Gained-Putting over the same period.

Casey has made the cut in four of his last five U.S. Opens, and he will be aiming for more than just making the weekend as he enters this event playing some of the best golf of his career. In his last outing on the PGA Tour, he recorded a top-5 finish at the Wells Fargo Championship and backed that up with a top-20 finish at the BMW PGA Championship. In an event where steady and consistent ball striking is vitally important, Casey looks a safe bet to add to your lineups.

Speaking of consistency, Matt Kuchar (80/1, DK Price $7,600) has now made 30 of his last 31 cuts on Tour. It’s a remarkable statistic and one that I expect to improve to 31/32 after this week. Despite this, Kuchar has had a quiet year by his standards, but he appears to be trending upward right now. Over his previous eight rounds, Kuchar ranks 15th for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green and for the season is T-19 for Par 4 Scoring Average, an encouraging sign for tackling a course with as many as 12 par 4s.

The main reason I think Kuchar is such a good play for DraftKings lineups this week, along with his regularity at making cuts, is his price. At $7,600, Kuchar is the same price as Keegan Bradley (who incidentally I feel could also play well this week), yet the disparity in their betting odds is vast with Kuchar priced at 80/1 compared to Bradley’s 150/1. Kuchar is undoubtedly undervalued in the DraftKings market and looks a great play this week as he comes to Shinnecock Hills having made his last eight U.S. Open cuts.

Finally, deviating away from consistency and looking for cheap boom-or-bust potential, the enigmatic Si-Woo Kim (150/1, DK Price $7,000) seems an exciting prospect at his second U.S Open. Kim has made his last six cuts on Tour. Among these events was a runner-up finish at The Heritage, which he really should have won, and a top-25 at the Masters.

Statistically, Kim doesn’t show anything truly spectacular, although the Korean ranks a steady 22nd for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee, which should bode well on such a long golf course. Kim also plays tough golf courses well. Along with his runner-up at The Heritage, he has won The Players Championship, and at last year’s U.S. Open he entered the final round in sixth place before a poor Sunday dropped him back to T-13. At a very cheap price and the mercurial potential to find form in big events, Si-Woo Kim makes for an attractive play this week.

Recommended Bets

  • Dustin Johnson 9/1, DK Price $11,700
  • Paul Casey 50/1, DK Price $8,000
  • Matt Kuchar 80/1, DK Price $7,600
  • Si-Woo Kim 150/1, DK Price $7,000
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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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