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Morning 9: Perspectives on Pebble | Why Rory can rule and it’s Phil’s last shot

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By Ben Alberstadt ([email protected])

June 11, 2019

Good Tuesday morning, golf fans.
1. Pebble weather, setup, etc
Golfweek’s Geoff Shackelford offers his initial impressions of how the venerable track is looking ahead of competition.
  • “The mowing height appears to have topped off the tall stuff Sunday morning around 4 inches, with the USGA reserving the right to keep it trimmed as they see fit, with another topping off likely Wednesday evening based on past protocols. Gone is the secondary cut through the course, though some areas where balls might roll off a fast fairway, such as the right of the second fairway, appear to have an expanded “intermediate” cut.”
  • “…The fairways also have a carpet like density which, while cutting down on the potential for fast running-landing areas, will make Pebble Beach play a bit longer than previous U.S. Opens.”
  • “And the greens? They are borderline “lush” with incredibly consistent and healthy poa annua turf. The USGA has applied a wetting agent after much study and hopes to reduce the amount of inconsistent drying out as the U.S. Open’s long days proceed.”

Full piece.

…Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard adds…”One of the concerns following the last U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, in 2010, was how the poa annua greens became particularly difficult in dry conditions, much like those forecast for this week. Perhaps in reaction to that officials have told players that they will syringe greens between the morning and afternoon waves on Thursday and Friday if needed.”
“Although the USGA has syringed greens between waves and during rounds, including at Shinnecock during the final round in 2004, it is rare.”
2. Continued…
Doug Feguson at the AP with this succinct assessment…
  • “The fairways are roughly the same width as always at Pebble. The rough is lush and penal. The forecast is good.”
  • ”I don’t think I’ve seen the golf course in better condition,” said John Bodenhamer, the senior managing director of championships for the USGA.
  • “So what could possibly go wrong?”
  • “Based on the recent run of U.S. Open mishaps, that’s a question that lingers for some of golf’s best players.”
  • “And the USGA can only hope it has the answer.”

Full piece.

3. Mickelson’s last, best U.S. Open chance?
From a Canadian Press report…”It’s what makes Mickelson’s trip next week to Pebble all that much more tantalizing. It’s his chance to finally win the tournament he’s wanted so badly – maybe too badly – at a course teeming with history and good vibes for not only himself, but for his family and for the game itself. It’s a week during which the five-time major winner, who turns 49 on the day of the final round, will come face to face with what could be his last, best chance to win the U.S. Open.”
“….It’s hard to argue Mickelson hasn’t proven he has the game to win a U.S. Open. He has played in 25 of them as a professional, finished in the top 10 in 10, and finished runner-up in six of those. And yet, the defining trait of America’s national championship is that it delivers the ultimate examination of every part of a player’s game. That includes the mental and emotional approach – and, it follows that a big piece of that puzzle is the ability to stay cool and make good decisions when the lights are the brightest.”
4. Why Rory can rule Pebble
Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail…”McIlroy has missed his last three U.S. Open cuts. Yes, he’s coming off a dominant win at the Canadian Open, but is there reason for optimism this week?”
“Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail provides six reasons he thinks we could be in for another McIlroy romp. “
  • “HE’S FIRING WITH DRIVER…”After missing the cut the previous week at the Memorial Tournament, McIlroy put the idle weekend to good use and found the missing piece with his driver. On Sunday, he talked about playing with freedom and that stems from having confidence in his weapon of choice once more.”
  • HE’S GOT ANOTHER WEDGE…”McIlroy’s distance control with his wedges has long been his Achilles heel, and the greens at Pebble are so tiny that you have to be spot on to have any chance…With one eye on the US Open, McIlroy added a fourth wedge to his bag in Canada last week and the plan worked well over the weekend.”
5. U.S. Open storylines
CBS’ Kyle Porter rounds up a few the most notable plot points for the third major of the year.
  • “Three for Brooks Koepka: Nobody has won three consecutive U.S. Opens since Willie Anderson did it in 1905 at Myopia Hunt Club. He opened 81-80 that year and won by two. Don’t think that will cut it for Koepka at Pebble Beach. Koepka winning two straight U.S. Opens and two straight PGA Championships is already historic, but if he takes three in a row and does it at a track like this one before the age of 30, he’s an instant golf icon.”
  • “Tiger Woods gets No. 16: Can you imagine Woods going Augusta National-Pebble Beach in the same season to get within two of Jack Nicklaus? I don’t know that anything can top what he did at Augusta in April in terms of coverage or historicity, but if something could then it’s winning 19 years after his surreal 15-stroke lap around Monterey on a Sunday night on national television.”

Full piece.

6. JK to channel his inner BK
PGATour.com’s Ben Everill…
  • “But he used the moment to further his education in the school of golf. Thomas was especially attuned to seeing how Koepka dealt with his sizeable 54-hole lead at Bethpage Black. When Thomas led by seven shots at the 2017 Sony Open in Hawaii with a round to play he found it difficult to contain his nerves.”
  • “I promise I’m not saying this to pat myself on the back, but I have started a Sunday with a 7-shot lead and it’s still to this day the most nervous I’ve been teeing off,” Thomas admitted ahead of this week’s U.S. Open.
  • “It was tough at the Sony Open... so I can’t imagine how it was at the PGA Championship, Bethpage Black, best field in golf, tough conditions…. I’ve learned a lot watching Brooks at the PGA.”
7. Viktor Hovland
Steve Dimeglio for Golfweek…
  • “…And in a Monday practice round, Hovland played with Rickie Fowler, a former OSU standout.”
  • “Viktor is going to be fine. I’m not worried about him,” Fowler said. “It is an adjustment turning pro. Sometimes it takes longer for some guys than others. I’m excited for him to start his professional career soon. I think he’s going to have a lot of success. I hope that would be sooner rather than later. But I’m looking forward to helping him if I can at all. He may not need it. He might come out and just get on a run and go.”
  • “Hovland has reached out to some pros for some advice but isn’t too worried about joining the pro ranks.”
  • “I’m pretty laid back,” he said. “I’m thinking about the U.S. Open right now, and when I get to Connecticut next week, we’ll figure it out. There’s no real secret. You’ve just got to play good golf. Go about your business. Get a good routine and strategy to the course and just got to play good golf.”

Full piece.

8. The James Hozhauer of golf
An interesting case made by Shane Ryan for Golf Digest…
“In short, Holzhauer is a Jeopardy! demigod who just went on a thrilling 32-game, $2.46 million winning streak that some believe is the greatest stretch of … Jeopardying? … that humankind has ever witnessed. I’m of two minds: He was spectacular, yes, but in the end he fell a few dollars short of Ken Jennings’ overall money record, and many, many days shy of his total-wins mark (a whopping 74). There’s a school of thought that believes those two numbers are the alpha and omega of any Jeopardy! G.O.A.T. discussion, which puts him a notch below Jennings. Still, Holzhauer earned money at a clip we’ve never seen before, and currently holds the top 16 greatest individual games in the show’s history (he’s the only person to ever make more than $100,000 in a single day, and he did it six times), and he nailed 97 percent of all questions, beating Jennings’ 91 percent mark. In other words, it’s a legitimate argument.”
“I will not tell you that Brooks Koepka deserves a mention in the corresponding golf debate, because I am not stupid. He’s not even close to G.O.A.T. status, and despite his current torrid pace, smart money says he’ll never get there. And yet, as with Holzhauer, Koepka has subjected his chosen game to an almost unbelievable blitzkrieg that is changing how we view the sport’s biggest stages. It is, arguably, the greatest stretch of major golf that we’ve ever seen when you take his “usual” level into account. How does a guy who has won exactly one “normal” tournament in the past three years manage to win four of the last eight majors he’s entered, and come extremely close in another?”
9. U.S. Open photo buffet
…like a clambake with ample portions for all, you might say…
Check out GolfWRX’s photos from Monday at the U.S. Open here
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Tokyo Olympics men’s golf DraftKings picks

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60 golfers will be making the trip to Tokyo this week for the men’s Olympic golf competition. Kasumigaseki Country Club sits 35 miles outside of Tokyo and plays as a par 71, tipping out to 7,447 yards on the scorecard.

The Charles Allison design features bent-grass greens and zoysia fairways, and it received a total facelift from famed architect Tom Fazio in 2016. From all of the course flyovers and information we have at our disposal, Kasumigaseki features similar elements to other Fazio designs/redesigns such as Firestone Country Club, Quail Hollow, and Shadow Creek.

On-ground reports have mentioned that the course is playing on the softer side, which conjures memories of how Augusta National played for the November Masters.

Premier ball-strikers, specifically those with expertise with their long irons and wedges, and those comfortable navigating large and undulating greens seem to be the safest bets.

You can check out my betting tips and selections here. Let’s dig into the DraftKings slate!

2021 Tokyo Olympics men’s golf DraftKings picks

$10,000 range 

Xander Schauffele, $10,700 (Projected ownership: 13.3%)

Xander Schauffele is often the highest-owned golfer on the DraftKings slate, but it appears that fantasy managers feel more comfortable paying up for Collin Morikawa or Justin Thomas this week. I’ll side with Schauffele, the number one bent-grass putter in this field, who has won and finished runner-up the WGC-HSBC Championship in China, finished runner-up at Shadow Creek, and has an unbelievable track record at Augusta National and East Lake, one of the only courses on Tour that features zoysia fairways.

$9,000 range 

Shane Lowry, $9,600 (Projected ownership: 10.6%)

I’ve already shared my love for Lowry in my betting tips article, yet the idea that he is coming in at only 10.6 perccent projected ownership makes him an intriguing DraftKings option as well. Sandwiched in between Viktor Hovland and Paul Casey, fantasy managers are passing on the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone winner at Firestone, and I can’t quite understand why. Lowry is currently playing some of the best golf of his career. The Irish representative has gained over 1.3 strokes on approach in every measured start since March.

$8,000 range 

Cameron Smith, $8,900 (Projected ownership: 14.7%)

Cameron Smith is a player who just missed the cut for my betting card, yet I will gladly take the plunge in DraftKings. The Australian finished 11th at Shadow Creek, fourth at Sherwood, and runner-up at the November Masters. While Smith is by no means low-owned, Abraham Ancer, Joaquin Niemann, Sungjae Im, and Corey Conners all project to garner more ownership than the recent Zurich Classic winner. I’ll side with Smith, a top-five bunker player and birdie maker in this field.

$7,000 range 

Sebastian Munoz, $7,700 (Projected ownership: 14.9%)

I’ll take the plunge with Sebastian Munoz this week, who has recorded an eighth-place finish on zoysia fairways at East Lake, a ninth-place finish at Shadow Creek, and a 14th-place finish at the November Masters. The former Sanderson Farms Championship winner has been awesome on bent-grass greens, with recent finishes of third at Colonial and fourth at TPC Deere Run.

$6,000 range 

Sepp Straka, $6,400 (Projected ownership: 14.9%)

This is where things get tricky. I almost wrote up Henrik Norlander, but 21 percent projected ownership is a tough pill to swallow. I will gladly pivot to Sepp Straka, who is by no means flying under the radar, but is essentially the same player as Norlander at $400 dollars cheaper and less ownership. The University of Georgia product is coming off a start where he gained 4.2 strokes on approach at the 3M Open. That’s good enough for me at this price point, as this is a barren range.

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Tokyo Olympics men’s golf betting tips and selections

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59 golfers will be making the trek to Tokyo this week for the men’s Olympic golf competition. This will be the fourth golf event in the history of the Olympics. It was played in Paris in 1900, St. Louis in 1904, and then after a 112-year hiatus, Olympic golf returned in 2016, as Justin Rose took home the gold medal in Rio. The Olympics will be a four-day stroke play event with no cut, similar to many World Golf Championships and shorter field events that make up the Asian swing of the PGA Tour.

While there is no hard data from professional competition on the host course, Kasumigaseki Country Club, we can responsibly draw comparisons to other courses that host professional tournaments. Kasumigaseki is a Charles Allison design with bent-grass greens and zoysia fairways. Famed architect Tom Fazio gave the course a total facelift in 2016, and from all of the course flyovers and information we have at our disposal, it features similar elements to other Fazio designs/re-designs such as Firestone Country Club, Quail Hollow, and Shadow Creek.

Playing as a par 71 and tipping out to 7,447 yards on the scorecard, length off the tee will certainly help here. Along with distance, I am primarily looking for players with experience navigating large and undulating greens, as well as elite long iron snipers and those who are capable of going low in benign scoring conditions.

Let’s dig into my outright selections!

Olympics men’s golf betting picks

Viktor Hovland (12-1, FanDuel Sportsbook)

The Norwegian sensation rated out as the number one player in my model this week due to his elite long iron play, length off the tee, expertise with his wedges, and ability to make birdies in bunches. Over his last 36 rounds, Hovland ranks inside the top-10 in strokes gained approach, strokes gained off the tee, proximity from 200 yards plus, proximity from 125-150 yards, and birdies or better gained.

With a 12th-place finish at Shadow Creek in the fall, and a third-place finish at Quail Hollow this spring, the two-time PGA Tour winner should be right at home on another tree-lined Tom Fazio course featuring large and undulating bent-grass greens.

Patrick Reed (16-1, DraftKings Sportsbook)

While concerns about Patrick Reed’s recent travel schedule are certainly valid, I’ve found reason to believe that the Olympics has his upmost attention. Reed is only in the field this week as a result of Bryson DeChambeau’s withdrawal due to a positive COVID-19 test, and despite learning this while in the midst of competing in the 3M Open, Reed jumped at the opportunity to represent his country.

The man deemed “Captain America” for his Ryder Cup heroics, has also experienced some incredible success on bent-grass greens, and tops this entire field in three-putt avoidance. While Augusta National is far from a perfect comp to Kasumigaseki, Reed always plays well at the Masters, and he is coming off a 14th-place finish at Sherwood in October and a sixth-place finish at Quail Hollow in April. I expect the nine-time PGA Tour winner to certainly be a factor come Sunday afternoon in Tokyo.

Shane Lowry (22-1, DraftKings Sportsbook)

After an understandable hangover from his life-changing 2019 Open Championship win at Royal Portrush, Shane Lowry is back to playing some incredible golf this season. The Irishman has made the cut in every major this year, and recorded top-15 finishes at The Players, PGA Championship, Memorial, and most recently, The Open Championship in his title defense. One through-line we can draw from Lowry’s historical results is that he always plays his best golf on the biggest stage.

Lowry is a bankable selection in stronger-field events because of his elite approach play. The five-time worldwide winner has gained over 1.3 strokes on approach in every measured start since March. With a win already under his belt at the Fazio re-designed Firestone, I expect Lowry to add a gold medal to his already impressive resume.

Abraham Ancer (25-1, DraftKings SportsBook)

Ancer is a player who I rarely bet as he has still yet to record his first PGA Tour victory. With that being said, this feels like a logical breakthrough spot for the University of Oklahoma product.

Ancer has already finished runner-up at Quail Hollow this year, and I love the idea of a soft Augusta as a comp course for Kasumigaseki, where Ancer contended as well. More recently, Ancer has also recorded top-10 finishes at the Valspar, Travelers, and PGA Championship. His ball striking remains elite, and he is one of the better putters in the field as well, ranking sixth in strokes gained putting and third in three-putt avoidance over his last 36 rounds. Bent-grass has also historically been his best surface. I firmly believe that Ancer will be in the mix this weekend in Tokyo.

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Tour Rundown: Major victories and a Champ returns to the winner’s circle

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As the Olympic games opened in Tokyo, two major championships were decided around the golf world, and three other events kept our eyes glued to screens everywhere. We watched a swashbuckling Spaniard dunk an approach for albatross on Saturday, and the world’s finest women worked overtime in France to determine a winner. Even with the loss of Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm to positive COVID tests, Olympic golf is coming during this golden period for 2021 golf viewing. Let’s run down what we know, and let’s take you along for the ride this week.

LPGA: Evian Championship to Lee, and it’s her first!

Jeongeun Lee6 would have taken any of her first three scores on Sunday. She wouldn’t have been picky. She didn’t need the 61 that Leona Maguire posted on day four. She didn’t need the 66 that Amy Yang signed for, and she didn’t need the 68 that Inbee Park registered. In fact, all she needed was one stroke better than the 71 she had on the final day of the Evian Championship. Unfortunately for Lee6, her five bogeys from holes three through nine were too much to overcome, even with birdie at the closing three holes. She finished in a tie with Minjee Lee at 18-under par, and the two went off to sudden death to determine who would claim the year’s final major title.

Minjee had turned in minus-three, and imagined that her top competition was Yealimi Noh as Lee6 faltered. Minjee came home in minus-four, with birdie at four of her final five holes. Imagine her surprise when Noh failed to make birdie at the closing hole, and finished one back of Lee’s 18-under total. Imagine her further surprise when Lee6 completed her comeback with birdie, necessitating a playoff. Away they went, returning to the 18th hole. Off a bit of a sidehill lie, with the ball below her feet, Minjee laced her second to within a dozen feet. Her eagle attempt caught an edge, and she tapped in for birdie. Lee6 was not so fortunate, and her bogey meant that Minjee Lee had finally earned a major women’s title.

Champions Tour: Senior Open trophy makes its way to Wales

After doing nearly everything right on Saturday, Stephen Dodd of Wales did quite a few things wrong on Sunday. The Welshman can be forgiven, as these weren’t household chores with no eyes upon him. Dodd was the third-round leader of the Senior Open championship, played at perhaps the finest course on this year’s roster of sites, Sunningdale. Dodd was paired with Wisconsin’s Jerry Kelly, but Kelly didn’t have his best stuff on Sunday, ending in sixth position.

Miguel Ángel Jiménez electrified Sunningdale with his opening-hole albatross on Saturday. On Sunday, the Spaniard only made birdie at the par-five first. However, he went on to post his best round of the week, with a 65 that brought him to 12-under par. Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke was after a Senior Open title to match his 2011 Open title, but bogey at the 10th and 16th knocked him out of first, into solo third. And then came Dodd.

The pride of Wales had a bogey on each nine holes on Sunday. He had two birdies on each half as well, and none was more important than the twelve feet he traversed over the final green. With victory in sight, Dodd’s understated demeanor never wavered, and he calmly stroked the putt for four into the cup, for his fourth senior title and his first-ever major. Well done, Dodd.

PGA Tour: 3M Open means third time a Champ

When you sign for a clean card, good things happen. Cameron Champ wanted that clean, Sunday card, even after he pull-hooked a drive into North Dakota on the 18th hole. Even after he chunk-fuzzed a recovery pitch into the rough. Even after he had to lay his third up on the par five closer. Champ stuck his fourth inside three feet and tapped in for par, a third consecutive 67, and a two-triumph over a triumvirate of worthy challengers.

Jhonattan Vegas led early in the week, then put on a Sunday charge with an outward 32. His birdie barrage stalled, he made a few bogies, and ended at minus-13. The South African tandem of Charl Schwartzel and “Hard Luck” Louis Oosthuizen joined Vegas in the runner-up position. Schwartzel had 67 and three 68s on the week but, like Vegas, spotted the day-four card with too many blemishes to chase Champ down. As for Louis, Mr. Seconds nearly holed his third at the last for eagle and minus-fourteen. It lipped out and he settled for yet another, runner-up finish in his star-crossed 2021. No one is playing better than Louis, but everyone seems to clip him in the end. Perhaps his day is coming soon.

The victory is Champ’s third on the PGA Tour, following wins at Sanderson Farms in 2018 and Safeway in 2019. Folks were quick to baptize him as the next, great hope, but Champ is progressing at a moderate, healthy pace. Having just turned 26, he can look ahead to 15-20 years of championship-calibre play.

Korn Ferry: Wu commerce claims Price Cutter and Tour promotion

Dylan Wu was in fine position as the P-Triple-C headed down the home stretch on Sunday afternoon. A lightning delay had postponed what seemed inevitable for a time, but the former Northwestern Wildcat sat on a front-nine 31 and a healthy lead over his nearest pursuers. Mother Nature’s pyrotechnics awakened Wu’s playing partner, Alex Kang and others, and the inward half became a battle to the finish line.

The biggest move came from Taylor Moore. After turning in minus-three on the day, Moore posted six consecutive birdies to open the back nine. He added a seventh at the closing hole for 29 and 62, to reach 25-under par. Moore’s onslaught, impressive as it was, might have always been too late for top spot. Wu was in command of his game, making par after par, with the occasional birdie (11 and 16) sprinkled on top.

After making three bogies in his opening 68, Wu made zero over the next 54 holes. That’s some impressive golf, and it was enough to earn him an inaugural Korn Ferry Tour victory and a move to 12th on The 25 money list. Beginning after the FedEx Cup playoffs on the PGA Tour this August, Wu will make his debut on the big circuit as a card-carrying member. Playing partner Kang ultimately finished in a tie for fourth position, one behind third-place Taylor Dickson, who closed with 64.

European Tour: Wales Open title heads to the Iberian peninsula

Nacho Elvira had lost two previous playoffs on the European Tour. Winless on the big tour since turning professional, he was not all that thrilled about facing a third one at the Cazoo Open in Wales. His opponent was Justin Harding, who had won in March at the Magical Kenya Open. Harding was riding a wave, while Elvira had handed back a sizable lead over the final 18 holes. Things didn’t bode well for the Spaniard, but that’s why they play the playoff.

Elvira began the final round with a six-shot advantage over Harding and Mikko Kornonen of Finland. While the leader went 3-3-3 over the front nine (3 of each bogies, pars, and birdies), both Harding and Korhonen turned in the kind of halves that state that winning is on their minds. By the time they reached the 15th tee, all three were tied at the top. Adding to the drama, each made birdie at the par four hole. Harding made par at the closing triumvirate, and finished at 16-under par. Korhonen stumbled at the 17th with bogey, and could not gather a birdie at the last to tie the lead. He finished alone in third spot.

Elvira added another birdie at 16, to reclaim the lead, then gave it back with a wretched bogey at the par five closing hole. Thus did the Spaniard and the South African return to the 18th tee for sudden victory. It was over quickly, but not in the manner that some might expect. The fellow on the rise, faltered with bogey. The man treading water, emerged and survived. With par on the playoff hole, Nacho Elvira claimed his first European Tour title at the age of 34.

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