It’s that time again, time for the best players in the world to battle it out for one of the biggest prizes on offer. The third major of the year will begin on Thursday, as the US Open returns to the famous Torrey Pines for the second time. Tiger Woods triumphed at this venue in 2008, beating Rocco Mediate in a grueling 19-hole playoff, gaining his 14th major success. Who will get their hands on the historic trophy this time?
Before we get down to business, let’s recap last week’s action. The PGA Tour was in South Carolina, where the Palmetto Championship was hosted at Congaree Golf Club in Gillisonville. Value pick Garrick Higgo came good, repaying the faith shown by fantasy players and sportsbook bettors alike, winning by a shot, finishing -11 for the tournament. Must-have play Tyrell Hatton also performed well, finishing in a tie for 2nd place at -10, while Mathew Fitzpatrick scored promisingly to finish T10 at -8.
I’m not bragging, we all go hot and cold. But yeah, that was a hot week. Let’s hope for another good one at the Open!
The Field at the U.S. Open
As is the case at the majors, there’s a star-studded line-up set to feature in San Diego. World number one Dustin Johnson goes in search of a third major success after warming up nicely with -8 T10 at the Palmetto last week, while Brooks Koepka, who went close at Kiawah Island just a few weeks ago, is another big-name player looking to add to his tally after returning to get his game in order at Congaree.
A host of top-tier players who opted to rest last week will take to the field on Thursday, including current US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, while Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, Francesco Molinari, and Bubba Watson are some of the previous major winners who’ll tread the South Course at Torrey Pines.
Both Jordan Spieth and Gary Woodland, who won this competition in 2015 and 2019 respectively, are another two in the hunt for further major glory. Outside of the big boys, the likes of recent European Tour winner Marcus Armitage, now ranked 122nd in the world, will play in a major for only the second time in his career, while rising star Garrick Higgo, who arrives fresh from his first PGA Tour win, is another competing at a major for only the second time.
The Course at Torrey Pines (South)
South Course at Torrey Pines
San Diego, California
For just the second time since its inception in 1957, the South Course at Torrey Pines will host a major event. It previously hosted the 2008 U.S. Open, won by all-time great Tiger Woods, who claimed his 14th major title on the tough William F Bell-designed layout. Much like Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course a few weeks ago, the Torrey Pines, South Course is a real monster, one that can swallow up even the elitist players on tour.
The course underwent something of a revamp in both 2001 and 2019, which was carried out by American golf course architect Rees Jones, who set up a classic coastal track, containing bermudagrass fairways overseeded with ryegrass and damning kikuyugrass rough areas.
The greens feature poa annua or annual bluegrass. Right now, the course is ranked among the toughest in the country, which shows in the high scoring average of 73.34 (+1.34).
As is generally the case in the U.S. Open, being long off the tee is a massive advantage and that is certainly likely to be the case on a course measuring a lengthy 7,685 yards, a course which is now the longest on the PGA Tour this season.
All four of the par-5’s are over 560 yards, so hitting bombs with the driver will really increase birdie chances. The use of particularly thick and long kikuyugrass means that it’s not only length that’s important, but finding the fairway is going to be as critical as ever. Finding the treacherous rough areas will make hitting greens in regulation extremely difficult, so players who are not only up there with the longer hitters but have a habit of sticking it on the fairway regularly are the ones to side with.
Consider Farmers Insurance Open Form
Torrey Pines is where the yearly PGA Tour event the Farmers Insurance Open takes place, so players who’ve done well at that event could be worth keeping an eye on. It is worth noting however that 36 holes are played on the North Course and 36 on the South Course in that event.
Last 5 Farmers Insurance Open Winners (+runners up/ties for runner up)
2021 – Patrick Reed (Tony Finau, Viktor Hovland, Henrik Norlander, Ryan Palmer, Xander Schauffele)
2020 – Marc Leishman (Jon Rahm)
2019 – Justin Rose (Adam Scott)
2018 – Jason Day (Alex Noren, Ryan Palmer)
2017 – Jon Rahm (Charles Howell III, Pan Cheng-tsung)
Let’s look at a few comments from recent Farmers insurance Winners. Following his win in 2021, Patrick Reed said: “You know, the back, the back was tough, I mean, just in general”. In 2018, Jason Day commented that “driving, it’s so demanding on the driver, you have to get yourself in position. If you’re not, it’s difficult to get yourself in the right spot to get up and down”.
Key Stats for Torrey Pines
As touched on above, driving distance is always a big thing at U.S. Opens. None of the last five U.S. Open winners have ranked lower than 13th in terms of driving distance by the end of the week, while only one (Gary Woodland in 2019) ranked outside the top eight. Driving is going to be important at Torrey Pines, that’s for sure, but that’s not all.
Below are some key stats ahead of Thursday’s tee-off, followed by the top ten in those categories on the South Course at Torrey Pines in the last five seasons. Note: only players who’ve played at least four rounds at the venue are included.
Strokes gained: off-the-tee: Cameron Champ, Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jason Kokrak, Xander Schauffelle, Tony Finau, Viktor Hovland.
Strokes gained: tee-to-green: Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Viktor Hovland, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Tony Finau, Will Zalatoris, Charl Schwartzel, Gary Woodland.
Strokes gained: approach: Viktor Hovland, Adam Scott, Brenden Steele, Ryo Ishikawa, Ryan Palmer, Tom Hoge, Will Zalatoris, Phil Mickelson, Sam Ryder.
Moving away from strokes gained, here are the top ten in both driving distance and driving accuracy on tour this season:
Driving Distance: Bryson Dechambeau, Rory McIlroy, Cameron Champ, Wyndam Clark, Will Gordon, Dustin Johnson, Matthew Wolff, Luke List, Joaquin Niemann, Gary Woodland.
Driving Accuracy: Brendon Todd, Brian Stuard, Abraham Ancer, Chez Reavie, Ryan Armour, Ryan Moore, David Hearn, Webb Simpson, Brice Garnett, Corey Conners.
From this selection of stats, we can see that there are a handful of players, who rank well in multiple areas, such players look to be primed for a good tournament.
Fantasy Golf Picks for the 2021 U.S. Open
|Odds To win +1100|
|Draft Kings $11,200|
|Jon Rahm has long been touted as a major winner waiting to happen and he may now have his best opportunity yet. Everybody knows that he’s long enough off the tee and he’s also familiar with doing well at this venue, finishing winning and finishing in the top ten in four of the last five Farmers Insurance Opens at Torrey Pines. This is a big plus. Add in the fact that the Spaniard ranks in the top ten for both strokes gained: off-the-tee (2nd) and strokes gained tee-to-green (6th) on the South Course in the last five years, and he fits the bill for a must-have play.|
|Odds To win +1800|
|Draft Kings $9,900|
|Next up is Rory, who like Rahm, ticks lots of important boxes. The seventh-best players in the field over the last five years in terms of strokes gained: total at this venue has found some of his old form this season, which bodes well. Moreover, he is the second-longest on tour in terms of average driving distance, which should give him a distinct advantage over much of the field. If he can dial in his iron and approach game, then McIlroy, who sits inside the top ten in four of the main five strokes gained categories (on the South Course in the last five seasons) isn’t likely to be far away come Sunday. Therefore, fantasy players are advised to bolster the top end of their line-up with the Northern Irishman.|
|Odds To win +3000|
|Draft Kings $9,200|
|It’s been a fantastic season for young Viktor Hovland, who continues to prove that challenging towards the top of the leaderboard in PGA Tour events is where he belongs. Unlike the two players above, Hovland doesn’t have a plethora of form at this venue, but the numbers he has recorded in four rounds are very eye-catching, as we can see from the strokes gained data above. Moreover, he played superbly to finish 2nd at the Farmers Insurance here earlier in the season. There’s no reason why he cannot deliver similar performance, and if he does fantasy players that show the faith should be duly rewarded with plenty of points.|
|Odds To win +3300|
|Draft Kings $8,900|
|Completing the value duo is Tony Finau, who somewhat incredibly hasn’t earned a victory since winning for the first time on the PGA Tour back in 2016. We shouldn’t be put off by this, though, as the powerful Finau has proved himself capable of tussling with the best in majors, earning four top-five finishes since 2018. What’s more, he’s a man who seemingly loves to hit his way around this course, as the strokes gained stats above suggest. He’s the ninth-best in the field in terms of strokes gained: total at this venue since 2016, while the South Course and Torrey Pines is a place where he’s finished in the top ten in four of the last five campaigns, while he’s the fourth-best average scorer in the line-up here too.|
Who’s the sleeper?
|Odds To win +17,500|
|Draft Kings $7,100|
|There were a few this week that could slot nicely into this category, but none are more appealing than Ryan Palmer, who based on several factors, really does look to be generously priced, both in terms of fantasy and the sportsbook. He’s certainly not the longest off the tee, which isn’t great, but this is a place where he’s often come alive in recent times, finishing 2nd at the Farmers Insurance in both 2018 and earlier this season. He’s also performed very well here in terms of strokes gained: approach, which is positive, as it suggests he’s not been in bad positions off the tee. A player who’ll definitely be under the radar, Palmer is well worth chancing if you’re looking for a cheap fantasy addition or a big-odds sportsbook play.|
Write to me below. Maybe you want to slap me on the back for my Higgo pick last week at +4500, or berate me for my other picks. Have at it. I'm British, I can take it.