Major season is halfway done, and in just a few short days, we'll see just one more on the calendar for 2022.
The Masters brought with it a dominant performance by Scottie Scheffler, the PGA Championship had no shortage of drama that ultimately saw Justin Thomas prevail, and this week's U.S. Open at Brookline will assuredly not lack buzz -- what with all the goings-on in the golf world.
But here, now, we're focused on the U.S. Open field and not the future of golf.
Let's dig into the course, the key stats, the win simulations, and the best bets of the week.
You can jump ahead to any specific section of the piece you would like.
The Country Club (Brookline) Course Info & Key Stats
Distance: 7,254 (average: ~40 yards longer than the average par 70)
Fairway Acres/Yard: 4.0 (average: PGA average is 4.1)
Average Green Size: 4,388 square feet (tiny: 67% of PGA average)
Green Type: Poa
Past 5 Winning Scores (Event): -6, -6, -13, +1, -16
Past 5 Cut Lines (Event): +4, +6, +2, +8, +1
Key Stats (in Order of Importance): Strokes Gained: Approach, Strokes Gained: Putting, Strokes Gained: Around the Green, Bogey Avoidance, Recent Major Performance
While we don't have strokes gained data for tons and tons of past U.S. Opens (we have it for three), we can do a little inductive reasoning from these events.
Over the past three U.S. Opens, strokes gained: approach has had an R^2 of 44% with total strokes gained inside that event; strokes gained: off the tee sits at 14%. That means that iron play explains about three times as much of the scoring as driver. And both distance (5%) and accuracy (11%) gained rate out worse than strokes gained: off the tee.
We do see a heavier emphasis on strokes gained: around the green (32%) and putting (26%) than off-the-tee play, as well.
That's a good sign because we're dealing with small greens. They're about 74% as big as the average PGA Tour greens, and in looking at footage at the course, there are runoffs and blind shots, so golfers are going to be missing greens. Additionally, hitting out of U.S. Open rough means holding greens will be at a premium. An emphasis on getting up-and-down will be there this week.
What does this all mean for us? While we don't want golfers who are dreadful off the tee, the driver hasn't been what's decided U.S. Opens. Yes, even with Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau being the two most recent winners. DeChambeau actually had an incredible week around the green, and Rahm and Gary Woodland both gained plenty there, as well. So, just being good with the driver is not nearly enough.
It's hard to envision how scores creep up into the -13 or -16 range here this week, so bogey avoidance -- not birdie rate -- takes precedent.
I'll also be factoring in some recent (past five-year) major performance data this week. Though we can't just copy and paste major leaderboards, it's certainly a unique format from a generic Tour event, and that matters to me -- and per the data.
Golfers With Great Course/Event History
The best golfers in the past five U.S. Opens (minimum two starts) include Brooks Koepka (+3.94 strokes per round), Xander Schauffele (+3.02), Louis Oosthuizen (+2.72), Viktor Hovland (+2.27), Patrick Reed (+2.27), Hideki Matsuyama (+2.27), Dustin Johnson (+1.97), Justin Thomas (+1.93), Bryson DeChambeau (+1.91), Brian Harman (+1.90), Rory McIlroy (+1.74), and Tommy Fleetwood (+1.71).
The golfers with the best strokes gained averages at all majors since 2020 (minimum three starts) include Will Zalatoris (+2.56), Scottie Scheffler (+2.25), Jon Rahm (+2.18), Dustin Johnson (+2.13), Collin Morikawa (+2.06), Louis Oosthuizen (+1.94), Xander Schauffele (+1.81), Rory McIlroy (+1.75), Justin Thomas (+1.73), and Hideki Matsuyama (+1.71).
Win Simulations for the U.S. Open
Here are the most likely winners this week, according to my win simulation model, as well as their golf betting odds this week.
Win Simulation Analysis and Best Bets for the U.S. Open
For me, from a holistic standpoint, I'm really digging Rory McIlroy even at 11/1, given the motivation, form, and fit.
I'm also looking at Rahm, Smith, and Burns but am already locked into McIlroy and Will Zalatoris.
I'll update this section later in the week.
Daily Fantasy Golfer Picks for the U.S. Open
All stats cited below originate at FantasyNational. Strokes gained data includes stats from the past calendar year and is adjusted based on my field strength and recency tweaks. Putting surface splits also come from FantasyNational and include the past 50 rounds when possible -- unless noted. All ranks and percentile ranks are among the field. References to my combo model refer to a combination of long-term, field-adjusted form, key stat performance, and hole-by-hole-level strokes gained data.
Best of the Best
Rory McIlroy (FanDuel Salary: $11,700 | FanDuel Sportsbook Win Odds: +1400) - It's time to do that major dance. For every golfer I'm keying on at the top of the field, there are two or three I can't recommend. Between the big four -- Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, and McIlroy -- I'm drawn to McIlroy. Scheffler and Thomas just won majors (which takes a good amount of luck -- and a greater amount of skill, to be clear), and Rahm's around-the-green play is quite bad right now. In terms of spike week percentages, McIlroy beats everyone but Thomas in that category over the past year, so the upside is there. Also, McIlroy's poa putting puts him in the 86th percentile over the past 50 rounds. I was in on McIlroy before his dominant showing at the RBC Canadian Open, and I'm not going to overthink it and move off of him just because of the win.
Cameron Smith ($11,500 | +1800) - If Smith can hit some fairways and not be in the weeds (metaphorically and literally), then you have to like his chances. Smith ranks in the 31st percentile in adjusted off-the-tee play but in the 94th or better in the other three strokes gained stats in my database. That's -- unsurprisingly -- unmatched in this field. Smith is showing up well at majors and rates out as a high-floor play.
Xander Schauffele ($11,100 | +2200) - Did I just say high-floor in majors? Sure, Xander has missed two of his past five cuts at majors but in total has combined for nine top-10s and 17 made cuts in 20 major starts in his career. More specifically, Schauffele is a perfect five-for-five with U.S. Open cuts made with five top-10 results. The adjusted irons check out (94th percentile), and his combined short game puts him in the 80th percentile in this field. I'll keep playing X in majors until things change drastically.
Will Zalatoris ($10,700 | +2700) - I'm not only picking guys who show up in majors, but it's part of the process this week. Zalatoris' short game is noticeably weaker than the other studs' (28th percentile), yet he trails only Jon Rahm in adjusted ball-striking. I care about short game, yes, yet I'm not ignoring someone like Zalatoris, who has reeled off five top-10 results in eight major starts -- including two runners-up.
Shane Lowry ($10,400 | +3300) - Lowry's around-the-green play is probably a little weaker than you'd think (63rd percentile), and his iron play is probably a bit better than you'd think (95th percentile), so that checks out. A balanced driver off the tee with distance and accuracy, Lowry is positioned to remain relevant at Brookline. Lowry's the best bogey avoider and best scrambler in the field, thanks in part to 70th-percentile expected putting data.
Sungjae Im ($9,800 | +4100) - Not the longest hitter off the tee (55th percentile), Im is one of the most accurate (90th percentile), and that puts him in good territory for this week because -- from there -- Im ranks in the 82nd percentile in strokes gained: approach through putting. Im's also a 99th-percentile bogey-avoider and a 76th-percentile expected putter with positive poa splits and good recent major history.
Daniel Berger ($9,800 | +5000) - We'll have to shake the PGA Championship debacle we saw from Berger when he wasn't too far off from dead last through two rounds in a no-chance missed cut. Berger, though, sets up a lot like Im. He's accurate (95th percentile) and good from irons through putter (91st percentile). Notably, though, Berger's putting splits are terrible, as he's a 19th-percentile expected putter and a 22nd-percentile actual putter over his past 50 rounds. What helps is that poa is -- by far -- his best putting surface. He's in the 92nd percentile there among this field.
Billy Horschel ($9,700 | +5000) - Horschel is really figuring things out of late, and he will enter off of his win at the Memorial, a tough test in a tough field. Horschel will have to shake a shaky major history that includes 13 of 18 made cuts since 2017 but just two top-25 results and no top-10s. Horschel sits in the 76th percentile in poa putting over his past 50 rounds on the surface and in the 95th percentile in expected putting along with good bogey avoidance (91st) and driving accuracy (96th) numbers.
Tommy Fleetwood ($9,600 | +5000) - I'm coming around on Fleetwood at a setup such as this one. A 61st-percentile ball-striker, Fleetwood isn't dominant off the tee by any means, and he's also not exactly accurate (33rd percentile). However, he is more of a bogey avoider (75th) than a birdie-maker (18th) and has a great short game (91st). He's made 18 of 20 cuts since 2017 in majors with 8 top-25 results.
Webb Simpson ($9,300 | +8000) - Simpson, a U.S. Open winner back in 2012, has a top-15 in all four majors in his career. The conversation around him isn't the long-term form, though. It's the recent form as he works back from injury. A T20 at the PGA Championship and a T27 at the Charles Schwab Challenge with positive strokes gained in all four categories in each will go a long way toward quelling those concerns. Simpson gets a bump when we care about accuracy, and he's a 90th-percentile poa putter over his past 50 rounds on the surface.
Mito Pereira ($9,000 | +6500) - The near-win at the PGA Championship wasn't really a fluke for Pereira, whose long-term strokes gained data is quite good. It also is tied to an accurate driver (83rd percentile -- I realize the irony here) and strong expected putting. Since the T3 at the PGA, Pereira has finished T7 at the Charles Schwab Challenge and T13 at the Memorial -- while gaining in all three tee-to-green stats in each.
Aaron Wise ($9,000 | +6500) - I'm going to stick with Wise while it makes sense to do so. He's got better ball-striking (80th percentile) than he does short game (56th) but is a plus in both relative to the field. Notably, Wise is also one of the biggest expected putting regression candidates in the field. He's averaging +0.01 strokes gained putting over the past 50 rounds, but his splits from within 15 feet imply he should be sitting at a +0.32. Wise has made six straight cuts at majors and has two consecutive top-25 results in them.
Russell Henley ($8,900 | +12000) - Henley is one of the better major performers we have had in recent years. He is 11 for 13 in made cuts since 2017 but with just 3 top-25 results and no top-10s. That'll still work at $8,900 if the savings we take on him gets us to the winner at the top of the field. Henley is hyper-accurate (87th percentile) and boasts 77th-percentile around-the-green play, as well.
Justin Rose ($8,600 | +6500) - Though the interest in Rose will likely skyrocket after a closing-round 60 at the RBC Canadian Open, the case was good even without that great showing. He enters with a key weakness: gaining strokes off the tee (30th percentile) but is a plus in the other three stats and is more accurate (65th) than long (16th). Rose has 14 made cuts in 20 major starts since 2017 with 11 top-25 results.
Tom Hoge ($8,400 | +15000) - Hoge has reeled off six of six cuts in majors since 2017 and was T9 at the PGA Championship. Hoge is an accurate driver (80th percentile) with good bogey-avoidance numbers (90th) and underlying putting data (85th-percentile numbers from 5 to 10 feet).