The 119th edition of the U.S. Open commences at historic Pebble Beach Golf Links on Thursday. This will mark the sixth time the coastal masterpiece has been the host, with past occurrences in 1972, 1982, 1992, 2000 and 2010.
Pebble Beach stages the Pebble Beach Pro-Am each year in the winter, so the course is relatively familiar to avid golf viewers, though players only contest two of the four rounds at Pebble itself.
For the U.S. Open the course will move to a par of 71, with the par 5 second converted to a par 4. The scorecard yardage is 7,075, short by modern standards, but it will make up for the lack of yardage with heavy, graduated rough and small greens. This won’t be the same course golfers experience during the Pro-Am.
In the 2000 U.S. Open, Tiger Woods had possibly his best performance, when he won by 15 shots and came in at 12-under par. Ten years later, Graeme McDowell shot an even-par 284 to win by a stroke. This year’s winning score may be in red numbers, but to expect something on the level Woods did in 2000 is not realistic.
Other than Woods and McDowell, the other players to win U.S. Opens here were all Jack Nicklaus in 1972, Tom Watson in 1982 and Tom Kite in 1992—all Hall of Famers. It would seem to me that the winner will be a player who already has a major or is already much accomplished.
The headliners coming into this U.S. Open are Woods, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, each of whom has won the major previously. Neither will offer much in the way of betting value, but it’s likely they will contend given current form or past history at this venue.
Aside from his win at Pebble Beach 19 years ago, Woods returned while ranked No. 1 in the world in 2010 and managed to finish tied for fourth, with a 75 in the final round. The 15-time major champion is currently +1100 to win. He’s second on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation, and getting to the green over the past year has arguably been his biggest strength. He tied for ninth at the Memorial two weeks ago and will likely be a factor. All he needs is a good putter.
Johnson is a bit of an enigma. He led by three strokes entering the final round at the 2010 U.S. Open, only to falter with a round of 82 to tie for ninth. He has won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am twice and obviously has an affinity for the course. He is the second betting choice behind Koepka and should be considered for all available wagers. Johnson is first on Tour in strokes gained total, third in strokes gained off the tee and sixth in strokes gained putting.
Koepka will be gunning for his third straight U.S. Open title and his fifth major in two years. Only Willie Anderson has ever won the U.S. Open in three consecutive years, but that was in the 1900s. The current favorite at +700, Koepka has only made one appearance at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, a tie for eighth two years ago, so there isn’t much to go on with that angle. I’ll play him in matchup wagers, as well as a small bet to win.
Phil Mickelson, who has finished second in six U.S. Opens, can pocket the career grand slam if he’s able to win. Sunday is also his 49th birthday. Mickelson has won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am five times, including this year, and in his three U.S. Open appearances at Pebble, he’s missed a cut (1992), tied for 11th (2000) and tied for fourth (2010). It would be a great story should he come out on top, but he missed the cut badly two weeks ago at Memorial and isn’t hitting tee shots as sharp as he needs to be.
McIlroy enters off a dazzling 61 on Sunday to win the Canadian Open. That form alone is something to consider for the former world No. 1, but in his two prior appearances at Pebble Beach, he missed the cut at the 2010 U.S. Open and did likewise in his lone Pro-Am appearance last year.
Since 2000 the average world ranking for the U.S. Open winner that week is 21. Ranked 21st this week is Australia’s Marc Leishman. He’s currently listed at +6600 and has three top-six finishes in this major. He’s worth consideration, and should a player here seize his first major, I see him as a likely candidate.