US OPEN: The year’s third major championship couldn’t come at a better time, as the off-course drama has reached a fever pitch over the past week and there’s nothing better than a major to re-focus everyone’s attention where it needs to be: the competition, and a chance at golfing immortality.
The U.S. Open may not have the tradition of the Open Championship or the mystique of the Masters, but it’s widely regarded as golf’s toughest test, a 4-day grind that requires patience, perseverance, and mastery of a specific style of course which is usually characterized by narrow fairways, thick, penal rough, and firm, fast greens. Par is always a good score at the U.S. Open, and only twice in the past dozen years has the winner of this event reached 10-under or better, while three champions have finished with over-par totals in that span. If you enjoy watching the best players in the world hacking head-high mid-irons out of the rough and grinding over 8-footers for par all day, then U.S. Open week is the pinnacle of your golfing calendar.
The North Course at Los Angeles Country Club will play host to the tournament for the very first time this year, which is a bit surprising given the course’s reputation and the USGA’s stated desire to hold more events on the West Coast. A classic design that was completed in 1927 and restored and renovated by Gil Hanse in 2010, LACC is a rugged 7,420-yard par-70 stretching out over rolling California hills that are bisected by a barranca, or gorge, which runs through the property and comes into play on several holes. The fairways are narrow, and though the rough reportedly isn’t quite as long as some previous U.S. Open venues, the firm, undulating green complexes will provide a tremendous challenge and many players have been saying that the course requires more shotmaking creativity than they were expecting. The course is firm now and will only get firmer, and if the wind picks up we could see some real carnage over the weekend. I highly recommend checking out one of the many YouTube course previews out there for a more comprehensive look at LACC– it looks like we’re in for a treat.
The top two players in the world, Scottie Scheffler (8.1) and Jon Rahm (12.0), sit atop BETDAQ’s Win Market this week, and Rahm in particular seems like a great stylistic fit for LACC, though his play lately hasn’t quite matched Scheffler’s. Brooks Koepka (14.5) looks like the LIV guy most likely to crash the party, as he did at last month’s PGA Championship, but don’t forget about Cam Smith (35.0), who has finished 7th or better in 3 of his past 4 starts on the Saudi tour, including a runner-up in Tulsa last month. There are a host of other players who could make a run at it, of course, and the middle of the market is teeming with value this week. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Max Homa (37.0)- Homa has found his game again after a disappointing springtime stretch, logging top-10 finishes in 2 of his past 3 starts, including a T9 at Colonial last time out. A Los Angeles native who freely admits that he’s had this tournament circled on his calendar for over a year, he not only knows LACC well, but back in 2013, while playing for UC Berkeley in the PAC-12 Championship, he fired a cool 61 at the North Course, setting the competitive course record. Though playing in one’s hometown can create unique pressures, Homa is a cool customer, and it didn’t seem to bother him much when he finished runner-up at Riviera earlier this year. I feel like he’s got a great shot this week and is a terrific value at a price like 37.0.
Dustin Johnson (54.0)- The LIV guys have been mostly out of sight for the past year, but as Brooks Koepka reminded us at last month’s PGA, they shouldn’t be out of mind. DJ is still one of the world’s best ball-strikers, and his U.S. Open record speaks for itself: six top-10 finishes, four top-5s, and a victory in 2016. He looked awfully sharp at LIV Tulsa last month, firing a blistering 17-under over three rounds to claim his second victory on the upstart tour. We’ve seen him have tremendous success on the West Coast in the past, and from all reports LACC is a ball-striker’s track that should suit Johnson quite nicely. I’m all aboard at better than 50/1.
Denny McCarthy (150.0)- McCarthy made a splash in his U.S. Open debut last year, finishing 7th despite entering the week having only broken 70 in 1 of his previous 18 Saturday/Sunday rounds on the PGA Tour. Fast forward a year and he’s figured out his weekend problems, ranking in the top-40 on Tour in both Saturday and Sunday scoring average, and it has led to a breakthrough in his career, as McCarthy has posted eight top-15 finishes this season and three top-5s, the most recent coming two weeks ago at the Memorial, where he lost in a playoff to Viktor Hovland. This guy is playing the best golf of his life, and he happens to be one of the very best putters in the world, ranking 4th on Tour in strokes gained putting this season after finishing 2nd in that stat last year. He’s got a much better chance this week than his price would indicate.