After some incredibly dramatic storylines since the return of the PGA Tour, the anticipation for this week’s US Open is at an almighty high.
With the 1974 US Open being named the “Massacre at Winged Foot” I think drama of the highest order is to be expected here, with some top class players likely to be embarrassed by the difficulty of this golf course at times.
When further factoring the lightning quick greens and the brutal length of the rough from social media videos, the PGA Championship’s Harding Park is going to be looked back on much more fondly than it will have been before this week.
Geoff Ogilvy, winner of the US Open in 2006 at Winged Foot after a disaster on the final hole for Phil Mickelson, made just nine birdies all week on his way to his first major. Par is a good score here, and birdies are going to be difficult to come by.
With that in mind, it’s obviously important to consider, and probably sway towards, those that have played particularly well at previous US Opens and the likes of the Memorial, the Arnold Palmer and so on, because of their clear appreciation of a grind rather than a birdie fest.
Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay all immediately spring to mind as those who like a difficult test. And with how top heavy the PGA Championship was on a tough setup, I expect the cream to rise to the top in a similar way here too.
Ogilvy talked at length with host Andy Johnson on The Fried Egg podcast about his victory and what he did well, and wedge game and putting was at the top of the list.
Taking notes from the former champion himself, the man he suggested would win when asked, Rahm (9/1) is also my first pick for this week.
Usually, favourites or players at these prices aren’t my thing. But on a course like this, and the form he is in, it’s hard not to pick him to claim his first major victory this week in New York.
With very few faults to pick out in his game and a special Spanish touch around the greens like those who played before him, he should really thrive on the battle this golf course will bring.
Mentally, and how he reacts to the bad shots – which are likely to be a regular occurrence at Winged Foot – is the one thing I fear could derail his chances. However, with how far that part of his game has seemingly come on within the past 18 months, we could this week see the Spaniard show the maturity to win his first major championship.
How unfazed he was by the difficulty at the Memorial, and not to mention his admirable fight back to win the BMW Championship, he’s clearly beginning to grow fond of the hardest tracks on tour.
What was also interesting and a sign of how far he has come, within both them victories came two rules penalties, and yet he was still able to put them aside in the run to both victories.
12 professional wins already and a top 10 in every major so far bar the Open, it seems as though Rahm has been around forever and yet he is still only 25. This week presents a great opportunity, with the combination of his form and course setup, for him to clinch the first major trophy of what could go on to be many.
My next choice for the US Open is somebody who, at 29, is made to look like he has underachieved when compared to his fellow European Rahm.
But Tommy Fleetwood (30/1) will undoubtedly be delighted with his career so far, and will feel he has as good a chance as any this week at Winged Foot.
Last week in Portugal is not likely to come even close when compared to New York, but a third place finish is not going to have harmed the Englishman’s confidence heading to the US this week.
A poor second round was the definitive reason for denying him a win in the Algarve, where he fought well on the weekend to even give himself an opportunity.
Although as I mentioned he may not be a prolific winner, Fleetwood is someone who so regularly competes right at the very top, making an each-way bet worth every penny.
What also gives the 29-year-old a slight advantage compared to the others this week is his freshness, with him playing only six weeks since the restart.
This week is likely to be incredibly draining with so many bogeys and it being such an uphill task to make birdies, something Ogilvy pinpointed too, so the Englishman’s reduced schedule will definitely be a positive.
Then there is also the obvious reasons for being behind him this week, with how reliable he is from the tee.
24th in SG: off-the-tee is mighty impressive given his poor results on the Tour this year for his high standards. On the other hand, his approach play has been poor for the season (ranked 165th) but after a huge upturn in that section of his game last week in Portugal, I expect his confidence to be much higher than it would have been beforehand.
Matt Fitzpatrick (45/1) was someone who came extremely close to being part of the staking plan, but after Fleetwood’s experience of going close in a major, I fancy his chances to either come close again or avenge those demons in the back of his mind from Portrush last July.
A memorial winner like Rahm, Cantlay (30/1) is my third and final pick for Winged Foot.
Cantlay, who is so typically consistent, has been far from himself since his return at the Travelers, posting only one top 10 at the Workday.
But when looking at his stats for the season it’s obvious as to why he’s so reliable on difficult setups with him being such a good all-rounder.
12th in SG: tee-to-green and 10th in SG: total, he is a classy player who can be a little bit streaky with the flat stick. In his most recent start though at the BMW, he was eighth in SG: putting, suggesting he may be in a good spot with the putter heading into his visit to New York.
With him finishing 12th in his last start at a previous US Open outfit in Olympia Fields too, that additionally bodes well for his chances.
In a different universe where Cantlay keeps up the consistent run of form he was producing before the tour was halted, we could have seen him at a very different, much shorter price this week.
Fortunately he comes in at 30s and offers up a much fairer price for somebody of his pedigree.
If he brings his A game he can easily compete with those at the top of the market. Moreover, if in his few weeks off he has dialled in his short game in preparation, we could see another American lift their first major at the US Open like Gary Woodland did at Pebble Beach last summer.
Jon Rahm (9/1) – 3 pts win only
Tommy Fleetwood (30/1) – 1.5 pts e.w.
Patrick Cantlay (30/1) – 1.5 pts e.w.