Just as quickly as the PGA closed out the Tour Championship and the 2020 season, it made a quick trip to wine country before journeying back east for the first major of the 2021 season. This week’s U.S. Open will be the first of six majors this season, returning Thursday to the West Course at Winged Foot Golf Club. It will be the first professional event at the course since Phil Mickelson’s double bogey on the 72nd hole in 2006, leaving Geoff Ogilvy as the champion.
The return to Mamaroneck, N.Y., will be a bit different this year — not just because it will be without fans — but it will also be the first look at the course since Gil Hanse restored the classic 1923 A.W. Tillinghast design in four years ago.
The West Course will be a Par 70 setup, measuring at a lengthy 7,477 yards. It will feature narrow fairways, which creep in closer the further you go down most holes. As is tradition at U.S. Open venues, there will be gnarly rough about 10 yards off of most fairways and surrounding the putting surfaces. The greens are large, heavily sloping, undulating and fast. It will be a true test this week, similar to 2006 when Ogilvy won at 5 over par.
As noted in the course notes above, Winged Foot is set to be a true U.S. Open test likely intended to keep the players and eventual winners near, if not over, par. Right off the bat this will change our typical stat correlation as Bogey Avoidance becomes the top scoring stat of relevance this week versus our usual reliance on Birdie or Better Percentage. Ogilvy made just nine birdies on the entire week during his 2006 win. It’s going to be a challenge where par is a good score on every hole and building lineups will be much more important than a typical week.
The champion at this year’s U.S. Open will be the best all around player throughout the bag, making Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green the most vital statistic. The contenders will need to be in great form with their ball striking, making Strokes Gained Approach and Off-the-Tee important, but players will not be without a missed fairway or green. Tee-to-green will add in their ability around-the-green, but we should also include scrambling as players will need to be able to salvage par from wayward tee or approach shots.
The meat of this course is built in its 12 Par 4s, with nine of those holes set to play at over 450 yards. Two are just over 500 yards in length. Par 4 Scoring will be another key statistic this week, which can been narrowed further to focus on scoring on holes between 450 to 500 yards in distance.
Lastly, I think length will hold a distinct advantage. The fairways are narrow and will lead to plenty of missed fairways. It may be prudent to take a look at a stat like Total Driving, which merges the important factors of distance and accuracy, as long and straight will rule the day off the tee. I’ll lean more to the longer players when splitting hairs in making picks.
Jon Rahm ($11,000 DK/$11,800 FD)
Rahm sits atop my model. Between him and Dustin Johnson, it’s really hard to go wrong. It helps a bit that there is a price discount off Johnson to Rahm, but at these levels you are picking either of these guys to win or at least make the Top 3 in order for them to be optimal. In this level of a field, that few hundred dollars of savings can go a long way.
The Spaniard fits in all categories and is the top fit this week. Many still see him as a concern where he can run hot in tough conditions, but be put that bed with wins in two of the toughest events — The Memorial and the BMW Championship — last season. Rahm ranks second on the season in Bogey Avoidance and 11th in Scrambling. That said, I believe Rahm is primed to win his first major.
Xander Schauffele ($10,100 DK/$11,400 FD)
If you are looking for a player who seems to be simply built for these kind of events, look no further than Schauffele. He has said he prefers tournaments where scoring is tough and par is a good score. Schauffele has backed that up with Top-6 finishes in each of his first three U.S. Open appearances, including a third place finish at Pebble Beach in 2019.
Schauffele ranks third in my overall model, with his fit and form too good to ignore. He had the best gross score at the Tour Championship two weeks back and had a chance to win down the stretch. I like Schauffele’s grinder mentality, where he ranked fourth last season in bogey avoidance, and seems able to stay away from making big numbers. Similar to Rahm, he will eventually come away with a major, and Winged Foot is a course where he can succeed.
Daniel Berger ($9,200 DK/$10,700 FD)
Berger has made quite the resurgence last season, posting seven Top-10 finishes. He had six Top 5s and a win at the Charles Schwab. Berger has been as impressive since the restart as any other player and is a great fit at Winged Foot. Many have made the comparison of this event to Oakmont two years back, which was won by Brooks Koepka. The detail some forget is Berger was in the final pairing on Sunday before falling back to a sixth place.
As noted, Berger enters in much better form than ever before. He finished 15th tee to green, 10th in bogey avoidance and was the top player in Scrambling for last season. Berger has played his way back into the world’s Top 15 and may even find a little extra motivation knowing he won’t be part of the The Masters field.
Tommy Fleetwood ($8,900 DK/$10,400 FD)
Fleetwood is still seeking that big win — or really any victory stateside — despite being one of the world’s best. He has flashed his talent in majors and was in contention at the most recent PGA Championship before a final-round 3 over dropped him to 29th place.
I am hopeful the Englishman gets overlooked, as his recent form doesn’t reflect the player we’ve come to know. His ball striking has always been the best part of his game, but he’s struggled to find that form in his five tour events since the break. He did finish third at last week’s Portugal Masters, where he closed with a 7 under to jump up the leaderboard.
Fleetwood bringing his old form across the pond to a course many say resembles Oakmont, where he finished in second place. If we are seeing Fleetwood heating up, this is the perfect time to jump on that train.
Adam Scott ($8,700 DK/$9,900 FD)
When I started looking at the course layout, Scott is the one player who came to mind. He is the player I think of when long and straight are two of the keys characteristics for success. I am also hopeful to find him at lower ownership since we have only seen him in three events since the break.
Scott is the ideal long hitting ball striker type that I think will find success around Winged Foot and he may even have a bit of an advantaged being more rested than most of the field. However, because of those limited outings he doesn’t qualify for enough rounds for the statistical categories for last season. He’s had mixed results at U.S. Opens in the past mixing top 10s with missed cuts which again points to him as a solid GPP play and on FanDuel he comes at a bit of a discount where he is priced alongside my next play.
Paul Casey ($7,900 DK/$9,800 FD)
It seems as though pricing, especially on DraftKings, missed the mark on Casey. That will usually mean high ownership, but this is chalk I am willing to eat as he ranks fourth in my model. Casey comes in off of some middling finishes in his last three events, which may be the only thing that can turn someone away this week. Those finishes follow his tie for second at the PGA Championship.
Casey has shown the ability to put his game together for big events. He finished last season 21st in SG: Tee-to-Green, 2nd in ball striking, and 1st in Total Driving. Some may debate his win equity, but his value for a potential Top 5 is as high as many priced well above him.
Matt Wallace ($7,100 DK/$8,600 FD)
Wallace is a player I like to target when I know the course is going to be a grind form beginning to end. He has played well in difficult conditions time after time, as shown in his fourth-place effort at the Memorial and his third at the PGA Championship.
Wallace seems to step up his game when the stakes are the highest, which he did with a 12th-place effort at last year’s U.S. Open. I’m willing to take a flyer that he can grind his way around to find the weekend and pay off this price point.
Chez Reavie ($6.900 DK/$8,100 FD)
It was good to see Reavie charge up the leaderboard Sunday at the Safeway Open. He had struggled a bit since a good finish at the WGC-St. Jude in early August, but dialed in his ball striking in Napa. He gained 9.8 strokes tee to green last week to carry that momentum into Winged Foot.
Reavie finished third at the U.S. Open in 2019 and had a 14th-place finish in the PGA at Bethpage. When he is on, he’s a player that will pepper the fairways and greens and is well suited for an event like this major. Reavie won’t wow anyone with his distance, but the price on both sites make him a comfortable fit.
Thomas Pieters ($6,800 DK/$8,500 FD)
Often, there is a lot of leverage to be found for DFS in European Tour players who come to play the majors. Pieters is a name that may get missed by the casual player, despite his strong pedigree because most of his play has been overseas.
The fiery Belgian fits the mold as a long hitter and former Top 25 player in the world, who comes in with a bit of good form. He has three Top-21 finishes in his last three events in Europe, including a third at the Celtic Classic. While this form is great, it’s his prior experience and results in Majors and WGC events that make him an attractive play. Dating back to 2017 Pieters has eight Top-30 finishes in those elite events, including three finishes in the Top 6.
Jason Kokrak ($6,800 DK/$8,400 FD)
Kokrak is another long hitter who comes into Winged Foot on a streak of good form. He had three Top-15 finishes to close out the season, including a sixth at the BMW Championship. Kokrak finished the year ninth on tour in strokes gained off the tee, but his iron play over the last few weeks has me excited for him. Kokrak gained an average of 2.8 strokes on approach in those last three events, two of which were playoff events with marquee fields.
Kokrak went well at Bethpage last year, winding up with a 23rd-place finish. That would be a fine effort for the price this week, though I think his ceiling is even higher. I’ll be in for a few shares as I look to see him continue his hot play.