Major #3 already, and we are off to Los Angeles Country Club for what is supposed to be one of the world’s great courses.
This isn’t a travel guide, though, and you’ll find volumes written about location, what it means to the USGA to play here and yada yada.
For us, it’s ‘simple.’
7400+ yards, par-70, sloping fairways, thick rough and tough-to-hold greens.
Should it stay dry, bombers will be wary of running out of the short stuff into thick, Bermuda rough. For the shorter hitters, they will need to find outstanding accuracy with clubs of lesser trajectory. Hit the right part of the angled greens, or pay for it.
18+ | begambleaware.org
History dictates that an elite player wins the US Open, with previous top results being made of the odd interloper. Whatever the result, look for a golfer with all aspects of his game close to their peak. You don’t win a US Open by suddenly finding your A-game.
Respect to all at the top, and whilst he has six wins since the start of 2022, Scottie Scheffler still failed to convert at East Lake, Kapalua and Bay Hill. In the last couple of months, the world number one has failed to turn promising half-way leads into victories at either the Byron Nelson or PGA Championship. At single figures, I greedily need more.
Masters champ Jon Rahm gives the impression he can turn it on at any given time, and came off a withdrawal and poor Match Play to win his second career major. With that in mind, his return to form at Muirfield gives his supporters hope that he can win for the first time since overcoming Brooks Koepka in a bizarre final round at Augusta. he is preferred to Rory McIlroy, who again failed to justify very short odds, this time when going for a three-peat in Canada last week.
Granted, the Northern Irishman carried another bag of weights around Oakdale, but it wasn’t the first time we have seen him fail to kick on from a good position, and this won’t be the place to try and chase his first major in nine years.
For me, there are no doubts about Brooks Koepka, and any double-figures should be snapped up.
The 33-year-old is a major king, and this yardage and these conditions suit every aspect of his game.
Koepka has nine PGA Tour wins – five majors and four non – and all are important pointers this week.
Of the ‘rest’, Koepka won the 2015 Phoenix Open beating future Masters champ Hideki Matsuyama and past Augusta winner Bubba Watson, into second. The 2018 CJ CUp victory saw him beat 2019 US Open winner Gary Woodland, whilst he put 2012 US Open champ, Webb Simpson, in his place at St. Jude.
Finally, whilst Xander Schauffele has not yet won a major, he’s come damned close (more of that soon) and again boosted the ‘regular event’ form of BK, finishing a shot off him at TPC Scottsdale, a course with (perhaps spurious) links to LACC.
Koepka’s form in 2023 suggests he can repeat what he did when winning the 2019 PGA (7400-yard par-70 Bethpage). On that occasion, he had Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, Rory McIlroy, Deki and Xander behind, as he did when winning his third PGA Championship at Oak Hill just a month ago.
The headline selection has no official stats from the LIV Tour but at the two completed majors of 2023, he has shown he is still amongst the best of his generation.
For the PGA and the Masters, the selection ranked seventh and 16th off-the-tee, fifth and second for approaches and second and ninth for tee-to-green. Throw in a pair of putting numbers that show a 4-shot-plus gain with the flat stick and he should be closer to favoritism this week.
Even taking into account the one missed-cut, and a 55th when totally out of form, Koepka’s 10 tries at a 7400-7600-yard par-70 track sees him average 18th place, and I have no doubt that figure will be heavily reduced by the 72nd hole at LACC this week.
It’s very difficult to look past the top 12 or so for the outright winner here and, with an improving short game, Viktor Hovland was very tempting at 16/1.
Instead, at half-a-dozen points bigger, I’m rowing in with a player I feel must win a major at least once in his career.
29-year-old Xander Schauffele has done everything but win one of the coveted four, and has yet another chance to break that maiden.
A local man, who attended California State and lives in LA, Xander has one of the best major records in the field – all without getting that vital win that defines a golfer’s career.
Runner-up, third and 10th at Augusta in three of the last five years, he betters those figures at this tournament, racking up a sequence of 5/6/3/5/7/14, two of those coming at the lengthy Shinnecock Hills and Winged Foot, as well as a couple being in his home state.
Following a withdrawal with injury at the seasonal opener, Xander has made all 12 cuts this year, and the quarterfinal of the Match Play, losing to an inspired McIlroy after extra holes in a high-quality match.
Given the elevation changes of the Renaissance Course, Xander’s 2022 Scottish Open win may be significant, but it’s the consistency of his tee-to-green game that keeps him in contention at these difficult and high-scoring events.
Currently ranking third for overall performance over the last 12 weeks, and (apart from Bay Hill, his only flop) with a minimum gain from tee-to-green of 2.5 strokes this year, he has everything ready for another top finish.
Justin Rose had chances to do even better at Augusta, Oak Hill and last week in Canada, but the fact he went into Sunday’s back-nine with a chance bodes well for this tougher test.
The 2013 US Open winner has always had a practical outlook for this event. He recently told Breaking News that his win at Merrion was built on the thought, “it was a US Open so you build your game plan in a way to think, ‘How can I get round this course without making mistakes and shoot even par?’” That might do fine as a plan this week.
Justin Rose - Top English
The 42-year-old has earned 12 top-10 finishes in majors since that victory, including at the ‘similar’ Shinnecock Hills, and when third at Pebble Beach, scene of his first victory for four years.
Taking a couple of events to resettle after the win, Rose has made his last seven cuts, including a top-six at The Players, 16th at Augusta (top-10 into Sunday), ninth at the PGA (top-five into the final round) and last weekend’s eighth place finish.
Rose averages around 20th for tee-to-green figures over the same period, a number that should see him thrive around a course that will not offer up the plentiful birdies sought by the more aggressive players. He can also repeat the payout provided at Oak Hill by being ‘top Englishman’ in a five-man field.
There are a handful for special bets, but two names stand out – Wyndham Clark and Gary Woodland.
Wyndham Clark - Top 20
29-year-old Clark has no major form to speak of. In fact, the figures are frightening, but there is cause to be hopeful of a top-20 finish from this improver.
Frequently recognized for his quality tee-to-green game, the Scottsdale resident has hidden form to go along with his maiden victory at Quail Hollow in May, an event that saw him thrash Schauffele by four shots, with Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and a host of fancied players well behind.
That particular event seems to throw up US Open names, with winners Lucas Glover, Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson and Matt Fitzpatrick, all finishing runners-up in Carolina. Take a peek at who was a silver medalist this year….
That first victory was always coming, with form often hidden by poor final rounds.
At St. Jude, Clark sat inside the top-10 before finishing 28th; in Canada he led till halfway before recording a seventh place finish, and at the Corales, the eventual sixth place was three places off the number after 54 holes.
The Wells Fargo champion has three outings at Houston, his only recorded efforts over a long par-70, and, again, his play is better than the numbers on screen.
He fell from sixth and seventh place through the first three rounds to finish 41st in 2021, whilst a year later Clark sat in the top three going into Sunday, when a 73 saw him drop to 16th.
Allow the one missed-cut of the year – at the PGA – and instead look at last week’s 12th place at Muirfield, especially as he sat in the top-five going into the final round.
Hitting the ball well, he ranks fifth in performance over 12 weeks, striking up good numbers for driving distance, greens, scrambling and putting. Whilst I couldn’t be on for the outright, he looks a fairly comfortable bet for a place on the front two pages.
Gary Woodland - Top 20
2019 US Open champ Gary Woodland has started to climb the world rankings again after six top-10 finishes since the start of 2022, and is showing enough consistency to believe he can rack up the third top-20 of his US Open career.
Just four years ago, the 39-year-old led home a top-10 that included Koepka, Rahm, Rose and Schauffele, and whilst he hasn’t won since, there is plenty in last year’s top-10 at Brookline and Houston to be encouraged this will suit.
’23 has been kind to this powerful driver, with a top-10 at local Riviera and when going into Sunday at both Augusta and Quail Hollow.
The numbers make it clear – Woodland has an appalling short game, but that’s why he can be ignored at birdie-fests, and backed when his tee-to-green game will make inroads. Ranking 25th for driving distance and 30th for greens for recent weeks, I’ll take the chance that it does so around here.