Golf365 Guide to the US Open
It’s the hardest test in golf (according to defending champion Jordan Spieth), on the hardest course (as described by Phil Mickelson), set up by the hardest taskmasters (the USGA).
It’s the US Open and here’s our guide to it:
<b>THE BIG THREE</b>
The Masters was supposed to be round one of 2016’s epic three-way battle of the top dogs. In reality Rory McIlroy and Jason Day misfired, Jordan Spieth followed suit in the final round and Danny Willett pinched the limelight.
Will we get the classic scrap we’d all been hoping for second time around? McIlroy has fresh memories of spanking two of the greatest fairways woods of his life to win the Irish Open, Jason Day claimed last month’s Players’ Championship and Jordan Spieth then won in Texas; surely they’re primed?
Phil Mickelson has been a runner-up in this event six times. He needs this tournament to complete the career Grand Slam. He’s played good tests well this year (2nd at Pebble Beach, 4th at Quail Hollow). He’s in form (2nd last week). He’s 46. He’s running out of time. He loves a bit of family schmaltz (he even flew to his daughter’s graduation this week). And it’s Father’s Day on Sunday. Maybe?
It’s easy to think of JB Holmes as a slugger, but he’s finished top 30 in each of his last three US Opens, was fourth at this year’s Masters, has finished top 12 at Riviera, Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach this year (major courses all) and was 4th last time out at Muirfield Village. He was also medallist in the strokeplay rounds at Oakmont when it hosted the US Amateur in 2003.
Paul Casey is the world’s WORST raconteur (for evidence, see below), but he was fourth at the Masters and 10th at Oakmont in 2007, with a stunning second round of 66.
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<b>YOU NEED TO HIT IT STRAIGHT</b>
To win the US Open you've got to hit the fairways – so says conventional wisdom. Trouble is the stats don't really back this up. Over the last ten renewals the winner's Driving Accuracy average rank was higher than every other category. The Greens in Regulation average rank was 9.6, Putting Average 10, in contrast Driving Accuracy was 25.7.
Clearly hitting fairways helps – and the DA stat is flawed because it doesn‘t take into account players who frequently find the first cut, or players who are smart enough to go for broke in the right areas and on the right holes – but here are a few reasons why players who hit a lot of fairways don’t necessarily gain the advantage we might initially perceive.
First of all US Open fairways aren’t easy to hit, even for straight hitters. They’re cut very narrow (20-25 yards this week) and at Oakmont they are also humped so even a good shot can get a kick towards the thick stuff. So they’re not making this easy for the straight hitters.
Next, let’s assume Mr Short & Straight finds the striped grass. Problem is, hitting the green from miles back on the fairway is no picnic. Because, yep, US Open greens are often bone hard, as fast as the kitchen floor, and Oakmont’s are often sloped front to back. In other words even if you do play it safe from the tee, you’ll find yourself hitting a flatter trajectory, with less spin, to greens that aren’t going to like that combo one little bit. Good luck.
And what happens if Steady Eddy misses the fairway, or gets a bad kick? The rough is brutal. All of it. Yep, that rough is as thick and tangly 250 yards from the green as it is 150 yards from the green. Who do you fancy to get it on the green? The powerful guy hacking from 150 yards with wedge or the slow-swinging schmuck having a pop with a long iron or hybrid from miles back?
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The rough at Oakmont.<br><br>rt if u scared <br>(Via <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinThomas34">@JustinThomas34</a>) <a href="https://t.co/e3i5mJeksA">pic.twitter.com/e3i5mJeksA</a></p>— Total Golf Move™ (@totalgolfmove) <a href="https://twitter.com/totalgolfmove/status/742097453592248320">June 12, 2016</a></blockquote>
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<b>HISTORY – OAKMONT DELIVERS</b>
With the USGA’s insistence on tricking-up courses and/or making par a huge achievement it’s not unknown for their flagship event to provoke exhaustion or even boredom.
And although there is plenty of talk about how brutal Oakmont is going to be there is no doubt that history has proved it creates great stories. Here’s four of the best:
1952: Ben Hogan's Triple Crown season, when he claimed the Masters, the US Open at Oakmont (by 6) and the Open (in his only career appearance). Only an overlap between the PGA Championship and Open prevented him attacking the Grand Slam.
1963: Jack Nicklaus overhauled Arnold Palmer in the final round. It was not only the Golden Bear’s first major win, but also the start of an era-defining rivalry between the two.
1973: Johnny Miller tees off one hour before the leader on the final day, shoots the lights out with a stunning 63, no-one matches his clubhouse score. The greens were soft because the greenkeeper forgot to turn the sprinklers off, but it’s still regarded as one of the greatest rounds ever played (see below).
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Relive the greatest ever Major round. <a href="https://t.co/Hn3SHEYFsJ">https://t.co/Hn3SHEYFsJ</a></p>— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) <a href="https://twitter.com/EuropeanTour/status/742771173243662336">June 14, 2016</a></blockquote>
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1983: Larry Nelson’s comeback. He was 7-over-par for the tournament after four holes of his third round, but then played the final 14 holes on Saturday in 7-under and added 4-under in the final round (three putting the last) to set a target no-one matched. His 132 mark for the final 36 holes remains a tournament low.
<b>STATS TO KEEP AN EYE ON</b>
Round one leaders – good luck to them. There have been 32 leader or co-leaders in the last 20 years and only 5 have gone on to victory, all of them wire-to-wire (McIlroy, Kaymer, Goosen and Woods twice).
A sign Oakmont’s ferocity? The only winner in the last 20 years to shoot a single round above 74 was Angel Cabrera – a 76 in round three – when he won at this year’s venue in 2007.
An early burst required – only one of the last 20 winners did not record a sub-70 round on Thursday or Friday.
Need to be in touch – 19 of the last 20 winners were T6 or better at halfway (the exception, Webb Simpson, really <i>was</i> an exception in T29) and it maintains through 54 holes: all 20 were T8 or better with one round to play.
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