This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE U.S. OPEN
Winner's Share: $2.25
FedEx Cup Points: 600 to the Winner
Location: Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Course: Winged Foot Golf Club (West Course)
2019 champion: Gary Woodland (Pebble Beach)
It may be three months later than it was supposed to be, but welcome to U.S. Open week.
You've likely been hearing about big, bad Winged Foot, the famed A. W. Tillinghast design of nearly a century ago. This is the sixth time that the national championship will be played at the historic track just north of New York City. In 1974, Hale Irwin was the last man standing at 7-over-par. In 2006, Geoff Ogilvy emerged at 5-over. Those are two of the highest winning scores in major golf championship history. And now Winged Foot measures 500 yards longer than it did it in 1974 and 200 more than in 2006. In other words, buckle up.
You've also likely been hearing all about, or recalling, what happened to Phil Mickelson on the 18th hole on that fateful Sunday 14 years ago. The video will be shown, and re-shown, on NBC, Golf Channel, Twitter and everywhere else this week. Needing only a par to win, or a bogey for a playoff, Mickelson took out driver and some 20 minutes later exited the green in disbelief with a career-altering double-bogey. Colin Montgomerie also doubled 18 while bidding for his first career major, though the 2006 Open will always be remembered for Mickelson's bonehead decision, and how it likely forever cost him the career grand slam, not to mention his only chance to ever be No. 1 in the world. That was the fourth of his six Open runners-up.
Winged Foot was so hard in 1974 that it the tournament was chronicled in a book entitled "Massacre at Winged Foot." It was so hard in 2006 that Tiger Woods missed the cut for the first time ever in a major as a professional. It was his 38th major. (We should say that he then went on to win the next two majors that year.) (We should also say that in between 1974 and 2006, they played the 1984 Open and 1997 PGA at Winged Foot. But since Fuzzy Zoeller won the Open at 7-under, and Davis Love III won the PGA at 11-under, you won't be hearing much about them this week.)
So what made Winged Foot so hard? In a word, everything. You needed to keep the ball in the tight fairways or you were dead, faced with graduated rough and fairway bunkers. You needed to get the ball on the green or you were faced with more bunkers or tall greenside rough. Even getting the ball on the green in regulation did not ensure par. The putting complexes are, um, complex. They have levels and undulations and false fronts and, to make matters even more vexing for the golfers, they are poa annua. In 2006, there were more than 2,200 bogeys on the week, more than 300 double-bogeys and 37 of the dreaded "or worse." It goes without saying it was the hardest course on the PGA Tour that year. It featured three of the six hardest holes all season and nine of the hardest 35. That is half the course. That is simply unfathomable. The two hardest holes were Nos. 1 and 18, each more than 450 yards. There are only two par-5s and one of them, the 640-yard 12th, played over par. That is virtually unheard of for a par-5.
Anyway, you get the picture.
The course underwent a Gil Hanse "restoration" a couple of years ago. The most notable change was making the greens a bit bigger, now averaging a medium-size 6,600 square feet to allow for more pin locations. But the century-old course still maintains Tillinghast's full imprint.
Now, on to the field. While Mickelson will be a focal point, and Woods always is a focal point, this could turn out to be the defining moment of Dustin Johnson's career. He arrives having won twice and finished runner-up twice in his past four starts, capturing the FedEx Cup playoffs and returning to No. 1 in the world. For all the attention heaped on Johnson for not winning majors, it should be noted that in the past six Opens he's finished first, second, third and fourth. Last year at Pebble Beach, he tied for 35th.
The field was not constructed as it normally would be – there was no qualifying because of the pandemic – and there will be only 144 golfers, not the usual 156. The cut will still be 65 and ties, maybe half the field. But among the 144 are 13 amateurs, three club pros, 10 Korn Ferry players and 10 European Tour players plucked from the weaker fields of the UK Swing right after the restart. That's not to say you should completely eliminate more than 25 percent of the field from your lineup consideration, some of them are bound to make the cut, but the field will not be as strong as usual. Still, all the top guys are here, save the injured Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler, who bowed out on Sunday after testing positive for COVID-19.
Weather-wise, it's far from the usual summer swelter in June. The course may be a brute, but at least the weather will be quite comfortable. Temperatures will be in the upper 70s on Thursday before dipping into the 60s the rest of the week. There's virtually no chance of rain and wind will be moderate throughout.
Fun 2006 U.S. Open factoid: Fifteen golfers who were in the field in 2006 are in the field in 2020. You know what Mickelson and Woods did. Steve Stricker, now 53, tied for sixth. Also: Ian Poulter (T12), Paul Casey (15th), Adam Scott (T21), Henrik Stenson (T26), Scott Hend (T32), Charles Howell (T37) and Graeme McDowell (T48). Sergio Garcia, Lucas Glover, Billy Horschel, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar all missed the cut.
Fun 1974 U.S. Open factoid: Irwin won the first of his three U.S. Opens. A young and still-winless-on-Tour Tom Watson had the 54-hole lead but shot 79 to Irwin's 73. Watson, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus all finished in the top-10. Nicklaus shot 14-over for the week, but 1-under 69 on Sunday. Defending champion Johnny Miller, a year removed from his record 63 at Oakmont, shot 22-over 302 for the week.
Key Stats to Winning at Winged Foot
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Driving Accuracy/Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee
• Scrambling/Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green
• Greens in Regulation/Strokes Gained: Approach
• Putting Average/Strokes Gained: Putting
• Par-4 Efficiency - 450-500 yards
2019 - Gary Woodland (Pebble Beach)
2018 - Brooks Koepka (Shinnecock)
2017 - Brooks Koepka (Erin Hills)
2016 - Dustin Johnson (Oakmont)
2015 - Jordan Spieth (Chambers Bay)
2014 - Martin Kaymer (Pinehurst No. 2)
2013 - Justin Rose (Merion)
2012 - Webb Simpson (Olympic Club)
2011 - Rory McIlroy (Congressional)
2010 - Graeme McDowell (Pebble Beach)
As Phil Mickelson knows all too well, it starts with the tee ball. If the golfers don't hit their drive in the fairway, the rest of the hole becomes a struggle (actually, it's a struggle either way). But Winged Foot is also super long, with nine par-4s exceeding 450 yards. So, long and straight. Simple, right? Still, greens will be missed – even when golfers land their ball on the green. There are false fronts and run-offs. Scrambling will be critical. Winner Geoff Ogilvy ranked third in scrambling in 2006. Tri-runner-up Colin Montgomerie ranked first. Ogilvy was also sixth in driving distance and 21st in driving accuracy – a combination that easily could lead to victory this year – plus 13th in greens in regulation. Mickelson was 12th in distance but only 51st in accuracy. As always, there is more than one way to succeed at super long tracks: In 2006, short-hitting Jeff Sluman was 36th in driving distance but first in driving accuracy and first in greens in regulation. He tied for sixth. Short-hitting lefties Mike Weir and Nick O'Hern also finished top-10.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Dustin Johnson - $11,500 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 8-1)
It's impossible not to view Johnson as the favorite. DraftKings thinks so, Vegas thinks so. I think so, too, though the other two carry more weight. He might be playing better than at any point in his career, and that's saying a lot. It's not only because he's gone 2-1-2-1 the past four events, it's how he's doing it. His tee-to-green game is still among the best – ranked 11th last season in SG: Off-the-Tee and 17th in SG: Approach – but this was also his third-best putting season ever, ranked 48th. Even if Johnson doesn't win, he so often comes so close in majors that he could still pay off for you.
Jon Rahm - $11,000 (12-1)
The argument is even stronger for Rahm than DJ about playing better than at any point in his career. Sure, he's won twice since the restart. He's also learning how to navigate majors. In his past nine majors beginning with the 2018 Masters, he has three top-5s, another top-10 and two more top-15s. He tied for third last year at Pebble Beach and was T13 last month at the PGA. That coincides with him getting better control of his emotions as he matures. Rahm ranked fourth last season in SG: Off-the-Tee and, maybe more impressively, 22nd in SG: Putting.
Collin Morikawa - $10,000 (18-1)
This was the toughest call – Morikawa or, for $100 more, Xander Schauffele. They are almost even in other ways, but the feeling is Schauffele will have higher ownership. Morikawa of course won the PGA, and he was in the mix again at the Tour Championship, finishing sixth. He ranked 19th in SG: Off-the-Tee, second in Approach and fifth in Tee-to-Green. Hard to go against that.
Bryson DeChambeau - $9,900 (18-1)
It's so hard to whittle down the top eight guys on the DK board to four. And DeChambeau for sure did not have a great playoffs – terrible, in fact. But he also turned in his best major finish ever – by far – with a tie for fourth at the PGA Championship. Not only did he rank first on Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee, he was 10th in putting, and that could be a difference-maker this week. He also ranked second in final-round scoring average.
Tier 2 Values
Hideki Matsuyama - $9,000 (35-1)
No, he still can't putt, which surely is a consideration. But among the top players in the world (top-25ish), Matsuyama is perhaps the best with a wedge in his hands. And that will be invaluable this week. He ranked fifth on Tour last season in SG: Around the Green, as well as in SG: Approach. He ranked second overall in SG: Tee-to-Green. He really took off down the stretch, with top-25s in six of his last eight starts, including T22 at the PGA Championship and a T3 at the BMW Championship. In seven career U.S. Open appearances, he notched a runner-up in 2017, one more top-10 and three more top-25s, including last year.
Adam Scott - $8,700 (40-1)
Scott was the last top player to return from the stoppage, but he didn't show many signs of rust. His first start back was the PGA and he tied for 22nd. There was another top-25 at the BMW. Scott has three top-10s in the past six U.S. Opens, including a tie for seventh last year. The rap on him is always his putting, but he was above average this past season, ranking 49th in SG: Putting (albeit in limited play). And he ranked top-10 for the season in SG: Around-the-Green
Patrick Reed - $8,500 (35-1)
Ranking 21st last season in SG: Around-the-Green and 12th in SG: Putting, Reed had one of the best combined wedge-putter games on Tour. And he was vastly improved with driver in hand, ranking 42nd in SG: Off-the-Tee. Reed was T10 at the Memorial, T13 at the PGA, T8 at the Tour Championship. He was only T32 in last year's Open, but was tied for fourth the year before. He often finds a way to sniff the first page of the leaderboard, though often not until Sunday. He tied for fifth on Tour in final-round scoring average.
Tyrrell Hatton - $8,100 (40-1)
Hatton's star dimmed a bit with poor performances at the WGC-FedEx event and the PGA Championship, but he regained his form by getting progressively better in the playoffs: T25-T16-7. He has five career top-10s in majors, including the 2018 U.S. Open. He tied for 21st last year at Pebble Beach. Hatton really has a sound game across the board with no weakness – perfect for a difficult major. He is at his best with his irons in hand, ranking fourth on Tour in SG: Approach in the just-completed season.
Tier 3 Values
Matthew Fitzpatrick - $8,000 (60-1)
Fitzpatrick closed the season with a full house: three top-10s and two missed cuts in his last five events. They actually were even better than top-10s – third at the Memorial and twin T6s at the WGC-FedEx and BMW. You could argue he's playing better now that at any time in his career, even though he hasn't won on the PGA Tour. Fitzpatrick's two biggest strengths are accuracy off the tee and putting – he ranked second on Tour in SG: Putting last season. He's never missed a cut in five U.S. Opens and tied for 12th each of the past two years.
Matthew Wolff - $7,700 (60-1)
Wolff made a believer out of one person, and probably many more, with his surge after the restart. He tied for fourth at the PGA Championship – his first career major. He also was 16th at the BMW Championship. He hasn't been a great wedge player, which could be a problem, but he ranked 14th at the BMW in SG: Around the Green. If he could come anywhere near a repeat performance and combine that with his extreme length off the tee, he could contend again.
Billy Horschel - $7,500 (125-1)
Horschel has played in six U.S. Opens as a pro and made five cuts, every time finishing T32 or better, with a best of T4 in his 2013 debut. Though not long off the tee, he's pretty accurate. But it his short game that catches our eye for this week, ranking 67th on Tour last season in SG: Around the Green and 28th in SG: Putting. Horschel is a steady player who missed only five cuts in 22 starts this past season, with nine top-25s.
Brendon Todd - $7,400 (100-1)
If you are looking to play it safe while still getting a good deal of upside at a pretty low price, Todd is your man. He's missed only three cuts in his last 21 starts. The concern is his lack of distance, which hurts his GIR numbers. But a lot of guys will be missing greens this week, and Todd has a pretty good wedge-putter combination, raking 70th on Tour last season in SG: Around the Green and and 20th in SG: Putting. He was T17 at last month's PGA.
Martin Kaymer - $7,100 (150-1)
Kaymer came over for two tournaments during the summer, missing the cut at the both the Barracuda (ouch!) and PGA. In fairness, they were his first two events in months. He returned to Europe and delivered two podium finishes – a T3 a the UK Championship and runner-up at the Andalucia Masters two weeks ago, bringing him back inside the top-90 OWGR. Kaymer of course is a two-time major winner, including the 2014 Open at Pinehurst No. 2, and that counts for a lot this week. He's made three of his past four Open cuts.
Lee Westwood - $7,000 (150-1)
He's 47, which is a bigger number than his world ranking (42). Westwood continues to play at a high level, making all four Euro cuts after the restart and improving each week, culminating with a top-10 at the Andalucia Masters two weeks ago. He passed on playing in the PGA last month. Before missing the cut at last year's PGA, he had made 14 straight cuts in majors, then started a new streak with a tie for fourth at the Open Championship last summer. This will be Westwood's 19th U.S. Open and he's made 15 cuts.
Mackenzie Hughes - $6,900 (250-1)
Hughes turned around his season, and maybe his career, after the restart. He arrives having made nine straight cuts, including top-15s in all three playoff events. He ranked sixth on Tour in SG: Around the Green and eighth in SG: Putting, an elite combination that should be invaluable this week. His numbers off the tee are far from great, but he improved as the season progressed. This will be his sixth career major. He's made one cut – at last month's PGA.
Takumi Kanaya - $6,100 (500-1)
Kanaya is the top-ranked amateur in the world. He's already ranked 240th OWGR and has performed in some big-time events. He made the cut at the Masters last year, tying for 58th. He then tied for third at the Australian Open in December. He's already exempt into next year's U.S. Open and Open Championship. But he's already 22 and waiting another year to turn pro would be curious. At $6,100, if Kanaya makes the cut, that would be a quite thing.