The 108th U.S. Open Preview and Picks

Tournament: The 108th U.S. Open
Dates: June 12-15, 2008
Course: Torrey Pines Golf Course – South
Location: San Diego, CA
Television: ESPN/NBC

by Matt of

The year’s second Major kicks off this week from California with the U.S. Open taking center stage at the South Course at San Diego’s Torrey Pines. The event is highlighted by the return of Tiger Woods, who is back in action for the first time since the Masters. Woods has been rehabbing his knee after a routine operation and is reported at near full strength.

The Majors bring out the best the golf world has to offer and this year the best will be paired together for the early rounds. Tiger, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott make up the marquee threesome, but strong groups of Cink, Garcia and Singh are matched together as well as a few of the premier foreign players in Rose, Ogilvy and Els rounding together. The Friday rounds of Woods, Mickelson and Scott will be near prime time viewing with the threesome teeing off in the afternoon. There is dual coverage for the early rounds with ESPN carrying the 1-3pm ET slot and NBC finishing it off from 3-5pm ET. NBC has the weekend to itself with expanded coverage and programming.

As most U.S. Opens, the course layout will play a large factor with the USGA wishing to present the toughest test of golf possible. Torrey Pines South will play at par 71 (35-36) and measure 7,643 yards. That yardage will represent the longest track of any U.S. Open by 379 yards. While the par-5’s play relatively standard in terms of length, the par-4’s have plenty of teeth, averaging 457 yards and include two over 500 yards.

The rough will be a story this week both on shots missing the fairway and shots that don’t find the green. Fairways will run narrow at 24-33 yards at the landing areas and will slope away to spit border-line drives into the spinach. Six feet of 1 and 3/4 inch rough will provide a chance to hit the green should a tee shot land there, but the traditional first cut will measure at 2 to 3 inches and extends another 20 feet out. The USGA will continue to move spectators back to allow the second cut of rough, which measures 5 inches plus, to play at it’s most penalizing instead of being trampled by the weekend. The rough surrounding the greens will measure 3 inches for the primary cut and 4 to 5 inches past that, which will put a premium on iron accuracy as well as scrambling ability when greens are missed. Even balls that find the putting surface will present issues with the greens playing lightning fast at 13 to 13 and 1/2 on the Stimpmeter. Torrey Pines will test all facets of the players physical games as well as mental and emotional capacities.

As we do each week, we will break down some contenders and make one pick each from a short, middle and long odds perspective. Displayed odds can be found at Bodog and don’t forget to check the golf sportsbooks for matches and props as well.*

Tiger Woods

5/2 to win and 1/2 to place top-5 or better (including ties)

The world’s number one is back after a layoff, which raises the question of “rust”. It sounds as if the knee is ready to go without too much issue so it remains to be seen if Tiger’s game is up to the Major grind. Woods can’t be denied at Torrey Pines, with six wins in his last eleven starts there. The ’00 and ’02 winner is looking for his third Open crown and ran second at Oakmont last year. If you have forgot, the six events that Tiger has played this year have resulted in 4 wins, a fifth and a second at the Masters. For the year, Woods is 64-under par, 12-under on average per event. While Tiger’s stats are skewed by the small sample set, Woods would rank number one in the scoring stats when projected out. The only blemish on the resume is the 199th rank in total driving, but Woods is best at finding the short grass when the pressure is on and is best at recovering should he spray a few.

Phil Mickelson

7/1 and 11/8

Phil will have plenty of support in the pairing as the hometown crowd will pull hard for Lefty. Mickelson is looking for his third win on the year and has three Torrey Pines wins to his credit. Phil has four runner up finishes at the Open and is still looking to erase the collapse from ’06. Stat-wise, Phil owns the best scoring average and second best birdie average along with ranking inside the top-27 in greens hit, putts and driving distance. Mickelson can be wayward off the tee at times, ranking 155th in fairways hit. Lefty is a 5 to 1 bet to win with Tiger off the board and 3 to 1 to be the top U.S. finisher, also without Woods.

Sergio Garcia

18/1 and 10/3

Garcia has had a good run of late, breaking through with a win at the PLAYERS and notching a T4 at last week’s St. Jude. Sergio has the PGA’s 5th best scoring average at 69.6 and is brilliant from tee to green, ranking 29th and 14th in total driving and GIR%. The flat stick has betrayed Garcia in the past and he will need to improve in his 108th ranked putting average to seriously contend here, and that could be tricky on these greens. Should Sergio get to the weekend in good shape, look for a run as his final round scoring average is in the top-20. Garcia is 12 to 1 minus Woods and is 4 to 1 to be the top European finisher.

Padraig Harrington

20/1 and 7/2

Harrington is a top-5 machine, registering four such finishes in eight American starts this year, including the Masters. Paddy also has T5’s in ’00 and ’06 as his best Open finishes. Harrington averages 4.1 birdies per round which leads to a second best 69.6 stroke average. Padraig’s accuracy could be a bit better than his current 101st rank in greens hit, but a Tour best scrambling % can make up for miscues. Harrington also has the fifth best putter which leads to those birdies as well as par saves. 14 to 1 without Tiger and 9 to 2 to be the top Euro.

Vijay Singh

25/1 and 4/1

Singh is still looking for a win in ’08, but has been consistent with nine top-25’s in eleven starts, including a T11 last week. Singh’s best Open came in ’99 with a T3 and he ran T20 at Oakmont last year. You have to like the 5th rank in GIR% and 9th best 69.7 stroke average, but a 147th rank in fairways could limit the iron play. Vijay’s putter has been a bit spotty, still the Fijian averages 3.68 birdies and is 12th in All Around rank. 18 to 1 without Woods and 7 to 1 to be the best “rest of the world” finisher.

Stewart Cink

33/1 and 11/2

Cink has been a bit unsteady lately, but still owns a Tour best six, top-10 finishes, including a T3 at the Masters. Cink has the 7th best birdie average on the strength of a 68.8% greens hit stat and a 34th ranked putter. 4th overall in All Around, Cink averages 69.95 strokes per round and is in the top-10 in par 3, 4, and 5 performance. Another player who needs the driver to straighten out a bit to maximize the rest of the game. 22 to 1 to win without Woods and 12 to 1 to be the top American.

Luke Donald

28/1 and 9/2

Donald splits time between the Tours with a T6 at the Memorial and a T3 at the BMW as his best ’08 finishes on each Tour. Luke’s best Open came in ’06 with a T12 and his game really doesn’t fit the profile for success. Ranking outside the top-150 in total driving and greens hit leads to a 176th spot in ball striking, and that will seldom play at an Open. The saving grace for Donald is his play on the greens, ranking 8th and 2nd in putting average and putts per round leads to a respectable 3.5 birdies per 18 holes. 20 to 1 w/o Woods and is in the Euro pool at 6 to 1.

Jim Furyk

33/1 and 11/2

The ’03 U.S. Open champ is looking for his second Open win and looking to get on track in general following three starts outside the top-25 since consecutive top-10’s to start May. The ’07 runner-up will lean on his accuracy, ranking 19th and 37th in fairways and greens, respectively. He can continue to give up length in favor of control, but will need to improve on his par-3 numbers which have him 169th in performance and will look to finish stronger than his current 72.18 final round average. 25 to 1 without Tiger and 10 to 1 to be the top American.

Geoff Ogilvy

33/1 and 11/2

The beneficiary of Mickelson’s 72nd hole double in ’06 looks for another and has the game to get it done. Ogilvy has the WGC-CA win this year which boasted a Major-like field, and a 9th at the Memorial, another stern test, for confidence. Geoff comes in 30th in ball striking with a 54th rank in total driving and 66.5% greens in regulation. Ogilvy ranks 8th in par-4 performance which will likely separate the field this week and has the 19th best scoring average at 70.15. 25 to 1 without Woods and 8 to 1 in the “rest of the world” group.

Justin Rose

33/1 and 11/2

Rose got back on track recently with a T2 at the Memorial after consecutive missed cuts prior. A T5 in ’03 and last years T10 are Rose’s best Opens and he has the accuracy numbers to do well this week. Justin is solid off the tee, ranking 38th in driving accuracy as well as total driving and is above average in greens hit. The struggles begin on the greens with a 155th ranked putting average that limits Rose to a 175th ranked 2.7 birdies per round. There are only 3 par-5’s that represent the scoring opportunities and Rose is 164th in par-5 performance on the year as well. Pars do play at the Open and Rose is 25 to 1 minus Tiger and 7 to 1 to take the Euro top spot.

Adam Scott

33/1 and 7/1

Scott has won on both Tours this year, taking the top spot at the Nelson and Qatar Masters, proving he can win anywhere. He may play third billing in the pairing with Woods and Mickelson, but it is Scott who ranks 1st in All Around on the strength of top-25 stats in almost all relevant scoring areas. The big ones this week will be the 15th rank in GIR% and 23rd in ball striking. Long off the tee with a strong putter to boot, Scott will need to find the fairways, like all players, to see birdie chances. 28 to 1 without Woods and our pick to come out of the rest of the world at 10 to 1.

Justin Leonard

40/1 and 7/1

Leonard completed his yearlong return to contention with a win at St. Jude’s last week and has notched four top-5’s this year overall. Justin is super accurate to the greens, ranking 2nd and is also 16th in fairways. The distance off the tee is below average, but Leonard ran T12 at Bethpage in ’02 which played a monster distance as well. The 10th ranked putter sports top-5 performance numbers on both the par-4’s and 5’s. Leonard is 33 to 1 if your taking Tiger to win and is a good look at 14 to 1 to be the top U.S. player if you don’t like Phil.

Aaron Baddeley

66/1 and 11/1

Baddeley is looking for a statement in an ’08 season that has seen him a runner-up at the Verizon, but with many pedestrian efforts along the way as well. T13 at Oakmont last year shows potential and Badds gets it done on the greens as the Tour’s best putter in terms of average and very strong in putts per round, ranking 12th. It remains to be seen if Baddeley can hit more fairways than he has of late, as he hits enough greens to let the putter net 3.76 birdies per round. Baddeley will look to make hay on the par-5’s, he is 5th in birdie or better conversion on those holes. 50 to 1 without Woods and 20 to 1 in the rest of the world pool.

Scott Verplank

150/1 and 20/1

If your looking to take a big flyer, you could do a lot worse than Verplank. The Texan is 4th on Tour in hitting fairways and a respectable 75th in total driving. A T7 in the ’07 Open is his best finish, and a T8 on a tough track last week shows good signs. A look at the stat sheet shows Verplank ranking from 30th to 70th in the scoring areas, including a 23rd ranked putter and a 26th ranked birdie average. It doesn’t get much deeper than Verplank, but no one presents a better case for a longshot win either. 100 to 1 without Tiger and 50 to 1 to be the top American player.

Our Picks

Note: There would be no use to pick any other than Tiger if he had not missed the time following the knee surgery, and I still expect a top-3 with a good look on Sunday. You don’t need convincing if Tiger is your man, so we will make another pick for the favorite.

Short: Phil Mickelson 7 to 1 – not much imagination here taking Lefty, but the Torrey Pines record is substantial and can’t help but contend if the driver is straight.

Middle: Sergio Garcia 18 to 1 – If Garcia brings the game he had at the PLAYERS, he could shake the “best not to win a Major” title.

Long: Justin Leonard 40 to 1 – If the length doesn’t prove too much to overcome, look for Leonard to use the short game to contend.

Bonus Longshot: Scott Verplank 150 to 1 – The Open tends to give life to the type of Pro that knows the value of a par and can go under the radar a bit.

The sportsbooks expand the available bets for the Majors, so look for your area of knowledge and bet accordingly. There are good Euro, Australian and South African only looks as well as good potential on the non-Tiger boards (Boo Weekley @ 40 to 1 and Steve Stricker @ 100 to 1) if you are betting Tiger to win it all.

*Look for our match-ups and prop bet preview for the U.S. Open soon.