The U.S. Open Championship Preview and Picks

The U.S. Open Championship
Thu. June 18 Sun. June 21, 2009
Bethpage State Park (Black Course) Farmingdale, NY

by Matt of

The second Major Championship of 2009 takes place this week as the Black Course at Bethpage welcomes the best professionals and amateurs for the U.S. Open. Last years Open was high on drama as Tiger Woods outlasted the field on a badly injured leg, eventually taking the championship by one stroke after a 19-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate. Along with his 08 championship, Tiger will defend his crown from 2002, the first time the Open was contested at Bethpage Black. The first two rounds can be seen on ESPN with NBC picking up the weekend coverage.

The best in the world have good reason to dread the test ahead at the Black. The USGA prides itself on making the host track for the Open play as difficult as possible, creating a complete test of both a players physical game and mental endurance. The Black will play at par-70 and measure 7,214 yards for the week and looks to be every bit as hard as she played in 2002 when the field shot 74.9 on average. The final round in 02 proved especially brutal with only three players breaking par and leaving Tiger as the only player in red figures (-3) for the week.


Bethpage Black not only plays exceptionally long for a par-70, but also features ribbon thin fairways lined by graduating cuts of rough that get more penal the further you stray from the short grass. The USGA will continue to keep spectators a significant distance from the fairways to ensure that wayward shots pay the full penalty instead of catching a lucky lie in some trampled grass. Shots from the rough cost players about .39 strokes versus shots from the fairways in the 2008 Open, but the price was .53 strokes in 2002. Look for a lot of hidden shoes and hack outs when players get in the spinach this week. The greens at the Black have massive undulations and will roll anywhere from 13 to 14 on the stimpmeter depending on how much wind and moisture the course gets through the week. Its a good bet that the winning total will be right around even-par as the low round from 2002 was a 66.

Each week, take a look at the golf sportsbooks and breakdown the players that are expected to contend, tell you why they could win, and maybe why they wont. Well pick a short, middle and long odds guys are our favorites to win. Here are some players to watch at this weeks U.S. Open with odds information courtesy of the board at Superbook.

Tiger Woods (Even money to win)
Tiger comes into the week as a very heavy favorite given his three U.S. Open wins and the victory in his last start at the Memorial. Reportedly hitting all fairways in a practice round last week, it looks like Tiger himself is his only competition. Woods last six starts have seen him finish 9, 1, 6, 4, 8, and 1 with a somewhat suspect overall game. If the driver is going to stay straight, there really is no other weakness in his game, ranking in the top-21 in scoring stats that include total driving, putting average, birdies per 18 and scrambling. You probably dont need our endorsement to lay your bet on Tiger, so well give you a better value pick as our short odds guys even though Woods is looking almost unbeatable.

Phil Mickelson (10 to 1)
A U.S. Open win has eluded Phil in his career despite coming close in recent years, sometimes in heartbreaking fashion. This year will be tough given the emotional circumstance of his wifes cancer battle and his lack of preparation during his layoff. Mickelson didnt fare well at Southwind last week, finishing 15 strokes behind the winner and showing a tendency to get in trouble and card big numbers. Lefty is plenty long to score at the Black, but is currently ranked 174th in fairways hit, and that just doesnt bode well for a U.S. Open. Phil does rank 23rd in putting average and 15th in birdies per 18, so there is hope for a run if he can find the short grass and control his approaches. Hell surely have tremendous crowd support, but this task seems a bit too tall for Mickelson given all the circumstances involved this week.

Geoff Ogilvy (20 to 1)
There is a lot to like about the 2006 U.S. Open champ. Ogilvy has two wins so far in 2009 (Mercedes-Benz, Accenture) and he has yet to miss a cut in twelve starts. Geoff ranks 1st in birdies per round at 4.48 and is in the top-10 in both putting average on greens in regulation and total putts per round. The driver is a little crooked, ranking 148th in fairways hit, but the rest of the game is way above average, vaulting Ogilvy into the top-15 in scoring on all holes. Geoff has had a problem closing this year, ranking 137th in final round scoring while ranking no worse than 12th in any other round. Coming off a T9 in last years Open, it should be a good bet that Ogilvy will have a chance to improve on that Sunday scoring average and maybe win his second Open title.

Jim Furyk (20 to 1)
The 2003 U.S. Open champion has been close to ending his nearly two year winless streak in the past few weeks with finishes of 11th, 5th, 9th and 2nd in his last four starts. Furyk has also been very consistent overall, notching six top-10s in his twelve events in 2009. Although he missed the cut in 2002 at 13-over, Jims game is suited well for an Open style course. Furyk ranks 14th in fairways and while the greens hit number is barely average, he does have one of the best recovery games, ranking 7th in scrambling. The putter is also going well, ranking 14th in average and 3rd in putts per round, both stats are key to keeping scores down and we all know how important pars are in Majors.

Padraig Harrington (25 to 1)
Harrington hasnt been able to follow up his tremendous performances in the summer of 2008, finishing in the top-25 just three times in eleven PGA starts this year. Paddy did finish T8 at 6-over in the 2002 Open, but he certainly doesnt look ready to contend this week. Harrington ranks outside the top-115 in driving distance, putting average and scoring while finding himself outside the top-150 greens hit and total driving. None of those numbers improved while missing the cut in last weeks St. Jude and this could be a short championship for Padraig if things dont turnaround immediately. Harrington is above average in scrambling and bounce-back, so a ton of pars could spark the two-time Major winner to the weekend, but a win seems like a stretch.

Paul Casey (25 to 1)
Casey has quietly put together one of the better seasons on Tour, going eight for eight in cuts made with three top-10s and a win at the Shell Houston Open. Casey has the game to win multiple Majors, ranking 14th in total driving, 21st in greens hit and 19th in putting average. All that together has Paul 10th in ball striking and 19th in scoring average. One blemish on the sheet is the 110th rank in scrambling which will be exposed this week if Casey struggles to find greens regularly.

Steve Stricker (30 to 1)
If you took away the names on top of the stat sheets, Steve Stricker might be the favorite to win this week. Stricker has ten top-25s and six top-10s in thirteen starts including a third, a second and a win at the Crowne Plaza. Steve is also in the top-16 in ballstriking, GIR%, birdie and putting averages and 1st in scrambling. Stricker is probably a bit short to be a true favorite at the lengthy Black, but is an aggregate 27-under on par-4s this year, good for 1st on Tour and proves he can score without the traditional four par-5s. A 16th place finish in 2002 could have been much better if he could have avoided the second round 77.

Luke Donald (50 to 1)
Its a bit of a surprise that Luke hasnt cashed in a win in 2009. Hes been inside the top-25 in nine of twelve events including four top-10s and a runner-up spot at the Verizon Heritage. Donald has the short game to win here, ranking 59th in greens in regulation and 1st in putting average. The driver will be the main issue for Luke as he will need to improve on his 178th rank in total driving to make a run at the Open. A good recovery game and the fourth fewest putts per round lend the 17th best birdie average and 9th best scoring average.

Our Picks to Win:

Short: Geoff Ogilvy (20 to 1)
The best birdie average and 2nd best putting average are hard to ignore.

Middle: Steve Stricker (30 to 1)
The best stat sheet for tackling a Major Championship layout.

Longshot: Luke Donald (50 to 1)
T18 in 2002, a solid all around game and a bit overdue for a win.

Head to Head Matches

We are a bit early with our preview this week and most of the golf sportsbooks havent posted their matches yet. Always favor the accurate players in any match in a Major, and the better putter is a safe bet to stay card pars and stay in a match to the end. Robert Allenby and Brian Gay put on a tee to green clinic at the St. Judes and should be good picks this week along with players like Henrik Stenson and Tim Clark.

A few to avoid at the Open are Retief Goosen and Sergio Garcia. Both are big names that are struggling in the ballstriking department. Goosen is outside the top-100 in both fairways and greens and Garcia is currently 146th in putting average. Look elsewhere this week or bet against these two.

Good Luck!