Pebble Beach Golf Links is the idyllic and iconic setting for the 119th US Open (June 13-16) and the top golfers in the world will be hoping to get their hands on the trophy awarded for winning the world’s second-oldest major championship.
Brutally long courses with thick rough are synonymous with modern US Opens, but Pebble Beach will play at just over 7,000 yards this week, with the coastal winds presenting players with the biggest challenge.
It’s a US Open where players that can’t hit it as far and as straight as the likes of Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson will think they have a chance of winning, just like Graeme McDowell did here in 2010.
However, the previous four champions Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, and Tiger Woods were all top-class American players.
Predicting the winning score this week isn’t easy, as much will depend on how much the wind protects it, but past winning scores still make for interesting reading. Jack Nicklaus shot +2 to win in 1972, whilst Tom Watson needed to shoot –6 to claim the title in 1982. Tiger Woods then broke US Open history in 2000 when he shot –12, but it was his winning margin of 15 shots which smashed the former record margin of victory in a major. McDowell only needed to shoot level-par to win in 2010.
Another interesting fact this week is the five former Pebble Beach US Open Champions have all had excellent-form on links golf courses. Watson won five Open Championships, whilst Nicklaus and Woods have won three each. Kite finished runner-up in an Open Championship, whilst McDowell was brought up playing golf on the links of Northern Ireland.
On Sunday evening, we’ll know whether links form or US Open form was more important this year, but there are several players in this week’s field who can boast form in both events.
Rory McIlroy is the favourite with the bookies and he will be the choice of many punters after his demolition job in last week’s Canadian Open, but he’s not for me. He hasn’t won a major since 2014 and he’ll have to become the first US Open winner who’s won the week before. He also shot rounds of 75 and 77 here in 2010. That may be a long time ago, but it was just a year before he won his only US Open Title.
If the course is firm and fast this week and the wind blows, he may struggle to play his best golf.
Dustin Johnson blew a great chance to win here in 2010 and it took him until the 2016 US Open to finally win his first and only major to date. Whether he wins or not this week, he’s fancied to feature highly on the leaderboard throughout as he has won twice here in the annual AT&T Tournament and posted top-5 finishes in 2012, 14, 15, 17, and 18. He’s also finished in the top-four in four of the last five US Opens, with his only bad performance coming when trying to defend the title in 2017.
One player that has no problem defending a title is Brooks Koepka, who is bidding to become the first player to win three consecutive US Open since Willie Anderson in 1905. However, having also defended his USPGA Championship title this year, he’s another player who’ll surely go close to winning. He’s also won three of his last five majors and four of his last eight. In his hey-day, Tiger Woods would have been priced up at around 6/4 in that sort of form, so 9/1 about Koepka does look a bit of a steal. His lack of course form is a bit of a worry, but he did finish eighth on his only appearance in the AT&T.
A missed cut at this year’s USPGA Championship means Tiger Woods is probably a little overpriced here, but he looks sure to arrive at Pebble Beach better prepared for a tournament where he won by that record 15 shots in 2000 and finished tied third in 2010. He also finished 6/2/1 in his previous three majors and another high finish looks on the cards.
As the bookies are offering enhanced each-way terms of up to 10 places this week, I’m happy to back Koepka, Johnson, and Woods in the belief that they should all be in contention come Sunday.
Those place terms also leave us with the option of trying to find a few potential challengers at bigger odds. The first of those is Xander Schauffele, and the youngster is fancied to win a major before he’s 30. He’s gone close several times already, finishing fifth and sixth in the last two US Opens and fourth and second in the last two Open Championships. That looks a solid combination considering the demands of Pebble Beach and he’s also in this week’s betting strategy.
Tommy Fleetwood looks another sure-fire future major winner. He may not have made much of an impact in the Open Championship so far, considering he was brought up playing links golf, but he has finished fourth and second in the last two US Opens. He also went close at the Players Championship this year and another big performance in a big Stateside tournament is on the cards.
If the cream of the golfing world is going to succumb to a bigger-priced winner this week, it could be Brandt Snedeker. He’s yet to taste major success, but a high finish in Canada last week suggests he has aimed to peak for what looks his best chance of winning a major. He boasts several top-10s in the Open Championship and the US Open, including when eighth here in 2010. He also won the AT&T in 2013 and 2015, and finished fourth in 2017.