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Favorites, Longshots, Fantasy Plays and Our Pick to Win at the US Open

By: Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads

This course is going to be tough. The rough is lush and high just off the fairway, and the greens are going to play lightning fast. 

The 120th U.S. Open, the second major of 2020, will take place at the challenging Winged Foot Golf Club in Westchester, New York. this weekend. 

Winged Foot will play a staggering 7,477 yards — the longest course played on the tour since the restart. And with it being only a par 70, it plays 106.8 yards per par stroke. That’s almost two full yards greater than the BMW Championship, where there were just two players under par heading into Sunday. 

Winged Foot last hosted a Major in 2006, when Geoff Ogilvy hoisted the trophy with a finishing score of 5-over par. We would not be shocked if this weekend’s winner posted a similar score, though our model projects the winning score at even par. The cut will only push the top 60 plus ties into the weekend instead of the usual 65 or 70. We project the cut number to be at 9-over par. 

Players who leave their approach shots above the hole are more often than not going to have a 10-12 foot putt coming back up the hill to save their par, and players who miss the fairway may be left with no option other than hacking it back into the fairway. With no gallery to trample the rough, it has the potential to be an absolute jungle off the short grass.

Winged Foot also has a round variance of 10.7 strokes, easily the highest of the courses played since the restart. Anyone heading into the weekend 10 strokes back of the leader should still consider themselves in the hunt. With high scores and ample risk for bogeys or worse, we should see a lot of leaderboard shuffling.

Winged Foot Golf Club

When looking at Winged Foot-type courses, the most important player traits recognized by our model are:

Greens in Regulation (GIR)

Long Par 4 Performance

Difficult Hole Performance

Strokes Gained: Approach (SG:APP)

Strokes Gained: Putting

Putts per Green in Regulation

Fairway %

There is some cross-correlation between GIR and SG:APP with Long Par 4 Performance. Ultimately this list asks for the best players in the world, which is what we’re looking for in a major. But it also opens up some potential for players who may not exceed in birdie-fest tournaments but can grind out some pars.

The two types of players our models identified this week are accurate drivers of the golf ball with exceptional short game skills and accurate bombers who aren’t horrific around the greens.

Finally, there are a handful of Korn Ferry and European Tour players in the field this week. While most of them likely have no shot, there are a few worth mentioning later.

PICK TO WIN

Dustin Johnson prepares to tee off during a practice round for the U.S. Open on Wednesday in New York.

Dustin Johnson

It came down to Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm this week. Both players have tremendous course fit, but the data points to DJ having a slight edge this week. Everything is clicking for DJ. He is the best in the field on long par 4s, gaining 0.179 strokes per hole over the field. He leads the field in adjusted greens in regulation and plays better on difficult holes than easy ones, but his one creaky area is hitting fairways.

Fortunately, DJ is so good with his irons that losing a tee shot into the rough could still lead to a par. DJ has been hot with the putter and our model gives DJ a 7.7% chance to win his second U.S. Open.

OTHER FAVORITES WHO COULD TRIUMPH

Webb Simpson is one of our favorites to win this weekend.

Webb Simpson

Simpson isn’t often a popular pick when the course plays really long, but when it’s a course where hitting a fairway is more valuable than hitting from the rough 20 yards closer to the hole, Simpson is the guy to back. He’s seventh in the field on long par 4s and hits the most fairways among those in the top 10 on those holes.

Simpson gains more than 0.4 strokes per round with every facet of his game and has the plotting ability to take down some truly challenging courses. Our model gives him a 3.8% chance of winning this weekend, our fifth-highest number in the field.

Matthew Fitzpatrick

Perhaps the best putter on tour, Fitzpatrick does his best work when the course is difficult. He finished third at the Memorial and sixth at the BMW on courses where the average score was well over par. Since the restart, he gains just 0.021 strokes when the hole plays under par, but 0.114 strokes when the hole plays over par.

We’re looking for players who can put the ball in the fairway and get to the green in two while also being stellar with the putter, so Fitz is our guy. We give him a better shot of winning (3.9%) than Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau.

Matthew Wolff

Wolff is someone to keep an eye on because of his ability to hit for distance off the tee. For players who average more than 310 yards off the tee, Wolff hits the second most fairways at 61.7% and he’s one of only two over 59%.

He’s only gained strokes with his short game once in his last four tournaments, but his short game variance is high, so he’s not consistently bad. Our model gives him an 11.1% chance of finishing in the top five.

LONGSHOTS WHO COULD SURPRISE

Harris English has become a favorite of Stats Perform’s golf model.

Harris English

Another week, another Harris English appearance. English leads the field this week in strokes gained on difficult holes at 0.131 per hole. There is some concern with the erraticness of his tee shots, but like Fitzpatrick, he has the short game to make up for some of those deficiencies. English gains more than half a stroke per round with his approach, around the green, and putting, which our model thinks is enough to counter his average tee work.

Si Woo Kim

After a disappointing performance last weekend as a favorite, the data reveals that Si Woo is a strong bounce-back candidate this week in a much heavier field. He does his best work when the going is tough, gaining 0.098 strokes on difficult holes. His best performances come on long par 4s, where he gains 0.106 strokes per hole. 

Bubba Watson

When we discussed Wolff as an accurate bomber, Watson is the other golfer who hits more than 59% of fairways at over 310 yards per drive. His short game can be an absolute disaster, but like Wolff, he’s so good with his ball-striking that he may be able to cover those short-game flaws this weekend. We give him an 18.2% chance of cracking the top 10.

Chez Reavie

Reavie, who is in play on any par-70 course, fits the accurate driver mold this weekend. Among players the model identified as good plays this week, Reavie has the lowest driving distance at just 291 yards per drive. However, he hits a whopping 72% of his fairways and 71.5% of greens. He also plays his best when the holes are difficult, gaining 0.098 strokes per difficult hole, compared to gaining 0.030 strokes per hole when things are easier. We give Chez better than a 1% chance to win, and a 63% chance of making it to the weekend.

NON-PGA PLAYERS TO WATCH

Connor Syme waits to putt on the 10th green during a practice round for the U.S. Open on Wednesday in New York.

Connor Syme

The 25-year-old Scotsman is coming off three consecutive top-10 finishes on the Euro Tour. Two of those came on courses that played over par. While we don’t have the same breadth of data for Euro players as we do for PGA golfers, Syme does his best work on difficult courses and especially on long par 4s. He also has the scoring variance to put up some “low” scores, making him a sleeper as a potential first-round leader.

Romain Langasque

Langasque, a 25-year-old from France, has one Euro win that came a month ago. He’s also made all three cuts in major championships, though a top-20 finish has eluded him. Like Syme, Langasque does his best work when the course plays difficult, and plays well on long par 4s – gaining a PGA Tour-adjusted 0.154 strokes per hole. Our model gives him a 53% chance of making the cut and a 10.2% chance of making it into the top 10.

Will Zalatoris

Big Z dominates the Korn Ferry Tour and would have his PGA Tour card locked up for the 2021 season if the COVID rules didn’t put a halt on all new cards. Zalatoris has a tour adjusted strokes gained per round of 1.187. That’s right around the same as Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia, so we do expect him to play well.

FAVORITE DFS PLAYS (DRAFTKINGS)

With expected scores over par, a lot of this week’s scoring output will come from finishing places rather than in-round scoring. With that in mind, there are a lot of familiar names. 

Dustin Johnson ($11,500)

John Rahm ($11,000)

Xander Schauffele ($10,100)

Webb Simpson ($9,700)

Matthew Fitzpatrick ($8,000)

Viktor Hovland ($8,000)

Harris English ($7,900)

Matthew Wolff ($7,700)

Bubba Watson ($7,400)

Chez Reavie ($6,900)

Connor Syme ($6,400)

Brian Harman ($6,400)

FAVORITE DRAFTKINGS CASH FADES

Rory McIlroy ($10,500)

The price is just too high. We’d rather have the consistency of Xander for $400 less.

Bryson DeChambeau ($9,900)

Who knows which Bryson we’ll get this week. His putting has been unbelievably erratic the last few tournaments, and if it’s bad again at Winged Foot, he may not play the weekend.

Tommy Fleetwood ($8,900)

Justin Rose ($8,400)

Gary Woodland ($7,800)

Jordan Spieth ($7,500)

 

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