It was a pretty terrible week at the Lyoness Open, mostly thanks to late Friday collapses by Callum Shinkwin and David Lipsky. Also, I swapped Ashun Wu out of two lineups last minute and added English young gun Matt Wallace (who MC). Tough one. But moving on this week… we have the second major of the year, and one where we are bound to see massive carnage.
Oakmont Country Club is far and away the most difficult course currently in the U.S. Open rotation. Last time the event was here, Angel Cabrera won with a score of +5, one stroke ahead of Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods. For our preview this week, I’m going to dig into the 48 European Tour card-holders in the field, and give you some insight into who could perform well this week. The course is a unique mix of extremely long par 3s, short par 4s, and extremely long par 5s. Ultimately, par 4 scoring is going to be key, but then again, there won’t be many birdies on any holes this week.
For this week, I’m going to focus on players in good current form, because Oakmont is not the place to find your game. One thing to mention is that European Tour stats are notoriously sketchy, so for those Europeans who play enough PGA Tour events, I’ll dig into their other statistics such as bogey avoidance, 3-putt avoidance, and strokes gained. Considering the layout of the course and the difficult way in which the USGA will set up the event, here are the key stats I’m targeting:
- Driving accuracy
- Stroke average
- Greens in regulation
After a solid week of picks last week, let’s try to keep things rolling. Balancing current form and the above mentioned key stats, here are the European Tour players I like at the different pricing tiers:
Rory McIlroy ($12,000) – The course may not fit Rory’s mold per se, but sometimes you’ve got to look beyond that. Sure, we normally like Rory on long, soft courses with four par 5s, but he’s played well enough recently to warrant a look. The only worrisome part of Rory’s game right now is his short putting, as he’s had a lot of short misses and three putts recently. The win at the Irish Open definitely got Rory’s engine moving, and he’s coming off a really solid week at the Memorial.
Danny Willett ($9,600) – The Masters’ champion is a little wayward off the tee which worries me, but he’s an excellent scrambler and iron player. I’m not sure what the public will lean towards when deciding whether or not to roster Willett, but I think he can easily contend this week. When looking at the European Tour stats, Willett checks all four boxes: scrambling, GIR %, driving accuracy, and scoring average. In his last start in Europe, he finished 3rd at the BMW PGA Championship.
Henrik Stenson ($9,100) – Two bad weeks made everyone forget about Stenson, but he showed up with a 4th place finish at the Nordea Masters. When you talk about needing to hit fairways and be precise with irons, nobody stands out more than Stenson. He’s 9th in driving accuracy and 2nd in SG:Approach this season on the PGA Tour, and at this price tag, he’s a great 2nd leg in your rosters.
Branden Grace ($8,700) – Grace has been hot fire this year, and I think he’s ready to win a major. We saw him in contention last year at Chambers Bay, before blasting a drive OB on the 70th hole on Sunday. Grace won RBC Heritage this season, and backed it up with a 9th place finish at Valero. He’s a great scrambler, high in GIR %, and ranks highly in scoring average this year. On the PGA Tour, he’s 48th in SG:Approach, and 28th in scrambling.
Martin Kaymer ($7,600) – Another “pedigree” play…the price doesn’t fit the player. The great thing about Kaymer is that if you look at his stats this year, they’re pretty poor. But we all know what to expect from the 2-time major champion. He’s coming off two top-10s in Europe: a 5th place finish at the Irish Open, and a 7th place finish at the BMW PGA Championship. I love Kaymer this week.
Charl Schwartzel ($7,500) – Seems like a weekly occurrence, but if Schwartzel continues to be underpriced, I’ll continue to write about him. He’s been playing great as of late, and seems to always pop up in majors. The only issue this week is his ownership could reach 15-20% this week. On the PGA Tour, he ranks 6th in SG:Approach, 19th in bogey avoidance, and 26th in scrambling. Sign me up.
Matthew Fitzpatrick ($7,300) – Fitz recently got his 2nd career win at the Nordea Masters, which shows you his recent form. Although he’s not a great scrambler, Fitzpatrick is a really accurate player who ranks highly on the European Tour in driving accuracy, GIR %, and scoring average. Along with his top-5 finish at The Masters, Fitzpatrick is ready for this stage.
Luke Donald ($6,800) – A bit of a flyer here, but Donald had to qualify for this event on his own merit. He went through the sectional qualifying for the 2nd year in a row, but still made it. On the PGA Tour this season, Donald is 33rd in SG:Approach, 9th in bogey avoidance, 5th in three-putt avoidance, and 8th in scrambling. A really great mix for a player in this price range.
Bernd Wiesberger ($6,700) – Wiesberger is more of a bomber who has success at courses like Augusta, but you can’t ignore his pedigree at this price. He’s a great scrambler, hits greens, and ranks highly in scoring average this year. His form has been pretty solid recently, and he’s the highest ranked player in the world in this range.
Alexander Noren ($6,600) – The Swede has played great all year, and has finished inside the top-12 in three of his last five starts. Noren checks three of our boxes this week: scrambling, GIR %, and scoring average. He’s also had a top-10 in a major before, although it was the 2012 British Open. A pretty solid bargain play in this range.
Soren Kjeldsen ($6,400) – The European version of Jim Furyk. Kjeldsen has made 12/14 cuts this season, and is coming off a 20th place finish at Memorial. He has popped in majors before, including a 7th place finish at this year’s Masters. Great putter, great scrambler, and great at keeping the ball in play.
Gregory Bourdy ($6,300) – Checks every box we’re looking for: scrambling, driving accuracy, GIR %, and scoring average. Bourdy has had a slew of top-15s recently and is extremely solid at this price. He hasn’t played in many major championships, but made the cut in his last two.
Andrew Johnston ($6,100) – “Beef” recently got his first win on the Euro Tour, and checks boxes in driving accuracy, GIR %, and scoring average. His last two starts have been a 12th and a 7th.
Anirban Lahiri ($6,100) – Been in form recently on the PGA Tour, including a top-10 finish at Colonial. Lahiri is very accurate, and a great putter. Euro Tour stats show that he’s also ranked highly in GIR %, and scrambling.
Maximillian Kieffer ($6,000) – A sneaky punt play this week, Kieffer has made 8/11 cuts on the European Tour this season. Checks all 4 boxes: scrambling, driving accuracy, GIR %, and scoring average. Could be the < 1% owned player to win you a million dollars.
Good luck this week!