Brooks Koepka. Photo by Golffile
Another week, another winner for the Golf Digest expert panel—with Lee Aldrick hitting on rising South African star Garrick Higgo at 40-1 to win the Palmetto Championship. We can’t stop, won’t stop.
The only way to back it up, though, is by coming up big again on one of the biggest weeks of the year: U.S. Open week. And this isn’t just any U.S. Open week, it’s U.S. Open week at Torrey Pines, where Tiger Woods famously won on one leg in 2008. Thirteen years later, we’re back in San Diego, and the South Course promises to be an extremely difficult test once again, just like it was in ‘08, when the winning score was one under and six over made the cut.
A test like Torrey should limit the potential pool of winners considerably. The Brooks Koepka philosophy, if you will. That should, in theory, make picking a winner easier for those of us trying to do just that. The best of the best will likely be there late Sunday evening, which is why the likes of Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele are two of the most popular picks this week. Surprisingly, our experts aren’t on either guy.
U.S. Open 2021 picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions (Odds from William Hill)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Brooks Koepka (18-1) — I understand why Jon Rahm is the favorite. But Koepka—a four-time major champion and two-time U.S. Open winner—is almost double the price? Rahm hasn’t gotten there, and hell, he has seemed to struggle when the stress is turned up a notch. I’m shocked Koepka and Rahm aren’t closer on the odds board—take advantage of the generous pricing.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Brooks Koepka (18-1) — The MC at Palmetto was a blessing for those of us betting Koepka this week, keeping his odds higher. Despite going home early, Brooks was excellent with the driver and with his irons. His struggles chipping and putting were probably due to a lack of interest. Now he gets a daunting USGA setup that we know suits his game, as evidenced by his T-2/win/win track record in his past three U.S. Opens.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Brooks Koepka (18-1) — Koepka never really looks good in my betting model, but this is a major, and Koepka is dominating with his ball-striking and simply struggling with the putter. I don’t think you can ever really regret betting on Koepka in a major -- particularly at odds like these.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Collin Morikawa (22-1) — No matter how you slice it, Morikawa is the best tee-to-green player on tour. He leads the category for everyone in the field in the last 12 rounds, last 24 rounds, last 36 rounds and even in the last 100 rounds, per the RickRunGood.com golf database. He is a prolific ball-striker who enters with four consecutive top-15 finishes, including a playoff loss at the Memorial in his last start. The question for Morikawa is his putter, but that’s always been the question. Here we are four wins (including one major) later, so I’d say he’s answered that question well enough.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Patrick Cantlay (25-1) — Torrey Pines requires two essential skills: being long off the tee and super precise on approaches. Cantlay combines that skill set better than anyone. He’s seventh in strokes gained/off the tee; 14th in driving distance and fifth in SG/approach in this field over the past 24 rounds, per Fantasy National. And isolate the past two events when most of the best players were there—the PGA and Memorial—and he hit his irons better than anyone across each week.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Justin Thomas (22-1) — I won’t try to tell you he’s coming in under the radar as World No. 2, but the bulk of the pressure does seem to be on other players. Namely, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Bryson and Brooks, and Rory, who will always face pressure at the majors until he wins another. For some reason, JT doesn’t get that same scrutiny (yet) for not knocking down the door again. That could free him up to let it rip this week, and hopefully, for the love of god, maybe he can make a few putts. The good news: he’s still arguably the best tee-to-green player in the field right now, and he’s actually solid on poa greens.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Patrick Reed (25-1) — Reed ranks top three in the field this week for total strokes-gained over the last two years, total strokes-gained at Torrey Pines and SG/putting on bent/poa greens over the last two years. There could not be a better set up for him. His form is also good with three top-10 finishes in his last six events.
Results from last season: Golf Digest's betting panel has been red-hot the past two seasons. Our experts have now predicted seven of the past 17 winners—after going up 225.30 units last season. Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports called Garrick Higgo’s victory at the Palmetto Championship (at 40-1)! Stephen Hennessey predicted Jason Kokrak’s victory at the Charles Schwab Challenge a few weeks ago (at 45-1)! He also picked Jordan Spieth (11-1) at the Valero Texas Open. That continued a strong 2021—at The Players, Christopher Powers and Rick Gehman called Justin Thomas’ victory (18-1). That was each of their second accurate predictions of 2021, with Powers hitting Koepka (50-1) and Gehman calling Daniel Berger at Pebble Beach (14-1). Pat Mayo nailed Collin Morikawa at the WGC-Workday three events ago at 33-1 in addition to Koepka at the WMPO. And Brandon Gdula also called Berger’s win at Pebble Beach. We’ll stop there! Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!
Caddie: Branden Grace (100-1) — Gracey has the U.S. Open pedigree (should’ve won at Chambers Bay) and is playing great golf at the moment, so this feels like a mis-price. He also played great at Memorial, one of the toughest tracks of the year, so his game should suit a difficult Torrey Pines.
Mayo: Shane Lowry (40-1) — Always better on long and difficult tracks, Lowry is coming in with three top 10s in his past four starts—and actually led all players at the PGA Championship in strokes gained/off the tee. But the big difference in his great play has been his irons. Usually wildly inconsistent, Lowry has gained strokes on approach in seven straight, the best stretch of his career.
Gdula: Louis Oosthuizen (45-1) — Oosthuizen is a plus poa putter and ranks in the 76th percentile in my adjusted SG/tee-to-green data. He’s historically fared well at majors with nine top 10s, and he’s in great recent form with the irons and putter.
Gehman: Sam Burns (80-1) — Burns seemingly has everything it takes to contend at a U.S. Open. He’s long off-the-tee (ranked 26th on tour), hits his approaches well (14th) and he putts better than most of his peers (26th). The last time he played Torrey Pines, he finished T-18 in January, which was actually much better than the result indicates. He played in the final group on Sunday that week before shooting a 75. Since then, he has a PGA Tour victory and has flashed incredible upside on a near constant basis. Since the start of the 2021 season, Burns has gained 4+ strokes in a single round 13 different times. That’s the most on TOUR, tied with Charley Hoffman, Bryson DeChambeau and Viktor Hovland.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Jason Kokrak (60-1) — Kokrak’s game should be built for U.S. Opens. He’s eighth in driving distance; eighth in SG/off the tee; and 18th in SG/approach over the past 24 rounds. Plus, Kokrak is third in this field in bogey avoidance over the past 36 rounds, per Fantasy National. He’s one of just four players to win twice on tour this year (Bryson, Cantlay, Cink are the others)—it’s time for the big-hitting Kokrak to contend in a major.
Powers, Golf Digest: Max Homa (80-1) — His majors record leaves a LOT to be desired (seven starts, six MCs), but if there was ever a place to change that for him it’d be Torrey Pines, which should suit his game. He just finished sixth at Memorial, won at Riviera and has won the Wells Fargo, three other big, difficult ballparks to play in. He’s also had back-to-back top-18s at Torrey Pines after starting his career with three MCs there and he’s a plus-poa putter.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Will Zalatoris (35-1) — Zalatoris has gained over nine shots on the field in all three of his last three majors. He likes Torrey Pines too, recording a seventh-place finish here at the Farmers in January. Zalatoris is a big-game hunter, and the game don’t come much bigger than the US Open.
U.S. Open 2021 picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Jon Rahm (9-1) — I’ve made my point in my write-up on my outright pick. But to reiterate: A player who hasn’t won in nearly a year—and has never won a major—has a single-digit price at a major. That’s tough to get behind, as good as Rahm’s history at Torrey is.
Mayo: Justin Thomas (22-1) — So much needs to go right for JT to win. He can, sure, but if either his driver and putter don’t cooperate, which they tend not to do, the U.S. Open setup will be too much to overcome.
Gdula: Jon Rahm (10-1) — My betting model has Rahm as the favorite at Torrey Pines, but at 10-1 and with everyone else’s odds substantially better, I see no reason to bet him for an outright win. I’ll anchor some FanDuel lineups around Rahm but will be betting farther down the card.
Gehman: Justin Thomas (22-1) — It’s always terrifying to fade someone this talented, but there are a few things that concern me about Thomas at Torrey Pines. He ranks 154th in driving accuracy and playing out of the thick Kikuyu rough makes Torrey Pines even more difficult. His putter often fails to cooperate and that can be magnified on these tricky Poa annua greens. He’s only played here twice in his career and hasn’t made the trip since 2015, so I also worry about his lack of experience compared to his peers.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Dustin Johnson (16-1) — Amazingly, last week at Congaree was the first tournament since the 2020 Masters that DJ gained strokes in the four major SG categories for the week. A few blow-up holes cost him a win. I just go back to his record at Torrey Pines. Even before he was doing the Middle East trips, he has a bunch of mediocre finishes and missed cuts. I’d prefer the other elites—who have more consistent form not just recently but also at Torrey.
Powers, Golf Digest: Jordan Spieth (20-1) — I think we see him strike again at Royal St. George’s, where he can be extremely creative around the greens and think his way around the golf course. At Torrey Pines, which will demand long and straight off the tee, he’ll likely struggle like he always has here.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jordan Spieth (20-1) — Spieth has never recorded a finish at Torrey Pines higher than 35th. Also, barring his win in 2015, Spieth has never finished top 15 at the US Open.
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