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Monday, June 10, 2013

U.S. Open - Power Rankings

As we break out the power rankings for the 2013 U.S. Open, the week ahead is coming into focus on multiple fronts. We know that Merion will not play firm and fast. Rain dumped on the course on Monday morning, delaying the practice round multiple times throughout the day and chances for rain remain through the week. Included in that is a strong chance during the opening round on Thursday. The weekend should be relatively dry, but don’t discount the course already being at its saturation point.

While I tend to isolate myself to a degree from the mainstream media while doing my own research, one comment I’ve seen multiple times on Twitter is that this will be Bethpage all over again. (For those that don’t know, Bethpage Black hosted the 2009 U.S. Open and numerous rain delays forced a Monday finish won by Lucas Glover.) I think the difference is – fingers crossed – we won’t have the amount of rain during the actual tournament that Bethpage faced. Merion also isn’t nearly as long at Bethpage.

Knowing this, I’ve made the following adjustments:
  • I’m putting a little bit less of a premium on driving accuracy and allowing for “bomber” consideration. Guys that can hit a 3-iron 250 yards are dangerous.
  • I’ve heard plenty about the lack of length of the par 4s, but not as much about how long three of the four par 3s are. Par 3 Performance and GIR over 200 yards could be underrated stats this week.
  • Patience is probably going to be a big deal, as it usually is in the U.S. Open. Managing a mud ball or an especially thick lie in the fertilized rough may prove to be part of it. I’d prefer for my plays to have some past U.S. Open success and moderate dealings with poor weather. If you want an example of the combination of each, look at the 2009 U.S. Open final leaderboard http://espn.go.com/golf/leaderboard?tournamentId=545. Congressional in 2011 also comes to mind. Both of those winners (Glover and Rory McIlroy) were excellent off the tee those weeks.

A combination of art and science leads us to this week’s power rankings (16 in all):

  1. Tiger Woods – Yes, I watched Muirfield Village. And yes, I watched Tiger miss the cut at Abu Dhabi and win at Torrey Pines the very next week earlier this year too. Seriously though, I ran a statistical analysis of seven categories I’ve deemed relevant and he tied Steve Stricker for first in that exercise. His patience and mental toughness are unmatched. This marks his five-year anniversary of winning the ’08 Open at Torrey Pines and he tied for sixth at the aforementioned Bethpage Black.
  2. Graeme McDowell – He hits on a number of key areas. He’s a past U.S. Open winner at Pebble Beach. He contended for the title again last year, as well as the Open Championship. He won at Harbour Town earlier this year, and it’s a tight track with small greens that bears similarities to Merion. He’s first in driving accuracy and scrambling. He’s an excellent mix of the tangible and intangible. Not that it matters given all of the above success, but he was a respectable T18 at Bethpage in ’09.
  3. Matt Kuchar – If you’ve watched golf lately, this doesn’t need an explanation. He’s been runner-up/Win in his last two starts and is the hottest player on the planet. His U.S. Open record isn’t that strong historically, but if you focus on his last three years (T6 ’10, T14 ’11, T27 ’12) then it looks much better. At 10th in scrambling and 39th in Par 4 Birdie or Better %, he can overcome many deficiencies he may otherwise fight.
  4. Lee Westwood – This could be on the one for Westy. The stats check out reasonably well, although I wish he wasn’t 151st in putting from 5’-10’. He’s twice finished third in the U.S. Open, most recently at 2011 (Congressional), and owns five top 10s and eight top 25s. Perhaps his gigantic leap all the way up to third in scrambling will yield huge dividends this week. While he lives in sunny Florida now, the Brit’s dealt with his share of poor weather.
  5. Steve Stricker – He’s made 15/17 cuts in U.S. Opens, so he’s seen it all. His last of three top 10s was a T6 at Winged Foot in 2006, but he’s seen the weekend in every U.S. Open since then, with top 20s in the last two editions. While he does not have enough rounds to qualify for statistical categories, if he did he would rank inside the top 25 on TOUR in driving accuracy (13), GIR from over 200 (8), Approaches 100-125 (15), Scrambling (25), Par 4 Birdie or Better (17) and Par 3 Performance (16).
  6. Justin Rose – If only he could putt. If you've followed Rosie closely over the past few months, it’s been about the only thing holding him back. Other than the putter, my hesitations rest in his scoring mainly being centered on par 5s and a hit-or-miss U.S. Open record that includes two top 10s, but four missed cuts in seven starts. What I really like about him is that, if he has an above-average week with the putter, he could win.
  7. Charl Schwartzel – There aren't that many people in the world that have performed better over the last 12 months than the South African. What he did in December of 2012 may not matter much this week, but it shows he’s been building towards a second major title for a while. A third at the Byron Nelson and T8 at Memorial surround a MC at Colonial in terms of current form. He’s T16, T9 and T38 in his last three Opens. Hey…that looks a lot like Kuchar. Two biggest chinks in his statistical armor this week are driving accuracy (which we've already addressed as being a little less important with the weather) and scrambling.
  8. Adam Scott – Only played twice since the Masters, with both going for top 20s. His stats don’t particularly wow you given the expected demands of Merion, but given that he hasn't finished outside the top 15 in a major since the 2011 Open Championship, he demands the benefit of the doubt. I would prefer him be in a lower profile group than Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy the first two rounds, but oh well.
  9. Brandt Snedeker – This one is complex. Since his hiatus with an injury following his win at Pebble Beach, his two best finishes have come at the Masters (T6) and THE PLAYERS (T8), but he’s also missed two cuts and tied for 59th at the Heritage in that span. The good seems to be that he’s peaking for the big events. Given all we know, I worry about his health. Stats are mostly a green light, but I pause because he hit a season-low 50% of his fairways last week in Memphis. That was over 10% less than his second-worst event.
  10. Webb Simpson – He’s one of the few guys in the field that has played this course under tournament conditions, shooting a 72 in his stroke-play round at the 2005 U.S. Amateur and making it to the second round of the match play. Obviously, he’s also the defending champion this week. He’s trending perfectly this week. That’s to say he missed the cut at the Memorial, which is exactly what he did before winning last year. If there’s anything we've learned about Webb, it’s not to discount him because of stats or current form.
  11. Rory McIlroy – I don’t know, do you? Typically he trends into his wins, which he is not doing right now. Much like a Phil Mickelson, it seems unwise to fade him much further than this given his ability to reverse course and fix his game at any point. Confidence will be the key.
  12. Phil Mickelson – Speaking of Phil…I’m never sure what to make of Lefty week-to-week anymore. I’ll say this. After his three previous top 10s this year, he’s missed the cut in his next start twice and T60 at Pebble Beach in the other (Win at WMPO, T60 Pebble; T3 at Doral, MC Bay Hill; 3rd at Wells Fargo, MC PLAYERS). Ultimate wildcard.
  13. Billy Horschel – He took some time off following his win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and came back a little slow. A T10 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic last week seems to have him back on track. We've all learned what can happen when Billy Ho gets the mojo going. His only prior U.S. Open was as an amateur in 2006, missing the cut at Winged Foot. Nobody’s holding that against him. His notable weakness is scrambling (132), but I guess that only comes into play if he misses the green, right?
  14. Keegan Bradley – Keegs is a big-game player with a very solid statistical sheet for Merion, minus his lack of prowess on par 3s in 2013. Runner-up at the Byron Nelson before a T50 at Memorial, but past U.S. Open experience is limited to a T68 at Olympic last year. It’ll be interesting to see if he can get away with his aggressive play here.
  15. Bill Haas – Perhaps he should try and join dad on the Champions Tour, given he’s been excellent through 36 and 54 holes and most of their tournaments stop after three rounds. He’s got six top 10s and nine top 25s this year, including a T4 at the Memorial in his last start where he led at the half-way point. I was surprised to find he is 11th in scrambling. After not playing in a U.S. Open since 2004 (not sure if he was pro or am then), he tied for 23rd at Congressional at missed the cut at Olympic.
  16. Scott Stallings – It would be a pretty big ask for him to carry his form of T4-T4-T2 in his last three starts to Merion, but he may be ready for that step. His splits are steady across the board and he’s playing with a ton of confidence. I’m pretty sure if he were in the lead late on Sunday he’d probably choke it away, but Webb Simpson didn’t exactly have the lead in 2012 until he posted either. Maybe he starts the final round T9, posts a number and wins.

I also like (in no particular order):
  • Kevin Streelman – Missed his last two cuts after three consecutive top sixes, but stats are awesome.  Just not sure he’s quite ready for this stage.
  • K.J. Choi – If his previous U.S. Open record were a bit stronger, I could make a case for him to be included in the top 16. Nothing better than a 6th this year either. Stats line up.
  • Luke Donald – Most people will have him higher than this, but he always seems to enter the U.S. Open among the favorites and fails to meet expectations. He’s 6/9 in U.S. Opens, but with just two top 25s and zero top 10s.
  • Tim Clark – He’ll be one of the guys that will wish the course was playing firm and fast. I was very high on him before his second-round 79 in Memphis last week that led to a MC. Maybe he read that Webb Simpson missed the cut before winning last year?
  • John Huh – This one’s all about how the stats line up. He’s inside the top 100 in six of the seven categories I weighed and flashed form with a T8 at the Byron Nelson and T11 at Colonial recently.
  • David Lingmerth – Showed up big at THE PLAYERS and lost in a playoff at the Humana. Kind of player that misses his share of cuts, but hits big when he shows up. He was ahead of guys like Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Webb Simpson and Billy Horschel in my stats breakdown.
  • Ryan Palmer – He was one of the last men in the field, but comes in off a top five in Memphis. I can’t picture him holding the trophy, but can see him cashing a large check.
  • David Toms – Another guy that probably would have preferred this course play a little firm/faster.
  • Russell Henley – Salvaged a decent week (T28) in Memphis last week with a hot final round.
  • Jim Furyk – Thought of as a grinder, but not making the putts. He’s 170th in putting between five and ten feet.
  • Ernie Els – The Big Easy may not mind if things are a little nasty.
  • Freddie Jacobson – Any man called the Junkman on a soggy U.S. Open course playing under 7,000 yards deserves a look.
  • Boo Weekley – Calmed down a little at TPC Southwind last week, but his overall form is as good as it’s been in years.
  • Kevin Chappell – He plays hard courses well, period. He tied for third in his first U.S. Open in 2011, then shared 10th a year ago at Olympic. He enters off a runner-up at Memorial.
  • Francesco Molinari – Going for the family slam, his brother Eduardo won the 2005 U.S. Amateur at Merion. He’s played on occasion in the U.S. this year and has a couple of top 30s in four previous Open starts.
  • Matteo Mannasero – A winner at the BMW PGA Championship, he followed that up with a T4 at the Nordea Masters in his most recent start.
  • Angel Cabrera – I love this guy. Everyone remembers his runner-up to Scottie at the Masters but he’s also a past U.S. Open champion (Oakmont ’07) and has made 11/13 cuts in this championship. Much stranger things have happened for a guy that understands pressure from an entirely different spectrum than most pro golfers.

Dark horses:
  • Scott Langley – While he’s a rookie on the PGA TOUR, he managed a T16 at the 2010 U.S. Open and a T29 at the 2012 edition. Showed up at the Sony Open to start the year, and walked away with a T3 on the par-70 layout. Also shared 24th at the Heritage on a course that could resemble Merion.
  • David Hearn – Back-to-back top 25s usher him into his third U.S. Open, and the stat sheet seems to be a fit.
  • Brian Stuard – Not far removed from a T22 at Colonial, he opened the year with a T5 at the Sony much like Langley. This could be a solid course fit.

As always, we’ll be back to look at the popular games tomorrow evening. In the mean time, feel free to email (thegolfaficionado@gmail.com) if you have a specialty gaming question.

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