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Monday, June 9, 2014

U.S. Open - Power Ranking

We've got a lengthy list of players in the Power Ranking for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 this week, so we won’t waste too much time in the intro. Feel free to browse back through yesterday’s power ranking for additional information.

One additional thing not mentioned yesterday that I came across when perusing U.S. Open history of late is the correlation with success at the longer venues such as Pinehurst (’05), Oakmont (’07), Torrey Pines (’08), Bethpage Black (’09) and Congressional (’11). For players that have never played Pinehurst, but have played the other three, I gave some degree of credence to how they played the other longer venues.

Here we go:
  1. Sergio Garcia – Ranks eighth in the world and touts a solid U.S. Open resume that includes a T3 at the 2005 Open at Pinehurst. Add to that, his stats line up incredibly well for this week’s venue. We know he likes North Carolina, as he is a recent winner of the Wyndham Championship. It would be nice if his recent form overseas was a little better, but a third-place finish at THE PLAYERS in his last U.S. start speaks for itself. I realize that he is getting over a slight knee injury, but the other factors make him hard for me to shake. 
  2. Rory McIlroy – A good example of a guy that plays the longer U.S. Opens well, with a win at soggy Congressional and a T10 at flooded Bethpage Black. Rain could be a factor this week. Last four worldwide starts have resulted in T8, 6, win, T15. If he gets a B-plus effort from his driver and putter, he will be tough to beat.
  3. Adam Scott – The biggest concern in regards to the Aussie is his past record in the U.S. Open. In 12 starts, he’s made just six cuts with a T15 in ’02 the best. On paper he’s an excellent fit, and he has the class, form and everything else needed to win. He just has to snap his own USGA jinx.
  4. Matt Kuchar – He’s made five of his last six U.S. Open cuts, all going for top 30s. Bounced back from a shocking missed cut at Colonial with a T15 at Memorial. Having been one of the steadiest players all season, it would cap off a great few years if he could pick off a major.
  5. Phil Mickelson – That he doesn’t have a top 10 this season and his stats not showing any better than average would normally dictate a fade further down the ranking than this. That said, he’s been a great player in U.S. Opens for a bunch of years, only missing two cuts in 23 tries, and who can forget his runner-up to Payne Stewart at Pinehurst in 1999. Everybody is pulling for Phil.
  6. Steve Stricker – His last three PGA TOUR starts have resulted in a T31, T13 and T6 and he finished fifth at Pinehurst in 1999. He will be easy to overlook this week, but he has the game and the trend to have a big week.
  7. Bubba Watson – I’m beginning to be of the mindset that any course Mickelson has historically been successful on lines up as a nice fit for Bubba as well. It’s easy to forget, but Bubba had a shot at winning Oakmont before a bad final round, so U.S. venues aren’t impossible for him to navigate. If rain makes this course play longer than it’s listed, expect him to be on the list of guys that benefit. Finished third at Memorial two weeks ago.
  8. Henrik Stenson - Seems to be curving towards a peak with a T34, T7 and a fifth in his last three worldwide starts. Recent U.S. Open returns have been steady, making his last four cuts in the season's second major with each going for a top 30. He finished ninth at Bethpage Black in '09.
  9. Jim Furyk - Despite lacking length off the tee, he's a really solid long iron player. His U.S. Open record over the years is among the best, picking off a win and two runners-up. One of those second-place finishes came at a monster of a course (Oakmont '07). Recent form has trailed off a bit, but there's still plenty to like. Made the cut in each of the two Opens at Pinehurst (T17/T28).
  10. Hideki Matsuyama - Tied for 10th at Merion last year and enters this week fresh off a win at Memorial. While he may still need a tad more seasoning on the biggest stages, it would be unwise to write him off.
  11. Jason Day - He's played three U.S. Opens, finishing second in two of them. We can pretty much stop there. The only reason he isn't higher is that he hasn't had the chance to play himself into any kind of form due to a nagging injury. 
  12. Webb Simpson - Gets a bit of a bump after finally returning to form last week in Memphis. While his win came on a shorter U.S. Open venue (Olympic), he had a T14 at a longer and soggy Congressional and a T32 at Merion. He'll find extra motivation with this one taking place in his home state.
  13. Bill Haas - Statistically, he doesn't have a true weakness. His form is trendy, with a T26, T21 and T8 in his last three starts. The only reason he isn't three or four slots higher is his overall U.S. Open record. He's made just two of five cuts, with a T23 in 2011 the best. Look for a career-best this week.
  14. Brendon Todd - The first U.S. Open rookie on the list, he ranked the highest of everyone in my statistical breakdown. His form is excellent, backing up his win at the HP Byron Nelson with a T5 and a T8. The two concerns are distance off the tee and his overall class, with the latter being the bigger concern. 
  15. Graeme McDowell - There are reasons to fade him a little further, namely current form and length, but his overall record in the U.S. Open demands some respect. He's 7/8, with a T2 in 2012 joining his win at Pebble in 2010. Of note, both of those were rather short U.S. Opens. 
  16. Charl Schwartzel - He's 6/7 in U.S. Opens, with a T9 in '11 the best. Trending well with two top 11s in his last three starts.
  17. Jason Dufner - His putter is scary, but has back-to-back T4s in the U.S. Open and is 5/7 overall. It's worth stressing that those T4s came on much shorter layouts.
  18. Lee Westwood - Hard to place him after a sloppy missed cut in Memphis last week. At 12/14 with five top 10s in the U.S. Open, he can't fade any further.
  19. Luke Donald - He's a case of a guy with solid U.S. Open record on shorter courses and a poor one on the longer layouts. Minus the length challenge, many facets of his game would theoretically play well at Pinehurst.
  20. Jordan Spieth - This is his third U.S. Open, with a T21 at Olympic preceding a MC at Merion. He's a great scrambler and an above-average putter, but he can find trouble tee-to-green which could prove problematic. Still, this is probably too low for a player of his pedigree.
  21. Billy Horschel
  22. Paul Casey
  23. Justin Rose
  24. Jimmy Walker
  25. Ian Poulter
  26. John Senden
  27. Dustin Johnson
  28. Martin Kaymer
  29. Keegan Bradley
  30. Zach Johnson
  31. Matt Every
  32. Kevin Na
  33. Graham DeLaet
  34. Chris Kirk
  35. Bo Van Pelt
I also want to direct some attention to several players that play almost exclusively in Europe. I didn't include them in the power ranking because there aren't enough common courses and the stats aren't apples-to-apples for me to adequately compare them to the PGA TOUR regulars.
  • Victor Dubuisson - The guy kept getting up-and-down out of cacti in the Match Play, so there's no reason he can't handle some native area at Pinehurst No. 2. Add to that, he tied for second at the Nordea Masters in his last start.
  • Stephen Gallacher - T5 at BMW and T2 at the Nordea Masters in his last two starts. That works.
  • The Most Interesting Golfer in the World (M.A.J.) - He has a win and a T5 in two of his last four worldwide starts.
  • Shane Lowry - A runner-up and a T25 in his last two starts.
  • Joost Luiten - He's on fire. For starts, posted a steady T26 at the Masters back in April. Since then, he's trended into this event with a 4-T12-3 run on the European Tour.
  • Francesco Molinari - T24-T7-MC in last three starts, but owns more U.S. experience than many of the other Euros. 
Want a few dark-horse candidates? Consider Billy Hurley III and Luke Guthrie.

We will return tomorrow with a look at the one-and-done. Until then, best of luck to all!

12 comments:

  1. Hi Ryan, why are you so low on Dustin Johnson? Are his stats not compatible with the course? Thanks.

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    1. He was OK across the board, but didn't jump off the page. His past U.S. Open history isn't all that great and his current form is average by his standards. He certainly could pull it together, thus the mention above, but there are others that seem to line up a little better.

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    2. OK Bonus question if you don't mind ;)
      Bubba Watson is 151st on Tour in Sand Saves... given how important bunkers will be this week, isn't it enough of a factor to not select him vs Adam Scott and Lefty?

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    3. It seems like missing in the proper places will be an important strategy for everyone this week, so for Bubba that likely means keeping it out of greenside bunkers at all costs. I would wonder how many of Bubba's failed attempts came when he went for a longer par 5 in two and ended up with a 20-yard bunker shot that he didn't get up-and-down for birdie. I know a pro that has told me that his strategy on some par 5s is to put it in a bunker because it can be an easier up-and-down for birdie than a lie in the rough.
      To your point, it could be the difference in Scott vs Watson or Phil vs Watson. Just depends on how often Bubba puts himself out of position.

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  2. Who do you like better this week in oad Charl Schwartzel or Jason Day... Love day just fear he may not be ready. Would Day be better at PGA

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    1. Really good question, and my answer might depend on your standing. I'd tend to lean Schwartzel if you are in a situation where you are trying to maintain a position, but Day could be a smart play if you are trying to make a move. I tend to think Day is healthy enough to make it through the tournament, but I would prefer that he play his way into some form. If Day shows well, then there are plenty of places to play him down the road.

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  3. Hi Ryan, great column as always. Keep up the good work! Why do you like Hurley and Guthrie as dark horses? I have not seen their names on any other sleeper lists out there. Thanks in advance!

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    1. For dark horses, I tend to lean towards guys who fit a statistical profile that I find relevant. Hurley showed very well in Par 3 Scoring, bogey avoid, scrambling and driving accuracy, while Guthrie didn't show a huge strength, but didn't offer a weakness either. To put it in perspective, BHIII was wedged between Jimmy Walker and John Senden on my raw spreadsheet and Guthrie was between Graham DeLaet and Chris Kirk.

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  4. Nice post as always Ryan. I took a bit different approach this week with my capping - curious as to why you picked your stats. I'll post here now since our weekly snake draft is done and I know other league members browse here. :) I was flying overseas Sunday afternoon-Monday morning, so I had plenty of time on my hands to cap (obviously), and now unsuccessfully trying to sleep at 1:45am, I have plenty of time to post, so here goes (apologies for the length). Maybe someone else can use something in this work.

    I went through the top 3 finishers at the US Opens going back to and including 2005 Pinehurst -- that totaled 37 total players, including duplicates. I looked primarily at their form in the full year running up to their respective US Opens. A few things jumped out:

    1) 23 of 37 (62%) did NOT have a win in the calendar year leading up to the US Open -- 26 of 34 (76%) if you exclude Tiger
    2) About 25% MC'd the event prior, (not counting Westwood who WD'd from Wentworth in 2008 after a first round 77)
    3) Only 3 did not have a top 10 finish in the calendar year leading up to the US Open - Rocco @ 2005 Pinehurst, Duval and Barnes at 2009 Bethpage
    4) Only 5 did not have a top 5 - Rocco in 2008 Torrey Pines, Thompson 2012 Olympic plus three above
    5) 20 of 37 (54%) had at least 4 top 10s and 26/37 (70%) had at least 3.
    6) 27 of 37 (73%) had at least 2 top 5s - probably the most telling of all, to me

    Like I said, I had a lot of time on my hands, and I'm pretty good at excel.

    continued on next comment due to size

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    1. Next, I looked at the top 8 at Pinehurst in 2005 (M. Campbell, Tiger, Sergio, Tim Clark, Mark Hensby, DL3, Rocco and Vijay), and I wrote down the stat categories in which each finished in the top 20 in 2005.

      Five stats kept popping up: Scoring Average, All Around Ranking, Par 5 Birdie or Better, Driving Distance and Bounceback.

      Another three appeared to be "secondarily" important: simple GIR, Par Breakers and Sand Save %.

      Michael Campbell's stats weren't ranked that year, and Rocco and Hensby weren't elite in anything, So I lined up the other 5 in these categories.

      Primary stats:
      Scoring Avg - All were in the top 13, Clark only one outside top 10
      All Around - All were in the top 10 except Sergio (22)
      Par 5 Birdie or Better - All were in the top 10 except DL3 (32)
      Driving Distance - All were in top 16 except Clark (huge outlier at 140)
      Bounceback - All were in top 18

      Secondary Stats:
      GIR - Tiger, Sergio and Vijay were in the top 6, with DL3 (51) and Clark (123) not a fit
      Park Breakers - Tiger, Clark and Vijay were top 10, with DL3 26th and Sergio 31st
      Sand Save % - Clark, DL3 and Vijay were top 13, with Tiger 46th and Sergio 90th

      A few takeaways here:

      1. Clark appears to be the exception that proves the rule here, that these stats matter. Even though it seems as if he's obvious non-ballstriker outcast here, he's still in the top 13 in 6 of the 8 categories.

      2. Excluding Clark, the other guys are all top 16 on tour in driving distance... and Pinehurst was lengthened in the redesign.

      3. Driving accuracy didn't seem to matter at all. Lots has been said of the native areas, but that 2005 bermuda rough wasn't exactly a picnic.

      4. Sure, some of these stats are redundant, but I used them all because they kept popping up, and I didn't want to ignore the "angle".

      So, after importing form into excel, using Mike Miller's google doc site SmartGolfBets (google it) and putting in these 8 stats categories for the top 200 OWGR:

      1. 9 players have at least 3 top 10's in the last 16 weeks AND are top 20 in at least 3 of these categories - Scott, Bubba, Rory, Sergio, Rose, Walker, Senden, Palmer and Todd

      2. The same exact guys also are the only ones with at least 3 top-20 stat categories AND at least two top 5's.

      3. Borderline guys and those who completed my top 25 in no particular order: Phil, DJ, Stenson, Dufner, Kuchar, Spieth, Matsuyama, Westwood, Simpson, Keegan, Kaymer, Horschel, Gallacher, English, DeLaet, Schwartzel and Palmer

      Sorry for the long post, but at least I'm tired now. Good night from the middle east...

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    2. Dude, it might be time for you to start your own blog!

      I really like your angles and passion, and find them very interesting and potentially relevant. What I find most interesting is that much of what you found confirms my Power Ranking.

      Of your first group of nine players, you have Garcia (1st on my PR), McIlroy (2nd), Scott (3rd), Bubba (7th), Todd (14th), Rose (23), Walker (24), Senden (26), while only Palmer was unranked.

      In your borderline, you have MIckelson (5th), DJ (27), Stenson (8), Dufner (17), Kuchar (4), Spieth (20), Matsuyama (10), Westy (18), Simpson (12), Keegan (29), Kaymer (28), Horschel (21), Gallacher (mentioned in Euro), English (NR), DeLaet (33), Schwartzel (16) and Palmer again (still NR).

      I did a power ranking of 35, plus notable Euros. You mentioned 26 names and all but two were in my P.R.

      To that I say, I ultimately agree with your assessment, although we got to a similar answer in a different manner.

      Best of luck!

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