Fantasy Golf: US Open Preview

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Fabian Gomez collected his first PGA Tour title at the FedEx St Jude and, though he failed to select the Argentine, it was also a great week for weekly winner Martin Sherriffs. Dustin Johnson aside, every one of his ‘Puttfordough’ team finished inside the top eight with Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson the stand-out performers.

The latter’s final round 65 bodes well as he once again seeks a maiden US Open crown with the Tour heading west to Chambers Bay for the year’s second major. ‘Lefty’ has been the perennial bridesmaid in the one he covets most of all, recording six runner-up finishes and missing the cut just twice from 24 starts. Perhaps the change from the traditional looking US Open layout can lead to a change in fortunes for the 44-year-old.

Don’t be fooled, though. With its fescue turf, Chambers Bay in Washington may look more like a British Open links, but at 7,742 yards the par 70 is every bit the US Open brute. The Robert Trent Jones Jr. design is best described as up and down. Huge, undulating fairways, giant dunes and bunkers and fast, sprawling greens will offer the sternest of tests. Throw in some stiff coastal winds and Chambers has the ability to make the very best look silly this week, especially if the pins are tucked away.

Few have had the chance to sample a course which opened just eight years ago. One player to taste success there, though, is Peter Uihlein – the American winning the US Amateur title here in 2010. That competition combines stroke and match play formats with the field’s average score in the former a staggering 79.25. Jordan Spieth carded 72-83 with Patrick Reed’s 68 the best round of the week. That was played in August and Uihlein – who hasn’t qualified this year – expects a different test this time around.

‘It was firm and fast in late August and we didn't have much rain leading up to it,’ said Uihlein. ‘It was brown, tough, windy. In June it's rainy season, so it's going to be green and soft, probably going to be long and a totally different golf course. I know they redid some greens (one, seven and 13) and those were greens that needed it. They were tough to hit. In fact the 13th you didn't really hit, you just hit it over the green and tried to putt it back up. I felt like by the end of the week in the US Amateur I was never aiming at a flag, I was just hitting it at slopes and letting the natural contours take over.’

The bottom line is it’s going to be a tough week for the pros and Chambers will give us Fantasy Golf bosses a few headaches too with triple points on offer. The winner needs to be a big-hitter with a demon short game – easier said than found. Throw in the budget pressures that result from a major field and selections become even harder. Here’s who I’m backing to pass the Chambers test.

Jordan Spieth, £3.5m
Masters champ has finished 3rd, 30th and 2nd on his last three starts, shooting nine of 12 rounds in the 60s in that time. His lack of power off the tee (69th on Tour in driving distance) is a concern but he’s eighth in scrambling and his caddie may be the trump card. Mike Greller carried bags and got married at Chambers before joining Spieth on Tour. 

Phil Mickelson, £3.0m
Until he wins one, Phil will always dominate the pre-US Open hype but this really could be his year. Last five starts have yielded three top-four finishes and Chambers should suit him. He remains plenty long enough off the tee, his short game needs no overstating and he showed a liking for links conditions when he won the Scottish Open and Open Championship.

Dustin Johnson, £3.0m
Cost me and plenty of others dear last week when he withdrew from the St Jude after just nine holes of his first round but, while the illness is a concern, he stacks up too well to be left out. He’s the longest on Tour, has a deft touch around the greens (ranking 31st in scrambling) and seems to like the links too. His last five British Opens have produced finishes of 12th, 32nd, 9th, 2nd and 14th, while he took a three-shot lead into the final round of the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach – perhaps the closest venue to Chambers on the rota – before succumbing to Graeme McDowell.

Hideki Matsuyama, £3.0m
Is in sparkling form with his last seven starts all producing finishes of 23rd or higher. Not much links experience but made the cut in the Open at Hoylake last year and finished sixth at Muirfield the year before that. Rankings of 35th in driving distance and seventh in scrambling add to his claims.

Danny Willett, £1.6m
All the talk has been about how close Chambers is to a home links so with that in mind I had to select a Brit and Willett is the one. After breaking the world’s top 50 at the back end of last year, the man from Sheffield has shown few nerves in the big US events. He finished 12th at the WGC Cadillac, 29th at the Arnold Palmer, 38th at the Masters and 3rd at the WGC Match Play. A sixth place finish at the Irish Open three weeks ago should stand him in good stead.    

Morgan Hoffman, £0.9m
At major time you need to find some value to temper the big-spending and the boy from New Jersey might just offer it this week. Yes, he’s missed three of four cuts and, yes, he’s not the biggest hitter. However, his short game stacks up, ranking second in putting average, putts per round and three-putt avoidance and he played the 2010 US Amateur here, shooting a level par 73-71 in tough conditions.