Looking for a big, value long shot for a live outright as the 120th U.S. Open Championship heads into the two weekend rounds? Good luck.
With 36 holes in the book at Winged Foot GC and another 36 left to play, we all want to peruse the prices and find the overlooked, undervalued contender who isn’t getting enough respect from the books and could still claim this title.
Recent history, though, suggests that player might not exist.
In the past 10 years, the eventual U.S. Open champion either held or shared the lead on seven occasions. Here’s the list:
|Strokes behind leader|
That doesn’t necessarily mean current leader Patrick Reed (+400) is a shoo-in to win his second career major this weekend, but it does tell us that coming from behind is traditionally tougher at this tournament than perhaps any other.
Only Simpson in 2012 and Koepka in 2018 were more than one stroke out of first place entering the final two rounds — and Simpson was the only one outside the Top 5 at this point.
Does that mean Reed is a good bet at his current number?
Well, if you consider that leaders have won at a rate of 70 percent during the past decade and Reed’s current number would imply a 25-percent win probability, then sure, I don’t mind it — especially if you’re trying to leverage any other pre-tournament plays on others currently in contention.
On Friday, though, despite having strong ball-striking numbers, Reed held things together with the 10th-best putting performance in the 143-man field. Even though he’s known for having a top-tier short game, we know that great putting stats are less sustainable than those pertaining to ball-striking, which is one reason you might want to stay away.
If that’s the case — and if you want to buck that recent history and hope we’ve got another Simpson or Koepka comeback coming instead of another leader giving everyone else the Heisman — here are four plays I don’t mind heading into the weekend:
Xander Schauffele (+1000)
During our live broadcast on U.S. Open Radio throughout Friday afternoon, I asked my co-hosts Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz whether Schauffele is considered so underrated, by so many people, that he’s officially no longer underrated anymore.
He’s the guy your casual-golf-fan buddy picked as a “sleeper” this week, but there’s nothing sleepy about a player who owns Top 10 results in exactly half of his major championship starts. Schauffele is undoubtedly good enough to win — and the tougher this course becomes, the better his chances might be.
Jon Rahm (+1200)
Hey, I liked him pre-tourney at 10/1 and post-first round at 9/1, so it stands to reason that I should still like him at 12/1, despite trailing by five strokes. Just three weeks ago, on another brutally difficult golf course, Rahm trailed by seven strokes and was T-39 going into the weekend rounds, only to win in a playoff. It’s tough to believe he (or anyone else) has a 66-64 closing kick in him this time around, but he’s proven he can make up ground in tough conditions.
Hideki Matsuyama (+2000)
It’s hard to state just how good Matsuyama’s ball-striking was on Friday, but thankfully, we have stats to make that point for us. He led the field in strokes gained tee-to-green (6.88) and was second in strokes gained on approach shots (4.48).
Serving as a microcosm for his career, it was just some below-average putting which kept him from posting a better score than his 1-under 69, but if he can start rolling it even just a little bit better, he might be able to ride that sweet swing up the board.
Need more evidence? In the PGA Tour season that just ended, he ranked 11th in Round 3 scoring average and 21st in Round 4 scoring average.
Webb Simpson (+4500)
Two theories here.
The first is simply that he’s done it before. Eight years ago, Simpson was six shots off the pace at this point — the exact same differential he’s looking to make up right now.
The other is that it’s highly unlikely the USGA will touch any of the Winged Foot rough again this week, which could place a continuing premium on hitting fairways.
Of the guys on the leaderboard, Webb doesn’t have the offensive firepower of many, but he does traditionally avoid mistakes better than anyone else.