Sobel: Why I Like Bryson DeChambeau Over Matthew Wolff in Final Round of U.S. Open

Sobel: Why I Like Bryson DeChambeau Over Matthew Wolff in Final Round of U.S. Open article feature image
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Jamie Squire/Getty Images. Pictured: Bryson DeChambeau.

  • Matthew Wolff and Bryson DeChambeau make up the final pairing in the fourth round of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
  • Jason Sobel tells us why he is backing DeChambeau to outlast Wolff down the stretch.

The U.S. Open is weighted toward those players who hit it the longest.

That doesn’t mean the tournament is unfair or prejudicial or even needs fixing. It doesn’t mean anything is necessarily wrong with it, as long as we can agree that distance is a learned skill and deserves to be rewarded. Accuracy certainly isn’t penalized, but it’s also not rewarded to the fullest extent.

Therein lies the rub, though: Of the four major championships, this was always the one which prided itself on indulging those who kept it in the short stuff.

Players could bash it all over the ballpark at the Masters or PGA Championship, but spray it at a U.S. Open and they’d find the gnarliest rough of the year, the antithesis of any strategy to promote a title contention.

In the first two rounds of this week’s edition of this event at Winged Foot GC, Patrick Reed found the short stuff just 10 times, yet still held the lead — the fewest fairways hit by any leader in tournament history.

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On Saturday, it was Matthew Wolff who employed this plan — whether he wanted to or not — finding just two fairways for the entire round.

A generation ago, this would’ve been a recipe for disaster at the U.S. Open, a decisive way of shooting oneself in the foot and out of the tournament.

Wolff, though, shot 65, tying the best round of the week and taking a two-stroke lead into the final round.

Now, of course, the question turns to whether the 21-year-old will continue finding the thick stuff — and if he does, will he continue to make pars and birdies from it?

Here’s what I think about this scenario, though I’ll readily admit I’m intrigued to find out whether I’m right or not: A player can miss fairways at the U.S. Open and still post a good score. (We’ve already seen that.) A player can even miss fairways for a few rounds and remain atop the board. (We’ve seen that, too.)

At some point, though, as Reed fatefully learned during Saturday’s third round, consistently hitting tee shots into the rough just has to come back and bite a guy. (We’ll see if this one remains true.)

Even if length offers a more distinct advantage than accuracy, there’s no benefit to being in the rough instead of the fairway.

On the priority order of tee shot destinations, the rank is: Long and straight, long and crooked, short and straight, short and crooked.

I know what you’re thinking: That’s all fine, but who the hell is going to win this thing?

Thanks for asking, I was getting there.

Through three rounds, Wolff (+150) has hit exactly a dozen fairways, a rate of 28.57 percent which ranks him in a share of 58th out of 62 players. There’s no better illustration of the impracticality of finding fairways than the fact that he ranks toward the bottom of this category, yet tops the leaderboard.

All of which is why I’m picking a player who has not only found more fairways this week, but owns a distance advantage, as well.

I’m taking Bryson DeChambeau (+225).

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Full disclosure: The PGA Tour’s driving distance leader from the just-completed season ranks just 15th in that category this week, behind even Wolff, with whom he’ll play in the final pairing on Sunday afternoon. Even so, I think we can all agree that, if and when he needs to, DeChambeau can bang it out there further than anyone else.

Essentially, I’m looking at that aforementioned priority order. If DeChambeau and Wolff each fall into the second category on this list, for the most part — long and crooked — then I’ll take the guy who’s longer and less crooked than the other.

That’s not the only reason, of course.

I believe that it might actually be a disadvantage for Wolff to hold the lead instead of playing the role of chaser. I think, speaking of chasing, that it will be tough for him to follow that brilliant round of 65. And I’d argue that DeChambeau is the more complete player right now.

What I do know is that the first four holes of the final round will go a long way to telling us the whole story. Wolff’s two-stroke advantage could be huge if he outscores DeChambeau by one or two on these holes and extends that lead. Or it might be negligible, vanishing within the first few holes and reversing the momentum.

It’s going to be an historic day at Winged Foot for one of the contenders. It’ll be a bit of a surprise if it isn’t one of these players in the final pairing who wins the event. My money will be on Bryson.

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