Sobel’s 2020 U.S. Open Preview & Betting Picks: Rahm, Finau and Fitzpatrick Worth a Shot at Winged Foot?
Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images. Pictured: Jon Rahm
- Jason Sobel preview the 2020 U.S. Open from a betting perspective, honing in on his favorite outright bet, finishing position plays, DFS sleepers and more.
- He likes Jon Rahm to win again under difficult scoring conditions, Tony Finau to contend and much more.
The U.S. Open was always a major for the plotters and plodders, the guys who won’t overpower a golf course or overwhelm the fans, but those who can grind out pars better than anyone else.
There’s a reason why players like Lee Janzen and Corey Pavin and Jim Furyk are U.S. Open champions. They knew how to keep it in the short stuff and the knew how to eliminate egregious mistakes.
Back in the day, you’d refer to each of ‘em as a U.S. Open prototype.
A funny thing’s happened in the past few years, though: Those days have changed – and so has the prototype.
The four most recent U.S. Open winners are Brooks Koepka (twice), Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland. Much like this tournament’s champions of a previous generation, there’s a specific theme here, but it’s a 180-degree difference from what it used to be.
The common bond between these players – as if you didn’t already know – is that they’re all big, strong, athletic dudes.
Just a coincidence that they’ve won the last four editions of this event? That’s hard to believe.
Instead, we need to dig a little deeper into why this continues to happen.
Well, I’ve got a theory.
(And just in case you don’t like mine, I’ll be soliciting more opinions throughout the week and writing more on this topic later.)
In an attempt to toughen up its host courses, the USGA has placed such a premium on accuracy that even the most accurate players can’t be that accurate anymore. Basically, everybody is going to miss fairways, no matter how Furyk-esque they are, so you’d better be well-equipped to hit shots from the thick, heavy rough. Enter guys like Koepka, DJ and Woodland, who fit that description.
That doesn’t mean accuracy doesn’t count for anything. It does. This week at Winged Foot, it’ll be eminently more advantageous to be hitting approach shots from the fairways than the rough.
If we assume, though, that nobody will be perfectly accurate finding the short grass – a fairly easy assumption – then we have to look at players who have the athletic build and swing speed to extricate themselves out of trouble.
Think of it this way: Would you rather have money on Chez Reavie hitting shots out of the rough four times each round or DJ hitting out of the rough eight times per round? It’s a valid question to ask yourself this week.
It’s based on this theory that I’ll be backing players who are either one or the other. I want players who are strong enough to hit solid shots from the rough or players who are accurate enough to avoid it more frequently than others. To wit: The big guys and the little guys. For me, there’s not much in-between this week.
As mentioned, I’ll have more on this topic, plus plenty of other preview pieces – including my ranking of the entire 144-man field – over the next few days. Until then, let’s get to the picks.
One player to win the tournament.
Jon Rahm (+1000)
Are we finally past the point where observers still believe that Rahm’s emotional outbursts or his relative inexperience should prohibit him from being one of the top picks going into a major championship? We should be.
The guy owns immense talent, as evidenced by victories this summer at the Memorial Tournament and BMW Championship – easily the two most difficult setups since the PGA TOUR’s restart. He was also T-3 last year at Pebble Beach, just another sign pointing toward an impending title contention.
There are about 5-6 players who have played the best during the past few months and I’ll take Rahm to be the best of the best of this week.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Tony Finau (+4000)
Oh, Tony. I just can’t quit you. Like a poker hand that has spiraled so out of control that you find yourself going all-in, Finau is the one guy I can’t get away from in big events – I just don’t know whether I’m holding the nuts or bluffing. We all know he owns the talent to win on any given week. We also know he continually comes up short every time he’s in contention.
Even so, he fits that recent mold of athletic U.S. Open champions who have the strength to play shots from this thick rough.
Webb Simpson (+2000)
Still not buying that theme? If you’d rather go with an accurate player this week – and I’m not saying that’s a terrible strategy – then Simpson might be your best shot. Of those who finished in the top-20 in driving accuracy during the recently concluded 2019-20 season, Webb is one of four whom I believe has a chance of contending this week. (The other three: Brendon Todd, Chez Reavie and Corey Conners – each of whom I’ll get to below.)
The 2012 champion has finished 10th-16th in the last two years, so there’s historical reason to believe he’ll creep up the leaderboard once again.
One player to finish top-five.
Dustin Johnson (+200)
Big shocker, huh? Full disclosure: I was fully prepared to list Scottie Scheffler as a top-five play, considering he owns top-fives in three of his last four starts and is a former USGA champion – until, of course, it was announced Sunday that he withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test.
Enter DJ, the tournament favorite, who might not own a lot of value in this position, but should hold plenty of potential, as a guy who often plays well at this tournament and owns an impressive track record on big Northeast courses.
One player to finish top-10.
Matthew Fitzpatrick (+500)
While Rahm asserted himself this summer as the best player on tough venues, Fitzpatrick wasn’t too far off, with a solo third at Muirfield Village and a T-6 at Olympia Fields.
He’s offered a self-assessment in the past that he likes playing events when the winning score is closer to par, so this should be right up his alley yet again. I don’t mind sprinkling a little on him as an outright or top-five, either.
One player to finish top-20.
Martin Kaymer (+450)
He hasn’t had his best stuff in a long time, but it’s apparently back now – and when Kaymer gets hot, he tends to get really hot, as evidenced by his runaway 2014 U.S. Open win.
He owns a pair of top-three finishes in his last two European Tour starts and appears rejuvenated and happy to be competing once again.
One player to finish top-30.
Brendon Todd (+188)
If you have to ask why, you clearly haven’t been paying attention. Todd has been a revelation over the past year, climbing back from obscurity to win two PGA TOUR titles and contend in a handful of others.
Finding fairways and putting well on fast greens should be a nice combo of assets this week and top-30 feels right in his wheelhouse.
One player to finish top-40.
Rasmus Hojgaard (+163)
The two hottest players on the European Tour over the past few months are also two insanely talented up-and-comers.
I’ll readily admit that top-40 plays on each might be much too conservative this week, but maybe a conservative play on each is a smart play, as you might want to take a bit of a wait-and-see approach to find out whether their talents can travel. (Spoiler alert: They can.)
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
Xander Schauffele (DK $10,100; FD $11,400)
Let the casual fans load up the top of their lineups with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas. Not that I don’t like those guys and not that they can’t win, but Schauffele fits the “safe” requirement better than those bigger names.
Fresh off posting the low 72-hole score at East Lake two weeks ago, he now owns top-10s in six of his 12 career major championship starts, proving he’s one of the most consistent players in the biggest situations. That’s exactly what you want from the bingo square guy.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
Corey Conners (DK $6,900; FD $8,300)
There might be nothing wrong with loading up lineups with a bunch of ball-striking specialists this week. From Byeong-Hun An to Joaquin Niemann to Harris English, there are plenty of options available.
I like going with Conners in these situations. While his ceiling might not be as high as others, he owns a high floor on any given week.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Thomas Detry (+10000)
Consider this one of my favorite plays on the board this week. Somehow, the 27-year-old big hitter is playing just his first career major this week, but I don’t see him being too intimidated by it.
A big hitter just like fellow Belgium native Thomas Pieters (another guy I like this week), don’t be surprised if Detry opens with a solid score and lingers on the leaderboard for a few days.
I like him for top-20 props and in DFS lineups, but FRL could be a juicy payout on a guy who’s posted scores of 67 or better in three of his last four starts.
One player who should beat comparable players.
My favorite play at last week’s Safeway Open was Reavie (ranked 41st in the world) as an underdog in a matchup against Emiliano Grillo (ranked 147th) – and while Grillo gave him a good run, this one cashed.
It also shows that Reavie simply doesn’t get enough respect in the market. He was T-3 last year, T-3 last week and should be primed for another strong run.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Jordan Spieth (+11000)
Just … don’t. Even if you’re thinking about the possibility that he could mount a return to prominence this week, forget about it. I was on Taylor Zarzour’s show “The Starter” on U.S. Open Radio on Monday morning and he began a question about Spieth with, “If it wasn’t for a final-hole double-bogey on Friday, he would’ve only missed the cut by a few shots…”
That’s not a good sign for a player struggling with his game at the Safeway Open, one who’s looking to find it at the U.S. Open. Just so you don’t think I’m picking on Spieth here, a few other big names I don’t mind for missed cut props this week: Marc Leishman, Brandt Snedeker, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson.