2020 U.S. Open Round 2 Betting Picks: Sobel’s Favorite Outright and Matchup Plays for Friday at Winged Foot (Sept. 18)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images. Pictured: Jon Rahm.
- Winged Foot didn't play as difficult as many thought it would in Round 1 of the U.S. Open but Jason Sobel thinks the weather will change that for Friday's Round 2.
- Here are the golfers Jason thinks have value in what should be a grind on Friday:
The main theme during the lead-in to this week’s U.S. Open was that Winged Foot is going to be hard. No, brutally hard. Like, hold-on-for-dear-life-and-pray-for-pars kind of hard.
Then the opening round happened, and… well, it didn’t quite live up to the hype.
Twenty-one players broke par, and many more schadenfreudistic hearts were broken Thursday, as fans who tuned in hoping to watch the world’s best golfers resemble amateur hackers were severely disappointed by all of the — gasp! — red figures on the leaderboard, led by Justin Thomas, who posted a lusty 5-under 65.
There are a few theories as to why this happened.
One is that with negligible wind and soft-ish greens, there was no protection against the talents of many of these players. Another is that the USGA couldn’t trick it up too much if it wanted the entire 144-man field to finish before early September sundown. And yet another is that this is a kinder, gentler USGA, one which is very aware of previous criticisms leveled against the organization by competitors, perhaps the same theory which has led to under-par winning scores in five of the last six editions of this event.
The truth is, it’s probably some combination of all three.
That doesn’t mean, though, that this tourney won’t toughen up over the next three days.
Back in 2006, the last time the U.S. Open was held at Winged Foot, the leading score after the first round was 1-under. Casual observers tend to make the mistake of extrapolating an opening total and projecting it over 54 more holes. On that occasion, the best score three days later was six strokes higher.
There’s no telling whether the same type of scoring regression will again take place this week, but there is a non-zero possibility there’s another six-stroke differential between the Round 1 leading score and the eventual winning total, meaning the latter number could still be something in the black.
Following an opening-round 73, Tiger Woods echoed the opinion of most players who were asked, saying, “I don’t see any reason why it won’t get harder and more difficult.”
It will, although we can debate for now whether “more difficult” will mean moderately tougher scoring conditions or the carnage we expected in the first place.
In either case, it’s hard to believe there’s another 65 on the board, just as it’s hard to believe the USGA won’t reassess, tucking a few more pins and firming up the greens while rooting for Mother Nature to come through with some forecasted breezes.
There was a good reminder Thursday for those who have a penchant for jumping on the pre-tournament favorite prior to the opening round. Depending on the book, Dustin Johnson was right around +700 or +800 beforehand. Before he’d ever hit a single shot Thursday afternoon, his number had already dipped to +900.
Granted, that movement was incumbent on a few big names getting off to hot starts in the morning, but it’s an important reminder that a favorite in the afternoon wave might hold more value live than pre-tourney.
Of course, Johnson’s opening 3-over 73 was an important reminder to not play favorites, too.
Let’s get to a few plays I like heading into the second round:
Jon Rahm (+900)
First things first: Over the past five U.S. Opens, the eventual champion has been three, six, two, one and three strokes off the lead after the opening round.
This is about the range where I’d start looking, though those who are one shot back probably don’t hold enough value, and those who are six back might be nothing but a dart throw right now.
Instead, I’ll stick here with my original favorite outright play. I look at it this way: If I liked Rahm on Wednesday at 10/1, then I should similarly like him on Thursday night at 9/1 and four strokes off the pace after we’ve gotten a glimpse of how he’ll attack this course, which showed very strong tee-to-green numbers against negative putting stats.
Tony Finau (+2800) and Rickie Fowler (+4500)
I know, I know. Ask me how much anyone would have made over the years betting on Finau and Fowler to win major championships. It’s, uh, not very much.
That said, we need to remember something from all those financial advisor commercials: Past performance is not an indicator of future success.
I liked Finau before the first round started and didn’t like Fowler at all, but both offered solid ball-striking days and — like Rahm — negative putting numbers.
Throw in the fact that — also like Rahm — these guys will have the benefit of playing in presumably easier conditions on Friday morning, and I think they can position themselves well going into the weekend.
Round 2 Matchups
Michael Thompson (+110) over Chesson Hadley (tie included)
Speaking of ball-striking vs. putting, no player had a greater discrepancy between the two on Thursday than Thompson.
The recent 3M Open champion gained 5.07 strokes tee-to-green but lost 2.51 on the greens, a bizarre imbalance from a guy known for owning an above-average flatstick.
I’ll bank on Thompson improving from his even-par 70 more than Hadley doing so after a 3-over 73.
Lucas Glover (+110) over Matt Kuchar
This is as much a play on Glover, a former New York-area U.S. Open champion who’s always a good bet to put together a solid-if-not-spectacular performance, as it is a fade of Kuchar, whose game has gone downhill without the books seeming to take much notice.
In eight previous starts this summer, Kuchar hasn’t finished better than 18th place, and on Thursday, he posted a 4-over 74 that included an ugly putting day. For years, he was one of the game’s more consistent players, but I’ll take the more currently consistent guy in Glover.
Kevin Streelman (-109) over Chez Reavie
Man, what fun matchup between very similar players. If this was a U.S. Open of a generation ago, back when fairways and greens mattered more than any bomb-and-gouge strategies, we might be looking at these guys to follow in the footsteps of players like Lee Janzen or Corey Pavin — little guys who could win this event.
Instead, we have Streelman licking his wounds after a 73 and Reavie two strokes further back.
The two of them tied for third place at last week’s Safeway Open, so there’s reason to believe they can each have a little bounce-back, but Streelman’s T-3 might be more relevant. He was 3-over last week after four holes, the result of back-to-back double-bogeys. I’m going to bank on similar resiliency this week, thinking that he’s smart enough to once again figure some things out about his own game and the course he’s playing — enough to post a solid Friday number.