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Erin Hills is a new course that was designed specifically to host these kinds of events. Its trial run was the 2011 U.S. Amateur, and it produced carnage. The cut was +17, although the level of competition was much lower than what we'll see this week. The interesting part of this course is how the USGA will set up the track. It's listed at 7,700 yards for this week, but it can play anywhere from 7,300 – 8,200 yards. That's right, 8,200 yards.
This links-style course plays best when conditions are firm and fast, and the fairways are wide and the fescue will grab any errant tee-shots. The problem this week is that rain is expected on Wednesday, Thursday, and potentially Friday, which will throw a wrench in the USGA's plans. Ultimately, we should see ideal conditions for the final two rounds. The fescue is going to be a huge problem this week, as we've already seen viral videos from Wesley Bryan and Kevin Na showing how easily players will lose golf balls this week. Because of this, shorter hitters are still in play, if they're good drivers of the golf ball. I think strokes gained off-the-tee is my number one stat this week, but I'm not just limiting myself to bombers.
In terms of predicting this leaderboard, I'm going to pass on previous U.S. Opens and look more towards similar major venues. The obvious comparisons are Chambers Bay and Whistling Straits, both of which hosted majors in 2015. Whistling Straits is a slightly better comp in my opinion, so we can look towards that leaderboard for pointers.
Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee (SG:OTT): Erin Hills is an absolute beast, and I think strokes gained off-the-tee is a key to success this week. Mostly, we'll see bombers leading this category, but there are some shorter hitters who really stripe it. Avoiding the deep fescue and scoring on certain shorter holes will propel players to success this week. I predict that the week's leader in SG:OTT will be holding the trophy on Sunday evening. The field leaders in this category are Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Lucas Glover, and Hideki Matsuyama.
Strokes Gained Around-the-Green (SG:ARG): Because of the trouble off-the-tee and the small, guarded greens, scrambling will be important this week. Weather it's chipping, pitching, or bunker play, a tight short game is critical this week at Erin Hills. Putting is a bit unpredictable from week-to-week, but solid wedge play and chipping tend to carry over. I think this list of SG:ARG specialists will give us some names from our leaderboard this week: Jason Day, Pat Perez, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Matt Kuchar, and Phil Mickelson.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren't going to target birdie or better percentage, because that's what fantasy golf scoring is all about. There's going to be plenty of bogeys this week, so we need birdies to offset the damages. The top-10 on Tour in birdie or better percentage are Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, and Anirban Lahiri. It's possible to have a player finish top-10 in fantasy points while not finishing anywhere close to the top-10 in the actual event.
Bogey Avoidance (BA): This is a U.S. Open, so bogeys and double bogeys will be prevalent. However, there are certain players who tend to limit the damage, and that's what I'm targeting this week. I'm guessing that this week's winner will have 6-8 bogeys and 1-2 double bogeys, so it's not like they're going to be earning any bogey-free bonuses. This list brings some interesting names to the top: Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey, Jordan Spieth, Brendan Steele, Lucas Glover, Hideki Matsuyama, and Jon Rahm.
1. DUSTIN JOHNSON [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #1
DJ is still the favorite this week, even after a MC at The Memorial. He's had a lot on his mind, as his wife is due with their second child this week. He's planning to arrive in Wisconsin on Tuesday, so he'll have plenty of time to acclimate himself. DJ is playing the best golf of his life, and is one of the best drivers in PGA Tour history. His wedge game has improved, his putting has improved, and he's the man to beat here. At Whistling Straits, DJ has finished 5th and 7th in majors. And we all know he should have won (or at least made the playoff) at the PGA Championship there if not for a bogus ruling in a bunker on the final hole.
2. RORY MCILROY [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #2
Is Rory healthy? This course fits his game to a tee, as he's a bomber and elite ball-striker who can play links-style courses very well. Rory posted a video recently showing his recovery from a rib injury, and it looks all systems go. If he's healthy, Rory is neck-and-neck with DJ for the field favorite. He's a four-time major champion who is itching for a win this season. He played decently at Chambers Bay and Whistling Straits in 2015.
3. JORDAN SPIETH [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #5
Spieth is an interesting case study this week, but I'm on board. He tends to excel at these new, unknown courses because he's able to scramble and putt his way to success. His off-the-tee (and mental) game is a little shaky, but he gets fired up for these majors. Spieth won at Chambers Bay and nearly won at Whistling Straits, so he checks the boxes on both comp courses. He's been improving his strokes gained tee-to-green stats each of the past three events, which is a great sign of a breakthrough.
4. JUSTIN ROSE [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #8
I was on record with Rose as my pick to win The Masters, so it was disappointing to see him lose to Sergio in a playoff. But I'm riding Rose this season, as I think he's going to win one of the four majors. He's an elite ball-striker who has won a U.S. Open previously, and we've seen him excel on links-style courses in the past. Rose played decently well at Chambers Bay and Whistling Straits, and now he's playing even better golf. If Rose can wipe out a few errant tee shots, he'll be in the mix this weekend.
5. RICKIE FOWLER [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #9
I'm not going to make too big a deal of Fowler's MC last week, as he was clearly treating it as a warm-up event. However, he looked completely out of sorts, and was extremely inaccurate off-the-tee. That won't fly here at Erin Hills, so hopefully Fowler has been working hard on the range. After finishing 2nd at the Memorial, he's clearly trending in the right diretion for his first career major. Fowler will be a factor this weekend.
6. BRANDEN GRACE [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #22
Grace is one of my favorite plays this week, especially at an elevated price on DraftKings. His value won't look good, and his stats won't look good, but he's an elite GPP play this week. Grace is in solid form, finishing 9th in the BMW PGA Championship in his last event, and had recently posted 10th and 11th place finishes worldwide. Grace always gets up for the big stage, which we saw several times over the past few seasons. Grace nearly won the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay (had the lead with two holes left), and then finished top-5 again at Whistling Straits. He's a major talent, and loves links-style golf.
7. JASON DAY [YAHOO CLASS A] - WORLD RANKING: #3
If we're using Chambers Bay and Whistling Straits as our comp courses, Jason Day should come to the forefront. Day won the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits and finished top-10 at Chambers Bay despite having a bout with vertigo. He probably would have won that event, without the medical issues. Day has finally turned his game around after some off the course distractions, notably finishing 2nd to Billy Horschel at the Byron Nelson. He posted a solid 15th place finish at the Memorial, and should be primed for the Open.
8. JON RAHM [YAHOO CLASS C] - WORLD RANKING: #13
One MC and everyone forgets about Jon Rahm? Just like Dustin Johnson, Rahm had a bad week at The Memorial and didn't make the weekend. But let's be real: the guy is a stud. Rahm is near the top of the Tour in terms of strokes gained off-the-tee and on approach shots, so there's no reason he can't contend here. While he may not be ready to win a major, we saw him on the first page of the leaderboard at the Masters on Friday and Saturday. He's a supreme talent who will win multiple majors in his career.
9. SERGIO GARCIA [YAHOO CLASS C] - WORLD RANKING: #7
Part of me thinks Sergio is due for a letdown after winning the Masters, but he's backed it up with 30th, 20th, and 12th place finishes. Amazingly, he's trending towards a win this week (how cool would that be?). Garcia has been a ball-striking monster his entire career, but he's finally gained some confidence in his short game. Furthermore, Garcia ranks second on Tour in SG:OTT, behind only Dustin Johnson. If he has his best game this week, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sergio near the lead on Sunday.
10. HIDEKI MATSUYAMA [YAHOO CLASS B] - WORLD RANKING: #4
It's been a strange couple of months for Matsuyama, who seems to be spinning his wheels without much success. He's still making cuts, but he's finishing in the 20s and 30s most events. That's very unlike him, as we saw him go on a run of wins this past winter. Matsuyama is an elite ball-striker and scorer, but always struggles on the greens. If he can make some putts this week, we could see the first major championship of his career.