The last professional event to be played here at Winged Foot was the 2006 US Open, meaning there’s very little course pedigree to be found with any of the leading contenders this week. Tiger Woods hasn’t enjoyed it here in New York, going T29-CUT from his two rounds here in ‘97 and ‘06, though the likes of Phil Mickelson (T2), Steve Stricker (T6), Ian Poulter (T12) and Paul Casey (15) will all be looking to recall their form from that major 14 years ago.
Geoff Ogilvy came out on top back then on what is one of the most challenging courses in PGA Tour history. Converted for majors, it sits as a nearly 7,500 yard par 70 with the 514 yard ninth an absolute monster of a par four, while the 12 also sits as one of the longest holes in major history at 640 yards.
While this all sets up nicely for the likes of Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson to rip them off the tee, this course is by no means as straightforward as that and as Geoff Ogilvy has pointed out, it’s work around the greens that is going to pick the winner this week. Back in 2006, all of the top four (Ogilvy, Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Colin Montgomerie) finished in the top 10 for scrambling over the week, though none were in the top five for driving distance. With the game having come on leaps and bounds since then, with more and more of the world’s leading players able to put a fair amount of distance between themselves and the ball off the tee, approach play and scrambling become even more important in what is an incredibly unforgiving course.
It’s with this in mind that we base our picks. On what is such a high scoring course, it’s so difficult to see how players can go off at less than 10/1 when the possibility of a collapse is unrelenting and high scoring holes are never off the cards. On this basis we’ll ignore Dustin Johnson, and we’ll reluctantly opt for the man who follows him in both the market and the world rankings, Jon Rahm (10/1). While the Spaniard is slightly too short for our liking, it’s hard to ignore him here. The BMW Championship was the closest you’ll get to a warm up for this event, also playing a long par 70, and Rahm got stronger and stronger as the weekend wore on to eventually win a thrilling playoff against Johnson, while three consecutive top six finishes should also give him some momentum heading into New York.
The 25-year-old ranks seventh for greens in regulation and is one of the best iron/wedge players around. While that gives him some help here, he’ll be well aware that finding greens won’t nearly be as easy here, and his touch around the edge is going to be where he’ll win or lose this. Luckily, that’s far from a weakness in his game as he sits in the top 10 for scramblers on the tour over the last 12 months, while he’ll also be one of the best equipped to deal with these undulating greens, also ranking seventh for putting average. All things considered, Rahm knows he’s the one to beat as he guns for his first major, and we’ll get behind him to do so.
Our next pick goes to one of the most in form players on the tour at the moment in Xander Schauffele (14/1). Again, the American looks a touch shorter than we would have liked, but like Rahm, he’s fiendish when he gets within 120 yards of the green, and his major pedigree mixed with recent performances give us an inkling this could be his first major win. A lowest 72 hole score saw Schauffele take home second place at East Lake two weeks ago means he’s finished in the top 10 in three of his last five events, while he’s only not made the top 25 once in 14 events since January.
The 26-year-old is arguably the best iron player around at the moment, and ranks fifth on the tour for greens in regulation, while he’s the 2nd best scrambler on the tour this year so he, too, stands in good stead to go well this week, and an each way shout on one of the best bogey avoiders in the game is never going to be a bad bet.
Our final selection goes for a serious outsider, but a player who has shown he may have the credentials to challenge this weekend. After some strong form on the European Tour over the last couple of years, Matthias Schwab (250/1) has made a strong start to life on the PGA Tour, most notably with a third placed finish at the Barracuda Championship just over a month ago. His latest PGA event at the Wyndham Championship saw him lead the field in scrambling, while he ranked in the top five for greens in regulation in both his impressive third at the Barracuda, as well as the 3M Open prior to that.
The Austrian has very little major form to go off and has shown what he’s about in increments without putting together a consistent run of form, though at a course where the field can be partially levelled out by how much can go wrong for any player, it may be worth getting behind an outsider to mount a challenge and Schwab could just be that challenger.
Rory Mcilroy goes off at the same price as Schauffele, though having just witnessed the birth of his first child it’s clear to see his mind hasn’t entirely been on his golf lately. He was the strongest that we’ve seen post lockdown at East Lake a fortnight ago, but when he usually thrives on a more easy going par 72, 14/1 seems a bit short for the Northern Irishman at the moment.
It’s going to be a serious grind this weekend, and birdies will be few and far between. We’d expect the winner to be a few over par for the weekend, and getting up and down to save par will feel like a birdie. “We’re not trying to humiliate the best players in the world. We’re simply trying to identify them,” said the late Sandy Tatum, former USGA president after the 1974 US Open here at Winged Foot and if that doesn’t give you an insight as to what to expect this weekend, nothing will.