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2021 U.S. Open - PGA DFS Tournament Breakdown

Hi RotoBallers! I'm Andy Lack and I'm very excited to be with you as a new member of the RB PGA team! In our ongoing attempt to expand and improve our PGA coverage, I will be dropping a 'Tournament Preview' every Monday morning. We're getting this new series kicked off in style this week with the U.S. Open!

I hope this preview will give you a head start on your U.S. Open research and I'd also like to encourage you to check out my Pick The Pup podcast to hear more of my thoughts on Torrey Pines. If you aren't already utilizing RotoBaller's amazing weekly PGA content, fix that right now by joining us this week and throughout the rest of the PGA Tour season.

Access to tons of RotoBaller's PGA content is COMPLETELY FREE but we also offer a PGA Premium subscription for those of you that want to take your game to the next level! You can sign up now using Promo Code: ANDY at checkout to receive a discount.

Featured Promo: Golf is back! Come join the fun and win big with RotoBaller. Get our full-season PGA and DFS Premium Pass for 50% off! Our exclusive DFS Lineup Optimizer, Research Station, DFS Projections and weekly DFS/betting articles! Sign Up Now!

 

RotoBaller Weekly PGA Article Schedule

Monday: You can find out all you need to know about Torrey Pines with Josh Bennett's Course Breakdown (Premium) and learn which golfers have thrived at Torrey in the past with Joe Nicely's Horse For The Course.

Tuesday: We kick your DFS research into high gear with articles from Spencer Aguiar! Spencer will highlight his favorite DraftKings Plays of the week - an article that also includes his popular PGA DFS Rankings Wizard Model - and offer great tips with his Head-To-Head Betting Preview, while Joe Nicely drops some salary savers in his DraftKings Value Plays (Premium) article. We also have you FanDuel fans covered with free PGA DFS picks for every tournament.

Wednesday: Things start getting intense on Wednesday and we've got you covered! You can check out RotoBaller Staff One And Done selections and get inside the mind of our team with our PGA DFS Expert Roundtable (Premium). We also have two of the most popular articles in the PGA DFS industry with Spencer Aguiar's Vegas Report (Premium) and Joe Nicely's DraftKings Core Four (Premium). You can also check out Josh Bennett's DFS Cheat Sheet (Premium) for a quick cram session!

 

Tournament Overview

2021 U.S. Open 

Recent Winners
2020 - Bryson DeChambeau (-6)
2019 - Gary Woodland (-13)
2018 - Brooks Koepka (+1)
2017 - Brooks Koepka (-16)
2016 - Dustin Johnson (-4)

Event Details
Purse: $12.5 million ($2.25 million to the winner)
FedEx Cup Points: 600 (Winner)
Field: 156 Players

For the first time since 2008, the U.S. Open will return to the Torrey Pines South Course in beautiful La Jolla, CA. If the 2021 edition is anything like 2008's iteration, we are in for a fun one. Last time the U.S. Open came to Torrey, Tiger Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in a Monday playoff. Did I mention he did it on one leg? While Tiger Woods' presence will surely be missed, we are still blessed with one of the best fields in golf, as every single one of the world's top-50 ranked players will be making the trip to sunny Southern California for this week's festivities.

Even in Woods' absence, storylines are abound this week. Bryson DeChambeau will be looking to defend his 2020 title, and the crop of challengers are as deep as ever. Despite lingering injury concerns, Brooks Koepka proved with a runner-up finish at last month's PGA Championship that he should never be underestimated at majors. World number-one Dustin Johnson answered all questions about recent form with his performance at last week's Palmetto Championship. Jordan Spieth has evidently returned to his former self, with six top-five finishes in his last eleven starts, including a win at the Valero Texas Open.

Jon Rahm will be as motivated as ever to pick up the elusive first Major title, as he entered the final round of the Memorial tournament with a six-shot lead before he was forced to withdraw due to a positive COVID test. Justin Thomas has struggled with the flat-stick in the past two months, but lest we not forget, he is only six starts removed from taking down the world's best at the PLAYERS Championship. Xander Schauffele has quickly earned the reputation as a U.S. Open "specialist," with no finish worse than sixth in four appearances at this tournament. For what it's worth, Schauffele is also a San Diego native and extremely familiar with Torrey Pines.

Rory McIlroy is another player who has experienced success at Torrey, with two Top fives in three appearances, as well as a recent return to the winner's circle at Quail Hollow, another long and classical golf course. Collin Morikawa has continued his rapid ascent up the world golf rankings, and he is coming off a heartbreaking playoff loss at the Memorial to Patrick Cantlay, another West Coast kid, who honed his skills down Highway 1 at UCLA. Both tend to do some of their best work in California. Players with strong history at Torrey Pines such as Patrick Reed and Tony Finau, and young guns with limitless talent such as Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler should not be underestimated either. Of course, I would be remiss not to mention our recent PGA Champion, San Diego resident, and three-time winner at Torrey Pines, Phil Mickelson, who looks to defy the odds once again and pick up his first U.S. Open title, thus completing the career Grand Slam.

A compelling case could made for every single one of these challengers, and fantasy players will be forced to take a stand. Making the correct decision at the top will be crucial, as in each of the last ten years, the U.S. Open winner has been ranked inside the Top 30 of the Official World Golf Ranking. Stacked fields and major championships are often synonymous with the term, "soft pricing," as it will be easy to construct lineups filled with great players. Let's get into the course breakdown, some key statistics, and three players that are worthy of further attention.

 

Course Breakdown

Torrey Pines South Course - San Diego, CA 

Torrey Pines South Course was originally designed by William F. Bell in 1957, but has undergone multiple renovations by Rees Jones. Known by many as the "Open Doctor," Jones tinkered with the South Course both in 2001 and in 2019. Each time Jones has gotten his hands on Torrey, he has made the course more difficult. Now playing as a Par 71 and measuring 7,643 yards on the scorecard, the South Course will indubitably be a world class test.

From a specs standpoint, it is important to note that Torrey Pines features Kikuyugrass rough and Poa Annua greens. The only other times players see Kikuyugrass rough is at Riviera and Chapultepec. Poa Annua greens are somewhat more common, as many West Coast courses, such as Riviera and Pebble, as well as previous Open venues such as Oakmont, Shinnecock Hills, and Winged Foot, all feature this notoriously tricky surface.

While many of the challengers will be familiar with Torrey due to the fact that it hosts the Farmer's Insurance Open every January, it is important to note the difference between a PGA Tour set-up and a USGA set up. The USGA is notorious for pushing its courses to their peak level of difficulty. We should expect to see thicker rough, firmer greens, and more devilish pin positions. The 6th hole, which plays as a reachable Par 5 for the Farmer's Insurance Open, will now play as a 515 yard Par 4 this week! With that being said, experience at Torrey Pines will still be valuable this week, and strokes gained per round at Torrey Pines South is featured below as one of my key statistics.

A deeper investigation of recent U.S. Opens can provide some evidence for the type of player that is best positioned for success this week. At an elementary level, it is not difficult to find a common through-line between our past five champions. Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka (twice), Gary Woodland, and Bryson DeChambeau are four of the longest players on Tour, and there's clearly something to be said for a bombs away approach. At the 2016 U.S. Open, Dustin Johnson ranked 138th in driving accuracy and 2nd in driving distance. In 2017, Brooks Koepka ranked 154th in driving accuracy and 7th in driving distance. In 2018, Koepka ranked 155th in driving accuracy and 8th in driving distance. In 2019, Woodland ranked 79th in driving accuracy and 13th in driving distance. Last year, Bryson ranked 140th in driving accuracy and 1st in driving distance. In a vacuum, one would expect that narrow fairways and thick roughly would place a premium on accuracy, but the opposite has actually proven to be true. In the early 2010s, shorter and more accurate players such as Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, and Webb Simpson emerged victorious, yet as the USGA has increasingly pushed the boundaries with its set-ups, bombers have been the biggest benefactors.

Let's take last year for an example. The fairways at Winged Foot were some of the narrowest PGA Tour pros had seen all season, averaging only twenty-five yards in width. They were pinched to the point that even the most accurate players were missing them. Bryson knew this, and he never even attempted to hit the fairways. Yet this was all part of the plan. Bryson knew that everyone would be missing the fairways, the only difference was that he could hit wedges out of the rough, while most other players were hacking out middle irons. The loft of the scoring clubs gave Bryson a distinct advantage over the field, and he actually employed a similar strategy in victory earlier this year at Bay Hill.

Will the Bryson formula work this year at Torrey Pines? I happen to be of the belief that it will. Torrey Pines' fairways are slightly wider on average than Winged Foot, but by a very small margin (around five yards). The USGA is in a tricky position. If they widen the fairways and cut the rough, this tournament will be no different than the one we see every year in January, and the USGA will not get the high target scores that make a U.S. Open synonymous with the most difficult test in golf. Coming off a PGA Championship that received glowing reviews, a 15-under par winner this week is the USGA's worst nightmare. To come full circle, as long as they continue to set-up their courses this way, I firmly believe those of the Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland, and Bryson DeChambeau ilk will possess a distinct advantage. Does that mean a shorter player like Webb Simpson or Patrick Reed are incapable of winning? Of course not, but their roadmap to victory just might be a little tougher. Let's get into a few of the key metrics that I believe will determine our winner this week.

 

Key Statistics 

Outside of the obvious four major statistical categories (strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained approach, strokes gained around the green, and strokes gained putting), here are a few ancillary statistics that should prove pivotal, as well as the top-5 players in the field in these statistics over their last 24 rounds.

  1. Average strokes gained per round at Torrey Pines South (Minimum 8 rounds)
    1. Rory McIlroy
    2. Patrick Reed
    3. Tony Finau
    4. Jon Rahm
    5. Bubba Watson
  2. Strokes Gained: Putting (Poa Annua Greens) 
    1. Louis Oosthuizen
    2. Matt Kuchar
    3. Bryson DeChambeau
    4. Jon Rahm
    5. Webb Simpson
  3. Strokes Gained: Approach (Courses with difficult fairways to hit and thick rough) 
    1. Collin Morikawa
    2. Paul Casey
    3. Tony Finau
    4. Henrik Stenson
    5. Justin Thomas
  4. Proximity from 200 yards plus 
    1. Bryson DeChambeau
    2. Paul Casey
    3. Tyrrell Hatton
    4. Viktor Hovland
    5. Ryan Palmer
  5. Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (Courses over 7,400 yards) 
    1. Rory McIlroy
    2. Corey Conners
    3. Sergio Garcia
    4. Brooks Koepka
    5. Justin Thomas
  6. Driving Distance 
    1. Bryson DeChambeau
    2. Cameron Champ
    3. Rory McIlroy
    4. Wyndham Clark
    5. Gary Woodland

While those six statistics are a great place to start, I am also looking at Strokes Gained: Par 5s, Three-Putt Avoidance, Greens In Regulation Gained, Par 4 Scoring (450-500 yards), Sand Saves, and Proximity from 175-200 yards. 

Players To Target

High-Price Tier

Rory McIlroy (DraftKings: $9,900)

All eyes this week will be on Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau for their ongoing social media feud, Jon Rahm for the COVID debacle, Dustin Johnson for his strong performance at Congaree, Jordan Spieth for his recent resurgence, Xander Schauffele for his chance to add a major in his hometown, and Phil Mickelson for his go at the career grand slam. Is Rory McIlroy even a top ten storyline at this tournament? In my opinion, the relative lack of buzz surrounding the four-time Major champion should play right into his hands.

The nineteen-time PGA Tour winner checks every single box this week, ranking 23rd in strokes gained off the tee, 18th in strokes gained approach, 13th in sand saves, 3rd in driving distance, 16th in Par 4 scoring (450-500 yards), and 21st in GIRs Gained. If I was designing the ideal course for McIlroy's skillset, Torrey Pines South would be it. He ranks first in this field in average strokes gained per round at Torrey Pines South (+2.3) and first in this field in strokes gained ball-striking on courses measuring over 7,400 yards, averaging nearly two strokes gained on the field. It's no secret that the recent Wells Fargo Championship winner does his best work on long, difficult, and classical golf courses with thick rough. McIlroy is also 10th in this field in average strokes gained per round at Muirfield Village and first in this field in average strokes gained per round at Bay Hill, by a very healthy margin. The last time McIlroy got a crack at a Rees Jones U.S. Open venue, he blitzed the field by eight strokes in the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional. While a similar rout may be an ambitious request, I'm expecting Rory to pick up his 5th career major title at Torrey Pines this week. At $9,900, McIlroy can be the lead man in a balanced build, or one of two high-end players in a "stars and scrubs" approach.

Mid-Price Tier

Daniel Berger (DraftKings: $8,400)

While it is far too early to make ownership predictions, I would be surprised to see Berger garner the same level of popularity of some of his similarly priced peers. The Florida State standout is sandwiched between "Torrey Pines specialists," such as Patrick Reed and Tony Finau, and young guns in fine form, such as Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris. Berger was also an extremely popular play at the PGA Championship, and he rewarded owners with a disappointing 75th place finish. My guess is that his relative failure at last month's major, coupled with a less than inspiring record at the Farmer's Insurance Open (three missed cuts in four appearances), will keep ownership down. With that being said, overlooking Berger would be a mistake.

Over his last 36 rounds, the four-time PGA Tour winner ranks 16th in strokes gained off the tee, 12th in strokes gained approach, 8th in proximity from 200 yards plus, 7th in proximity from 175-200 yards, and 9th in three-putt avoidance. Berger is by no means a bomber, but he is well above average in driving distance, and he is downright elite with his middle and long irons. Berger and Viktor Hovland are actually the only two players in this entire field to rank inside the top ten in both proximity from 175-200 yards and proximity from 200 yards. His Torrey numbers are a bit misleading as well, as Berger has actually gained strokes on the field at Torrey Pines South, the site of this week's festivities, yet failed to take advantage of the much easier Torrey Pines North. He's a positive ball-striker on long on courses, he's positive on approach on courses with difficult fairways to hit and thick rough, and last time he was on Poa Annua greens, he won the AT & T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. The Florida native rebounded from the PGA with an under-the-radar 20th place finish at the Charles Schwab Challenge, where he gained +4.1 strokes on approach. I'm confident he can build on that momentum and reward fantasy players with a high finish this week.

Value-Price Tier

Carlos Ortiz (DraftKings: $7,100)

The more I look into Ortiz, the more bullish I become on his chances to surprise this week. I weighed twelve key stats in my model this week, which are all listed above, and Ortiz ranks above average in every single one of them. He has a fantastic short game (15th in strokes gained around the green), he scores on par fives (15th in strokes gained par fives), and most importantly, he is sneaky long (17th in driving distance).

The Guadalajara native was actually right in the mix at Torrey this January, sitting two strokes off the lead heading into the final round, before a final round 78 dropped him to 29th-place. With that being said, his well-rounded skillset is perfect for a demanding test like Torrey Pines. While Ortiz has no major holes in his game, he has also flashed elite upside on approach. In his most recent start, Ortiz gained 9.5 strokes on approach at the Memorial, good for the best approach week of his career by a wide margin. If Ortiz truly has found something with his irons, all other areas of his game are strong enough for me to believe he can contend this week. The recent Houston Open winner will be a fixture in my fantasy lineups.

 

Win Big With RotoBaller

Golf is back, and it's time for you to win big with RotoBaller! Our PGA DFS Premium Package features several savvy analysts and proven DFS winners.

Our very own Joe Nicely recently took down a big DraftKings DFS tournament for the Travelers Championship. And as an encore, RotoBaller subscriber @tenndolly2 won $100K on FanDuel with the help of Joe and the rest of our Premium PGA team: Between all the incredible Premium PGA DFS content and tools we put out each week, and our Premium Slack Community where we chat with our subscribers before lineups lock, RotoBaller PGA subscribers are armed with the tools, analysis, and advice to win big.

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