US Open 2015

US Open 2015 -Preview

US Open 2015 – Chambers Bay, University Place, WA – 18th June 2015 -3:00 p.m. (GMT)

With what seems to less fanfare than usual–thank you F.I.F.A. for all your wonderfully newsworthy shenanigans golf’s second major of the year, the 2015 US Open seems to have almost snuck up on us. Which, frankly, is in many ways a fantastic surprise as this year’s tournament takes place on a rather peculiar and spectacular location on Washington State’s Pacific north-west coast. Chambers Bay, at just eight years old and over 7900 yards long plays host to a number of firsts. A first US Open to be played on a Robert Trent Jones Jr designed course. A first US Open to grace the north-western wilderness and perhaps most impressively –if inane facts impress you- a first major tournament to be played on a former gravel quarry.

Chambers Bay is an outlier in terms of your standard U.S. Open course, a links –usually reserved for July’s British Open- in all but name and vastly different to the narrow, devilishly rough laden course that the USGA invariably select to host America’s oldest major. Some of the major features of the course are the batshit tee-boxes many of which are purposely placed on undulating ground. So, the one safe-haven of most golf courses has been turned into a bit of a Mad Hatter’s creation. Throw in the sloping, bowl-like greens, nightmarish bunkers and moody weather and you’ll understand that the players are in for an extraordinary challenge that will draw the chagrin of some (see Ian Poulter) but provide fascinating viewing for spectators.

The US open –first played in Newport County, Rhode Island in 1885- is usually won in a slog, save for the occasional demolition job like those of Martin Kaymer last year, Tiger Woods in 2000 and Rory McIlroy’s incredible, record-breaking performance in 2011. Generally, the USGA hate to see any US Open course getting torn to pieces, so, in the year following a runaway victory organisers will -perversely from the point of view of the participants and amusingly for most spectators- decide to provide a layout that will introduce almost prohibitive difficulty for the best players on the planet. Frankly, there is something incredibly enjoyable, perhaps comforting, about seeing a professional golfer splash around a bunker for three shots then sheepishly pick the ball out of the hole before his playing partner marks an eight on his card. That’s not to say we don’t want to see quality golf but seeing a player negotiate the vagaries of a course rather than shoot birdie upon birdie is eminently preferable.

This week’s winner as well as being a proven grinder will definitely need to be a big bopper with a very tidy short game. It also goes without saying that a major winner’s putting will have to reach another level. So, eh…. sorry Sergio!  We would ordinarily say that this week’s course requires considerable experience on a links course but given the unpredictable and frankly intangible aspects of the course we think this week’s winner will be someone who can rise in the face of what may prove to be almost dystopian challenges.

As players have practised on Chambers Bay this week it seems that some are less than enamoured with what they have encountered. South African, Charl Schwartzel does not like the greens, claiming that good putts are missing and bad putts are dropping. Perhaps he’s just not very good at reading putts. Further the turf itself is reported to have all the give of a basketball court so it may be that an excellent short game rather than accurate iron approaches will be rewarded. So, with all the above in mind we’re moving to our picks but we wouldn’t deter anyone from going with the scientific approach of the Grand National and drawing a name from a hat.


Before moving on to who we like this week it’s worth mentioning that, unsurprisingly the two favourites –expect to see this for at least the next decade- are world number one Rory McIlroy and Augusta Masters victor, Jordan Spieth. Look, there’s no need for us to extol their golfing prowess and logically they make great choices but at 8/1 on a seemingly incomparable creation of a course we’re not going near them. Of the short priced favourites we’d be more inclined to go for Justin Rose (16/1). The Englishman is a former US Open winner, a world class grinder and is in superb form at present. He’s not really the type to get rattled by consecutive bad holes and if links experience comes into it, that won’t pose any trouble for him. Phil Mickelson, chasing the career Grand Slam and with a serious bag of tricks at hand is also worth a look but 16/1 is unappealing for a man with very little form of late. Still as much as we like Rose and Mickelson’s chances, given the almost unprecedented level of uncertainty going into the 2015 US Open we’re looking down the betting for some better value. We’ll be using the combined logic of this bunch of gents so all we can say is….. caveat audiens!

  1. Brooks Koepka (50/1)

For us –and anyone who has watched golf in the last two years- twenty-five-year-old Koepka has the full array of talent –a five-tool player to borrow from baseball parlance. He drives the ball a mile, putts fantastically well and hits a ton of birdies and eagles. His one standout flaw is driving accuracy but on the expansive fairways of Chambers Bay this may count for less than your typical US Open venue- think Merion. Added to this is the fact that Koepka cut his teeth on the European Tour and not on the homogenous courses of Florida, Texas and Carolina. This should assist in the somewhat alien surroundings of Washington State but if nothing else it shows the guy has got a bit of cut about him.

He won at the enticingly named Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier in the year and tied for third in Memphis last week meaning he comes into the tournament with confidence levels high- always more important for younger players, in our view. Also, a tied fourth in last year’s US Open means Koepka has the mentality and composure for the biggest stages. Sure he’s only twenty-five but in a week where many senior pros seem to be quaking in their boots, ignorance may prove to be bliss. We’ll go with the youngster who we firmly believe has all the right attributes to become a multi-major winner.

  1. Hideki Matsuyama (35/1)

If Koepka has the potential, then Hideki Matsuyama has already announced his arrival as a superstar of golf. Already idolised in his homeland of Japan, the twenty-three-year-old wowed American crowds with a terrific victory in the 2014 Memorial Tournament. Matsuyama’s credentials go through the roof when you consider that conventional wisdom points to this course being more akin to a British Open –where he finished sixth on debut in 2013- in terms of both layout and playing conditions. Perversely Matsuyama’s putting can be a weak point but as it appears the players will, in effect, be putting on rollercoasters for the week, this becomes somewhat of a leveller. Like Koepka, Matsuyama has form going into this week’s tournament, having finished fifth in his defence of the Memorial. And, again given the unknown nature of the course form for the young guns, in particular, may well prove to be key.

  1. Billy Horschel (55/1)

Full disclosure here. Since we had a tidy win on Mr. Horschel in the Zurich Classic in New Orleans in 2013, we’ve been more inclined to take a chance on the Florida native. Gambler’s reasoning, as ever, flawless. This week however we feel he’s got a great chance based purely, ok predominantly, on logic. Key to Horschel’s game -at least from the point of view of betting- is the fact he is extremely streaky, to the point where he came from nowhere at the back end of last year and won the $10,000,000.00 Fed Ex Cup. Against the best players on the US Tour, Horschel managed tied second in the Deutsche Bank Championship followed by back-to-back victories in the BMW and Tour Championships respectively. That was a pretty remarkable, Tigeresque sequence of results which seemed to confirm Horschel as a genuine superstar.

However, with the massive party comes the biblical hangover and Horschel’s start to 2015 was less than stellar, failing to come anywhere near the same conversation as McIlroy, Spieth, Rose or the rest of the true top dogs. Fear not, however, as there have been extremely positive signs of late. Four top 20s in his last four starts and eighth last week in Memphis means the Fed Ex champ is feeling it once more. Look, we know this one is a bit of a flier and it would be remiss of us to sidestep the fact that when things go awry Horschel can completely lose the plot. Admittedly, he’s a little flaky and has nothing resembling form on link courses but Billy Horschel has met his ally consistency at the opportune moment and as he proved last year, when in the right frame of mind the Floridian can beat absolutely anyone. When all things are considered this is not as much of a left-field pick as you may first think.

So youth very much gets the nod from us this year but not the usual suspects from Holywood and Texas. The 2015 US Open is going to be quite an unusual journey thanks to the anarchic set-up Robert Trent Jones Jr has provided. Incidentally, look out for the unique set-up of the first and eighteenth holes where the two alternate between a par four and par five each day. A business man’s whim or a standalone quirk for a wild, inexplicable course. Who really cares? Just enjoy the mayhem and marvel at the player who possesses the ability to endure and who learns, if not to love, then at least to co-exist with Chambers Bay’s eccentricities.


US Open Picks 2015

  1. Brooks Koepka (e/w @50/1)
  2. Hideki Matsuyama (e/w @35/1)
  3. Billy Horschel (e/w @55/1)
Masters Tournament 2015

Preview: Masters Tournament 2015, Augusta National

The clocks have gone forward. That sweet, nostalgic smell of fresh cut grass is in the air. And there are more than a few red-faced people walking around after the sun showed up for the first time in months. It can only mean one thing. It’s time for the inaugural Straight Up Sport Masters Tournament preview. This won’t be a hole by hole dissection of the beautiful, azalea-laden Georgia course, more a look at the history of the tournament and what makes this week of golf so special. And, of course we’ll have a little dip into the betting markets. As regards the latter, our emphasis will predominantly be on value.

For the uninitiated, The Masters at Augusta National has the unique selling point, unusually for golf, of being held at the same course every single year. The Augusta National Golf Club was founded in 1933 – a year before the first “Augusta National Invitational” Tournament – by Bobby Jones, a legend of the amateur game, and Clifford Roberts, the latter deciding he wanted to use this piece of Deep South grass to set up his very own private, good ol’ boys club. For many, until very recently, the club once stood as a symbol of rich, southern, white entitlement. Indeed Roberts himself once noted, “As long as I’m alive, players will be white and caddies will be black.” In this context, Tiger Woods incredible victory in 1997, obliterating the course and smashing numerous records, on his way to a first Augusta victory for an African-American player was as fine a symbolic middle finger to the old order as one could possibly produce. Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods has gone on to provide some phenomenal Augusta moments, none more memorable than the outrageous chip in 2005, when the ball rested on the lip of the sixteenth hole -Nike logo for the world to see- before being engulfed by the cup and sending the crowd and the ‘business time’ red t-shirted, fourteen time major winner into raptures.

Alas, Tiger comes into this week’s tournament shrouded in mystery. He took a well-documented break a number of months back – apparently not injury related- to try and re-discover his form. Has he done so? Absolutely nobody knows, including perhaps himself. In a field where three hundred yard bombers are now the norm, Woods’ distance is no longer an advantage, so, if he is to compete, the thirty-nine year old will need to rediscover his phenomenal short game. This is as good a time as any to make some full disclosure. We would love nothing more than for Tiger to add a fifth Augusta Masters to his collection this week. Frankly however, we will be thoroughly impressed if he can stay within ten of the leader on Friday and give himself the opportunity to stick around for the weekend. The feats of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player are undeniable on this fantastic course. Still, for those who grew up during the ‘bitter’ Blur and Oasis wars, Tiger Woods is the true icon of the Augusta Masters. But, while our heavy heart says Green Jacket, our head says Tiger may well be watching the weekend’s action on television. And, regardless of what you think of him personally, this would not be a good thing for the game of golf.

Now, let’s get down to business and make our predictions for the first of golf’s four Majors this year. While the U.S. Masters never changes venue, the course itself is always being tweaked, generally with a view to making life as difficult as possible for the big hitters of the 21st century. A few pine trees here and a rolling undulation there mean the course changes year by year. However, the mainstays of the serene surrounds are the ice-rink like greens. There is a perverse pleasure in watching phenomenally talented professionals five putt from thirty feet, particularly if like us, you’re pretty awful at golf. Invariably, the winner of this tournament is able to avoid three putts like the plague. In Augusta, perhaps more than anywhere else in golf, the old adage, “Drive for show, putt for dough”, comes into play. And so to the tournament favourites.

The Favourites

Rory McIlroy (6/1), all conquering world number one, comes into the 2015 Masters on the cusp of reaching some truly rarefied air. At just twenty-five he is already on the brink of winning all four major championships during his career, a feat currently confined to five true greats: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. From mid-summer last year, the County Down man played otherworldly golf, adding the British Open and U.S. PGA Championship to an already stacked trophy case. Further, he may have unfinished business of sorts with Augusta having seen his hopes go up in flames in 2011 after a disastrous final round 80. At least we found out that year, thanks to an errant McIlroy drive that there are some lovely cabins just fifty yards from the 10th tee. In any event, McIlroy is a different beast now and monumental collapses simply do not befall him any longer. He will win the U.S. Masters some day and maybe chase down the ‘Rorslam’ but we’re not taking this short a price on a man who has never won this tournament before.

Of the pre-tournament favourites we’re more inclined to lean towards the defending champ, Bubba Watson (10/1) and a man who clearly loves this course, Australian, Jason Day (12/1). Watson, also the winner in 2012, has clearly come to understand the course at Augusta National and we’re puzzled as to why he doesn’t head the betting markets. He is a monster hitter and more importantly, in his own words, “one of the best two putters in the world.” Now, admittedly, self-praise is no praise but when you’ve won the tournament twice your words carry that little bit more stock. Further, Watson – owner, on the side, of the goofiest hip-hop career you could ever imagine – dominates Augusta’s par fives, which is an absolute must on a par 72 course.

A moment for Jordan Spieth, if you will. This twenty-one year old Texan, joint- second on his first professional appearance at Augusta last year is, in our view, going to be Rory McIlroy’s greatest nemesis in the years to come. What we say next may sound a little ridiculous however. Spieth has a form line of second, second, first in his last three starts. Still, we feel he doesn’t quite have the clinical ability to close it out in crunch time and while he’s been hot for the last month, we’d question whether perhaps his tank maybe a little empty come the back nine on Sunday. 12/1 on an inexperienced twenty-one year old, admittedly with almost limitless potential, seems far too short for us.

Injury last season robbed Jason Day of a real shot at the Masters, the Queenslander having to settle for a tie for 20th. His second place finishes in 2011 and 2013 are more indicative of his true potential. While only 27, Day’s furiously aggressive swing has led to multiple wrist and elbow injuries, but, once he gets into rhythm he is about as enjoyable to watch as any other player, McIlroy included. Nevertheless, if he wants to stay in the same neighbourhood as McIlroy and Watson over the coming years, not to mention wunderkind, Spieth, Day needs a statement victory. This may well be his time.

Our Picks

It’s no fun sticking rigidly to the top of the betting market. So, we’re going to venture a little further down the market to find what we believe to be some Ole Gunnar Solskjaer style value. We’ve taken a number of things into account this week, amongst others the predicted, moody weather and the players’ ability to avoid three putts. Incidentally, if the expected rain comes then bare in mind that the shorter hitters will really struggle with the length of the course. Putting becomes difficult on changing greens and players need to be able to keep a cool head and manage the course. Grafters – another term for European golfers – don’t mind a bit of wind and rain but our focus this week will actually be on the American contingent.

Honourable mention goes to this year’s P.G.A. money leader, the late blooming Oklahoma born, Jimmy Walker. Walker has enjoyed phenomenal success since the back end of 2013, winning five times, most recently in the Valero Open in his adopted home- state of Texas. Last year, on his Masters debut, he hung tough at the business end of the leaderboard, eventually finishing a highly commendable eighth. At thirty-six, composure is not going to be a problem and following minimal research it seems he manages trying conditions as well as if not better than most. Where is his Achilles heel, you say? Well, despite the outstanding form of Walker, it would be remiss of us to describe 22/1 as a value bet on a man who has yet to win a major, and who has actually taken his place in the field in just six majors to date.

We couldn’t go on without a quick mention of the PGA’s prodigal son, Dustin Johnson. D.J., despite being engaged to one of the most beautiful women in the world – Paulina Gretzky, daughter of ice-hockey legend Wayne – allegedly spent much of the first few years of this decade getting to know some of his colleagues’ wives that little bit too well while also engaging in a little too much of that fantastically catch-all American pastime of ‘partying’. Completely on his own initiative Johnson took a restorative break from competitive golf and, to his credit, the sojourn seems to have done him the world of good. He has already won, at last month’s WGC-Cadillac Championship, and climbed to the lofty heights of seventh in the world rankings. Clearly, when Wayne Gretzky tells you to pull your life together, you listen. Johnson has a great chance this week but 16/1 is far too prohibitive for our liking.

Moving on then, our first pick goes to the affable Floridian, Matt Kuchar, a man who has won plenty of the more difficult, low scoring tournaments; The RBC Heritage, The Memorial Tournament and The Barclays. While he comes to this year’s tournament in less than stellar form, Kuchar has finished no lower than tied 8th in the last three renewals of the Masters. The rain and wind shouldn’t upset the languid ‘Kuuuch’ and at 33/1 we think he’s a great each-way shout.

We’ll be the first to admit that our next pick is a bit of a wildcard, the unpredictable – our favourite euphemism for hotheaded- Keegan Bradley. Bradley, still only twenty-eight, has serious credentials, having won the U.S. PGA Championship in 2011, on his first appearance in a major tournament. Bradley is certainly not a bottler – winning a major aged twenty-four confirms as much – but we feel even at this young age he should have a few more tournament wins under his belt. He’s amongst the very best drivers of a ball on the PGA Tour and when he gets in the zone, as in the 2012 Ryder Cup, his putting can be absolutely red hot. Added to this is the fact that he finished his preparation for the Masters with a tied fifth in Houston last week. A good performance the week before the Masters certainly doesn’t assure success. Nonetheless Bradley’s performance at the Golf Club of Houston will hopefully have done his somewhat erratic confidence levels the world of good. His propensity to boil over aside, Bradley unfortunately may meet his Augusta kryptonite in his tendency to three putt greens. Still, if his iron play is as good as we know it can be then three putting hopefully won’t come into the equation too often. We’re sticking with the courage of our contradictions here, so, while we advise you to approach Bradley with caution, we feel 80/1 is just too alluring to resist.

The last player worth having a look at is Masters debutant, Brooks Koepka. He cut his teeth on the European Tour so clearly has plenty of mental strength. Further, he’s already picked up his maiden victory on this season’s PGA Tour at The Waste Management Phoenix Open. And, this guy hits the ball an absolute mile. True his lack of experience goes against him and victory maybe a bridge too far but if he starts dominating the par 5s then a top-ten finish is absolutely within his reach.

Regardless of what you’ve read in the last few days, the winner could come from any one of roughly forty of this week’s field. McIlroy is favoured for what people believe he can do on this course. Bubba Watson meanwhile has actually done it but retaining this championship has proven extremely difficult in the past. Therefore, we’re going to opt for the aggressive Jason Day, incidentally a man with a remarkable back story, to realise his potential and land his first Green Jacket on Sunday evening. And, even if it means being a little bleary eyed on Monday morning, be sure to stick the final round out. It rarely fails to thrill.

Augusta Masters 2015 – Picks

  • Jason Day – e/w @ 14/1
  • Matt Kuchar – e/w @33/1
  • Keegan Bradley e/w @ 80/1
  • Brooks Koepka – Top 10 @6/1

Tiger Unfortunately Going Out as Expected

Science and time make favourites of no man.

Consider the very sobering fact below, as seen in the February 12th edition of The Irish Times, about Tiger Woods, 14 time Major champion, and arguably the greatest player golf has ever witnessed:

“Woods, the world No62, shot a career-worst 82 to miss the cut at the Phoenix Open by 12 (shots) this month and was playing poorly at Torrey Pines the next week when he withdrew after 11 holes because of tightness in his back.”

This is a, if not depressing then certainly sobering stat,  about a man who, from the late 90s onwards brought golf to unforeseen levels of popularity and completely changed the way the game is played.

The first memory of Woods for most people is the demolition job he carried out, aged 21, at the 1997 Augusta Masters, where he destroyed the world’s best players by a record winning margin of twelve shots, while finishing on a record total score of eighteen under. Who can ever forget the red, in- the- zone Sunday t-shirt; a custom that Woods adopted throughout his career; the adrenaline charged fist pumps and the irrepressible smile. He went on dominate the game from 1997 – 2009, until his lengthy hiatus brought about by mounting injury and his well-documented personal indiscretions, and once more in 2013. And, don’t be fooled by the argument that Tiger played in an era when the quality of the top players was much lower than the current bunch. At various times he vanquished, amongst others; Mickelson, Singh, Els, Goosen, Garcia, Scott, Duval, Furyk, Harrington, Toms, Love III, Montgomerie, Westwood; anyway you get the picture.

Tiger had two golden eras, two more than most, from 1999-2000 and 2005-2007. The former period will always be remembered as the best, when Woods became the only golfer to date to hold all four Major titles in the same calendar year. When he completed the ‘Tiger Slam’, by winning the Augusta Masters on 8th April 2001, he was twenty five years old. I say, with the certainty of a person who knows that anything could happen tomorrow, that this feat will never be matched again by one so young. Even Rory McIlroy, who has all the tools to be both the best professional golfer ever, and hold all four Major titles at once, cannot defy time to achieve this particular milestone. During this era Woods also pulled off the ludicrous achievement of winning six consecutive tournaments in a row, a feat he would then surpass in 2007 with seven straight wins. Only the legendary Byron Nelson usurped this feat, with 11 in a row in 1945.

The accumulated catalogue of niggling injuries finally took their toll in the summer of 2008, when Woods was required to undergo surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee, the joint having taken unrelenting punishment from years of generating extreme torque in his rotation. The wheels really started to come off though in August 2013. Roughly twenty years of propelling his body, to put it bluntly, like an explosive corkscrew, caused his back, always the likeliest area to scream “no more, please!”, to suffer spasms and acute pain. The litany of back complaints continued, reaching a crescendo early last year, forcing him to undergo surgery to relieve a pinched nerve, in Utah, on 31st March 2014. His sporadic appearances since have been a little sad for anyone who loved to watch Woods in his pomp and last week’s announcement signifies the epilogue of Wood’s amazing career.

Explosive from day one, incidentally about as far removed in playing style as possible from the languid Ernie Els, Tiger Wood’s swing was always going to have to evolve and ultimately the reckless disregard for the laws of physics has come home to roost.

His game always entailed extreme power, most notably from the rough, where he could explode, with unfathomable speed and control through the ball. While it’s a given that the majority of professional golfers today are generally well built and muscular it was Woods who introduced the golfer as an athlete, not just an incredibly skilled sportsman, to the world.

The body says no after a while though and despite playing a game where players can stay competitive until into their fifties, this was never going to be the case for Tiger Woods. A golfer, due to the very nature of their game is never going to ‘go out on his shield’, to borrow from boxing parlance. But when Tiger comes back swinging, which he assuredly will, it will be as a shadow of his former menacing, all conquering best. And, while his legacy is bullet proof, he knows now, better than anyone else that his body is not.