PADRAIG HARRINGTON always enjoyed the prospect of playing in terrible weather because he knew he had two-thirds of the field beat before they even teed it up and a version of that theory might be worth taking into account at this week’s U.S. Open. Why so?
Well, this year’s host Pebble Beach features Poa Annua grass on the greens and, to paraphrase the classic line: “There are those who hate Poa Annua and then there are those who really hate it.” You’ll hear plenty of golfers who claim otherwise, but what they’re really doing is acknowledging that they cope with it better than the rest. Take note, they’re pulling a Padraig Harrington.
Divining value among the favourites is always a delicate business in the majors, but ultimately you have to take a view and then ask: “Who, if he won, would have me most painfully kicking myself?” Dustin Johnson has won one major in 40 starts, Brooks Koepka is seeking to become the first man to win a U.S. Open hat trick in over 100 years and Tiger Woods has been grouchy about Poa Annua greens in recent times. I won’t be bruising my shins if they succeed on Sunday, but Rory? The stoicism with which he coped with Masters and PGA Championship disappointment might be about to bear fruit.
— Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) June 10, 2019
He was brilliant last week on the Poa Annua greens at the Canadian Open, but more than that his short irons were sensational (and we take it for granted that he’ll be sublime from the tee). Missing the cut two weeks ago at the Memorial hurt, he worked hard that weekend and you could sense that he was excited with what happened next. “There were awesome signs in rounds one and two,” he said of last week’s effort. “Then I felt comfortable and aggressive. I’m proud that I maintained that, put my foot down and made this tournament mine.” His raw material has always been magnificent, the right mindset more elusive, but he might have just discovered it. Take the 8/1.
It is nearly two years now since Spieth last tasted victory, but his form is running in the right direction, and his putting definitely is. Early in the calendar year he was struggling to break the top 40 in Strokes Gained Putting, but he’s ranked top ten in his last four starts (and was twice first). A more important number (finishing position on the leaderboard) has been getting better too. In fact, he’s notched three top tens in a row, the first time he’s done that since the end of 2017.
This will be the sixth U.S. Open to be held at Pebble Beach and course winners prosper here. Four of the five champions had claimed the AT&T Pro-am and Spieth has done the same, grabbing his win (one of six top 25s in the event) in 2017. There’s a good chance he’ll fret about the Poa Annua at some point, but whilst he chunters plenty Spieth is rarely distracted by his own chitter-chatter. It’s also worth noting that his post-Birkdale major “slump” has seen him collect five top 25s in six starts including two third places – it might be a letdown for him, but it would be brilliant for most. He’s still a fine golfer and 20/1 is a solid each way option on this track.
The biggest worry with Brandt Snedeker is that everything fits too neatly. He’s proved himself a brilliant performer on Californian coastal courses with Poa Annua time and time again. He’s finished top three at Torrey Pines five times, including two wins, and in the AT&T Pro-am at Pebble Beach he has another pair of victories. When the two tracks have hosted the U.S. Open he has backed that form up, finishing ninth at Torrey Pines in 2008 and eighth at Pebble Beach in 2010. He opened the 2019 season with second place at Silverado, yet another Californian course with Poa Annua greens and he blasted a brilliant 60 last week in the Canadian Open at Hamilton on his way to fourth. Guess what? That was on Poa Annua greens too.
An easy 60 for Brandt Snedeker in Round 2 of the Canadian Open. pic.twitter.com/bAROTDc1Sb
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) June 7, 2019
He was asked about the putting surfaces after that 60 and gushed: “I had early success on them and loved them since then. You have to accept there will be some variance on every putt. The way I read a putt suits it, I pick a general line not a finite line.” With his old coach back on the team, confidence high and his head in a good place on the greens he’s a great option at 50/1.