It’s time for the third major of 2021, and that means it’s time for the latest roundtable as Yahoo Sports senior writer Jay Busbee and Yahoo Sports fantasy impresario Scott Pianowski discuss all things golf and betting. Enjoy as you prep for Torrey Pines.
BUSBEE: We’re through the elegance of Augusta and the exuberance of Kiawah, and that brings us to the Beast By The Beach, Torrey Pines. Every year, we have this debate: Masters or U.S. Open? Grace or gladiatorial combat? And here we are again, so once again, Scott: where do you land?
PIANOWSKI: The U.S. Open has always been my favorite golf tournament, because I love the idea of protecting par. I want par to mean something, because golf tournaments are far more interesting when a leader can come back to the pack. I like when a clubhouse-posted score has value. I want to see the players challenged.
You know the famous Sandy Tatum quote: We're not trying to embarrass the best players in the world, we're trying to identify them.
Unfortunately, the current revolution in golf has taken the short hitters out of the U.S. Open. It's going to be difficult for anyone to wear out the fairways this week, and the players have come to the reasonable conclusion that if you're going to miss a lot, it might as well be 40-75 yards closer to the hole. Bomb and gauge is classically identified with one guy — and to me, Bryson DeChambeau is more black hat than white hat — but he's certainly not the only guy playing that way.
BUSBEE: Agreed. I love the game, but let’s be honest: Pro golfers are the most pampered athletes, and among the most pampered human beings, in America. Their offices are places the average hacker would surrender an arm to play. So when they get a bit humbled, well, I’ve got no problem with that. Seeing how the world’s best respond to pressure unlike any they see all year is part of the fun of the tournament.
It’s called the “U.S. Open,” and like everything true-red-white-and-blue American, it’s bigger and louder than any other tournament on the Tour sked. But where, for you, does the U.S. Open rank among all American sporting events?
PIANOWSKI: The Super Bowl sits in its own tier as American sporting events, and I'd put the NCAA basketball tournament second. After that, it's a free-for-all. The Stanley Cup Playoffs, the U.S. Open, the baseball playoffs are all jostling for position. But hey, you don't have to rank your children, you love them all equally, right?
BUSBEE: My kids aren’t reading this, so I’ll just say “kinda.” Anyway, speaking of people who look similar to one another and fight a lot, give me your take on Bryson vs. Brooks.
PIANOWSKI: A few years ago I would have had a salty take on Brooks Koepka, but the Bryson-Brooks duel has made me a Koepka sympathizer. Koepka is brutally honest, and I like that. Missed the cut in a non-major, Brooksie? Ah, he only cares about the majors. Koepka's eye roll as Bryson ambled by during the PGA Championship interview was golf's meme of the season. While I'm going to always be Team Empath with my rooting interests (hiya, Rory; hiya, Xander), Koepka's candor has grown on me. (And the last thing golf needs — be it the pros or the amateurs — is more slow play. Pick up the pace, DeChambeau.)
BUSBEE: Fair enough. Let’s talk about a few other big names, starting with Mr. Best-Right-Now-Never-To-Win-A-Major. Rahm looks great every time he tees it up at Torrey, but does he have what it takes to break through in a major?
PIANOWSKI: Jon Rahm is the obvious favorite, with a past win here, a game that suits the track perfectly, and I guess what you'd call excellent form — he was running away from the stacked Memorial field two weeks ago. But the chaos of how that tournament ended, the forced COVID layoff and the fact that Rahm still has a fairly light bag when it comes to major contention has me thinking it's not Rambo's time just yet. He'll be cosmetically close, but I'm thinking something like T-16 or T-23. It's coming, but not this week.
BUSBEE: What about America’s Golden Child in America’s major?
PIANOWSKI: This isn't the ideal setup for Jordan Spieth. He's ordinary in driving distance and lagging in accuracy. He's probably the best chipper on tour and with recent success and the confidence that comes with that, you know the putter can get hot. But this week calls for more of a power player. Jordan can think his way into the Top 20, but won't be getting a ton of Sunday airtime.
BUSBEE: And somehow we’re still forgetting the World No. 1. Your thoughts on DJ, please.
PIANOWSKI: Everyone was expecting Dustin Johnson to zip past everyone at Palmetto before an ordinary weekend. I don't think DJ cares one iota. After a shoddy spring — two missed cuts in majors was a shocker — DJ is back in form. This is the perfect track for him, as long as he hits it and his irons are pure. It's been a long time since he's fetched +1600 in a major, and I'll give that a long look (though I also wonder if I'm being too much of a hero in the outrights; sometimes the idea is to hit singles and doubles, not aim for home runs).
BUSBEE: Finally … Rory McIlroy. An astounding player, but is his time as a major winner done?
PIANOWSKI: This is a perfect track for Rory, who's run T16, T5, T3 at the last three Farmers Insurance Opens. He has the length. He likes putting on these greens. And Rory also comes into this tournament without the burden of being the media-blitz guy, without the heaviest expectations. It sounds a little silly given McIlroy's resume, but he can sneak up on the field a little bit here. Seeing his odds start with a 2, I get tingles in my fingers. I might be at the window for a while.
BUSBEE: Now for the wagering, with all odds via BetMGM. The two surprise winners of this season have throttled us so far, and the big fade of Schauffele and JT hurt you last major, my friend. After two majors and $200 apiece (metaphorically) wagered, we sit at an updated total of $181.75 (-$18.25 net) me, $84 (-$116 net) you. And thus you, sir, are away.
PIANOWSKI: It hasn't been a lucrative start, but we're not out of holes yet, JB. This is how I'll punch it:
Outrights: $10 on DJ at +1600, 10 on Rory at +2000, $5 on Patrick Reed (classic table-for-one guy, but might be the best putter in the world, won here a few months ago) at +2800, and $5 on Justin Rose (ideal U.S. Open game) at +4000.
I can't be on the sidelines if this is Xander's week. I will go down with this ship. I see his close-no-cigar major contention as a feature, not a bug. A fin to win (+1800), and $10 on a Top 5 (+325).
Ten beans on Charley Hoffman to finish Top 20 (+245). He probably doesn't have the upside to win, but he's aging like a Napa Valley varietal and he's quietly cashed six Top 20 checks in his last 11 major starts. I also love how he looks a little more like Philip Seymour Hoffman with every passing year. A think-piece bet about a mid-level golfer, struggling with his own limitations in the harsh face of stardom. Hoffman probably can't win, but he can cash a six-figure check.
I feel like I'm booing Santa Claus, but I have to say hometown Phil Mickelson misses the cut (25 beans, +110). The PGA Championship upset was the story of a lifetime (I watched every Sunday shot with my Dad; that's something I'll never forget). But Phil's resume here is backloaded with aged-out success, wins when he was a different player. Regression is the most important word in fantasy handicapping, and it crawls into this space as well. The R-monster treats Phil rudely.
I think I have 20 left. Bet on Brooks's onions to beat Bryson's protractor (+110). And dammit, golf needs more rivalries. Not everyone has to be best friends.
BUSBEE: I’m going with some chalk here: Rahm (+900) and Koepka (+1600) to win at $10 apiece. I’ll put the winning margin at three strokes (+650) and a four-way DJ/DeChambeau/Koepka/Rahm to make the cut (+135) at $10. Plus another $10 on my sleeper pick, Jason Kokrak, to finish top 5.
More: Scottie Scheffler (+300) and Will Zalatoris (+333) to finish top 10, $10 apiece. I’ll hedge against Rahm by taking Rory as top European (+600) for $10. Another sawbuck on Phil Mickelson to give us a spark of hope and finish top 20 (+240).
Finally, $10 on BetMGM’s “gimme,” Koepka or DeChambeau to finish in the top 5 (+150). Splashing cash everywhere, baby!
So there we have it. Any final remarks, sir? Or should we head to the first tee?
PIANOWSKI: I had more I could say, but I lost it in the rough somewhere. MAKE IT NEAR-IMPOSSIBLE, USGA. I'll be loving every second of it.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.
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