Is it possible to be one of the world's best golfers, a recent major champion, and somehow enter the U.S. Open being undervalued by oddsmakers and the public? Half of our expert panel believe that's the case this week at Pebble Beach. And our group is on a heater right now—correctly predicting the previous two week's winners on the PGA Tour—so listen up.
Just like tour players, we're peaking for the biggest events of the year. Our expert panel this week, just like every week, includes a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green of Pebble Beach at this week's U.S. Open, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; handicapping advice from The Action Network, which is becoming the leader in sports betting and handicapping analysis, and it's growing its presence in golf; two of the most respected fantasy golf experts, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf. It's tough to beat this crew—who have now picked better than 25 percent of this year's events right. For any gambler, you know that's a winning percentage for large outright tickets.
Our experts dish on which favorites they're fading (don't be fooled by Rory McIlroy's flawless play last week) and which sleepers you should eye for your U.S. Open pools or wagering research. The most resounding consensus pick to win might surprise you a bit, but we think you'll agree with their analysis below. We're convinced on his value.
2019 U.S. Open Picks To Win (Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Patrick Cantlay (20-1) — Between Rory McIlroy (more on him later) and Patrick, I don’t think anyone is playing better currently. Cantlay is due for a major. This one is his best shot to win this year. You look at his stats and what he’s doing right now… He’s a bomber and gouger-type, but usually isn’t recognized as such because he’s not a workout junkie. But his practice regiment on the course is incredible. It’s second to none. He’s a prodigy. Things are going right for him to make a push for a major. He’s doing everything right. His stats are ridiculous. He drives the ball straight – which will be huge this week since they pinched in the fairways. He’s worked on all his weaknesses and I think he’s ripe to get it done this week. Phil Mickelson would be amazing, sentimentally (completing the career slam at Pebble), but stupid. I’m not the biggest Phil fan in the world, but it would be cool. I like Tiger, too. We saw what he did here in 2000 and I think he’s ready to win again. Then there’s Dustin – everyone knows the reasons why there. But give me Cantlay. The dude is just ready.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Justin Thomas (33-1) — If it wasn’t for the first injury in March, Justin Thomas would be Top 5 in both DraftKings pricing and the betting market. The only concern is his health, and it appears like he’s back. After skipping the PGA Championship, JT returned at the Memorial, appeared fine and completely imploded in the second round to catch an early flight out of town. Chalk it up to rust. At least I will. Last week in Canada, his excellent ball striking was masked by a lackluster flat stick. The biggest drawback isn’t the wrist, it’s his lack of Pebble Beach experience, having played just one competitive round at the Pro-Am in his career: a missed cut in 2014. Still, this is about value, and there’s enough mystery surround Thomas to keep people away despite the obvious savings you’re getting on the only player in the field who sits inside the Top 10 in both SG: APP and SG: ATG over the past 50 rounds. It’s a risk with Thomas, but a calculated one based on his skill profile and price point.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Justin Thomas (33-1) — This is the type of event where I’m looking for value. It’s a really tough course and field, and when a player of Justin Thomas’ caliber slips below 30-1, we have to look long and hard. Coming off the wrist injury, Thomas did miss the cut at the Memorial and lost 3.7 strokes tee-to-green, according to FantasyNational.com. That includes -2.5 strokes gained/approach and +0.6 strokes gained/off the tee because he still added distance relative to the field. That should give us confidence about his wrist. Then, at the RBC Canadian Open at Hamilton, a track similar to Pebble Beach, which calls more for accuracy than sheer distance, Thomas quietly finished 20th while gaining the seventh-most good drives (fairways hit or greens in regulation). He ranked second in strokes gained/tee to green but had a poor putting performance. Thomas is coming in overlooked, and that gives us a pretty huge value opportunity.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Dustin Johnson (7-1) — There's so much to like about Dustin Johnson this week at Pebble Beach, which is why he has emerged as the favorite among the top tier. His course history speaks for itself: Two AT&T wins (2009, 2010), two T-2s (2014 and 2018) and three other top-fives. Plus, of course, his near win in 2010, which looked like an eventuality before the Sunday 81. That was nine years ago, and we know DJ is a more complete player today. He is eighth in strokes gained/short game, per FantasyNational.com, in his past 36 rounds. And we know he checks every box off-the-tee and approach-wise. There's a reason my model gives Dustin Johnson almost double the odds of the second most likely player to win (Justin Rose at 5.75 percent). In such a deep field, Dustin Johnson having a 9.14 percent chance of winning, via my model, per his stats in the key approach categories and recent form, is reason to take DJ at these low odds.
Joshua Perry, Action Network golf handicapper: Justin Thomas (33-1) — Thomas has slipped through the cracks again with his odds drifting as high above 30-1 in some places. That seems to be when Thomas is at his most dangerous. He's battled back from a wrist injury and after seeing his play in Canada, I have no concern about his health. He was 2nd tee to green last week behind only Rory, so the swing looks fine. It's all about getting the putter on track. Thomas tends to be a reliable putter for the most part, so I believe he'll be able to get that part of his game turned around.
Golf Digest editors: Brooks Koepka (9-1) — We're not making the mistake of doubting Brooks Koepka again. Let's go over the reasons that some experts are giving not to pick Koepka: The rough will be too penal for him at Pebble Beach. To that we say, Did you see the rough at Bethpage Black? He hit it so well, the rough was rarely a concern for him. The next reason: Koepka's strength is not his scrambling ability. And you will surely miss these ultra small greens at Pebble Beach. OK, we can see that rationale. But Koepka led the field in greens in regulation at the PGA Championship, hitting an unthinkably high 73 percent. And Bethpage Black's greens are not exactly huge. Koepka was sticking his approaches with regularity. Why wouldn't that continue at Pebble Beach? Until he gives us a reason to doubt him, we're not going to.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted seven of the season’s 27 events. We’ve picked the past two winners, with Brandon Gdula hitting Rory McIlroy (9-1) last week and our Golf Digest editors predicting Patrick Cantlay (16-1) at the Memorial. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix and had a runner-up (Dustin Johnson) at the PGA. And our Golf Digest editors also correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) earlier in the season.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2019 U.S. Open (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Billy Horschel (100-1) — I’ll take “Billy Ho Stripeshow.” Is that even allowed? Taking a former FedExCup champion as a darkhorse? Maybe it is just because he hasn’t won a major yet? I’ll go with that reasoning. So, he’s my darkhorse pick. He’ll come in well-rested. He drove across the country in his Jeep last week and probably got to Pebble early. He’s been laying in the weeds for a little while and I think he’s ready for a good event. He’s a really good ball striker. The greens will be hard, fast and bumpy. Putting might not be such a big deal this week, but with the fairways being so narrow, you’ll want a ball striker. The winds will be shifting, too.
Mayo: Tyrrell Hatton (100-1) — In his range, you can opt for the perceived safety of someone like Jim Furyk, or really go for it with Hatton. Despite having zero Pebble experience, the Englishman is one of the premier short game and links players in the world. And his game, starting to round into form. After a brutal beginning of March, Hatton won his group at Match Play, snuck through the cut at the Masters, made the weekend again at the PGA Championship, and followed that up with a T-8 at Colonial and T-33 at Memorial. So much needs to break right for him to compete at longer courses, which he did at the U.S. Open a year ago, but a shorter track suits him perfectly. Having gained strokes on accuracy in five of past six starts, the 41st ranked player in the world should save enough pars to lurk on the leaderboard come Sunday.
Gdula: Webb Simpson (30-1) — Simpson won The Players in 2018, the “fifth major” and has posted really strong results at majors, including nine straight cuts and six straight finishes inside the top 30. Simpson’s big weakness is off-the-tee play, but he’s 13th in strokes gained/approach and 4th in strokes gained/around the green among the field over the past 100 rounds on the PGA Tour. That can keep him in the mix for a run at the leaderboard on Sunday.
Riccio: Kevin Na (100-1) — Kevin Na is severely undervalued, per my model, as my expected value puts him at 29-1. The lack of the name value likely puts the recent winner at Colonial back at 100-1. That's a true opportunity. Na is one of a few players to have won multiple tour events in the past two seasons, proving that his game is in the best place of his career. Pebble Beach requires total control of your golf ball, and Kevin Na just won at Colonial, another value that demands that. There's not much to question about these odds: It's worth a couple bucks in case Na has another strong week, as my model marks him as the eighth-most likely player to win this week.
Perry, Action Network: Matt Wallace (110-1`) — We mentioned him for the PGA Championship and that turned out just fine, so we'll go back to the well at another major with him. He's got a great win rate on the European Tour and has shown his ability to contend against the best in the world. I think as long as he's in the 100/1 range for odds, he's being completely undervalued.
Golf Digest editors: Kevin Kisner (150-1) — Just looking at the odds, you're getting insanely high value on Kevin Kisner. He's a much higher caliber of a player than being 150-1. Kiz gets revved up at a smaller venue like Pebble Beach, where he can rely on his accuracy and putting. He has popped at multiple majors in the past couple of seasons (Quail Hollow, Carnoustie, Bellerive), so it wouldn't be a shock to find the top of the leader board again. It's tough to overlook these odds.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Rory McIlroy (8-1) — Man, I almost hate myself for saying that, but I could definitely see a little Canadian Open hangover playing a factor. Obviously, besides Cantlay, Rory’s hot as hell this year. But it’s hard to follow up with two national opens in a row. Rory, as much as he’s found inner peace and doesn’t worry about winning, I think another major would be validating for him. He’s got his eye now on the home open – The Open at Royal Portrush – in his back yard. I think you fade him this week.
Mayo: Tony Finau (40-1) — Tony’s going to have a moment at a major sometime soon, but Pebble just isn’t the right track for him with this sort of set up. He just can’t get it up and down to avoid bogey. In the 2010 US Open, only eight players managed to hit more than 60% of their greens in regulation. In 2000 it was even more dire; only three players got over the 60% hump. So while it’s clear accuracy on these fairways thinner than Jordan Spieth’s hairline, and quality iron play is mist to compete, the field is going to miss greens. Period. Being the outlier who hits all his GIRs just isn’t conceivable based on past history at this course. PASS.
Gdula: Jordan Spieth (21-1) — Fading Spieth feels scary with how well he’s been finishing, but I still can’t get past how he’s doing it. Spieth has gained fairways in one of his past 16 events. Sure, it was the most recent one (the Memorial), but he still lost 3.1 greens in regulation against the field in that event. Spieth’s inaccuracy and the small greens at Pebble Beach aren’t a good recipe for him to make up for poor ball-striking with a hot putter.
Riccio: Brooks Koepka (9-1) — This is likely to turn heads. Sure, Koepka has appeared unbeatable for most of the past two seasons in the big events. That doesn't necessarily mean Pebble Beach suits him. Based on his lackluster short game and around-the-green stats (he's 79th among all U.S. Open players in strokes gained/around the green in his past 36 rounds), my model puts him all the way down at the 40th most likely player to win this week—behind players like Chez Reavie and Jason Dufner. That might be a little extreme, but that's how little the stats believe in his around-the-green game. Erin Hills, Bellerive, Shinnecock, Bethpage are all big ballparks. The stats don't think he can win at a tight, smaller venue like Pebble.
Perry, Action Network: Jon Rahm (29-1) — Rahm has struggled to find his game since the Masters. He's missed both cuts in his two starts since then. His approach game is inconsistent for a player of his caliber and in those two missed cuts, he's also lost strokes off the tee. Rahm has also missed the cut in his last two U.S. Opens and appeared to let the difficult set up get to him mentally at times in those events. He's played well on occasion at Pebble Beach in the pro/am, but this isn't a pro/am set up.
Golf Digest editors: Xander Schauffele (29-1) — Schauffele is becoming a big-game hunter, but he's more ideally suited for bigger venues where he can bomb his driver with elite length (ala Augusta and his second-place finish) rather than Pebble Beach. Schauffele is 117th on tour in driving accuracy this season, which is enough to keep us away from the extremely talented player. We'll take him at other events this season, but not at Pebble Beach.
2019 U.S. Open: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Patrick Cantlay (+130) over Dustin Johnson (Sportsbook) — Both players will be right there in the end, but Cantlay is putting better than DJ right now. If DJ is on, he’s hard to beat. Put them both on their best game and it’s a coin toss, a clash of the titans. I know… DJ has 20 PGA Tour wins and Patrick has two, but they’re both at the top of their games with a slight putting edge to Cantlay.
Mayo: Ian Poulter (-125) over Bubba Watson (Sportsbook) — Just purely a play against Bubba, who, despite an excellent poa putting track record, has a far worse US Open record. Watson’s missed four of his past five cuts at the USGA set up, with no finish better than T51.
Gdula: Adam Scott (-116) over Francesco Molinari (FanDuel) — Scott’s approach game is fantastic (ninth in the field) and has fantastic putting splits on poa (14th). He also has promising results in windy conditions and has finished top-20 at his past four majors. Molinari can sure avoid bogeys, but he’s been dreadful on poa in his career and is a less talented ball-striker overall than Scott.
Riccio: Jordan Spieth (+195) over Rory McIlroy (Sportsbook) — My model makes this match-up virtually even, with Rory having a couple hundredths of a point separating him from Spieth. That's not enough to be getting almost 2-1 on your money with Jordan Spieth. Coming off three straight top-10 finishes, and being a past AT&T Pebble Beach champion, you have to give Spieth a look here, given these inflated odds.
Perry, Action Network: Justin Thomas (-115) over Jon Rahm (Sportsbook) — If I'm going to pick Thomas to win and suggest fading Rahm, I imagine I should be picking Thomas over Rahm straight up. The only real concern would be if Thomas tweaks that wrist hitting out of some deep rough, but otherwise, I'd give him the edge around Pebble. I trust his approach game more and he's better around the greens and with the putter. Rahm may have a slight edge off the tee, but this is a course where that advantage doesn't mean as much.
Golf Digest editors: Kevin Na (-115) over Bubba Watson (Sportbet) — We'll go with the Pat Mayo line of reasoning here—any fade against Bubba Watson this week is probably a good one. Plus we love what we see out of Kevin Na's game. These guys are buddies, but this week, Na should leave Bubba in the dust.
(Matchup results last week: PGA Tour Caddie: 1 for 1 (Matt Kuchar (-105) over Justin Thomas); Mayo and Perry/Action Network: 1 for 1 (Both had Henrik Stenson (-120) over Scott Piercy); GD Editors: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1; Riccio: 0 for 1.)
(Matchup results for the year: Action Network guest picker: 6 for 6; GD Editors: 13 wins, 7 losses, two pushes; Riccio: 11-8; PGA Tour Caddie: 12-10; Mayo: 9-9-2; Gdula: 8-12-1; Fowler: 1 for 1.)
Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Phil Mickelson (+500) — OK, I’ll go with Phil there. I think he makes a run, but runs out of steam at the end. Mark him in for a top 10. Phil’s relationship with USGA, if he can control himself on the greens, we’ll see. No more Bob Menery highlights for Phil, and he’s a top 10 (that hitting the ball while it was moving on the green at Shinnecock stunt last year was hilarious). I sincerely believe Phil has a love affair with the place. It would be a storybook ending if he can capture that elusive final leg of the Grand Slam. I’m not sure he gets the trophy, but I do like him for a top 10.
Mayo: Paul Casey (+400) — One of the longest players in the field who actually hits fairways, the aging Brit may not have many more opportunities to fit perfectly with a major venue. He was runner-up to Phil earlier this year, along with an eighth-place Pebble finish the year previous. Casey has been ultra consistent tee-to-green all season, expect for when people backed him the most. As one of the most popular selections at The Players and the Masters, Casey missed the cut without even sniffing the weekend. It was pretty brutal. He missed the cut at the Sony Open in January, too. However, he results in his next start following a missed cut in 2019: 2nd/1st/4th. Two of those came at courses which played less than 7,200 yards. Casey hasn’t played a competitive round since withdrawing from the Colonial a few weeks back with the flu. However, maybe it’s just time off that Casey needs to charge up the top end performances again.
Gdula: Matt Kuchar (+430) — Kuchar has finished top-16 at seven different majors since the start of 2017 and should fare well on a course that emphasizes accuracy over distance. Kuchar grades out 14th in strokes gained/approach and is 10th in greens in regulation over the past 100 rounds on the PGA Tour and checks the box of getting up-and-down (fourth in scrambling).
Riccio: Justin Rose (+275) — You're getting a ton of value here on Justin Rose, a past U.S. Open champion on one of the most comparable venues (Merion East). As stated above, my model gives Justin Rose the second most likely chance to win this week given the strength of his approaches from these expected distances and improved putting over the past two seasons. So you're getting value in all sorts of bets on Rose, as oddsmakers barely have him in their top 10 of players with the lowest odds. Rose was in position to finish top-10 at the PGA Championship before struggling on Sunday, but I'd expect him to cash this ticket at Pebble.
Perry, Action Network: Tyrrell Hatton (+750) — Hatton is a player I expected a bit more from this season, but he's starting to turn it around. He's gained strokes off the tee and with the approach in each of his last three starts. During that time, he picked up a top 10 at Colonial. He was also inside the top 10 at last year's U.S. Open, so he's proven he can at least handle the difficult USGA setups. This is a juicy top-10 number to capitalize on.
Golf Digest editors: Adam Scott (+275) — Adam Scott has proven he's still one of the most consistent ball-strikers in the world with his play over the past season. Contending at the previous three majors—Bellerive, the 2019 Masters and Bethpage, Scott should be in the mix once again at Pebble Beach. He's top-10 in strokes gained/approach; off-the-tee; and tee-to-green over his past 50 rounds, plus he hasn't lost strokes to the field putting since last September. The signs all point to continued success for Adam Scott.
(Top-10 results last week: PGA Tour Caddie: 1 for 1 (Brandt Snedeker, +275); Everyone else: 0 for 1)
(Top-10 results for the year: Action Network: 3 for 6 (+196, +800, +1000 hits); Mayo: 7 for 21; Gdula: 5 for 21; GD Editors: 5 for 21; PGA Tour Caddie: 6 for 22; Riccio: 4 for 21.)
Mayo: Going with a balanced approach, as discussed in my picks show, Jason Day is essentially the opposite of Justin Thomas. The stats rarely like the Aussie because of his wayward drives, inconsistent irons and reliance on his chipping and putting. Still, Day enters the 2019 U.S. Open with one of the best Pebble track records: Four top-10s and no finish worse than T-11 in the past five years. And, in two of the three times he’s gained strokes on the field with his irons this year, it was at a shorter course: Pebble (+2.9) and Sawgrass (+1.3). Beyond the irons, the main worry is that his chipping has been relatively lackluster lately, but this is still the same Jason Day who went 11 straight events gaining strokes around the green a year ago. Looking at Jason Dufner, while I worry about the short game, although it has been trending better the last two months, the ball-striking is tough to overlook from a player down in the $6,000 range. Plus, he’s played really well at the non-bomber U.S. Open venues in the past decade. Duf was T-33 here in 2010, T-4 at both Olympic Club and Merion, and churned out a T-8 finish at Oakmont in 2016.
Justin Thomas ($9,300); Jason Day ($9,100); Paul Casey ($8,300); Tyrrell Hatton ($7,200); Jason Dufner ($6,900).
Riccio: I really like this lineup for this week. You might pivot to someone else at $6,600 if you don't trust Chesson Hadley's lackluster short game, but his elite ball-striking relative to the field is enough for me to trust him.
Dustin Johnson ($11,300); Justin Rose ($9,700); Kevin Na ($7,700); Henrik Stenson ($7,600); Aaron Wise ($6,900); Chesson Hadley ($6,600).
Golf Digest Editors: Our well-balanced lineup is one that we really like to get 6-of-6 players through the cut and into the money in cash plays. These players will all be pretty chalky, so if you're entering the Millionaire Maker, you'll want to diversify your lineup. But if you like guaranteed money (we do), you're going to like when this lineup cashes:
Patrick Cantlay ($10,000); Adam Scott ($8,600); Matt Kuchar ($8,500); Webb Simpson ($7,700); Kevin Na ($7,700); Brandt Snedeker ($7,500).
Gdula: With a large field, a tougher-than-usual cut, and a tricky course, getting six-for-six lineups through the weekend won’t be easy. Much like my betting card, this is the type of week where I’d be looking to maximize the second and third tier rather than reach too far down the list for value plays.
Patrick Cantlay ($11,300), Xander Schauffele ($10,900), and Adam Scott ($10,500) offer high upside at less severe pricing than the huge names. Webb Simpson ($9,600), Henrik Stenson ($9,500), and Jim Furyk ($8,700) help balance things out on the low end.
Riccio: My FanDuel picks:
Dustin Johnson_ ($12,200); Justin Rose ($11,600); Phil Mickelson ($10,300); Henrik Stenson ($9,500); Kevin Na ($9,200); Rob Oppenheim ($7,100).
GD Editors: This is a top-heavy lineup that will mostly rely on Viktor Hovland backing up his U.S. Amateur-winning performance at Pebble Beach less than a year ago. Given his insanely good college season, we like those chances. You also get Shane Lowry into this lineup, who we really like to play well at Pebble Beach, coming off three top-10s in his past four starts, including a T-2 last week and a T-8 at Bethpage. DJ, Cantlay and Scott figure to all be around the top 10, so this lineup feels ultra safe, again, given Hovland replicating his performance.
Dustin Johnson ($12,200); Patrick Cantlay ($11,300); Adam Scott ($10,500); Matt Wallace ($9,400); Shane Lowry ($9,000); Viktor Hovland ($7,600).
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the Valspar Championship.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Joshua Perry is one of Action Network's golf contributors. For their staff's favorite picks for the U.S. Open, click here.