The 115th U.S. Open takes place this weekend at its newest venue in an ambitious move by the USGA which sees the championship held on a course opened less than eight years ago. Chambers Bay had been earmarked as a future major site even before construction was complete and was awarded the 2010 U.S. Amateur and this tournament within seven months of being established. As a links style course, it has more in common with Open Championship venues and the links courses of Scotland. The sheer number of tee boxes on a number of holes give Mike Davis an abundance of choices on hole setups each round. In the build up to the event, the course and its setup has been the major storyline and could continue to be so all weekend based on the scoring average of 79.25 during the 36 holes of strokeplay in 2010.
The last 12 months have seen Rory McIlroy mark himself out as the dominant player in the world of golf, wining two majors, two WGC’s and recording his best finish at Augusta. However, unlike in Tiger’s years of dominance, Rory is at the head of a whole host of talented and hungry players in their twenties and early thirties. Across both tours, the depth of young talent is unparalleled to any previous era in the game, the modus operandi is very much attacking golf based on power and fearless play. A new era is very much underway but as shown by Jim Furyk and Padraig Harrington in big events this year, the older guard are still a force to be reckoned with on their day and will not be pushed to the sidelines. Chambers Bay will provide an interesting battleground for the two generations to clash.
The lack of course form make this one of the toughest majors to predict in recent years, the indications from the U.S. Amateur are that the course may favour the longer hitters and regardless will play very tough. In addition to the high scoring average, more players shot 90 or higher than under par in 2010 so expect the course to do a lot of damage to player’s scorecards. With the links style and fescue grass of Chambers Bay, it would be no surprise to see Open Championship form come to the fore and I think the dynamics of the course mean it should prove to be a thinking man’s track. Challenging green complexes, multiple tees which change hole elevation from round to round and also swapping of pars between one and eighteen mean that this will be the unique test it is being billed as.
Here are my five players to follow this week:
Rickie Fowler: The evolution of Fowler was completed last month with his win at Sawgrass last month, to play the final six holes of that course in 6 under was the hallmark of a champion. It is widely expected that he will use his second PGA Tour win as a springboard to further successes and Chambers Bay represents the perfect course for him to claim his first major. He showed his ability to adapt to any challenge by finishing in the top five in all four of 2014’s majors including runner up finishes at the two Open’s which is notable for this week. The is a good chance that Rickie could become the latest major winner in the Harmon stable on Sunday.
Hideki Matsuyama: Hideki warmed up for a tilt at his maiden major with a solid title defence at the Memorial Tournament, in contention all the way until a pulled shot found water on the 70th hole. The title he defended last time out was one of two worldwide in 2014, he also won the Dunlop Phoenix in his homeland in November. He has shown a liking for links or links type courses with a 6th place finish at Muirfied in 2013 in his Open Championship debut. He also has solid West Coast form in the shape top five finishes at TPC Scottsdale and Riviera in February and a top five finish at the Robert Trent Jones Jr designed North course at Silverado last October. He looks the type to contend deep into this week.
Patrick Reed: It’s fair to say that Patrick has not backed up his claim to being a ‘top five’ player with is performances in major championships so far. His best performance was his tied 22nd finish at Augusta this year and he failed to make the cut in two of his first four majors. However, there is no doubting the ability of Reed who has already won in the highest company with victory in Doral last March. Last year’s Ryder Cup showed he has the mentality to thrive on the biggest stages and cope with pressure situations with ease. He shot the low round, 68, in the strokeplay part of the US Amateur in 2010 and has said he really likes this course, all the ingredients are there for his best major performance.
Brandt Snedeker: My only pick who is not in this twenties, Snedeker has knocked on the door of major success previously and may well do so again. Brandt had a disappointing 2014, finishing well down the Fedex points list and his tied ninth finish at Pinehurst was one of just three top ten’s for the year. This year has seen a resurgence in his fortunes, he already has six top ten finishes and gained second victory at Pebble Beach in February. He has gained three victories on West Coast courses and equally the Open Championship’s 36 hole scoring record at Lytham St Annes in 2012. Entering the week on the back of 2nd and 6th place finishes in his last two starts, he looks primed for a big week.
Branden Grace: The U.S. Open has a habit of throwing up surprising names at the business end of the leaderboard; Erik Compton, Michael Thompson and Kevin Chappell being recent examples. Grace would not be a surprise of that scale but I do feel he can emerge as a dark horse this week. Branden has bounced back of late after a winless spell which dated back to 2012, after getting back in the winners circle in December, he has won on two subsequent. One of those wins was at the Qatar Masters in firm and fast conditions, he is also a past champion at the Alfred Dunhill Links so conditions should appeal to him. This week could be the time for Grace to emerge as a new South African star on the world stage