US Open: Betting expert Ben Coley with his top picks for Pebble Beach
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By Ben Coley
Last Updated: 12/06/19 9:07pm
Betting expert Ben Coley's top tips for the US Open at Pebble Beach with Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele expected to perform well.....
It's off to Pebble Beach for the US Open, where two young Californians can give the locals plenty to cheer in the third major championship of the season.
2pts e/w Patrick Cantlay
2pts e/w Xander Schauffele
1pt e/w Webb Simpson
1pt e/w Kevin Na
1pt e/w Branden Grace
In golf's new world, the turnaround from the PGA Championship to the US Open is quick. But, thanks to a change in coast and course, we should at least be treated to a markedly different test than that which saw Brooks Koepka fend off Dustin Johnson in a battle of the behemoths at Bethpage Black last month.
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Pebble Beach is the width of America away and, while greens made up of the same type of grass and rough similarly thick mean we have some vague similarities, it offers an altogether different test.
I find it hard to envisage any scenario in which Graeme McDowell wins a major at Bethpage, yet win a major is exactly what he did at Pebble Beach at the start of the decade. His ability to find a fairway and grind a par counts here.
The trouble is that golf has altered considerably in nine years, since McDowell held off surprise package Gregory Havret, another who is short and straight. Hitting the ball a long way has always been advantageous, but it's at last becoming normal and when you work your way through the world rankings, genuinely short hitters are few and far between.
It's hard to know exactly where the balance of power lies. At some stage, it seems certain that Pebble Beach will succumb like everywhere and it may be this week, yet I feel sure that there will be more old-fashioned golfers here than there are on most other leaderboards. The playing field is level - it just might not be enough to stop someone from the big-hitting team anyway.
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Johnson is the man to beat. He's twice a winner at Pebble Beach and, as an adopted Californian who loves poa annua greens and has always been comfortable by the coast, his credentials appear the most solid. He looked like winning here in 2010 until that now famous final-round collapse but it won't affect him and he's been beaten by a grand total of two players in this season's two majors.
It was the US Open which finally gave Johnson his major breakthrough, as it was Rory McIlroy five years before and Koepka a year later. It's Johnson, rather than the other two, who has most in his favour for all the confidence brought about by Canada for McIlroy, and the major swagger of four-from-eight Koepka. It's just a shame this hasn't been forgotten and single-figure quotes around Pebble Beach hold little appeal.
Patrick Cantlay is twice the price and looks perfectly poised to complete his ascent to the top of the sport by lifting the US Open, a fortnight after securing his second PGA Tour victory at Muirfield Village.
Cantlay's path to the top has been far less routine than had been expected when he was the world's best amateur by a distance and brazenly shot a round of 60 when thrown in against the professionals. The death of his best friend and caddie, one he witnessed, combined with a succession of injuries and procedures, have extended what ought to have been a one- or two-year climb to virtually an entire decade.
But the evidence of a brilliant, bogey-free 64 to land the Memorial Tournament last time is that he arrives prepared to start winning trophies frequently, and the experience of having had a chance to win the Masters and of trying to keep tabs on Koepka in the PGA means this return home to California comes at a perfect time.
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The challenge this week will be unrelenting, and Cantlay's all-round package is perhaps best suited to overcome it. He ranks inside the top 30 off the tee, on approach, around the greens and on the greens - it's an attack so well-rounded that he can adapt to whatever the course throws at him and survive golf's ultimate test.
Perhaps the most telling statistics in his favour are bogey avoidance and bounce-back, categories he leads. In other words, Cantlay makes fewer bogeys than anyone in the sport and when he does make a mistake, he recovers better than anyone. That's a combination of technical and mental strength which fits so well with Pebble Beach.
Xander Schauffele boasts a similar profile having rapidly emerged as a world-class youngster who, along with Cantlay, will not be missing many Ryder Cups in the near future.
He too gets the chance to play a major championship in his home state for the first time, and these poa annua greens will hold no fears for a player who has already won a WGC-HSBC Champions, the Tour Championship and, in January, the Tournament of Champions.
These are events featuring the very best players in the sport and they've been held across a range of courses, which speaks to the adaptability of another strong driver who has no obvious weakness in his bag.
Fifth at Erin Hills was outstanding for a rookie, sixth at Shinnecock represented another fine effort, and second place in unfamiliar surroundings at Carnoustie confirmed that we might just be looking at the next Koepka - a player capable of peaking for each major and, eventually, winning one or two.
Schauffele tuned up for this with 14th place in the Memorial, where nobody drove it better, and while his lack of course experience in the AT&T is a slight negative he's been turning up and winning all over the world. Besides, while he did miss the cut on his sole start in that event, he shot 69 around Pebble Beach. He's adaptable and, after sticking it out well at Augusta and playing nicely at Bethpage, he looks ready.
Expanding the search to golfers from the McDowell school of scoring, the pick of them has to be Webb Simpson after his runner-up finish in Canada.
Simpson doesn't play all that much golf in California, but he did win the US Open in San Francisco and that 2012 renewal might be the best recent evidence in terms of form in this major specifically. It's certainly the last time we had a leaderboard made up almost entirely of short-hitters and it's little wonder he shone.
Seven years on, and he's back towards the top of the sport having found a working putting method, one which saw him lead the field in Canada where a tune-up on fast, undulating, poa annua greens certainly can't have harmed his chances for this.
At fourth in scrambling and 18th in driving accuracy, he has a very similar skill set to McDowell and their careers actually tie in together really nicely. It was McDowell who finished second to Simpson in 2012, while the Northern Irishman gained a measure of revenge by the coast at the RBC Heritage a year later.
Simpson was bogey-free for the first three rounds at Hamilton last week and said afterwards that it's the sharpest he's felt in a long time. Given that he's been playing well on courses too long for him - fifth at Augusta, 29th at Bethpage, 10th at Shinnecock and 19th at Bellerive - moving to Pebble Beach gives him an excellent chance to become a two-time major champion.
Kevin Na is considered the pick of those at three-figure prices with as many as 10 places on offer.
Two victories over the course of the last year, first by five and then by four, tell us that he is in fact transformed and it's just possible that he is now up to becoming a major champion at the age of 35.
Here at Pebble Beach, where he has a couple of top-10 finishes in the Pro-Am, Na has the right skill set to match his previous US Open best, seventh place at Oakmont in 2016.
He's also been 12th at Pinehurst and 29th at Olympic Club so there's some encouraging form in the book even during the fallow years, and having produced an outstanding display of iron play and putting at Colonial three weeks ago he arrives at the peak of his powers.
My final selection is Branden Grace, despite the fact that he very much does not tick the current form box.
At 150/1, that's a concern I'll take on board considering his two top-five finishes in this event, at Chambers Bay and Oakmont, plus the fact that his runner-up finish in Phoenix this year came under tough conditions on Sunday.
Grace is a grinder who relishes a battle, particularly if it's taking place by the coast, and as with Simpson his form ties in quite nicely with McDowell as a former winner of the RBC Heritage.
He was one of just three players to break 70 in both Pebble Beach rounds at the 2018 AT&T and earlier this year shot 67-74 for an overall course scoring average of 69.25, one which puts him towards the head of the field.
It might just be that a return to a gruelling US Open at this course in particular prompts an upturn in fortunes for one who has five major top-six finishes already ahead of what's his 30th go.