The world's best golfers are back at Torrey Pines this week for the 121st edition of the US Open Championship. Who are the favourites and where is the value? Inform your 2021 US Open Championship predictions with expert insight from Sophie Walker.
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Dates: June 17-20, 2021
Venue: Torrey Pines Golf Course, San Diego, California, USA
Defending champion: Bryson DeChambeau
2021 PGA Championship: Background and build-up
What a crazy year it has been so far in the world of golf! Phil Mickelson has just won the PGA Championship at the age of 50 and the world’s best players have just not been performing to their level of expectations. This includes the world number one, Dustin Johnson, who has missed both cuts at the last two majors, despite being the betting favourite. Not only that, my outright prediction for the US Open – world number three Jon Rahm – had to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament earlier this month and he will now need to isolate until June 15 which is just two days before the US Open starts – not exactly the ideal preparation!
2021 has been an unpredictable year so far, but I am here to search through the statistics and offer my opinion on who will be the winner of the third major of the year which will take place at Torrey Pines from June 17-20, 2021. The US Open is notorious for being a difficult and sometimes unfair test, meaning it can often throw up some surprise outcomes (great if you are thinking of an outside bet to win!). It has largely been dominated by the home players, with 72% of the winners being American - including all six since 2015 – so this is certainly something worth considering ahead of play this week.
The Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course) will host the US Open for the second time. It was last played here in 2008 when Tiger Woods beat Rocco Mediate in a play-off which was nothing unusual - other than the fact he did it with a broken leg! Torrey Pines is located on the coast of San Diego, California and its South Course is an 18-hole public golf course like other US Open venues (Pebble Beach and Bethpage Black Course).Both the North and South course at Torrey Pines features annually on the PGA Tour, unlike Kiawah Island which was a new course to many of the players. We can therefore study course form when deciding on our picks. It will play differently from February (when the Farmers Insurance Open took place there) - the par is 71 (not 72) and the rough will be up. The winning score in the 2008 US Open was -1 compared to the double-figure finishes we have sometimes seen recently which are often enough to win the PGA Tour event every other year.
2012 PGA Championship: What type of player are we looking for?
Players generally cope well with a change in course style, which we will likely see this week, but the greens can be harder due to the pace and the precision needed. You often find most players enjoy Bentgrass as it rolls smooth, whereas when playing on Poa annua grass (which is the grass used at Torrey Pines) you need to be bolder and hit the putts firmly. There are standout players who cope better on Poa annua greens than others, such as Dustin Johnson and Marc Leishman. Venues on the PGA tour which have Poa annua greens are Pebble Beach, Ridgewood CC, and Riviera.
Greens in Regulation is also critical for a US Open win. With the exception of last year’s winner, the four previous winners recorded a top-five finish in this statistic:
- 2019 Gary Woodland - 2nd
- 2018 Brooks Koepka - 4th
- 2017 Brooks Koepka - 1st
- 2016 Dustin Johnson - 1st
And when analysing the statistics, the last 10 winners of the US Open have all been inside the top 30 in the world when they lifted the championship.
2021 US Open Championship predictions: Where is the value?
The players to consider
Now that my favourite for the US Open, Jon Rahm, has tested positive for Covid 19, I now have to reconsider who I believe will win this tournament. Two weeks’ isolation, the possibility of his health declining, and not being able to practice makes me doubt Rahm’s ability to perform well, so here are the other players who could step up and secure the title instead:
I have so much admiration for how Koepka’s performance levels increase in the majors, as when I played professionally I always seemed to let the pressure get to me in the majors, which often resulted in my performance levels dropping. He has won the same amount of majors as he has PGA tour titles. The two-time US Open champion has posted 14 top-10 finishes in major tournaments since his first top-five finish in 2014, winning four of them to equal Rory McIlroy’s record. His last three appearances in the US Open have seen him finish first, first, and second. He missed out on last year’s tournament due to injury.
There is no doubt that his knee still isn’t 100% but he is managing it, so this could be a positive if you are looking to back him this week as his putting should be back to its best. This season, he has won the Waste Management Phoenix Open and narrowly missed out on the PGA Championship. I can’t see his putting woes and poor par-5 form continuing at Torrey Pines.
Koepka’s stats underline why he is a favourite for this tournament. He ranks second in Strokes Gained Total, 36th in Greens in Regulation, and eighth in Bounce Back. The quality of his ball-striking and mental attitude will serve him well in the toughest major of the year.
The San Diego native may also provide good value for bettors. He should feel right at home on the San Diego-based course at Torrey Pines and has expressed that the US Open is his favourite major. Schauffele is a US Open specialist, coming fifth, sixth, third, and fifth in his last four outings. Winged Foot, Shinnecock Hills, and Pebble Beach are all coastal courses with similar characteristics and grass to Torrey Pines. The world number five also secured second place at Torrey Pines this year at The Farmers Insurance Open.
Xander recently decided to change his putting grip, choosing to go with the arm lock (like Bryson DeChambeau). He ranks ninth in putting for the year, which is far from terrible. However, it seems to be working as he recorded a third-place finish earlier this month at the Memorial Tournament. This guy is carrying form going into Torrey Pines.
Winner of the US Open in 2012 and eighth last year at Winged Foot, Webb is the 11th-best player in the world but has odds of 45.490 (20th in the betting). This year, Simpson is 10th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green (- 1.5) and leads on Bogey Avoidance (12.11, compared to the tour average of 17.35). This is a key statistic to consider for the US Open, as par is very much your friend. His attitude has a lot to do with why I have picked him to do well - last year one of Simpson’s close rivals Xander Schauffele was quoted as saying (in reference to Simpson): “I like for it to get as hard as it can get without them losing the golf course”.
“If there was a strokes gained statistical category to rank attitude, Simpson would be No. 1 by miles,” he said. “He’s always waking up on the right side of the bed. Even when he doesn’t, I think he just decides to roll over to the other side. I love that about his game.”
I myself played in the Women’s US Open in 2018. It was tiring mentally and I never had the hybrid out of my hands. Webb is the king of patience, he partners Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed (who are both notoriously slow around the course) in American team events. The American hasn’t won this year and will go under the radar due to his sensible golf. But this is exactly what you need at a US Open.
Berger’s odds are 45.950 which offers bettors great value. He won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this year (Poa annua greens and on the west coast) and has made five out of his last six cuts when playing at the US Open. He controls the ball really well in the wind and is extremely consistent at hitting the greens and then converting these chances extremely well with his putting. He also ranks fifth in birdies on the PGA Tour this year. He’s another player whose attitude I really like - after winning in February with a 40-foot eagle putt he said: “Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t, but you really have to be bold. I think the biggest thing is playing fearlessly”. He is the son of a professional tennis player and competing is in his blood. He reminds me a lot of Brooks Koepka with his tunnel vision and appetite to win.
2021 PGA Championship predictions: Notable outsiders
Viktor Hovland: The world number 13 won his US Amateur around Pebble Beach and placed T2 at the Farmers Insurance Open this year.
Justin Rose: Has the best stats of anyone playing around Torrey Pines. The former US Open Champion ‘loves’ the place.
I hope this insight has helped you decide who to back. Remember, the US Open starts on June 17, 2021. Good luck and enjoy the golf!