The 121st US Open gets under way on Torrey Pines’ South Course, in San Diego, California tomorrow (June 16), where 155 of the world’s best players will hope to wrestle the trophy from defending champion Bryson DeChambeau.
The last and only time Torrey Pines has hosted the US Open was back in 2008, where Tiger Woods hobbled round to beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff and was subsequently found to be playing with the fractured leg.
Measuring 7,643 yards from the back tees, Torrey Pines is a regular stop on the PGA Tour for the Farmers Insurance Open, the latest renewal of which was won by five shots by Patrick Reed back in January. The course hugs the San Diego coastline and features undulating fairways, thick rough and small greens seeded with poa annua. Torrey Pines also has deep bunkering guarding the greens — 14 of 18 holes have bunkers that sit on the left and right side of the putting surface, making sure the golfers don’t have an easy bailout away from danger.
There’s no secret what you need to do well at a US Open, and Torrey Pines will demand much of the same. The last four winners of the US Open were all very decent drivers of the ball. DeChambeau finished first in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Teeat the end of the season last year, while Gary Woodland, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson all finished inside the top 20 in driving at the end of the season they won the US Open. The top five in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee over the previous 24 rounds coming into this week is DeChambeau, followed by Jon Rahm, Matt Fitzpatrick, Abraham Ancer and Cameron Champ.
Hitting it well off the tee won’t count for anything, however, if they don’t have a hot week on the greens. Most of the putting surfaces at Torrey Pines are angled from back to front and have a lot of slope and undulation. The past winners at the Farmers Insurance Open, dating back to Jason Day, gained an average of 4.125 strokes on the greens. With the elevated greens and bunkers in specific landing areas, golfers who rate highly in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green and sand saves should also be in the mix this week.
The past six winners of the US Open had an average world ranking of 12 leading into their victories, with the lowest being Woodland at No.24 in 2019 and the highest being Jordan Spieth at No. 2 in 2015, so you might not need to look too far down the betting lists to find your winner in 2021.
Five to consider for US Open glory
The defending champion’s claim to win back-to-back US Opens are hard to ignore. While yet to master Augusta and never threatening at Kiawah Island, better form guides come from Winged Foot and Harding Park, and similar conditions here make him a standout candidate. A long course, combined with narrow fairways and long rough sets up just as it did last year, and DeChambeau’s ‘bomb and gouge’ approach will serve him well, although it’s worth remembering that he also hits it pretty straight and is a world class putter.
The fact that he’s won two out of the last four US Opens and finished runner-up at the PGA Championship last month should be reason enough to consider Koepka this week. Although he usually misses the PGA Tour’s California Swing during the regular season, Koepka’s Major championship pedigree should see him somewhere near the top of the leaderboard on Sunday, providing he hasn’t had a fight with Bryson DeChambeau in the car park on Saturday night.
Last year’s PGA Championship winner comes into the US Open in great form, with the world No.4 having finished eighth at this year’s PGA, 7th at the RBC Heritage, second at the Memorial and won the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession. A great driver of the ball, he’s also laser-like with his irons, ranking first in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green over the previous 50 rounds, gaining an average of just under seven strokes with his irons. Where he loses shots is with his putter, but if the Californian native can get that working this week, he’ll be hard to keep out of the frame.
The reigning Open Champion is really finding his feet in the US now, have bought a home in Florida and settled into the American way of life. Three top 10s and a top five in his last four starts, including the Memorial Tournament and the PGA Championship, should give the hero of Portrush a boost of confidence heading into this week. He has three made cuts at Torrey Pines during the Farmers Insurance Open, finishing seventh in 2015 and 13th the following year. He also comes in with a swathe of US Open experience and success. In 2016 at Oakmont, he was the 54-hole leader with a four-shot lead heading into the final round. His Sunday wasn’t ideal, shooting a 76, but his first three days were near perfection.
Although the young Norweigan’s two PGA Tour wins to date have been achieved in low-key tournaments in Puerto Rico and Mexico, Hovland has continued to climb the rankings this year and now sits on the fringes of the game’s elite. No fewer than six top-six finishes in 12 strokeplay starts demonstrate how persistent a threat he’s been in 2021, and the first of them came at Torrey Pines in January when he finished second to Patrick Reed in the Farmers Insurance Open, during which he carded a second-round 65 on the South Course. He should take plenty of confidence from that performance and it’s one of several excellent displays so far in California, where he won the US Amateur, then finished 12th in the US Open before turning professional, and also took fifth place on his debut at Riviera in February.
For the list of tee times for the first two rounds of the 2021 US Open, click here.