Punch Shot: Predictions for 117th U.S. Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 14, 2017, 10:50 pm

Our writers at Erin Hills on who will win the U.S. Open, sleeper picks, the winning score and the biggest issue this week.

U.S. OPEN WINNER

Rex Hoggard: These things I know to be true: Players will complain about the golf course this week, the eventual winner will love Erin Hills, and Jon Rahm will factor into Sunday’s outcome. Erin Hills will be won by a bomber, which Rahm is, and a player who is confident enough to take chances, which Rahm also is. That Rahm tied for 23rd last year as an amateur after a horrid start to his week only makes him a more attractive pick.

Ryan Lavner: Rickie Fowler. Probably the hardest star to predict, but there are three reasons to believe this is his week to break through: Big hitter, imaginative short game and unflappable approach.

Randall Mell: Dustin Johnson. On this big, brawny track with its wide fairways softened by rain, Johnson will have the shortest clubs into the greens and the best angles. He’ll appear to be playing a different course from everyone else.

Will Gray: The “best player without a major” title will shift once again when Rickie Fowler lifts the trophy Sunday evening. Fowler has been rock-solid since his win earlier this year at PGA National, and he leads the Tour in total driving and sits third in scoring average. It’s time.


SLEEPER OUTSIDE THE OWGR TOP 25

Hoggard: Since 2010, Billy Horschel has the third lowest scoring average at the U.S. Open, following four consecutive finishes inside the top 32 at his national championship, and his confidence is high following his victory last month at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He may not be the bomber everyone thinks will win, but he checks off all of the other boxes.

Lavner: Martin Kaymer. With closely mown areas surrounding nearly every green, Erin Hills somewhat recalls the new look at Pinehurst, where Kaymer dominated in 2014. Having options around the green should help the German, whose chipping and pitching keeps him from contending more often.

Mell: Lee Westwood. If Sergio Garcia can break through after all the heartache and doubt, why not Westwood? He has been third or better nine times in majors.

Gray: Shane Lowry. The Irishman had one hand on the trophy last year, but he has found his form once again with a T-6 finish at Wentworth and T-15 at the Memorial. Lowry loves tough courses (see his win at Firestone in 2015) and cracked the top 10 at Chambers Bay before last year’s runner-up.


WINNING SCORE

Hoggard: Forget the total yardage. Forget that looming fescue and a forecast that will quickly turn Erin Hills into a muddy mess. The winning score will be under par this week. Let’s go with 10 under par, largely because the layout has four par 5s and will not play nearly as long as some might think.

Lavner: 7 under. Don’t even look at the scorecard yardage. It’ll be significantly shorter than that, even with conditions that will be much softer than the USGA wanted. Four par 5s, a couple of drivable par 4s and perfect greens should lead to plenty of birdies. If the wind doesn’t kick up, scores should be pretty good, at least by U.S. Open standards.

Mell: 12 under. With rain expected to soften the course, with four par 5s, with the USGA likely to error on the side of caution, the winner reaches double digits under par.

Gray: Anyone that tells you they have a confident read on how scoring will shake out on a brand-new venue is lying. But given the soft conditions and four par-5s facing players, I’ll estimate that the winner will hit 6 under – one shot deeper into the red than Jordan Spieth reached two years ago at Chambers Bay.


WHAT WILL BE THE BIGGEST ISSUE

Hoggard: Although the fescue that frames Erin Hills has been the hottest topic this week, it will not be the headline on Sunday. The final takeaway will fixate on a common theme: pace of play. Although officials have set the pace at 4 hours, 52 minutes for Rounds 1 and 2, most players say it will be closer to the six-hour mark largely due to the tall fescue rough, four par 5s and the drivable par-4 second hole.

Lavner: Those dastardly bunkers. With ragged edges, uneven lies, unusual sand, awkward widths and even some holes surrounding them because of erosion, there’s a good chance a player gets caught in one of those little devils and makes a big number.

Mell: Slow play. The biggest issue could end up being the penal bunkering, all the lost balls in the fescue or heavy winds, but you add all of these to four par 5s and some reachable par 4s, and this might be the slowest-played U.S. Open in history.

Gray: Forget the fescue. The biggest gripe by the end of the week will be the bunkers, which are fraught with nooks, crannies and uneven lies. Someone will bounce into a small finger of sand at an inopportune time, and the unusual design of these hazards will become a major storyline by week’s end.

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”