Lee Westwood looks to be rounding into form in time for another crack at the US Open, where he can win his Thursday three-ball.
Westwood to beat Watson and Sugrue
I've written about Bubba Watson's poor US Open record elsewhere but in brief: he hates it. Absolutely hates it. Thirteen years ago, the enigmatic left-hander finished fifth at Oakmont. Since then, he has come to realise that this just isn't his bag, and that's been true whether at the expansive Erin Hills, the tight and penal Olympic Club, a firm Pinehurst or a soft Merion. There seems no obvious reason he'll find Winged Foot any more agreeable and a sixth early exit in his last seven could be forthcoming.
James Sugrue hasn't yet made the weekend of a Tour-level event and the Irishman, who did himself justice at Portrush last summer even so, will likely struggle. This is a very different type of test to that with which he's familiar and he lacks the experience to deal with it. Odds of around the 4/1 mark that he beats two world-class players appear skinny and he helps add value to the selection, a confident one at that, with LEE WESTWOOD taken to oblige.
Westwood and Watson have played in the same US Open on 11 occasions, and the former holds an 8-3 lead. That lead is 6-3 with two ties if we isolate the first round and put simply, he's far better at this. You could argue that he's no longer the world number one who would go off among the favourites but he's beaten Bubba in each of the last three renewals in which they've both played, and I think he'll do so again. Form figures of 70-34-17-10 over his summer starts include a strong final round in difficult conditions at Valderrama and when last he played in a major, he finished fourth - also the spot he filled in a demanding Honda Classic.
Everything points to him hitting more fairways, more greens, and adapting better to this uniquely difficult challenge. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he ended the week fairly close to the lead and it's only really the increased variance of single-round golf which forces stakes to be limited somewhat. All things being equal he'll be too good.
Hatton to beat Stenson and Willett
TYRRELL HATTON has a better US Open record than you might think given commentators tend to obsess over his attitude, and he's really come of age over the last year. First he won a remarkable play-off in Turkey then, after a short injury lay-off, he defied some of the toughest conditions seen all year to win his first PGA Tour title in Florida. His form post-lockdown has been just as strong and he managed the fifth-best score at East Lake last time to cap a breakthrough season.
Throw in finishes of sixth and 21st in this over the last two years and it's easy to build an each-way case for the 28-year-old, who simply endured a horror week on the greens at the PGA Championship. He's bounced back from that very quickly and isn't far behind Tommy Fleetwood when it comes to the English challengers, seven years on from Justin Rose's win.
Danny Willett is harder to fancy as he's played poorly in seven of his nine starts since the sport restarted. The pick of his efforts came back in July and not even a return to the calmer waters of the European Tour helped last time. He's not played in the US since missing the cut in the Wyndham, which he also did at the PGA, and was late flying out for this.
Henrik Stenson would be a potential candidate here on his best form, but he's been nowhere near it at any stage in 2020. Having only played twice since March - at Southwind and Harding Park - he's clearly not been desperate to get going again and while his golf has been fine, it's not exactly been sharp. He could just be exposed here especially as his short-game wouldn't be as strong as Hatton's.
On all the form we have in the book this year, Hatton has a big edge here and it certainly doesn't hurt that he ranked more than 130 places higher than Willett in the 2020 round one scoring stats. Stenson does have the advantage of having played in this back in 2006 but opened with a 75 and I don't think anyone should be surprise if his lack of match practice is exposed.
Kaymer to beat Walker and Augenstein
The banker on the coupon according to the layers and they're not wrong - Martin Kaymer should be far too good for Jimmy Walker and John Augenstein. The German arrives with form figures of 3-2 and they could so easily be 1-1, having traded odds-on for both his last two starts. Before them he opened up the PGA Championship with a round of 66 and he's getting back to his best, the nightmare second round he endured very much the aberration.
As a former US Open winner whose prep at Valderrama may prove advantageous, and who is probably better pitching out of thick rough as opposed to tight lies on the fairway, Winged Foot could work out nicely for him. His iron play is out of this world right now, as is his putting, and he should be able to avoid disaster more often than not.
Jimmy Walker on the other hand is doing nothing particularly well. He's only played six times since June, missing five cuts and finishing 62nd in the Memorial - his penultimate start but now two months ago. Since then he's only been sighted at the PGA Championship where he again struggled and it's approaching two and a half years since he so much as finished in the top 10 of any event.
As you'd expect given his struggles, he's down at 181st of 192 players in first-round scoring according to the 2020 stats and in eight previous US Open appearances, his first-round average is 75. That's a shot and a half worse than Kaymer, who broke 70 at Pebble Beach last June, and their recent performances are chalk and cheese.
Like Sugrue, Augenstein is an amateur and one who hasn't been in the best of form post-lockdown, during which he was way down the field in a good three-round event which featured a number of PGA Tour players. For now this looks beyond him and Kaymer could win this with a score in the high 70s. He's capable of doing much better than that.
Kaymer is tempting at 80/1 to be the first-round leader, having done so at Pinehurst in 2014 and opened the PGA Championship with a round of 66 last month. But rather than place all those eggs in one basket, the one I want to take a small chance on is KEVIN STREELMAN.
Like Kaymer, Streelman has led after the first round of this before and that was on his debut, when 68 was enough at the devilishly difficult and extremely long Torrey Pines. He wasn't far away when seventh on his latest appearance, at the similarly tough Oakmont, and he arrives in excellent form after third place in the Safeway Open extended a golden summer.
An excellent ball-striker, the hope is he's towards the top of the fairways and greens stats early on for all that he may find it difficult to keep up over 72 holes. He's got recent form in this market having led at Boston and an early tee-time looks advantageous, with a zephyr turning into something just a little more substantial around noon.
At 100/1, he is worth just a small play in acknowledgement that the US Open leader tends to be top-drawer.
Posted at 1710 BST on 16/09/20