The list of past U.S. Open winners at Pebble Beach is a storied one with Tiger Woods (by 15 shots!), Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson all lifting the trophy there.
You may argue that those three could win anywhere so it doesn’t tell us much.
But how about the two other players to have won a US Open on the hallowed turf of Pebble – Graeme McDowell (2010), Tom Kite (1992)?
All are class players who have made many a Ryder Cup team although that was/is the scene of their only major win.
So what was in their form leading to Pebble that perhaps suggested they were about to make the breakthrough. Did they tip us the wink?
The answer is yes.
McDowell had won the Wales Open on his previous start just two weeks earlier while Kite had won the BellSouth Classic just over a month prior to Pebble.
In terms of course form, Kite was a previous winner of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am while McDowell had been tied eighth there previously.
Extending the course form link, Woods and Nicklaus won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in the same year they won their US Opens there while Watson won the 1977 and 1978 Pro-Ams ahead of his 1982 Pebble triumph in which he beat Jack by two.
So, it’s a fairly simple but hopefully effective train of thought to use all that info and pick out a player with a recent win who has some good form at Pebble.
There actually aren’t that many but one who jumps off the page is Patrick Cantlay.
Cantlay has already been a big hit in the majors this year after having a piece of the final-round lead at the US Masters before finishing tied ninth and adding tied third at the USPGA Championship.
He followed the latter with a brilliant win at Memorial, secured by a closing 64.
A US Open in his native California looks the perfect place for the 27-year-old to take the final step and become a major champion.
Cantlay is ranked 10th in the Future of Fantasy’s top performers on Poa Annua putting surfaces – the grass he’ll face at Pebble – and he’s just totally in his comfort zone in the Golden State.
“I love California, it’s where I grew up, I feel very comfortable here. And I really like Pebble Beach. It’s a golf course I’ve played multiple times, and I feel really comfortable around there.”
Cantlay also got this ringing endorsement from the Golden Bear himself after winning Jack’s tournament at Muirfield Village. “His game is very suited for majors,” said Nicklaus.
“Drives the ball very straight. His iron game is obviously very good. He’s got a good attitude. He’s not trying to do something flashy. He tries to play good, solid golf. And that’s really what it takes to play Major Championship golf.”
Without doubt, he’s a popular pick this week but it’s for good reason.
Having finished tied 21st on his US Open debut when still an amateur and made the cut in his other two, Cantlay looks ready to make the big breakthrough.
With 10 payout places on offer, there’s scope to look way down the betting and, unlike the US Masters, the US Open just doesn’t have the same well-fancied names clogging up the each-way places so there’s more potential vacancies.
With Pebble playing just over 7,000 yards, it definitely brings in shorter hitters and that’s why Taiwan’s C.T. Pan could be a surprise presence in the top 10.
In truth, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
Pan produced some excellent golf to capture the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head in April and has backed that up with a top three in the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial on his latest start.
He missed the cut at Pebble on his one appearance in 2017 but the 27-year-old just happens to be a former runner-up at Torrey Pines (2017).
Like this week, that’s a coastal California track with small Poa Annua greens and Pan ranked fourth in SG: Putting that week so played those putting surfaces well.
He returned to Torrey the following year and while back in tied 35th, he again excelled on the greens, rating third for SG: Putting.
At Colonial last time he picked up 8.000 shots Tee-To-Green (ranked 6th) so if he can put the two elements together Pan could be a leaderboard presence.
He didn’t make the cut on his one start at Pebble in 2017 but we can’t let that override all the other positives.
Pan is 175/1 and you have to wonder what price a hot, young American would be with a win and a third in their last five starts.
I must admit, I’ve been around the houses with this.
Paul Casey, a runner-up at Pebble earlier this year, was an early thought before being cut to 40/1 while Brandt Snedeker was also on the short-list at 45/1.
Like Snedeker, 40/1 Shane Lowry has been punished in a price sense for his good display in Canada while Graeme McDowell will surely have all sorts of good vibes flowing through him having won here in 2010 and, just a few days ago, finally secured a place in the Open Championship in his own Portrush backyard.
Further up the betting Xander Schauffele has plenty going for him but looks a tad short at 22/1 while I’m very, very close to putting in Jordan Spieth at 16s. His form has come back and he’s a past Pebble winner.
As for the top four, I like course winners Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods slightly more than Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy.
Justin Rose has a legitimate chance, especially when you look at his strong record in California, while maybe fate decrees that Rickie Fowler will win a US Open in a week when people don’t really expect him to.
Hideki Matsuyama came out as the pick in mypreview so I’ve already got an investment there.
I could go on mentioning others with a chance but let’s cut to the chase. My final pick is Marc Leishman.
The Aussie is flying under the radar this week but it’s fairly easy to build a case for him.
For starters, he’s strong in majors having finished in the top six in three of the last five Opens, including making the play-off at St. Andrews in 2015.
He’s contended at the Masters, finishing tied fourth in 2013 and ninth last year while his US Open record is decent enough too – 18-27-45 from 2016 to 2018.
That’s the background established; now for some current pointers.
Leishman heads to Pebble on the back of a top five in the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village.
He ranked 1st in SG: Around-The-Green and that sharp short game will be a key weapon at Pebble where everyone will miss their fair chunk of greens.
Leishman was also 7th SG: Tee-To-Green so he should hit plenty too.
At Muirfield Village, he said: “It’s nice to be back in the hunt again.
“I feel good. Body is feeling good again. Putter looks like it’s starting to warm up. There were some good signs there today. I changed my putter to one that I used a few years back and it worked pretty well.
“I’m happy with where I’m at at the moment. Pretty disappointing last few months, especially after the start of the year. But looking to have a big few months.”
That reference to the start of the year was when the Aussie finished fourth and third in the two Hawaii events and fourth at Riviera.
He’s not played Pebble since tied 21st in 2011 but as the above finishes show, he’s a strong performer by the coast and also plays well in California – twice a runner-up at Torrey Pines and top 10 there again two years ago.
All in all, he has some strong credentials at 66/1.
Listen to Dave Tindall talk about who can show up at US Open with Steve Rawlings below:
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