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  • 2019 U.S. Open: Best bets at Pebble Beach ⛳

    2019 U.S. Open: Best bets at Pebble Beach

    ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)



    The 2019 U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach this week, as two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka looks to add another major victory. Who else offers some betting value?

    Chris Fallica and Will Courchene from Data Golf give their value bets to win the title, tournament matchups they like and more in this betting guide.
    Chris Fallica's picks

    It's a no-brainer to include Koepka and Dustin Johnson in any group of picks this week, so I'll do something a little different -- offer up some others who could be in the mix Sunday at much better odds. But I certainly wouldn't talk anyone off playing Koepka and Johnson -- especially to post a top-10 finish. Contenders

    Tommy Fleetwood (30-1)

    Unlike for some players, the layout presented by the USGA has brought out the best in Fleetwood, who has finished fourth and second the past two years at the U.S. Open. Three straight major finishes outside the top 30 might have caused his stock to slide in some eyes, but his ball striking is world class and he's top 10 in both strokes gained (SG): total and tee-to-green. He got some experience earlier in the year at Pebble, which is a plus.



    Rickie Fowler (20-1)

    He has three runner-up and eight top-five finishes in majors, so it's not like he hasn't been close or isn't the caliber of player who can win a major, although I'm sure a bunch of people are jumping off the bandwagon (especially after a Sunday 77 at Bethpage). But he played well at Shinnecock last year, outside of Saturday's course shenanigans, which took more than him out of contention, and was fifth at Erin Hills. His putting is among the best on tour and will benefit him here, after he took a week off since a top-15 finish at the Memorial.

    Francesco Molinari (35-1)

    The 2018 Open champion didn't really mesh with Bethpage Black at the PGA, where he finished 48th -- his worst finish in a major since 2017. Since then, Molinari has that win in The Open and three other top-six finishes in majors. The layout at Pebble should be much more to his liking, and his ability to scramble should keep him in contention. And his price is better now as a result of the Sunday disappointment at Augusta and poor showing at Bethpage.

    Marc Leishman (60-1)

    It hasn't been the best of runs results-wise for Leishman since late February, but he posted a top-five finish at the Memorial and is a top-20 player in SG: approach and a top-30 player in SG: total on the year. While he hasn't played Pebble in a while, he typically plays very well in California and Hawaii, so he should have a good comfort level here. He's got five career top-10 finishes in majors, and I think he's got a good chance to contend this week.
    Players 100-1 or longer

    Jimmy Walker (150-1)

    Walker posted a top-25 finish at the PGA Championship and, while he missed the cut at Pebble in February, he's also won here and posted a bunch of top-10 finishes. While he likely won't win this week, he could be worth a play in the top-10 or -20 markets at some decent odds.

    Aaron Wise (150-1)

    Wise had top-20 finishes this year at Quail Hollow, Augusta and in WGC-Mexico. He finished in the top 15 last year at Pebble. And while the course setup will be different, it certainly won't hurt the 22-year-old who played his college golf at Oregon and is top 25 on tour in greens in regulation.

    Will Courchene's picks

    The core concept underlying our model is the idea of true strokes-gained: a measure of performance in golf. For readers who are unfamiliar, raw strokes-gained in golf is the number of strokes better than the field average a golfer was on a given day; true strokes-gained adjusts this raw number to account for the quality of the field.

    This is critical because not all professional golf tournaments are of equal quality: beating a major-championship-caliber field by 2 strokes is harder to do than the same feat at a typical PGA Tour event. The interpretation of true strokes-gained is relative to an average PGA Tour field (e.g. a +2 true strokes-gained performance is equivalent to beating an average PGA Tour field by 2 strokes).

    In this preview, we will highlight a couple situations where our model sees value against the bookmaker's odds, and provide some high-level rationale for why this is the case. Value bets to win

    Patrick Cantlay: 18-1 (Caesars Sportsbook)

    Cantlay likely should not be considered a dark horse anymore, given that our model currently rates him as the third-best player in the world. He has been a model of consistency over the last two seasons and from a pure strokes-gained perspective is undoubtedly one of the top players in the world. Our model sees positive value in backing Cantlay in the outright market, a rarity for betting favorites.

    Emiliano Grillo: 175-1 (Caesars Sportsbook)

    Grillo definitely fits the mold of a golfer where the Data Golf model will disagree with the betting market, but he's a good dark horse pick. He hasn't registered many top finishes, but his strokes-gained data indicates that he is due for one. Top finishes in golf, especially winning, are heavily influenced by luck; therefore, it doesn't make sense to value them very much when predicting future performance. Maybe this is the week the stars align for Grillo. Players to fade

    Brooks Koepka (9-1 at Caesars Sportsbook)

    Fading Kopeka at major championships is quickly becoming a Data Golf tradition, and this week will be no different. Koepka is currently listed alongside Dustin Johnson (7-1) and Rory McIlroy (8-1) as one of the betting favorites at most books. The key assumption people continue to make (correctly, so far) is that Koepka will keep outperforming his baseline skill level in major championships. This is an assumption we fundamentally disagree with, which makes Koepka the worst betting value among the top 20 players in the U.S. Open. Top-20 finish

    Haotong Li to finish in top 20 (6-1 at DraftKings)

    Several participants in the field will have played the majority of their golf on a tour other than the PGA Tour. As a consequence, it's important to be able to assess the performance of golfers across these different tours; winning tournaments on the European Tour, for example, is much easier to do than on the PGA Tour. Li is one such player, as the 23-year-old splits his time between the PGA and European tours.

    Our model estimates that Li has a 20 percent chance of finishing in the top 20 this week, while DraftKings is offering odds of +600 (implied probability of 14.3 percent). So far in 2019, Li has gained 2.5 strokes per round in 19 rounds on the European Tour (worth +1.8 true strokes-gained), while gaining 0.5 strokes per round in 28 rounds on the PGA Tour (worth +0.9 true strokes-gained). Tournament matchup

    Matt Kuchar vs. Jordan Spieth (Spieth: -125; Kuchar: +110; Tie: +1787)

    In addition to week-long finishes, our model can also provide predictions for individual matches. DraftKings is offering a tournament matchup between Kuchar and Spieth, with Kuchar priced as the underdog at +110. (Note that a separate bet is offered for a tie, meaning an outright win is required.)

    A productive starting point is to look at the progression of each golfer's true strokes-gained over the past few years. Recall from above that true strokes-gained is a measure of performance that adjusts raw strokes-gained for the strength of the field. Total strokes gained

    Jordan Spieth versus Matt Kuchar
    2015 2.487 1.466
    2016 2.002 1.408
    2017 2.518 1.599
    2018 1.503 0.938
    2019 0.956 1.977
    Spieth was the superior player from 2015 to 2018; however, the past two years have been a different story. Spieth's true strokes-gained moving average fell all the way down to +0.5 before recently rebounding slightly, while Kuchar's performance level has climbed all the way up to that of a "top five-caliber" player.

    Our model currently estimates that Kuchar has an outright win probability of 58 percent against Spieth (i.e. a fair line of -136), making this bet positive expected value at DraftKings' listed odds. Given Spieth's history in major championships, it is not surprising that the betting markets are quick to back him at any sign of a return to form. However, our model is not so easily convinced. Golf is an inherently random sport, making it easy to be misled by a few good performances.

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