Using our FRACAS model for golf’s third major tournament, we look at who could challenge Scottie Scheffler atop the leaderboard and the best value picks in our U.S. Open predictions.

Before the PGA Championship last month, we highlighted Valhalla as a course that’s hard for a golfer to separate from the field.

The tournament ended up with a thrilling Sunday and a putt that would either win it or create a playoff.

Pinehurst No. 2 – the host of this week’s 124th U.S. Open – is not that type.

What we expect from the North Carolina layout is a tough test in which the best of the best should rise to the top.

At Valhalla, we identified just one hole that carried “high importance.” There are five holes deemed that way at Pinehurst No. 2, including all the par 3s.

Who Will Win the 2024 U.S. Open?

Scottie Scheffler was our favorite at Valhalla, but his projected win percentage was only around 7.5% due to the field and how that course plays. That is also not the case at the 2024 U.S. Open, where the FRACAS model – field rating and course-adjusted strokes gained – gives the world No. 1 golfer a whopping 30.2% chance to win the PGA Tour’s third major tournament.

US Open win probability

The American’s lowest finish since March was a tie for eighth at the PGA Championship, where he also happened to be arrested on a felony charge and several misdemeanors following a traffic stop on the morning of the second round. The charges have since been dropped. 

In our global FRACAS rankings, Scheffler, who won the Masters at Augusta and the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield just last week, is more than a stroke per round clear of our world No. 2. Pinehurst also happens to be a great course fit for him.

Almost one-third of the holes are classified as “long and variable par 4s,” where Scheffler is a stroke and a half better than any other player in the world. His putter could always revert back to the 2023 struggles, but his tee-to-green game is so elite right now that even an average week with his short game should see him claim his third overall major championship (he also won the 2022 Masters).

Prior to the PGA Championship, we identified Xander Schauffele as perhaps a surprising second favorite to Scheffler, and that aged well in his first major victory. He remains our second favorite at the U.S. Open due to his current form, but Pinehurst is just an OK course fit for him. The data shows small gains for him relative to an average PGA course, but his excellence comes on lower variability courses where consistency is key.

Among players with more than a 1% chance of winning, Rory McIlroy gets the second-biggest course fit bump. Pinehurst plays easier when you hit it a mile, and that has always been McIlroy’s calling card (there’s no better example than his U.S. Open record in 2011). He’s second only to Scheffler in projected birdie-or-better rate this week at 16.8%, but, as usual, it’s McIlroy’s penchant for big scores that keeps him behind Schauffele.

For example, on Pinehurst’s two par 5s, McIlroy is expected to have birdie or better 9.1% more often than the rest of the field, but his expected bogey-or-worse rate is almost field average. He always has the skill to gain strokes on the field, but his habit of giving them right back is frustrating.

Vying for the third leg of a career Grand Slam, Collin Morikawa has found his form. He’s currently playing about half a stroke better than his long-term average and is another golfer who should love Pinehurst. Morikawa is excellent at bogey avoidance, but can struggle to find birdies. We saw this exact skill set play out in the final round at Valhalla, where he kept a clean card but didn’t find a birdie until the 18th hole.

Pinehurst is a different task, though, and a clean scorecard is exactly what you’re looking for here. The highly important par 3s are where Morikawa should stand out the most. All of the holes can play long and variable, and only McIlroy is projected to perform better on that hole type this week.

LIV golf star Bryson DeChambeau is in the next tier of contenders. He’s been an entertaining player in the first two 2024 majors. Pinehurst may not be the best fit for him, however. Of the top five in projected win percentage, he’s the only golfer with a negative course fit value. The long and variable par 4s that Scheffler, Schauffele, McIlroy and Morikawa excel at is not a super strength for DeChambeau. Valhalla was a much better course fit for him.”

Ludvig Aberg isn’t at his best right now due to knee problems, but considering he was in college just a year ago, it says something about his game that we can say, “He’s not at his best and is still projected as a top-10 player in a major”.

Our first true surprise addition to the projected top 10 is Sweden’s Alex Noren. He’s quietly been playing very solid golf, and our modeling thinks Pinehurst is a great course fit for him. His best performances come on the long and variable par 4s that we’ve talked so much about, and is second in the field to Scheffler in projected performance on those hole types. In a tournament in which any sort of scoring is tough to come across, Noren has the right skills.

Hideki Matsuyama is a favorite of the simulator portion of this week’s modeling. His bogey-avoidance is fantastic, coming in at sixth this week in projected hole scores of par or better. He’s 11th in the field in course-adjusted FRACAS, but projected for the eighth-highest win percentage. He and the next golfer on the list get a large simulation bump due to how they score holes.

Viktor Hovland appears to have come out of his mini-slump, and is back to playing spectacular golf. He was once again in the mix at the PGA Championship, and his superb iron play should keep him out of harm’s way. Those long variable par-4s are so important here, and Hovland is projected for the fourth-best scoring in the field on those holes.

FRACAS Sleepers

While taking any sort of longshot is a tough gamble with Scheffler at the top (hey, Wyndham Clark won this tournament last year), Alex Noren’s 90-1 odds compared to the consensus U.S. Open picks are appealing. Our model has him at around 58-1, so 90-1 is good value.

Billy Horschel was in the darkest of places just a year ago, missing eight cuts in 15 tournaments over the first half of year. In contrast, the first half of this year has been promising. He won a weaker event at the Corales Puntacana Championship and has seen seven other top-20 finishes. He’s a decent course fit for Pinehurst, and his 115-1 odds in the market are much higher than the model’s 81-1 projection.

There are 14 current college golfers in the field this week, and two really catch our eye as best bets for value plays. We’ve seen Vanderbilt’s Gordon Sargent twice in majors – he missed the cut at the 2023 Masters, but was the low amateur two months later at the U.S. Open. Then there’s Florida State’s Luke Clanton, who finished runner-up at the NCAA individual championship this year after rattling off three straight wins for the Seminoles in the spring campaign. This will be Clanton’s first taste of top-level professional golf.

Asking either golfer to win this week is too much of an ask, but Sargent is 28-1 and Clanton 30-1 to finish in the top 10. Such a high jump in competition gives both a broad range of outcomes, but the model sees both players as better than 10-1 U.S. Open odds to finish in the top 10.

With So Many Golfers, Who Should I Watch?

Using our golf simulator and projected hole scoring, we can bucket groups of players into several types of viewing experiences:

To find “roller coaster” players, we can look at how they rank in the field in projected birdie or better rate and projected non-par rate. Yes, there is some overlap between those two ideas, but it also encourages the ranking system to find better golfers.

Most Exciting Groups (in order of excitement with tee times ET):

  • 1:58 p.m.: Akshay Bhatia, Erik Cole, Erik van Rooyen
  • 8:02 a.m.: Sahith Theegala, Min Wood Lee, Nicolai Hojgaard
  • 8:13 a.m.: Daniel Berger, David Puig, Ryan Fox
  • 1:25 p.m.: Max Homa, Viktor Hovland, Bryson DeChambeau

Borrowing from The Tortoise and the Hare, the tortoises are great golfers who just hit smart golf shots. These players lead the field in projected par rate.

Most Tortoisey Groups (in order of tortoiseness with tee times in ET):

  • 1:14 p.m.: Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy
  • 7:40 a.m.: Russell Henley, Patrick Cantlay, Matt Kuchar
  • 2:09 p.m.: Alex Noren, Taylor Pendrith, Brendon Todd
  • 7:40 a.m.: Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas

For this category, we’re looking at the golfers who are probably the safest to watch if you want great, solid golf. The early afternoon groupings are excellent this week.

Best of the Best Groups:

  • 1:14 p.m.: Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy
  • 1:25 p.m.: Max Homa, Viktor Hovland, Bryson DeChambeau
  • 7:40 a.m.: Collin Morikawa, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas
  • 1:14 p.m.: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Tom Hoge

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