Short-game masters can dominate their groups on opening day
Aaron Baddeley to crush Canadians
Sky Sports Golf, 1.30pm Thursday
The cameras at Shinnecock Hills will be focused on two threeballs in round one – the morning match between Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson, then the afternoon gathering of Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods.
Mickelson and Johnson are probably the best value punts for the marquee groups, but better bets are to be found in four much lower-profile threeballs, with Aaron Baddeley the most attractive option on the card for the 12.18pm (UK and Ireland time) shootout.
The main defence of Shinnecock is the devilish greens – full of pace and poa annua grass – and keeping control on and around the dancefloors will be the toughest task. Baddeley has always been one of the best putters on the US Tour and his short-game superiority can prove decisive over Canadian playing partners Mackenzie Hughes and Garrett Rank.
Hughes has missed the cut in all three of the Majors he has played, as well as missing 14 cuts on the US Tour this season. Rank is a full-time National Hockey League referee who fluked his way through a US Open qualifier. Baddeley, an experienced campaigner with 32 Majors under his belt, should boss proceedings.
Branden Grace, like Baddeley, has the short-game skills to approach Shinnecock without fear, and the South African can leave Paul Casey and Satoshi Kodaira behind in the 12.40pm match.
Grace, who has two top-five finishes to his name in both the US Open and the USPGA, has a great record on exposed layouts such as Shinnecock, and everything points to the 2012 Dunhill Links champion spending time on the US Open leaderboard.
Casey, labouring with injury niggles in recent weeks, has played in 14 US Opens and finished no better than his tenth in 2007, missing the cut at Shinnecock in 2004. Kodaira is short on experience.
Injury-plagued Aussie Jason Day is probably best followed early in the week – when body and mind are at their freshest – and the short-game master can outscore playing partners Brooks Koepka and Bubba Watson in the 12.40pm threeball.
Daniel Berger can also use a significant short-game edge to defeat Kevin Chappell and Andrew Johnston at 1.02pm.
4pts 5-4 general
3pts 11-8 Betfred
2pts 6-4 BoyleSports
2pts 6-4 general
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