Our U.S. Open experts, Chip Alexander, Luke DeCock, Ron Green Jr. and David Scott weigh in on what to expect this week at Pinehurst.
The Top 10
1. Dustin Johnson: If anyone’s overdue for some decent luck in a major, it’s him. Has shown he can rise to the occasion.
2. Matt Kuchar: Consistently in the hunt on tour throughout spring and summer, including a tie for fifth at the Masters.
3. Luke Donald: Renovated course sets up well for his solid iron play. Another player with the quality to win a major who hasn’t yet.
4. Rory McIlroy: Single life seems to suit him.
5. Adam Scott: With the kind of form he’s in at the moment, impossible to rule him out.
6. Jordan Spieth: Only 20 but has the game to win a major and appears to be on verge of breaking through.
7. Steve Stricker: Early leader board in 2005 included veterans Olin Browne, David Toms, Rocco Mediate. Experience helps.
8. Justin Rose: Repeat seems unlikely but posted three top 10s on Southeastern courses this spring.
9. Webb Simpson: Hasn’t been at the top of his game, but maybe playing this close to home can spark a revival.
10. Jim Furyk: Put himself in position to win three or four times this spring but hasn’t been able to close the deal.
• Most likely to stumble: Jason Day hasn’t played much this year because of a thumb injury, and while he’s in the top 10 in the world rankings it’s difficult to see him getting back on track quickly enough to compete at Pinehurst.
• Most likely to surprise: The last winner at Pinehurst (Michael Campbell) came out of sectional qualifying in England, why not this one? Shane Lowry is playing some of the best golf of his career, including a second-place finish behind Rory McIlroy at the BMW Championship before winning his spot in the U.S. Open.
• Most likely to break through: Jordan Spieth had his chance at Augusta but struggled on Sunday. It’s easy to forget at times he’s been on tour for less than a year, and that experience will serve him well in the future – and perhaps the present.
• Determining factor: Iron play. Everyone talks about putting and chipping on and around Pinehurst’s greens, but the winner will take some of that out of the equation with pinpoint ball-striking, especially from the erratic lies in the natural areas.
The Top 10
1. Matt Kuchar: Could lay claim to “best player without a major.” He’s due. Maybe overdue. Maybe this week.
2. Jim Furyk: The former Open champ looks sharp at 44. Close in the 2012 Open, when Webb Simpson won at Olympic.
3. Rory McIlroy: After “The Breakup,” he won the BMW PGA Championship. No nuptial to plan. It’s all golf for now.
4. Phil Mickelson: No one wants an Open title more than Lefty, who still thinks he’ll win one or two.
5. Adam Scott: He’s the No. 1 player in the world and looks the part. He’s won a Masters. Why not a U.S. Open?
6. Henrik Stenson: Was second in British Open and third in PGA last year. Can handle the pressure.
7. Lee Westwood: He has come so close in so many majors. If not skittish with the putter, he should contend.
8. Hunter Mahan: Tied for fourth in the Open last year at Merion. Don’t be surprised if he’s there on Sunday.
9. Jordan Spieth: Is he really 20? He plays like he’s 30, with a mature game and temperament.
10. Jimmy Walker: There’s a reason he has led the PGA Tour money list much of the year. Just watch him swing the club.
• Most likely to stumble: Luke Donald has long been a trendy pick to win a major. But he’s now 0-42 in majors and could be a cut casualty at Pinehurst just as he was this year in the Masters.
• Most likely to surprise: Miguel Angel Jimenez. There’s still plenty of life left at 50 for the gyrating, fun-loving Spaniard. Was a surprising fourth at the Masters.
• Most likely to break through: Beginning in 2010, Matt Kuchar has had six top-10 finishes in majors. He won The Players Championship in 2012. At 35, he has the experience, the desire and the game to win his first major title.
• Determining factor: The No. 2 greens. They’re challenging, confounding, beguiling. In the 2005 Open, Tiger Woods would have won had he not been last in putting, had he ever been comfortable with the putter. But many a player has been “Donald Ross-ed” by the small, humpbacked greens and collection areas surrounding them. In the 1999 U.S. Open, John Daly took an 11 at the par-4 eighth hole, smacking his ball – and getting a 2-shot penalty for it – as it rolled off the green and back toward him. Daly, in anger, did what so many likely have been tempted to do on No. 2’s maddening greens.
Ron Green Jr.
The Top 10
1. Rory McIlroy: The right guy at the right place at the right time.
2. Phil Mickelson: Take the emotion out and Mickelson still looks like a favorite at No. 2.
3. Sergio Garcia: He’s due to win a major and finished T3 at Pinehurst in ’05.
4. Matt Kuchar: Nowhere is steady play more rewarded than in a U.S. Open.
5. Adam Scott: He’s No. 1 in the world for a reason.
6. Charl Schwartzel: Finished T16 or better in three of the past four U.S. Opens.
7. Graeme McDowell: He’s one of the best at using his imagination to save shots.
8. Justin Rose: Sure, it’s a longshot to go back-to-back, but Rose has the game to do it.
9. Jonas Blixt: His past two majors: fourth at PGA, T2 at the Masters.
10. Miguel Angel Jimenez: If ever a 50-year-old is going to win the U.S. Open…
• Most likely to stumble: Masters champion Bubba Watson has one top-10 finish in seven U.S. Open starts and he missed the cut in 2012 after winning his first green jacket.
• Most likely to surprise: Don’t forget about Henrik Stenson. He’s ranked No. 2 in the world, but it’s been a quiet season for him so far. He’s due for a big week.
• Most likely to break through: Would it really qualify as a breakthrough if Jordan Spieth were to win? He almost won the Masters and he almost won The Players Championship. He’s going to win something big soon.
• Determining factor: Players who can limit the damage from their mistakes wind up near the top of U.S. Open leader boards. Bogeys are going to happen. Keeping the double bogeys off the card is part of the U.S. Open challenge.
The Top 10
1. Rory McIlroy: Proven major winner (U.S. Open in 2011, PGA in 2012) apparently is past recent love-life drama.
2. Adam Scott: World No. 1 won recently at Colonial, builds schedule around majors.
3. Matt Kuchar: Probably first in best-to-have-never-won-a-major line.
4. Dustin Johnson: Columbia-native has quietly put together an excellent year (winning season-opening World Championships, second at Northern Trust), has been unlucky at the Open, though.
5. Steve Stricker: Form has been off, but there could be some good golf left in this 47-year-old.
6. Jimmy Walker: FedEx Cup leader has three wins, seven top-10s.
7. Rickie Fowler: Has slumped since finishing fifth at Augusta.
8, Lee Westwood: Always likes the bright lights – seventh at Masters, tied for sixth at Players this year – and has 17 career top-10s in majors.
9. Justin Rose: Not having a great year, but don’t count out defending champ.
10. Bubba Watson: No. 2 doesn’t necessarily set up well for a bomber like Watson, but he has the creativity to make up for that.
• Most likely to stumble: Phil Mickelson hasn’t been himself this year, and Pinehurst No. 2 isn’t the ideal spot for him to find his game – and a chance for the career slam.
• Most likely to surprise: Zach Johnson knows how to win a major (2007 Masters) and he’s having an excellent year.
• Most likely to break through: With Jordan Spieth, it’s a sooner-or-later proposition for him to win his first major. It’s going to be much sooner.
• Determining factor: The U.S. Open is normally a tournament with punishing rough. That won’t be the case this year, with Pinehurst No. 2’s restored natural areas now inviting more aggressive approach shots.