1. Tiger Woods: Woods is once again the obvious choice to be the favorite here at Bethpage. He won the last U. S. Open played here in 02 and he won last year’s U. S. Open on one knee. He’s coming off of a victory at The Memorial and is actually hitting fairways. That’s a scary, scary thought for the rest of the field. If Tiger is in the fairway at Bethpage he’s going to be almost impossible to beat.
2. Jim Furyk: I feel like if Furyk was playing in the “non Woods era” that he’d already have multiple major championships. Instead he’s stuck at one. He has the game to compete here with his straight drives and loopy backswing. Beware though, the last time the Open was played here Furyk shot 80 on Friday and missed the cut.
3. Padraig Harrington: Harrington has won three major championships, although two came when Tiger was out with his knee surgery last summer. In 2002 he finished eighth. Plus think about Harrington’s thought process: He’s halfway to the career grand slam. He needs this and the Masters.
4. Geoff Ogilvy: Ogilvy won at Winged Foot in 2006 and has the game to win multiple majors. This season he’s won two events and he’s yet to miss a cut. That’s impressive, especially since he’s played 12 events.
5. Phil Mickelson: Lefty is obviously the sentimental favorite. Not only is he returning to Bethpage, where he was a huge fan favorite, but he’s also playing with a very heavy heart. I’m not sure where his mind will be but I hope we get 100% from Mickelson. If we do he might finally win the elusive U. S. Open title that he’s been chasing.
6. Ian Poulter: Traditionally Poulter has not played well in U. S. Opens, with his best finish being T-69th. He’s more of a surprise pick that doesn’t really fit the role of darkhorse too well. He’s been up and down all season but did finish second at the Players Championship.
7. Tim Clark: The South African pairing of Ernie Els and Retief Goosen will get all of the attention, but that’s unfair. Clark has never won a PGA Tour event but has had so many chances. At Colonial he missed two short putts to win his first event before losing in a playoff. U. S. Opens set up nicely to his style of play, hitting it straight, and making putts.
8. Kenny Perry: Last year Perry skipped the U. S. Open in an attempt to make the Ryder Cup team. He lost this year’s Masters by bogeying the last two holes and then struggled in a playoff with eventual champion Angel Cabrera. This is probably one of his last chances to win a major.
9. Camilo Villegas : The 27 year old Columbian is very up and down in majors, and he’s yet to actually be in serious contention despite a T-9 in last season’s U. S. Open.
10. Retief Goosen: Never pick Goosen below a top 10 favorite at a U. S. Open. He’s a two time champion because his game is perfect for this championship. On Thursday and Friday he will be very comfortable playing with fellow South African Ernie Els.
11. Lee Westwood: Westwood is the somewhat surprising pick in my top 15. He’s ranked #19 in the world despite not finishing higher than a T-3 this season. He finished third last season at Torrey Pines.
12. Rory Sabbatini: Sabbatini is another forgotten South African, but he’s fresh off of a win in May at the Byron Nelson. He talks a lot of smack and has never been able to get it done in a major championship. His best finish at a U. S. Open is a T-51 at Oakmont.
13. Stewart Cink: Cink is ranked #26 in the world and has had some great rounds at past U. S. Opens. Just last season he shot 67 in the final round at Torrey Pines to shoot up the leaderboard.
14. Steve Stricker: He’s not the longest hitter in the world but he putts extremely well and has the kind of game you’d expect to compete at U. S. Opens. In 2002 at third round 77 took him out of contention and left him in a T-18.
15. Paul Casey: Not many casual fans know that Casey is now the third ranked golfer in the world. That’s mainly his fault because he’s never been in serious contention at a major championship. His best finish at a U. S. Open is T-10. I love the fact that he’s playing with Ogilvy and Furyk in the first two rounds.
16. Angel Cabrera: How can I rank a two time major champion this low? Cabrera has shown he’s now a major championship contender every time he tees it up. He won at the Oakmont in 07 and at the Masters in 09. He should play well but skeptics (like me) will point out that his only top ten finish of the year was his win at Augusta National.
17. Sergio Garcia: I will finally admitt to this: I am tired of waiting on Sergio Garcia to win a major championship. I keep giving him the benefit of the doubt, waiting for him to win one, and he keeps on disappointing. His game is better prepared for British Open titles than U. S. Opens but don’t sleep on the Spaniard this week either.
18. Anthony Kim: Kim actually has no clue how many major championships Tiger Woods has. If you don’t believe me read his latest interview with ESPN.com’s Jason Sobel. Kim also said his first love is basketball. If he ever focuses on golf completely, and on chasing down Tiger (which is what he will probably have to do this week), then he will probably become one of the best in the world. Remember at Augusta he recorded 11 birdies during a round.
19. Ernie Els: Els never broke par in 2002 but still finished T-24th, mainly because his worst round of the tournament was a 74. If Ernie is ever going to win another major he might want to start pursuing it now. Can’t wait to see the Goosen-Els-Mickelson pairing in round one and two.
20. Vijay Singh: For Vijay it’s been a year of ups and downs. When he plays well he plays very well, usually posting a top 10 finish. When he plays poorly he usually misses the cut. He’s still never won a U. S. Open.