Every U.S. Open comes with its pitfalls and trials, and this year's version at Erin Hills will be no different. Ridiculously long rough, a course playing closer to 8,000 yards than 7,000, and no protection if the wind whips across middle America are just a few of the booby traps this week in the 117th United States Open.
It takes a unique golfer, and ultimately an elite ball striker to navigate these lands and emerge as champion. That's why there are some different-than-normal names on our list of 25 golfers most likely to win this year. Despite its length, Erin Hills is not necessarily a bomb and gouge course like many tracks on the PGA Tour. The particular set of skills that play at Augusta National or Quail Hollow for the PGA Championship this year might not play this week.
Let's take a look at the 25 golfers I think have the best chance to win major No. 2 of 2017.
1. Dustin Johnson (Best finish: Win in 2016): The defending champion is also the best player in the world over the last six months. He has three straight top-five finishes at this tournament. You can slot somebody else into the No. 1 position here, but I don't really see why you would. Johnson is the obvious choice.
2. Jason Day (2nd in 2011): It might surprise you that Day has been the best U.S. Open golfer over the last five years and has five top 10s over the last six, but it shouldn't. He's one of the best ball-strikers of his generation. Don't let his lack of success in the 2016-17 PGA Tour season scare you off.
3. Jordan Spieth (Win in 2015): His only top 10 here came in his win at Chambers Bay in 2015, but I think Spieth will eventually end his career having won the U.S. Open the most of any major. Even more than the Masters. The reason? He is (or can be) a warrior mentally, and he leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained on approach shots at 1.1 per round. Only one other player is better than 0.84 per round. Astounding.
4. Jon Rahm (T23 in 2016): Whooo boy, this feels high! However, Rahm was low amateur last year at Oakmont, and he's proven since then that there is no course that doesn't fit him. Since that showing at Oakmont, Rahm has 10 top 10s on the PGA Tour including a win at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. He clearly has all the shots and possesses enough pop to make Johnson give him the side-eye emoji looks when everybody is pumping shots on the driving range. The nation might be surprised if he triumphs this week, but nobody inside golf will be.
5. Justin Rose (Win in 2013): Rose is criminally underrated, it seems, when every big event rolls around. Rose is No. 5 on the PGA Tour in approaches from 225-250 yards, and there will be plenty of those this week. Since his win at Merion in 2013, he has two top 30s and a missed cut. I could see him and the next guy on this list running it back on Sunday after their historic dual at Augusta in April.
6. Sergio Garcia (T3 in 2005): Coming off his Masters win, Garcia will be playing with house money for the next two years. Garcia is one of only four golfers to make the last five U.S. Open cuts, and he has two straight top 20s including a top five last year at Oakmont. How spectacular would it be if Garcia, of all people (!), won the first two majors of a season and we went from talking about whether he was ever going to win a major to discussing whether he can win the grand slam in a single year?!
7. Rory McIlroy (Win in 2011): He has a lot going against him this week. I respect the talent and can't bump him out of the top 10, but McIlroy hasn't been able to practice much and U.S. Opens aren't his strong suit anyway. Buckets of rain and an absurdly lengthy course will play into his hands, but I'm not sure it will be enough.
8. Rickie Fowler (T2 in 2014): Despite his missed cut last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, I'm in on Fowler winning this tournament. He's going to win an Open at some point. The question for me is whether it will be the U.S. or the British. The two straight missed cuts at this event are mildly concerning, but his game is a long way from what it was this time a year ago.
9. Brooks Koepka (T4 in 2014): He might be my favorite bet at 40-1. Koepka has three straight top 20s at this tournament, and the length of Erin Hills will only help him. As we saw in 2016, the whole "I'm just here to post numbers, and I don't really care about anything else" attitude plays well on the weekend at U.S. Opens. Koepka might be D.J. Lite.
10. Jason Dufner (T4 in 2012, 2013): Wait, Jason Dufner in the top 10? That's right. The man has three (!) top 10s in the last five years and is coming off a monster win at the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago. If he putts average, as is the case with so many in the top 15 here, he'll be in the hunt.
11. Adam Scott (T4 in 2015): It's hard to believe Scott didn't have a top 10 at the U.S. Open until 2014, but he now has two in three years and three straight top 20s. Scott said last week that the USGA needs to get the setup right this time around. I wonder what he'll say if they don't but he wins anyway.
12. Justin Thomas (T32 in 2016): I think Thomas is at the very least a one-time major winner (that's a hell of a list right now, by the way, that includes Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson). It remains to be seen whether he's a multiple-major type. This course should fit him pretty well. He made the round of 32 back in 2011 at the U.S. Amateur here.
13. Billy Horschel (T4 in 2013): The AT&T Byron Nelson winner has four consecutive top-35 finishes including that T4 at Merion in 2013 when he hit, like, 75 out of 72 greens in regulation. Horschel might not have the pop of some of the guys further up on this list (he doesn't), but on a week when fescue is going to eat Titleists for brunch on a daily basis, his accuracy will be paramount.
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14. Hideki Matsuyama (T10 in 2013): I can't drop a top five player too far, but he doesn't feel like a U.S. Open champion to me, even though maybe he should. Matsuyama hits a ridiculous number of greens in regulation, drives it well and has performed well at majors in the past. There is not a ton not to like other than his No. 181 ranking in strokes gained putting so far this year, but I'm just not feeling it with him at Erin Hills.
15. Thomas Pieters (n/a): How much stock is available, and where can I purchase it with U.S. dollars? Pieters is a dude, and he's not scared of the moment as we saw last year at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. A first-timer hasn't won the U.S. Open since Francis Ouimet did it in 1913. Pieters has one of the best chances in recent memory to change that.
16. Brandt Snedeker (8th in 2015): I really love Snedeker as a sneaky pick this week. He's finished in the top 10 in two of the last three U.S. Opens, and he's one of the few golfers who putts well enough to make up for deficiencies in length off the tee. He'll have to be perfect with his flat stick, but it's at least within the realm of possibility that he gets his first major at Erin Hills.
17. Daniel Berger (T28 in 2014): For the second straight year, Berger is coming into the U.S. Open off a win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He said on Sunday that he feels free to let it ride the rest of the season, and he's talented enough for that to mean victory at Erin Hills.
18. Henrik Stenson (T4 in 2014): This is probably too low for the reigning Open Championship winner, but he's not been all that great this season or at U.S. Opens in the past. Stenson has missed five of seven cuts so far this year, and if not for a top 10 at The Players Championship, he might not have made it at all.
19. Branden Grace (T4 in 2015): Grace has a pair of top-five finishes in the last two years, and his ball flight is the stuff of dreams. I'm just not sure he has the firepower to keep up with a handful of all-timers at Erin Hills.
20. Matt Kuchar (T6 in 2010): No top 10s since 2010, but Kuchar also hasn't missed any cuts in that span either. Don't get me wrong, I would love it if he "golly geed" himself to his first major championship, but is a 38-year-old Matt Kuchar really going to out-gun an in-their-primes Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth contingent? It feels unlikely.
21. Paul Casey (T10 in 2007): I love how Casey is playing right now, but he hasn't found a ton of success historically at this event. Also, he only has one career PGA Tour win.
22. Kevin Na (7th in 2016): It seems like bad karma to post a video of yourself , but Na has two top 15s in the last three years.
23. Shane Lowry (T2 in 2016): The Irishman joins Johnson, Day and Grace as the only four golfers with top 10s in each of the last two U.S. Opens. You could win some pints at your local brewpub with that knowledge, and Lowry could house them for you. He led after 54 holes last year.
24. Martin Kaymer (Win in 2014): It's rare to have so recent a winner this low, but Kaymer might be the most hit and miss player in the world. He has three top 10s in his last 25 majors. Two of them were wins.
25. Charl Schwartzel (7th in 2015): The South African played well at the St. Jude Classic week and finished in the top 10 two years ago at Chambers Bay. Unfortunately, the U.S. Open doesn't have a Champions Dinner, so he can't serve monkey gland sauce if he wins.