U.S. Open 2018: Fowler, Matsuyama looking to add to recent string of first-time major winners
Of the last 13 major winners, 10 of them have done so for the first time
Since Rory McIlroy took the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla in August 2014, a total of 13 major championship have been played. From those 13 events, 11 different players have emerged with a trophy. Even crazier is the fact that when the dust settled on McIlroy's victory in 2014, 10 of those 11 golfers who would go on to win the next 13 majors had never won a major at all.
Jordan Spieth kicked things off by winning the first two majors of 2015, and then he was followed by previous Masters winner Zach Johnson at the 2015 Open Championship. After that, nine of the next 10 winners tasted major victory for the first time. The only repeat winner we've had since Johnson won that 2015 Open was Spieth, who took the 2017 Open.
The run has included mostly world class players with a few question marks thrown in.
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We've seen somewhat similar stretches before (2002-2004 and 2010-2013), but in a Tiger Woods-dominated PGA Tour, rarely have we had such a long string of so many first-time winners (nine of the last 10).
So the question now is whether this will continue into the future or whether we're nearing the end. Only time will tell, of course, but these things come and go in cycles. It seems as if we should start getting some repeat winners once again, but then again, it's arguable that golf has never been deeper or better than it is right now.
But if the trend does continue, who are the best candidates to extend it? I have a few choices.
Rickie Fowler: It all adds up, doesn't it? It clicked at Augusta for him on he weekend. His all-around game ranks among the best in the business. His short game is underrated and spectacular. He loves this track. It's easy to see both Fowler winning and his name next in line among the first-time winners we've gotten in Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed. Maybe too easy.
Hideki Matsuyama: Interestingly, Matsuyama and Fowler are playing the first two rounds together with another near-major winner in Marc Leishman. That was likely a cheeky little nod by the USGA at maybe the best trio to never hoist the big one, and Matsuyama is certainly inside of that conversation. I'm not huge on him this week, but if he gets into one of those "burn the whole thing down, Hideki is here!" zones with his irons, it could be curtains.
Jon Rahm: I would tab him more for a Masters or PGA Championship than I would a U.S. Open, but he certainly has all the shots, and his creativity is off the charts. Also, he wins all over the planet. OK, I'm talking myself into this!
Tommy Fleetwood: As noted on the Fried Egg podcast this course is a second-shot course, and maybe nobody hits more pure long irons than Fleetwood. He's not the most talented in this group, nor does he have the best all-around game. But like Matsuyama, if he gets hot from deep, it could be a long weekend for the field.
Bryson DeChambeau: Angles! Slopes! Run-off! Lines! The Scientist will be in the ultimate lab all week at Shinnecock Hills, and DeChambeau is both coming off a win and had success at USGA events before. I can't wait for Saturday evening when he's leading and we get a dozen, "Is this really what we want golf to be?" columns about his swing and all manner of idiosyncrasies. Oh man, I cannot wait for that.
My pick to win this week is Fowler, so I obviously think the first-time major winners run is going to continue for at least another event. After that, who knows. But Fowler, Rahm and maybe Matsuyama seems like the most obvious pool from which to draw. Now that guys like D.J. and Thomas have won one, it will be far more difficult to get a first-time champ than before.
"I'd be very surprised if Rickie didn't have multiple majors by the end of his career," four-time winner Rory McIlroy said on Wednesday. "He's a great player. Again, he's played great in majors. Like he could have won a couple in '14, and I was the one that got the better of him there.
"He's put himself in positions. He made a great run at Augusta earlier this year. Again, it's just there's so much more to winning a golf tournament than just playing well. Your timing has to be right. Things have to happen at the right time. You have to get momentum at the right time, a lucky break here and there. The more times Rickie puts himself in a position, the better his chances are of winning one.
"But I think everyone in this room would be really surprised if he wasn't to go on and win at least more than one major in his career. And I think his game is highly regarded by all his peers. He's a wonderful player, a lot of imagination, has all the shots, which is something you need around here."
All the shots, yes. Fowler is patient and creative and can work the ball both ways and is plenty long off the tee. Winning your first major is so difficult, and I'm glad McIlroy alluded to the idea that it takes more than skilled play. It's a thousand things coming together over the same four days. It's so hard.
For it to happen first at a U.S. Open is borderline insane given how much is asked of you in terms of discipline, patience and creativity throughout the week. Fowler has been building toward that for a while (as have several others on that list), though, and it wouldn't be surprising at all to see a first-timer raise a trophy on Sunday night, especially given the fact that that's pretty much all we've seen for three straight years.
So who will win the 2018 U.S. Open, and which long shots are set to stun the golfing world? Find out by visiting SportsLine now to see the U.S. Open projected leaderboard from the model that's nailed four of the last five majors heading into the weekend.
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