U.S. Open 2018: Ranking the top 25 golfers in the field by most likely to win at Shinnecock
Dustin Johnson is the obvious No. 1, but who else fills out our top 25, and where does Tiger fall?
If you opened this story expecting me to rank the field at Shinnecock Hills from 1-156, well, I would have needed more coffee than any company can possibly produce in a single year, especially after blowing through the entire Masters field.
However, I have ranked this 2018 U.S. Open field from the most obvious No. 1 in the last five years to No. 25. We start with slayer of souls (and World No. 1) Dustin Johnson at and walk through the other 24 from most likely to "least" likely to win this year at Shinnecock Hills. Next to their names is their best-ever finish at the U.S. Open for reference.
1. Dustin Johnson (Won in 2016): Obviously had a great week last week at the St. Jude Classic, but he's also one of just four players to finish in the top 10 in at least three of the last four U.S. Opens. Conqueror of terrific courses (Riviera, Pebble Beach, Oakmont, Cog Hill, Crooked Stick, Doral), and this one would fit the collection nicely.
2. Jason Day (2nd in 2011): That second-place finish in 2011 was, uh, a distant second to Rory McIlroy at Congressional, but Day has also notched top 10s in five of his last seven U.S. Opens. He's combining that with two wins in the last 150 days and a willfulness that belies his seeming fragility. It's easy to see him winning multiples of these. Of course it's also easy to see him never winning one at all. Such is the nature of national Opens.
3. Rickie Fowler (T2 in 2014): It's a curious spot for him. I picked him to win at Augusta National, and he nearly did despite lacking form. Not excited about: 31st on Tour from tee to green. Excited about three top 10s in his last five U.S. Opens. Hopefully for him, the wind will howl off the Atlantic Ocean.
4. Justin Thomas (T9 in 2017): Second on the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee to green, first in strokes gained after ejecting belligerent fans from the state of Florida. Said he shot a pointless 65 last year at Shinnecock in a practice round (that's how all my 65s go, too). His wildly underrated short game (sixth in scrambling from 10-20 yards) is going to come in handy after the USGA removed the rough from around the greens.
5. Justin Rose (Won in 2013): Speaking of a slayer of big boy courses. Rose is coming into this U.S. Open with six top 10s and two wins this season already. He's missed his last two U.S. Open cuts, which is the only thing keeping me from slotting him in the top three.
6. Brooks Koepka (Won in 2017): I did not see myself putting him in the top 10, much less the top six as of about a month ago. But his return from injury has been a revelation: three 63s in two starts at The Players and the Fort Worth Invitational as well as a fairly strong week in Memphis. He's been incredibly inaccurate off the tee, though, which could be an issue at U.S. Opens not played at Erin Hills. Hasn't finished outside the top 21 in his last 10 majors.
7. Tiger Woods (Won in 2000, 2002, 2008): Anybody know if Big Cat won this tournament exactly 10 years ago? Haven't seen much about that this week. My question: What if he, um, putts at all? Woods has, somewhat shockingly, been one of the best ball-strikers on the PGA Tour all season -- a statistical reality, not a derivative of his name being Tiger Woods -- and he has a chance to reintroduce himself to the winner's circle in the most dramatic way possible (which history says is the only way he's going to do it).
8. Jordan Spieth (Won in 2015): It feels dirty to put him this low, but he only has one top 10 ever at this event (albeit a win) and is currently No. 190 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting. The good news is that he always seems to rise to the occasion during major weeks, and he's No. 4 in strokes gained from tee to green. It would be very Spieth-ian to finish outside the top 20 in five straight events then come swipe a colossal U.S. Open at maybe the greatest venue. Shinnecock, Augusta and Royal Birkdale on the resume? Whooooo boy.
9. Rory McIlroy (Won in 2011): Big spot for him. If he wins at Shinnecock, there will be much internet purging of the "but he can't win on a hard, classic track" takes. It would also him into the five-major club (elite) before age 30 (only Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Woods have done it) and add a monster pelt to a resume that has plenty of them. He's missed the last two U.S. Open cuts but has finished in the top 10 in 10 of his last 16 majors.
10. Jon Rahm (T23 in 2016): I could honestly believe him winning anywhere in this galaxy. Shinnecock, Chinnesock, Mars, the moon, whatever. My only concern is him coming unglued and attacking a USGA sign, tee marker or official at any point during the tournament. Other than that, we're good.
11. Phil Mickelson (2nd in 1999, 2002, 2004): It's just difficult for me to see Mickelson grinding out three straight weeks of golf culminating in a U.S. Open win. He's hitting all the right notes, though, and he has a terrific history here. Mickelson has twice finished in the top five at Shinnecock and is currently 10th in strokes gained approaching the green. (I should also note he's outside the top 125 in driving, which could be a major issue!)
12. Hideki Matsuyama (T2 in 2017): I'm not sure what to think about Matsuyama. He fancies himself a big game hunter, but he's never really been in the thick of it late on a Sunday at one of the four. There are times where I can envision him only taking two or three swipes and coming up empty at the end of his career, at which point we would all say, "Wait, Hideki never won a major?!" Still, he's 26-years-old and has five top 10s in his last 13 appearances at majors. I like his ball flight for a week like this one.
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13. Louis Oosthuizen (T2 in 2015): Hasn't missed a cut since 2012, and by contractual obligation this is where I remind you that he's four swings from having bagged four majors.
14. Bryson DeChambeau (T15 in 2016): Come at me. Who's playing better than Bryson right now (besides D.J.)? My only concern here is that he's, uh, never had a top 10 at a major championship. However, he's won USGA tournaments before and seems built for the classics. I need a Bryson-Mickelson Sunday showdown like I need air density to breathe.
15. Branden Grace (T4 in 2015): The good news for him is that he's finished in the top five in two of his last three U.S. Opens. The bad news is that there's a train that runs right next to this course.
16. Tommy Fleetwood (4th in 2017): He introduced himself to the broader golf world last year at Erin Hills with his captivating aura and (even more) captivating swing. He's got the goods to win a major, and he only has three finishes outside the top 25 so far on the PGA Tour this calendar year.
17. Jason Dufner (T4 in 2012, 2013): Dufner has two missed cuts but has two top fives (and another top 10) in his last six U.S. Opens. He's the quintessential historic U.S. Open player. I'm just not sure he's lengthy enough to do it here.
18. Sergio Garcia (3rd in 2005): Garcia hasn't missed a cut at one of these since 2007 and has three top 10s in that span. Even though his numbers haven't been there so far in 2018 -- more missed cuts (four) than top 10s (three) -- and he's missed four of his last five cuts, I have to choose elite ball-strikers this week, and he might be among the most elite. How quickly can one career flip from "Can't win the big one" to "Might be one of the all-time greats" following the Augusta-Shinnecock double in the span of 16 months? So many legacies intertwining this week. I can't get enough!
19. Adam Scott (T4 in 2015): Scott sort of quietly only has one top 10 in his last 10 major championships (T9 at last year's Masters). Still, he holds the course record here, and that swing is just always so easy to envision winning a major championship.
20. Webb Simpson (Won in 2012): Checks the boxes here. He torched the field at The Players Championship a month ago and is a past U.S. Open champion. The only pause I have is that he doesn't have a single top 10 in a major since that 2012 U.S. Open win at Olympic.
21. Brandt Snedeker (8th in 2015): Snedeker is one of those four golfers with top 10s in at least three of the last five (Day, Fowler, D.J.), which is kind of remarkable because I don't normally think "Brandt Snedeker" when I see 252-yard par 3s and 619-yard par 5s -- fairways, more fairways and greens, though.
22. Patrick Reed (T13 in 2017): Captain America doesn't have a top 10 at a U.S. Open, but he's finished in the top 15 in two of the last three and has signed his scorecard with a replica Declaration of Independence quill and bowl of ink in three of the last four.
23. Patrick Cantlay (T21 in 2011): I simply cannot help myself. He hasn't played in a U.S. Open in six years, and I have him in the top 25 of my most likely to win list. Blame the pedigree. Blame the elite ball-striking. Blame my infatuation. I just can't shake the idea that he's one of the 25 best and most talented players on the planet right now.
24. Marc Leishman (T18 in 2016): He's certainly creative enough to win here, but will the game hold up? It didn't at the Masters, where he was two back after 36 holes and finished ninth. I'm also mildly concerned that he's never top-10ed at a U.S. Open. But man, is it easy to envision him winning at a big boy course like this one.
25. Henrik Stenson (T4 in 2014): I really want to put Tony Finau or Xander Schauffele here, but I can't ignore that Stenson is No. 3 in strokes gained tee to green with only D.J. and J.T. ahead of him. Bet against him in a ball-striking contest at your own risk.
Also considered: Finau, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Alex Noren, Luke List and Shane Lowry
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