The year’s second major championship is finally upon us! The greatest players in the world have descended upon Erin Hills in Wisconsin for the 117th playing of our National Championship and the headlines are already piling up.
Will Phil get his four hour weather delay? Or will he be up the creek with no paddle? Are Rory’s ribs still a lingering issue? Or is he rested and ready for battle? How many golf balls are the world’s best going to lose in the absolutely absurd fescue all over the property?
While many of those questions sound like the makings of great prop bets, there are only a few that can be answered with a little homework. As always, major championships see the cream rise to the top and this year’s U.S. Open will be no different.
Lately, it seems like players are shedding the “best to never” moniker as soon as they get it. Each of the last six major winners have been first timers who (aside from Jimmy Walker and Danny Willet, who aren’t exactly slouches) have all got that particular monkey off their back. Will Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia see Rickie Fowler or Matt Kuchar or John Rahm join them as first time major champs?
All we know is Thursday through Sunday will be as exciting as ever and by the close of play on Father’s Day, we’ll have all the answers. Here’s a look at those who have a legitimate chance this week and those who are just happy to be there:
Jordan Spieth — Already a U.S. Open champion, Jordan Spieth is atop most people’s list of players they like this week at Erin Hills. After some inconsistencies in his game earlier in the season, Spieth has found his form again as of late and looks to be ready to contend for major championship glory once again.
Thomas Pieters — I’m a big fan of Thomas Pieters and the game he possess. The Belgian product had me salivating at Augusta when he put on an early clinic (of course I had money on him!) before finishing T-4 in the Masters. He’s making his U.S. Open debut which might scare many, but the fact that he’s got great length off the tee and can also roll the rock makes me as confident as ever in giving Pieters a starting nod in any and all fantasy formats.
John Rahm — There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about the Spanish wunderkind. Rahm’s dissection of most of the countries most difficult courses during his rookie year has been surgical. With great length off the tee and touch around the greens, Rahm has every intangible you can think of for a future U.S. Open champion. The only question seems to be if that happens this year, or a year or two from now.
Dustin Johnson — The reigning champ comes into Erin Hills looking for blood after having to withdraw from the Masters in April with a freak back injury. DJ has cooled off considerably since winning three straight starts ahead of Augusta, but he still enters the U.S. Open with lots of good mojo. He outlasted Shane Lowry and the USGA’s stupidity last year at Oakmont and looks to add major title No. 2 to the case on the same week he and Paulina added child No. 2. Lots of good vibes going around the Dustin Johnson camp — he’s worth every penny in every format at Erin Hills.
Rickie Fowler — As mentioned previously, Fowler comes into the U.S. Open as, probably, the “best to never” player on Tour. After collecting top-5 finishes in every major in 2014, Fowler has had high expectations from just about everyone who knows what golf is, let alone what he expects from himself and what the media expects. In keeping with the trend and considering his excellent form heading into Wisconsin, it’s hard to ignore Rickie this week.
Steve Stricker — After all he’s gone through trying to qualify for the U.S. Open one more time in his home state, do you really expected Steve Stricker to go out and throw up a goose egg? I certainly don’t. He may be over the hill, but he’s still the guy who (kind of) taught Tiger Woods how to put. Stricker is the model professional and someone who obviously knows how to get it done. The only thing still missing from his resume is a major title and a win this week would be nothing short of historic.
Alex Noren — Looking for a diamond in the rough? This week, that could be Alex Noren. Many might not recognize the name since he plays most of his golf on the European Tour, but Noren has been one of the best players on the planet over the last twelve months. He’s moved from outside the top-100 in the Official World Golf Ranking after last year’s U.S. Open at Oakmont to 8th entering this week. He’s also won five times world-wide in that time frame. Just because you don’t know the name yet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be getting familiar. You want to be the guy who knew who Noren was on Thursday instead of the one who finds out on Sunday.
Henrik Stenson — Henrik Stenson makes this list for one reason — injuries. The normally prodigious Swede is a shoe-in on lists of folks we like to win major championships thanks to his accuracy, power and the ice water in his veins. Unfortunately, this time around, Stenson rolls into Erin Hills with concerns about his ailing right knee. Despite decent play in his last handful of starts, it’s hard for me to make the commitment to him in most formats due to the lingering concerns.
Patrick Reed — There’s not much to get excited about Patrick Reed this week. A use of him would only be based on name recognition or by someone who is a fan of his. Unfortunately, wishful thinking doesn’t generally lead to success. If that were the case, I’d have been responsible for at least three more David Duval victories. Until he can get his short game woes figured out and find some consistency, Reed should be avoided — especially on and around the lightning quick greens presented at the U.S. Open.
Bubba Watson — With his prodigious length and deft touch around the greens, you’d think Bubba Watson would be a no-brainer at a track that could tip out over 8,000 yards. That isn’t the case this time around. Watson hasn’t been consistent enough this year to give him a look in an event like this. Sure, he’s collected three top-10’s in his last five starts on U.S. soil, but he’s also missed two cuts. The see-saw trend doesn’t bode well for him heading into Erin Hills. Watson has a top-5 in the U.S. Open, but it came way back in 2007. Since then, his best finish has been a T-18 with a handful of missed cuts and mid-pack performances.
Daniel Berger — No player has ever won the week before and translated that into a win at the U.S. Open. While Berger is very talented, I don’t think he’s the guy that bucks that trend. As it is, he’s only playing in his third U.S. Open and could probably use a little more seasoning before he really contends in this event. If you’re in a deeper pool or running out of DFS options, he might be worth a look, but it certainly appears there are better investments out there.
Kevin Na — Has anyone ever made an Instagram video with their cell phone complaining about course conditions on Monday and gone on to win a golf tournament? Something tells me that answer is no. If Erin Hills is already in Na’s head, then he should out of yours. Typically, Na might land on someone’s list of wild cards or sleeper picks, but that’s not the case this week. Punt on Na in all formats.
Phil Mickelson — Phil Mickelson makes this list for obvious reasons. I don’t think there’s anyone that would be playing Mickelson in DFS or a pool or any other format due to his prior family engagement except for maybe Phil himself. Mickelson predicts he needs a four-hour weather delay on Thursday in order to get to Erin Hills on time. Odds are, that won’t happen. Which is kind of a shame for Lefty since he comes in sporting his best form since being bested by Justin Rose at Merion in 2013.
Rory McIlroy — Rory McIlroy could make any list of favorites, but it’s fair to be skeptical this week for two reasons. One, Rors is playing for the first time since injuring his ribs a few weeks ago and two, he’s got a brand-new putter in his bag. Personally, I believe McIlroy is a slam dunk this week. Time off just means that he’s rested and a new putter the week of a major championship just means he’s confident in the new flat stick. No one in McIlroy’s shoes would make that big an equipment change without being ready to go to battle with it.
Billy Horschel — Streaky as can be, Horschel comes into the U.S. Open riding a fairly consistent streak of good play. Couple that with the fact that the very patriotic Horschel always seems to play well in our national open and you’ve got the recipe for perfect sleeper pick. He’s not going to be too expensive on DFS formats thanks to all the other heavy hitters teeing it up this week, so he could be a great value pick there as well as office pools. Unless you’ve wasted all your McIrloy, Johnson, Spieth, Day and/or Rickie Fowler starts for the year, however, he’s probably not the best choice for weekly fantasy games.