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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

My "5 to Watch" at the US Open

Finally, the US Open at Oakmont is here! The weather reports -- at least at the time of this writing -- are for rain during the first round, but drying out over the weekend. And on a course as tough as Oakmont, that simply has to influence my picks.

Dustin Johnson

For one thing, it forces me to leave Rory McIlroy out of my "5 to Watch". Between the speed of Oakmont's greens and the weird tilts of the fairways (and no bail-outs), I simply don't think it suits Rory's game. And given that Rory himself seemed less than confident at his presser, I reluctantly leave him out.

There are a number of players who have been playing well and might be able to close the deal this week. In the past, Oakmont has proven to be an equal-opportunity torture track, awarding wins to big hitters and short hitters alike. As a result, I'm mixing it up.
  • I think Jason Day is probably on almost everybody's list of top picks. His game is as good as you could hope for this event, he seems confident, and his win at THE PLAYERS proved he can adapt his game, much as Tiger did at majors. That could be a winning combination this week.
  • Likewise, Jordan Spieth has proven that he can contend on hard fairways and slick greens without his best stuff. But his "stuff" is much better than it was at Augusta, and it's hard to believe he won't find a way to score well at Oakmont -- especially since he can use some sort of driving iron instead of that wayward driver all the time.
  • Dustin Johnson has been quietly having a stellar season so far, posting eight Top10s in 13 starts. Say what you want about his 3-putt on the 18th at Chambers Bay last year, he IS a good putter and has a proven ability to play well at courses like Oakmont... and he's been focused on improving his wedge play this year. It shows.
  • I see no way to exclude Phil Mickelson from this list. He's still playing incredible golf this season, his putter seems to have finally come around, and his six runner-up finishes prove he can play US Open golf, even when he makes poor decisions. Maybe Bones can talk some sense into him this week.
  • And for my flier... another tough decision. There are a number of shorter players who could do well at Oakmont -- Jim Furyk played well here in 2007 (it's a home game for him) and Branden Grace is playing well also, just to name a couple. But I'm going out on a limb and take Luke Donald because his game has been showing marked improvement over the last few months. A tough course like Oakmont may be just what he needs to get over the major hump.
I confess that Lefty is my sentimental favorite this week; I'd love to see him get the career Grand Slam. But I'm going to step out a bit -- you may have guessed this from the photo -- and predict that DJ breaks through to get his first major this week. I just have a feeling that this US Open is going to throw us a curve, and DJ's ability to hit the ball really high seems perfect to take advantage of it.

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