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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

My "5 to Watch" at the US Open

Finally! We'll get to see how the pros handle the fescue-laden Erin Hills course as they vie for the 2017 US Open title

US Open trophy

I suppose you already know the basics -- Erin Hills will host Wisconsin's first US Open, new daddy Dustin Johnson is the defending champion, Phil Mickelson desperately wants a weather delay on Thursday while first alternate Roberto Diaz desperately wants good weather, and the analysts have no idea what to expect since Erin Hills is unlike anything they've ever seen before.

So let's move on.

Let me start by eliminating a few names from my "5 to Watch" list and tell you why they've been left off.
  • Phil Mickelson: Obviously I don't think the weatherman is going to cooperate with him.
  • Rory McIlroy: I want to stress that I'm leaving Rory off purely because of the rib injury. I remember how much trouble Brandt Snedeker had with his rib injury a couple of years back. I'm not convinced Rory will survive the week, especially if he hits a couple in the rough.
  • Jason Day: Look, I know his mother is feeling better and her cancer treatment is going well. But I just don't think he's quite over the emotional strain yet.
That doesn't mean they can't play well. (Although Phil's weekend game in California probably won't help him win his sixth major.) I just think these "life issues" will affect them enough to throw their games off a bit.

So who am I picking? It's a hodge-podge that might surprise you.
  • Of course, I have to include Dustin Johnson. I think DJ is playing the best of anyone right now, having won two WGCs under wildly differing conditions. And now he gets to hit that driver into fairways that are 60 yards wide? It's just not fair.
  • Thomas Pieters is due to win on the PGA Tour, and a big European-looking course like Erin Hills seems tailormade for his game. He's not quite as accurate as DJ... but 60-yard fairways? Like I said, it's just not fair.
  • I admit that even I'm surprised at this one, but Sergio Garcia makes my handful of faves this time. Normally, I would give a player who just had a super-emotional Masters win a three-month pass and, with his wedding coming up at the end of that time, I wouldn't expect him to do anything this week. But Sergio is defying my expectations with his play since the Masters. I don't believe that bit about floodgates opening just because a player wins a major, but Sergio's win seems to have been the result of an improved mental game. THAT just might change his fortunes.
  • Jon Rahm is another player who is on his game. I no longer care that he's a rookie -- Rahm is a force of nature! Erin Hills and the US Open are not too big for him, and his emotional outbursts don't undermine his confidence. He can win here.
  • And for my flier, I'm taking Steve Stricker. It's not just that Stricks is at home. Rather, it's all about his health. He says he's playing pain-free for the first time in quite a while, and his schedule over the last few weeks proves it. I agree with Kevin Na -- short hitters have a chance at Erin Hills; heavy rains have a way of evening the odds. With his game and these wide fairways, I like his chances to become the oldest major winner ever.
As tempting as all of these players are, I still have to go with Dustin Johnson. He's on a high from his new son's birth, and the Masters withdrawal left a bad taste in his mouth. I don't believe there's a lock to win this thing, but DJ's probably the closest thing we've got.

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