2017 U.S. Open Preview: 10 golfers to watch at Oakmont

One of golfs toughest tests welcomes the games best in Oakmont, Pa..

Kyle Terada—X02835
June 14

1. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland — The lowest-ranked of the new Big 3 might have the advantage at Oakmont because he’s longer and straighter than most off the tee and that might minimize the number of times he has to deal with the notorious USGA rough. If he can make enough putts, Rory might claim his fifth major championship and second U.S. Open title, having won by eight strokes over Jason Day in 2011 at Congressional. McIlroy has not won one of the Grand Slam events since finishing off 2014 by claiming the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool and the PGA Championship at Valhalla, but he has finished in the top 10 in five of the last six majors. He recently won the Irish Open and tied for fourth in the Memorial his last time out.2. Jordan Spieth, United States — The defending champion seemed to shake off his collapse on the back nine in the final round of his title defense at the Masters, blowing a five-stroke lead, by winning the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, but then he tied for 57th in the Memorial. Spieth must straighten out his ball-striking, and if he can, a second straight U.S. Open title could be his because he is considered the best putter around, especially from long range. He figures to be in the hunt no matter what because he has an innate talent for getting the ball into the hole, and he has finished no worse than a tie for fourth in the Open Championship last year at St. Andrews in the last five majors. Spieth has two victories this year and seven since the start of 2015.3. Jason Day, Australia — The top-ranked player in the World Golf Rankings captured his first major title in the PGA Championship last August at Whistling Straits and has made it clear that he is hungry for more. Day figures to be right there on Sunday because he has finished in the top 10 in each of the last four majors and has a strong record in the U.S. Open. He tied for ninth last year at Chambers Bay, tied for fourth the year before at Pinehurst No. 2, tied for second in 2013 at Merion and was solo second in 2011 at Congressional. Day has taken a firm grip on the No. 1 spot, showing that he has learned how to close the deal with three victories this season after winning five times in 2015.4. Dustin Johnson, United States — DJ is the most talented player in the world without a major title and has endured more than his share of heartbreak in the Grand Slam events. Last year in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay was the worst, as he missed a 12-foot birdie putt to win on the final green and needed two more to get into the hole, handing the title to Jordan Spieth. Johnson took a three-stroke lead to the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, but closed with an 82 to tie for eighth, and a two-stroke penalty on the 72nd hole of the PGA that year at Whistling Straits kept him out of the playoff in which Martin Kaymer beat Bubba Watson. Johnson has four top-10 results in the last five majors and 12 in all.5. Phil Mickelson, United States — Lefty will make his third bid to complete the Career Grand Slam this week at Oakmont, having finished second in the U.S. Open an agonizing six times. He hasn’t won anywhere since capturing the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield, and that came out of the blue, since it was the one major that he figured to have the most trouble winning since true links golf has not been his game. Mickelson, who has 42 PGA Tour victories including five major titles, has been close this season with five finishes in the top 10, including second in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and a tie for second last week in the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He’s very aware that he is running out of time and chances at 45, but Lefty’s short game and savvy give him a chance.6. Justin Rose, England — When the U.S. Open was last played in Pennsylvania, in 2012 at Merion, Rose closed with an even-par 70 to beat Phil Mickelson and Jason Day by two strokes for his only major victory. He has had 10 other results in the top 10 of majors since he tied for fourth in the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale as a 17-year-old amateur by holing a 50-foot birdie chip on the 72nd hole. Even though he hasn’t won since the UBS Hong Kong Open late last year, Rose had played well this season with five top-10 finishes, including a tie for 10th in the Masters and solo third recently in the Wells Fargo Championship. He tied for 19th in the Players Championship last month but hasn’t played since because of a sore back that short-circuited a promising week.7. Rickie Fowler, United States — The only thing missing from Rickie’s resume is a major championship after he captured the Players Championship, the so-called “Fifth Major,” last year. Not that he hasn’t been close, finishing in the top five of all four Grand Slam events two years ago. However, he hasn’t been quite as good since, with a tie for 12th in the 2015 Masters his best result in the last five majors, and he missed the cut at Augusta this year. Fowler came close to his fourth PGA Tour victory earlier this year, losing to Hideki Matsuyama of Japan on the fourth playoff hole in the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He won in Abu Dhabi in January and has five other top-10 results, but missed the cut in the Players and the Memorial Tournament in his last two starts.8. Adam Scott, Australia — When Scott became the first Aussie to win the Masters in 2013, it seemed he would soon join Peter Thomson, Greg Norman and David Graham as a multiple major winner from Down Under. Not only has it not happened, but now he is playing second fiddle among Aussie golfers to top-ranked Jason Day. It’s not for lack of trying, because Scott has finished in the top 10 in at least two majors in each of the last five years. He posted his best result in the U.S. Open last year at Chambers Bay, closing with a 6-under-par 64 to tie for fourth, two shots behind winner Jordan Spieth. Scott won the first two events of the Florida Swing earlier this year, but his best result since was a tie for 12th in the Players.9. Bubba Watson, United States — When a player has all the shots like Bubba, he should be able to take his game to any course and be a contender, but it doesn’t work that way for him. He has two major titles, winning the Masters in 2012 and 2014, but Watson’s best result in the U.S. Open was a tie for fifth in 2007 at Oakmont, where he opened with 70-71 before coming home in 74-74 to finish four strokes behind champion Angel Cabrera. Bubba won the Northern Trust Open earlier this year and was second in his next outing in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but hasn’t finished in the top 25 in his last four PGA Tour events. Watson, who tied for eighth in the Shenzhen International in April, simply has to get out of his own way.10. Danny Willett, England — The Masters champion was a real “Who’s he?” in the United States when he roared past faltering Jordan Spieth to win at Augusta in April. He has become a member of the PGA Tour and has risen to ninth in the World Golf Rankings, having won three other tournaments on the European Tour in the last two seasons. Willett’s only other top-10 finish in a major was a tie for sixth in the Open Championship last year at St. Andrews, and he has played in the U.S. Open twice, tying for 45th in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2 and missing the cut last year at Chambers Bay. Even before winning the Masters he showed he has the stomach for the big stage, tying for third in both the WGC-HSBC Champions and the WGC-Cadillac Championship earlier this season.