Justin Thomas garners a plurality of the ballots, but with Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Webb Simpson among the top contenders this week at Winged Foot, your guess is as good as ours … and maybe even better
When asked for their picks to win this week’s U.S. Open, five ofMorning Read’s regular contributors favored momentum in their selections. Though he was denied a victory at the season-ending Tour Championship two weeks ago, three-time 2019-20 winner Justin Thomas emerged as the top pick for two of the five panelists.
Dustin Johnson, Zander Schauffele and Webb Simpson, who like Thomas are among the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking after ending their own winning seasons, also got our correspondents’ attention.
And the writers’ sleeper picks start to look pretty good, too, upon reflecting on their respective seasons.
In short, who knows? The 120thU.S. Open will be “open” in name only after the global coronavirus pandemic prompted the USGA to cancel all qualifying. But the field, down from the usual 156 to 144 because of the short daylight hours in mid-September compared with the customary time slot in June, will be deeper from top to bottom. Play begins Thursday at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Until then, see how these picks compare with yours:
Favorite – Webb Simpson: He leads the PGA Tour in scoring average and birdies per round. He ranks 11th in greens in regulation and 18thin driving accuracy. Oh, and he’s first on the Tour in putts per GIR. Statistically, Simpson is an updated version of the mid-2000s Tiger Woods with an entire week’s worth of red shirts. Those numbers are so ridiculous, I’m not sure we even need to play the tournament, but picking a U.S. Open winner is like trying to predict the weather in Scotland. Your guess is as good as mine. Probably better.
Sleeper – Kevin Na: This man can putt the lights out, which is an invaluable weapon at brutes such as Winged Foot, where 6-footers for par are a rather common occurrence. Currently ranked 34thin the Official World Golf Ranking, Na hasn’t done much since winning in Las Vegas last fall, but he has the type of game you look for in an unlikely U.S. Open champion. He’s fairly straight off the tee. He owns a terrific short game, which has him fourth on the Tour in overall scrambling, and his lack of power off the tee shouldn’t matter much this week. The USGA isn’t about to let the bombers get away with murder. Not at this old ballpark.
Winner – Justin Thomas: Winged Foot hasn’t rolled over as host in its past five U.S. Opens, notably for the 1974 “Massacre at Winged Foot” in which Hale Irwin won with a 7-over score. Expect an extreme mental test, with short fuses burning out quickly. Thomas fits the bill, with adequate length off the tee, an efficient short game and a putter that can heat up with the best of them. At age 27, Thomas already has racked up 13 victories on the PGA Tour, including the 2017 PGA Championship. He has proved his mettle in the game’s biggest arenas.
Sleeper – Rasmus Hojgaard: At No. 65 in the world ranking, Hojgaard enters as a relative unknown player in the U.S. But for followers of the European Tour, the 19-year-old Dane has become quite well known in the past year. With two victories in the past nine months, Hojgaard will enter the Open as one of the game’s hottest players. In his past five starts in Europe, Hojgaard owns four finishes of sixth or better, including a victory at the recent UK Championship. Hojgaard has no weaknesses in his game, other than experience in major championships. This will be his first start in a major. If Hojgaard can get off to a solid start, he could fall into a solid spoiler position and maybe even emerge as the surprise of the U.S. Open.
Favorite – Xander Schauffele: The X-factor used to be a popular darkhorse, a B-list name getting A-list consideration. But the jig is up now that the 26-year old Schauffele has cracked the Official World Golf Ranking’s top-10, checking in at No. 7. Sorry, bud. You’re now a favorite. After all, Schauffele unofficially finished first at the Tour Championship last week, that is, in order to finish second. See the FedEx Cup Playoffs User Guide for details. And to paraphrase Ghostbuster Winston Zeddemore, Schauffele has the tools and the talent. He has four wins in his young PGA Tour life, including an actual Tour Championship, in 2017. And he hangs around the major-championship winner’s circle like a stray cat. A tie for 10th at the PGA last month was Schauffele’s sixth top 10 in 12 career majors. Moreover, his three U.S. Open starts have ended in T-3, T-6 and T-5, in descending order. It’s going to happen, sooner than later.
Sleeper – Daniel Berger: Despite his impressive playoff win over Collin Morikawa at Colonial, the 27-year-old Berger was not in the U.S. Open field until his T-2 at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. By the way, he’s not in the Masters, which would beawkward if he were to at Winged Foot. See Sophia Popov for details. When Berger gets it going, get out of the way. He had a third-round 64 at East Lake before a final-round 73 sank his battleship. He also went 63-65 on the weekend at Harbour Town to tie for third at RBC Heritage. Over his last 11 starts, Berger has seven top-10s, including six results of fifth or better. And during that stretch, he has soared from 152nd in the OWGR to 13th. This is a dangerous man.
Winner – Justin Thomas: If you caught a glimpse of Thomas after the final round of the Tour Championship, you’d notice he appeared to be running a little hot. Normally, such a state of mind isn’t a good thing, but in Thomas’ case, it could be a propellant. He knew he had a chance to chase down Dustin Johnson and gave away a handful of shots. After he gets over the initial anger, he will turn it into hyper focus at Winged Foot, which is made for his ability to work the ball both ways. That, and regular caddie Jimmy Johnson is back on the bag, no small thing.
Sleeper – Tommy Fleetwood: By his own admission, Fleetwood had played some uninspired golf since the PGA Tour restart. He didn’t get through the first round of the FedEx Cup playoffs and thought he needed some competitive rounds to get ready for the U.S. Open. So, he returned to Europe and finished T-3 on Sunday at the Portugal Masters. He’s also comfortable in U.S. Open conditions, finishing fourth in 2017 at Erin Hills and runner-up in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, both years to Brooks Koepka.
Gary Van Sickle
Favorite – Dustin Johnson: We keep wondering whether D.J. will win a second major. Well, why not now? He's the hottest golfer on the planet, he's got all the shots he needs at Winged Foot ... as long as he's not emotionally exhausted after winning two of three FedEx Cup playoff events and cashing that $15 million check. He won the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont with a potential two-shot penalty hanging over him on the back nine. He shot 30 under at the Northern Trust. Johnson plays the toughest courses well. Nobody on the PGA Tour wants to see him in the lead these days. Nobody.
Sleeper – Michael Thompson: The 3M Open champ was emotional after his victory at TPC Twin Cities in July because he knew it would get him into the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. He called it his favorite course, having played his first U.S. Amateur there. He's the kind of steady fairways-and-greens guy whom Opens often identify ... even if many fans don't know who he is.
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