The U.S. Open is here, and given the venue (Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, one of the best courses in the country), the weather (nothing higher than 80 degrees and no rain), and the field (among many other players, Tiger is back for his first U.S. Open since 2015), it’s going to be a great week for golf.
With that in mind, here are the twenty players most likely to contend this week, with the acknowledgement that golf is incredibly hard to predict, and the U.S. Open is especially so, given the size and depth of the field. The methodology was simple: my uncle and I are in the middle of a year-long contest where we each draft ten players for a major, with our teams getting one point for each player who makes the cut, five points for each player finishing in the top ten, and twenty points if we pick the winner.
(Full disclosure: he’s up 39-20 after his team for the Masters featured 6 players in the top ten. Neither of us picked Patrick Reed, though. And his Masters win gave him the first pick, if you want to play along; I chose the even-numbered players.)
1. Dustin Johnson
This was a pretty obvious first pick; Dustin Johnson is the #1 player in the world, he has a U.S. Open already (on a classic American layout at Oakmont), and he just won last week in Memphis. Also he’s probably not going to let the stage get to him, because as near as anyone can tell (including him), not much gets to him:
Dustin Johnson, national treasure. pic.twitter.com/UUJHxqgHRP
— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) June 12, 2018
2. Justin Thomas
The #2 player in the world, Thomas is going to get a U.S. Open at some point. He’s just too good, and clearly a fit for the USGA’s style of setup. (His 63 last year at Erin Hills demonstrated that.) Why not this week?
3. Tiger Woods
My uncle Joe loves Tiger. I probably wouldn’t have put him so high, but what do I know? Tiger’s ball-striking is great, at least, and if he gets hot with the putter, you never know. Plus he’s pulling some vintage Tiger moves already, sailing his yacht to Long Island to cut down his daily commute, while calling it a “dinghy”.
4. Justin Rose
Maybe the most consistent performer in the world right now, Rose could move to #1 in the rankings with a win this week. A former U.S. Open winner, Rose hasn’t missed a cut since last year’s PGA Championship, and he’s coming off a win and a T6 in his last two starts.
5. Rory McIlroy
It’s kind of a shock that Rory is still here, but he’s sort of a tough read. If he shows up with his A-game, or even something close, he’s always going to be tough to beat. But that’s never a guarantee. Rory did just finish second at the BMW PGA in England, and T8 at the Memorial, so it’s not like he’s out of form.
6. Jon Rahm
He’s just really good. And if he wins, it’ll be his second national championship this year; he won the Open de España earlier this year.
7. Phil Mickelson
My uncle Joe loves Phil. I probably wouldn’t have put him so high, but what do I know? Phil’s still always capable of dominating, and he’s played well at Shinnecock in the past. Plus he’s pulling some vintage Phil moves already, playing his practice rounds at an entirely different course, including a star-studded foursome featuring Rickie Fowler and Tom Brady.
8. Rickie Fowler
Fowler just got engaged to former Internet sensation Allison Stokke, so if he plays well this week (and I think he will) get ready for that to be mentioned every few minutes.
9. Jordan Spieth
Spieth hasn’t exactly been tearing it up lately, but he generally wills himself to good play at majors, and he has a perfect mentality for the U.S. Open. Also he’s still somehow only 24 years old.
10. Brooks Koepka
The defending champ, Koepka is on a solid run of form coming back from an injury that kept him out of the Masters. Koepka dominated at Erin Hills last year, and his game should translate well to Shinnecock; turns out being ridiculously long and straight with a good short game plays just about anywhere.
11. Henrik Stenson
12. Tommy Fleetwood
13. Marc Leishman
14. Paul Casey
15. Louis Oosthuizen
We went on a run of non-American players here. I sort of regret taking Fleetwood over Leishman, because I think both have real shots this week, but I’ve also thought Casey is overdue for a major for, like, a decade now. Louis can always win, if he’s interested.
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) June 12, 2018
16. Alex Noren
17. Sergio Garcia
18. Jason Day
19. Matt Kuchar
20. Bryson DeChambeau
The final five picks featured some solid value, at the expense of personal preference; if Jason Day or Bryson won, I wouldn’t exactly be pumping my fist in excitement. Noren seems due to contend in a major, and Sergio is always a threat.
So that’s the top 20, but we left out a top-10 player in Hideki Matsuyama, and once again we left Patrick Reed undrafted. But the thing about golf in 2018: if we wanted to make sure to mention every player who could realistically win, we’d have to rank forty of fifty players, and we’d still maybe leave the eventual winner out. It’s a great time to follow the game, and this should be a very fun tournament to watch.