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The US Open's leading chances assessed

(Photo: Bruce Young)
Two months ago 9,800 golfers began the long road to the US Open. When the event gets underway on Thursday at Merion Golf Club in the outer suburbs of Philadelphia, 156 will face the starter.

Merion is not a long course by modern day standards, in fact at 6,996 yards it is one of the shortest in recent memory although 450 yards longer than it was when it last hosted the event in 1981. That was the 4th occasion the US Open had been played there.

Given its relative lack of exposure to modern day tournament golf it is hard to get a line on which golfer it will suit, perhaps better to assess chances of current form and a player's capacity to handle the heat and roller coaster nature of major championship golf.

Let's take a look at some of the leading contenders and assess their chances

h3. Tiger Woods

Woods performance at the Memorial was almost too bad to be true and on that basis he can be forgiven one bad run and perhaps we should look at his form earlier - where he won four titles in the first four months of his season - as a much better guide to his chances. Woods has won this event three times and has been inside the top three on three other occasions. It has been six years since he won his last major when winning this event at Torrey Pines but his chances appear good for another.

h3. Rory McIlory

McIlory is the sort of player who could win this by eight as he did at Congressional two years ago or miss the cut and that is the concern when backing McIlroy. When he is good he is all but unbeatable but when he is not then anything is possible. McIlory missed the cut at the BMW PGA Championship and then finished well back at the Memorial. Prior to that there had been some good tournaments but the great unknown makes him hard to back.

h3. Adam Scott

Scott just keeps getting better in major championships. Scott had missed six of ten cuts at the US Open until a much improved effort at Olympic last year which was followed soon after by his near miss at Royal Lytham, an 11th place finish at the PGA Championship and his breakthrough win at Augusta National. He now knows he can win a major championship and in his two starts since the Masters he has been solid enough. No reason why he can't contend and /or win and keep his Grand Slam hopes alive.

h3. Matt Kuchar

Kuchar has become one of the game's most consistent players in the past three years. Until then he had been a poor performer at the US Open missing four of his first five cuts but in his last three starts in the event there has been marked improvement. Kuchar is in great form right now, not missing a cut in his last twenty starts and importantly for this week finishing 1st and 2nd at his last two starts. He appears a very good chance to be in the hunt.

h3. Justin Rose

Apart from a hiccup at the Players Championship Rose has been very good this season. The Englishman has had mixed results at the US Open. On debut in 2003 he was an impressive 5th, then finished 10th behind Cabrera in 2007 and a reasonable 21st at Olympic last year. He has yet to win a major championship but it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.

h3. Graeme McDowell

McDowell's form has been a roller coaster of late with two victories and three missed cuts in his last five starts. McDowell's game suits US Open style golf as his recent record would suggest. He won in 2010 and in 2012 he was but a 20 foot putt away from forcing a playoff with Webb Simpson. He looks a good chance.

h3. Phil Mickelson

The most experienced US Open player in this week's field with 22 previous starts, nine of those top tens and on five occasions he has been runner-up. After a good start to the season Mickelson missed the cut at the Memorial before a much improved effort last week in Memphis and is likely to be a factor.

h3. Luke Donald

There has been enough about Donald's game of late to suggest he is not a forlorn hope this week, his biggest problem to overcome a very ordinary record at the US Open. 12th in 2006 was the only top 40 Donald has recorded in eight starts in the event. Some players just don't gel with USGA set-ups.

h3. Brandt Snedeker

Snedeker began the season as if he might be a genuine contender in the majors this year but an injury has slowed him up. There has still been the occasional good finish since including when 6th at the Masters and 8th at the Players. With three finishes inside the top twelve in his last four starts in this event Snedeker suggests he has the game to do well but his inconsistency over the past two and a half months is a concern.

h3. Louis Oosthuizen

Oosthuizen missed the cut at the Masters when expected to do well and then withdrew from the Byron Nelson with a neck injury. Three starts in this event for a 9th place finish and two missed cuts highlight that the uncertainty about his health and his average record in the event make him an unlikely winner.

h3. Lee Westwood

One of the game's best without a major championship to his name, Westwood has been twice 3rd in this event and last year at the Olympic Club was working his way into contention when he lost a ball up a tree on the final day. Prior to withdrawing from the Memorial after an opening round of 76 he had led during the final round of the BMW PGA Championship and put together five consecutive top ten finishes prior. If he can find that form again then he is a real chance.

h3. Sergio Garcia

Like Westwood, one of the game's best without a major championship to his name, Garcia has missed only two cuts in 13 starts in the event and has four top tens, the best when 3rd in 2005. Provided Garcia has managed to rid himself of the scar tissue from his meltdown at the Players then I feel he is a chance this week. Garcia's consistency of late is best highlighted by the fact that he has not been outside the top twenty in his last sixteen starts anywhere, a phenomenal run of form.

h3. Keegan Bradley

Bradley played his first US Open last year when he made the cut but finished well back after a poor last round. Bradley has had an overall good season to date, a second in Dallas the highlight but there have been several other high finishes as well. Bradley finished runner-up at his second to last start in Dallas followed by a respectable although hardly spectacular Memorial Tournament.

h3. Steve Stricker

Stricker has played just six events this season, the restricted schedule the result of injury issues. When he has played however he has done well enough finishing runner-up in two of those events and has not missed a cut. He has a solid record at the US Open finishing 5th on two occasions and regularly finishing inside the top twenty. If he is fully fit then Stricker has a strong chance.

h3. Charl Schwartzel

Schwartzel has been inside the top ten in six of twelve stars worldwide in 2013 and has a solid enough record at the US Open for him to be a chance to win his second major championship. He was 3rd in Dallas and 8th at the Memorial so his current form is good and has missed just one cut in six US Open starts.

h3. Louis Oosthuizen

Oosthuizen has not played since the Byron Nelson in Dallas where he withdrew late in the tournament with a neck injury. That he is in this week's field suggests he has recovered well enough but it is a concern. His season has been a roller coaster mixing some good play with several missed cuts. He has had only three starts at the US Open, missing the cut on two occasions but finished an impressive 9th at the 2011 event at Congressional.

h3. Webb Simpson

Simpson is the defending champion this week after his narrow win at Olympic last year. Simpson also impressed when 14th at Congressional on debut in the event. Simpson has played well enough on occasions this year for him to be a genuine contender once again. He slips under the radar a little so may well be a very good odds.

h3. Dustin Johnson

Johnson has been bothered by injury of late but a top ten finish last week in Memphis indicates that he is in reasonable health. Johnson led into the final round at Pebble Beach in 2010 before finishing 8th and has made the cut in four of his five US Opens. Slim chance but not out of it.

h3. Kevin Chappell

One for longer odds perhaps but in just two US Open starts Chappell has been 3rd and 10th. Chappell finished a very impressive runner-up at the Memorial and earlier in the season was 6th at the Houston Open.

h3. Jason Day

Day has not missed a cut all year on the PGA Tour and appears to be peaking for this event. His runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy in this event in 2011 was a very impressive effort and he made the cut at Olympic last year. He is a big event player as his previous runner-up finishes in this event and the Masters would suggest and he would also finish 3rd at Augusta National this year. If he was to contend it would be no surprise.

h3. Angel Cabrera

Cabrera won the US Open in 2007 and after his brilliant effort at Augusta National in April he has continued to play well enough. He surprised at the Masters despite having won that before so could it be the same at Merion?

h3. Ryan Palmer

The US Open occasionally throws up a left field winner. Michael Campbell, Angel Cabrera and Lucas Glover spring to mind in more recent years. Ryan Palmer has been putting together several good finishes of late and may just fit into the mould. He is not a great driver of the golf ball in terms of accuracy but his length and Merion's relatively short layout might allow him to be more conservative from the tee. Palmer has played just two US Opens for a best of 21st at Congressional two years ago.

Leading chances - Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar

Good chances - Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood

Value bets - Kevin Chappell, Webb Simpson and Jason Day

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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