From an original entry list of 9485, the field has been dwindled down to just 156 golfers but the winner is still anybody’s guess. To hopefully make some sense of the contest about to unfold, I take a look at those who are considered the logical candidates and assess their chances.
Johnson arrives as the defending champion and despite missing the cut at his last start at The Memorial he will likely begin the event as the favourite because of the form that swept him to the top of the world rankings in February. Johnson missed the Masters after injuring his back on the eve of the event but he returned after a month of recovery to finish runner-up at the Wells Fargo Championship and then produced two solid finishes before missing the cut at Muirfield Village. Johnson’s game is well suited to US Open set-ups having finished 4th, 2nd and 1st in each of his last three appearances and his length will not hurt on this second longest ever of US Open layouts.
McIlroy has played sparingly in 2017 mainly due to injury and marital duties (he was married last month) and will not have played for a month when he tees it up at the US Open. When he has played this year, the 28-year-old has done well enough but the lack of competitive play is a concern for those who fancy his chances of a possible second US Open victory. Despite his win at Congressional on a very un-US Open course, McIlroy's record at the US Open is not particularly good and that along with his lack of play is a concern.
Following what had been an indifferent run of form during April and May, Spieth has bounced back with two very good finishes in his last two starts and appears back on track. He did win this event at a somewhat controversial venue at Chambers Bay in 2015, his only top 10 in five appearances at the US Open. He has however become a big event player and it would be a surprise if he was not at least inside the top 10 this year.
Day and the US Open have gotten along very well since the Australian finished runner-up to Rory McIlroy on debut in 2011. His record in the event since has been simply stunning with a total of five top 10s including two runner-up finishes in six starts. Day finished off the Memorial very well at his last start and in his previous start in Dallas he was runner-up after a playoff loss to Billy Horschel. His great US Open record is likely to continue this week.
Matsuyama is not at the peak he was earlier in the year when winning in Phoenix and finishing runner-up at the SBS Tournament of Champions but there is enough to like about his current form to suggest he could still do well. This is just his fifth US Open after an impressive best of 10th on debut in 2013 and while I don’t see him winning, there is every chance he could record his best finish in the event.
Garcia elevated his status in the game and eliminated any talk of him being the best player without a major to his name with his career breakthrough at Augusta National. He has continued to play solidly since and boasts five top 10s at the US Open including 5th last year. I like his chances of a top 10 at least and something considerably better is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Like Garcia, Stenson is now a major winner after a long wait to reach that level came to an end at last year’s Open Championship. Stenson has had a few injury issues of late but a 3rd place finish at Wentworth three weeks ago suggests he is near where he needs to be to compete well this week although he himself suggested his game still needed a lot of work after the BMW PGA. His record at the US Open is not great with just two top 10s in eleven starts.
Rose appears to me to be warming to the task with a series of very solid performances in 2017 and let’s not forget he did finish runner-up in the first major of the year at Augusta National. He has done okay since his battle with Garcia at the Masters and appears to be structuring his schedule to be peaking at the majors. For a player of his standing, he has not always played well at the US Open but his only major win came at the 2013 event at Merion so I expect a big week from him.
Fowler has been fashioning some very good tournaments of late including his win at the Honda Classic and his runner-up finish at his last start at the Memorial. Fowler has missed the cut in his last two US Open appearances but his runner-up finish behind Martin Kaymer at Pinehurst in 2014 and 10th place finish at Merion the previous year suggests that a first major title is not beyond him this week.
Noren is one of the big movers in world golf in the last 12 months, improving from outside the top 100 after the US Open last year to be now in 8th position. His 10th place at the Players Championship was followed by a win at the BMW PGA Championship which included a last round of 62, both tournaments considered amongst the strongest of the respective PGA and European Tours. He has to overcome a very ordinary record in the majors to date with just one top 10 in 14 starts but he now is a very much improved player.
Scott gave an indication in Memphis last week that he is approaching his best and if he is indeed close to that best, then he is a genuine chance to contend. His record at the US Open is below that of his in the other majors but it has improved in recent years. He is putting his game together well and will benefit from his greater playing continuity leading into this US Open than has previously been the case.
Like Noren, Rahm has been one of the big movers in the game over the last year and has shown a great capacity already in his short professional career to play well on a wide variety of golf courses. His win at Torrey Pines and his runner-up finish at the Dean and DeLuca event at Colonial highlights an ability to contend on very contrasting golf courses and it will be of no surprise if that trend continues this week. He did miss the cut at the Memorial but he can be forgiven for one bad week as prior to that he was playing beautifully.
Casey has been playing some very consistent golf over the last 12 months and although he has a terrible record at the US Open, there is something about the way he is playing at present that suggests that it is going to get a lot better.
Schwartzel has a good record at the US Open and did finish 3rd at the Masters in April where he admittedly has won previously. He was forced to withdraw from the Byron Nelson event last month but he is clearly in good shape given his very good week at the St Jude Classic last week when finishing one shot from the winner.
Without wishing to state the obvious, Mickelson’s chances depend on whether he plays the event or not. Mickelson has parental duties in his hometown this week as he attends a daughter’s high school graduation but is still in the field in the hope that he can be back in Wisconsin ahead of his Thursday afternoon tee time. If he can, then his recent good play gives him some sort of chance but it is hardly ideal preparation for the man who has been six times runner-up at the US Open.