Ahead of the US Open that starts this evening, we look at five of the big players set to take the tournament by storm as well as a handful of players capable of springing a surprise or two.
Bubba Watson (USA)
World ranking: 3
2014 best finish: Winner, The Masters
With Bubba, there is no holding back. His go-for-broke style has wowed fans in America, but the two-time Masters champion wants to slow down at Pinehurst. Bubba’s secret to success is how well he has been playing the par-4s (fourth in birdie or better list) and with 12 of them at No2 this week, it could still play into his hands.
Adam Scott (AUS)
World ranking: 1
2014 best finish: Winner, Crown Plaza Invitational
US Open record: Starts – 12; Best finish: T-15th in 2012; Missed cuts – 6
The Aussie is showing immense grit in consolidating his position on top of the world rankings, but US Open is one tournament where he has never done well. He has never had a top-10 finish, but that fact can change this week as he is in good form, and more importantly, is displaying great mindset in the last couple of years.
Rory McIlroy (NIR)
World ranking: 6
2014 best finish: Winner, BMW PGA Championship
US Open record: Starts – 5; Best finish: Winner in 2011; Missed cuts – 2
The good thing about McIlroy’s game right now is that he is making tons of birdies. The wide open spaces on the his favourite club – the driver – and his high ball flight will give him a slight advantage over others on the upturned saucer greens of Pinehurst. The stage is set for him to make a statement.
Henrik Stenson (SWE)
World ranking: 2
2014 best finish: T-5th at Arnold Palmer Invitational
US Open record: Starts – 7; Best finish: 9th in 2009; Missed cuts – 2
Stenson is very aware of what this tournament holds for him – a chance of not only becoming the first Swede to win a major, but also the first male player from his country to become the world No1. His form is trending in the right direction, and that trusted, straight-as-an-arrow three-wood of his will play a huge role at Pinehurst No2.
Phil Mickelson (USA)
World ranking: 11
2014 best finish: T-2 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
US Open record: Starts – 23; Best finish: Runner-up six times (1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2013); Missed cuts – 2
Everybody wants him to win this week, but Mickelson is fighting a wretched form, a putter that refuses to cooperate and distractions of being a subject of FBI investigation. And yet, if there is one tournament that can spark a turnaround in his fortunes, it is the US Open.
The dark horses
Jordan Spieth (USA)
World ranking: 10
2014 best finish: Runner-up, The Masters
Best US Open finish: T-21 in 2012
The 20-year-old Spieth continues his impressive rise up the echelons of world golf and it will not be surprising if he is in contention again this weekend. The most impressive thing about his golf is the maturity that he shows on the course. If the Texan says he is ready to win a major, you better believe it.
Paul Casey (ENG)
World ranking: 82
2014 best finish: T-9th, Dubai Desert Classic
Best US Open finish: T-10 in 2007
Casey is slowly getting back to the form that made him a world No3 once. In his last six PGA Tour starts, the 36-year-old has finished inside the top-25 in five. The Englishman is currently second on the Tour in Proximity to Hole, and hitting it close to the pins at Pinehurst would give him a massive advantage.
Hideki Matsuyama (JPN)
World ranking: 13
2014 best finish: Winner, The Memorial
Best US Open finish: T-10 in 2013
The Japanese 22-year-old is proving he is the real deal and impressed one and all with a grinding win at The Memorial a fortnight ago. Matsuyama has a fearless approach and a tendency to go for pins wherever they are. He was inside top-10 in his debut last year, and could do even better this year given his confidence.
A Jimenez (ESP)
World ranking: 27
2014 best finish: Winner, Open de Espana
Best US Open finish: Runner-up in 2000
He has qualified to play the Seniors Tour, but the most interesting man in golf shows no signs of slowing down. The 50-year-old finished fourth at the Masters, and such is the set-up of Pinehurst this week, it could play straight into the hands of the cigar-chomping Spaniard. The length of the course will not deter him.
Billy Horschel (USA)
World ranking: 52
2014 best finish: T-6th, FedEx St Jude Classic
Best US Open finish: T-4th in 2013
The young American has been playing very well off late and a sixth place finish last week at St Jude gives him some momentum coming to Pinehurst. What’s been really impressive is that not only is he driving the ball straight, he is also finding a lot of greens in regulation (almost 70 per cent). That always helps in a US Open.
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