U.S. Open Golf 2012: 10 Young Stars Worth Watching

Ron Juckett@ronjuckettContributor IIIJune 11, 2012

U.S. Open Golf 2012: 10 Young Stars Worth Watching

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    In a season where the great golfers of tomorrow are starting to show who they are, here are 10 young guns that you should keep your eye on while watching the United States Open from Olympic Club in San Francisco.

    While trying to pick winners of an event that features 156 of the best the sport has to offer can seem like a fool's errand, these 10 players under the age of 30 not only can contend and win this week, but will dominate the game for the next 20 years.

    The Open prides itself on being the toughest examination of one's skills in the game. The winner Sunday night will be incredibly fortunate to have par as his winning score. It takes a special player to win an Open, and these guys are ready for the challenge.

    Something the United States Golf Association is doing differently this week is using the ninth hole as the second place to tee golfers off. Any other tournament that uses a split tee start will send golfers off the first or the 10th, but the U.S. Open is not just any tournament.

    All times listed, by the way, are Pacific Time.

10. Patrick Cantlay

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    Age: 20

    Twitter:  @uclaathletics

    Tee Time/Hole Start/Grouped With:  7:59 (1)/1:14 (9), Jonathan Byrd and Kyle Stanley  


    Why He Could Win

    The world’s No. 1 ranked amateur is not a stranger to the Open. In fact, he finished in a tie for 21st last year at Congressional, which certainly was good enough for Low Amateur. He also was Low Amateur this year at The Masters, making the cut.

    Last week, Cantlay, only a sophomore at UCLA, finished in a tie for fourth at the NCAA Men’s Championships. Perhaps the best amateur prospect since Tiger Woods, the defending US Amateur Champion will be familiar with how Open courses are set up and be comfortable playing in his home state.

    Cantlay is a huge long shot as no amateur has won the Open since the 1930s, but he could make some major noise this week.


    Where He Should Finish

    He could easily finish around where he did last year. He could grab a top 10 and automatically qualify for next year’s Open based on a good finish.

9. Webb Simpson

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    Age: 26

    Twitter: @webbsimpson1

    Tee Time/Hole Start/Grouped With:  8:32 (1)/1:47 (9), Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley


    Why He Could Win

    While a long shot that has missed his last two cuts, Simpson does have two top-five finishes this year, including a fourth at the Wells Fargo in Charlotte. He is a two-time winner on tour at only 26.

    While he is not the most accurate driver of the golf ball, he does find greens with his approaches and is very good on long putts. He is second on tour in birdies per round and is due to break through soon. Simpson currently is No. 13 on the Official World Ranking List.


    Where He Should Finish

    Simpson would love to contend on the weekend, but realistically, a top 30 and a made cut would be a pretty good week.

8. Louis Oosthuizen

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    Age: 29

    Twitter: @loopyoosthuizen

    Tee Time/Hole Start/Grouped With: 1:47 (9)/ 8:32 (1), Jason Day and Jason Dufner


    Why He Could Win

    While the South African does not play in the United States all that often, he may just have the highlight of the year from The Masters. Oosthuizen scored a double-eagle two at the par-five second hole on Sunday at Augusta and ended up losing a playoff to Bubba Watson.

    He already has a major under his belt, capturing the 2010 British Open Championship. Nothing he sees this week will be unfamiliar to him.

    If he puts four good rounds together, he can win. Besides that great finish at Augusta, he finished third at the Shell Houston Open. Louis sits No. 15 on the OWGR.  


    Where He Should Finish

    If he puts four good rounds together, he could easily win. A top 10 would be the expectation coming in. He finished in a tie for ninth last year.

7. Charl Schwartzel

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    Age: 27

    Twitter: @CA_Schwartzel

    Tee Time/Hole Start/Grouped With: 8:06 (9)/1:51 (1), Carl Pettersson and Charles Howell III


    Why He Could Win

    Another young gun from South Africa, Schwartzel took advantage last year of Rory McIlroy’s bad second nine on Sunday at Augusta to win The Masters. With a major on his resume, he will know what is expected to get the job done.

    He tied for fifth at the Honda Classic played at the tough Jack Nicklaus course, PGA National. Like his countryman Oosthuizen, if he can hang around until Sunday on the leaderboard, then he can have a solid round and win. Schwartzel comes into this week No. 14 on the OWGR.


    Where He Should Finish

    He finished in a tie for 16th two years ago and a tie for 9th last year at the Open. In fact, he finished in the top 20 in all four majors last year before having a bad week this year at Augusta. Expect Schawrtzel to get plenty of face time this weekend on TV.

6. Jason Day

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    Age: 24

    Twitter:  None

    Tee Time/Hole Start/Grouped With: 1:47 (9)/8:32 (1), Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Dufner

    Why He Could Win

    Finishing second last year at Congressional to Rory McIlroy puts Day on the instant contender list this year.

    Another foreign player who does not play often on the PGA Tour, Day does have two top 10s this year. He tied for ninth at the Wells Fargo in Charlotte and at the HP Byron Nelson in metro Dallas. Day comes into the Open ranked No. 19 in the OWGR.


    Where He Should Finish

    While having those two top-10 finishes this year, Day withdrew from The Masters and missed the cut at The Players at Sawgrass and at The Memorial in Dublin, Ohio. At least in this part of the world, he has not been consistent. A made cut and a solid finish would be great for Day.

5. Martin Kaymer

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    Age: 27

    Twitter: @TheMartinKaymer

    Tee Time/Hole Start/Grouped With: 1:25 (9)/8:10 (1), Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose


    Why He Could Win

    Kaymer is one of Europe’s big guns. While we do not see him play over here very often, his major win came two years ago at the PGA in a playoff. That season also saw Kaymer have top 10s at both the US Open and the British Open Championship.

    While this will be only his fifth tournament in the States this year, Kaymer has an extremely calm demeanor. He will know when and where to force the issue and has the game to win. Kaymer is No. 10 on the OWGR list.


    Where He Should Finish

    Top 10 or bust. While he had a disappointing Masters, tied for 44th, he has an Ernie Els kind of game. This week is all about keeping your mental wits about you, and Kaymer excels with that.

4. Keegan Bradley

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    Age: 26

    Twitter: @Keegan_Bradley

    Tee Time/Hole Start/Grouped With: 8:32 (1)/1:47 (9), Adam Scott and Webb Simpson


    Why He Could Win

    Vermont’s own Bradley won the very first major he ever played in, last year’s PGA Championship. He has followed up that amazing feat with three top 10s this year, including losing a playoff at the Northern Trust Open at Los Angeles’ historic Riviera.

    Bradley is long off the tee and, despite having about average accuracy, is No. 29 on Tour in greens in regulation. Bradley leads the Tour in par-five scoring, averaging a healthy 4.49 and is second in par 3 scoring at 2.97.

    Amazingly, he will fly under the radar this week and should not have much pressure on him. He has a real shot if he can stay within shouting distance come Sunday. Bradley is No. 24 in the OWGR.


    Where He Should Finish

    Open golf is unlike any other environment in the game. While the public will be watching elsewhere, a missed cut is just as likely as a good finish. This week is a great chance for Bradley to learn.

3. Dustin Johnson

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    Age: 27

    Twitter: @DJohnsonPGA

    Tee Time/Hole Start/Grouped With: 1:58 (9)/8:10 (1), Rickie Fowler and Ryo Ishikawa


    Why He Could Win

    He led after 54 holes at the Open two years ago at Pebble Beach. If he had not grounded his club into a bunker two years ago at Whistling Straits, he would have been in a playoff at the PGA.

    While he certainly has learned to lose majors the hard way, he has valuable experience and a game to contend at the Open. Long off the tee and accurate enough, he might have enough experience now to pull out four very good rounds. Johnson is No. 20 on the OWGR list.


    Where He Should Finish

    Johnson comes into the Open winning this week at the FedEx St. Jude in Memphis. It is very rare to win on back-to-back weeks on tour.

    On the other hand, Johnson is fresh of of an injury and has missed a good chunk of the season. He should be contending if he thinks his way through the course.

2. Rickie Fowler

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    Age: 23

    Twitter: @RickieFowlerPGA

    Tee Time/Hole Start/Grouped With: 1:58 (9)/8:10 (1), Dustin Johnson and Ryo Ishikawa


    Why He Could Win

    Fowler has made the transition from being a Justin Bieber lookalike to legitimate pro golfer. He won for the first time at Wells Fargo and then almost won The Players, finishing second.

    While missing the cut last year at the Open, Fowler is on a serious good roll now. He is accurate off the tee and finds greens, two essential ingredients in winning an Open. If he figures out how to master the fiery greens this week, the guy that looks like a traffic cone on Sundays will call himself a United Open Champion.

    At No. 18 on the OWGR list, he should continue to rise as he continues on his breakout season.


    Where He Should Finish

    Top five. Whatever he did to adjust his game is working. He is not going to be easily rattled by all the expectations and Tiger talk. A missed cut would be stunning.

1. Rory McIlroy

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    Age: 23

    Twitter: @McIlroyRory

    Tee Time/Hole Start/Grouped With: 1:29 (1)/ 7:44 (9), Lee Westwood and Luke Donald


    Why He Could Win

    He is the defending champion. He lapped the field by seven shots, and he has the all-time lowest score related to par in the 111 years that the Open has been played. He could go down as the best player that Europe has ever produced.

    While not the favorite going in, he has all the tools. This will be a championship he will win more than once, and he could be the first person to repeat since Curtis Strange did it in 1989.

    If he is on the front page of the leaderboard on Thursday, then he has a real good chance. At No. 2 on the OWGR, his group is the best on paper matchup of the first 36 holes as they are the top three on the OWGR list.


    Where He Should Finish

    Along with Fowler, he has the best chance on this list of winning. Forget the slump he supposedly was in earlier this year. He almost won this week in Memphis before dumping his tee shot on the last hole in the water.