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US Open Favorites 2012: Ranking the Chances of Top Golfers

Kevin CaseyContributor IOctober 7, 2016

US Open Favorites 2012: Ranking the Chances of Top Golfers

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    Olympic may be "The Graveyard of Champions" but talking about the favorites isn't a fruitless exercise.

    After all, it's not preordained for an underdog to win at Olympic, just a prevailing trend.

    So, what will the favorites do this week?

    Who will step up to the plate and contend for the title? Who will be the lame ducks who barely make an appearance on the weekend? Will any of these top players miss the cut?

    These are questions to be resolved here. Before you is a list of 14 favorites and the forecast for their chances at the Open.

    From best to worst, players' chances can be extremely good, very good, good, decent, OK, bad, very bad or extremely bad.

    No player gets worse than bad on this list, but it is a wide-ranging set after all.

    Like any major, some will show and some won't.

    Want to know where everyone will fall?

    You've come to the right place.

Zach Johnson

2 of 15

    The proud Cedar Rapids product has had a great spring thus far.

    It started with a runner-up at Hilton Head in April. A second place showing at the Players in May followed (despite having to play with the head case that is Kevin Na on Saturday) and just three weeks ago at Colonial, Johnson secured his first victory of the season despite giving away two strokes at the end.

    The 36-year-old has been playing some of the best golf of his career lately and he comes to a course that suits his game well.

    Olympic demands accuracy off the tee rather than distance, something that should help a man who has hit over 67 percent of his fairways this season.

    While not one of the game's premier ball-strikers, when Johnson clicks his iron play is great and he can even do well on Olympic's tiny greens.

    Johnson now has eight PGA Tour victories and doesn't look the part of a one-time major championship winning fluke.

    I'm still convinced he will pick up one more major in his career at least and with his game in form and a course that fits him well, he has a great opportunity this week.

    Chances: Very Good

Louis Oosthuizen

3 of 15

    The man whose name elicits a thousand pronunciations hasn't looked good of late.

    After a two-week stretch in early April that saw him lose in a playoff at the Masters and win the Maybank Malaysian Open, King Louis has lost his crown.

    He's missed three cuts in his last four events and has overall looked lost.

    His last event was his worst as he went 75-80 at Memorial to finish nowhere near the cut line.

    That being said, don't completely discount the South African.

    Oosthuizen has one of the best swings in golf and can smoke his drives right down the fairway and laser his approaches right at flags when his game is in form, a good recipe at Olympic.

    The 29-year-old can seemingly find his game at any time (can't seem to remember anyone predicting that Open Championship romp), so recent poor play doesn't necessarily mean a bad week is imminent at Olympic.

    Overall, Oosthuizen's game is too weak right now to consider him a serious threat, but his A-game is always right around the corner.

    There's really no in between for Oosthuizen this week, expect him either to be near the top of the leader board Sunday or packing up his bags Friday afternoon.

    Chances: OK

Justin Rose

4 of 15

    Justin Rose has, unsurprisingly, flown under the radar coming into the year's second major.

    This can only mean good things for the rather quiet Englishman who's had a solid 2012 campaign thus far.

    After a win at Doral in March, Rose hasn't cooled off much. An eighth place finish at the Masters followed and with three more top 10s since that time (including a runner-up at Wentworth three weeks ago), his game has shown few flaws heading to Olympic.

    Kind of like Bubba Watson pre-Augusta, Rose has played well enough to gain a great deal of confidence but also to stay away from the pitfalls of media and fan expectations.

    Also, with as accurate a driver and as pure an iron-player he is, he could potentially tear Olympic apart.

    The 31-year-old has only gotten better and better in recent years, and at this point in his career it's his best chance to win a major.

    Rose is not my pick to win this week, but the 2012 U.S. Open trophy could easily fall right into his hands.

    Chances: Very Good

Hunter Mahan

5 of 15

    Hot play early on in the year has made 2012 Mahan's best season yet.

    First came a win at the Accenture Match Play Championship, then a second victory at the Shell Houston Open just over a month later.

    Mahan is one of the game's preeminent ball strikers, and if anyone can find Olympic's tiny greens, it's this rising star.

    So, he should be one of the top few picks, right?

    Well, not exactly.

    Mahan hasn't played fantastically of late, failing to record a top-10 finish in any of his starts since his Shell Houston win. He's also a low-scoring specialist, not a useful trait at the grind-it-out-par style of a U.S. Open

    Mahan is a great player, but great players don't always contend in majors. He does have plenty of talent and his game has been by no means horrible, so I wouldn't call his chances slim by any means.

    Still, don't put too much stock in the guy this week. He will almost certainly win a major in the future, but this week's U.S. Open doesn't look to be the place where it first happens.

    Chances: Decent

Rickie Fowler

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    Next on the list is Rickie Fowler, who is finally producing on his potential in 2012.

    Despite being just 23 years old, it seemed to take the young lad a long time to win his first event on the PGA Tour.

    It's of no matter now though, as the Oklahoma State grad finally pulled through this past month with a victory at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    In fact, the very next week Fowler almost added on a second PGA Tour title at the Players Championship before falling just one spot shy.

    After that, Fowler finished T5 at Colonial and through three rounds at the Memorial was in solo third place just three strokes back.

    Then came a final-round 84 that fortunately was hardly noticed amidst Tiger's raucous finish.

    This may be a bit of surprising advice, but avoid Rickie Fowler this week. It's not the 84 that scares me (after all everyone has those days), but Fowler's lack of experience with the championship's frustrations.

    Like his Golf Boys buddy Hunter Mahan, Fowler thrives on the birdies and eagles that will be few and far between at Olympic (especially considering the pre-tournament reports about the course).

    The young phenom doesn't seem ready to have the patience needed to thrive in an Open.

    He may be coming on strong, but he's too young and aggressive to play well at a place where pars come at a premium.

    Chances: Poor

Lee Westwood

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    As he did before the Masters, Lee Westwood has flown under the radar going into the year's second major.

    It's sort of strange since he just won the Nordea Masters last week by a convincing five-stroke margin, but it's doubtful Westwood is complaining.

    He has overall really had a solid year, and people forget that he finished just two shots out of a playoff at the Masters.

    We all know how good a ballstriker Westwood is, so it shouldn't be hard for him to contend at Olympic. The key for him is how he does on and around the greens.

    As long as he can keep up his play with his woods and irons (pretty likely) he should be lurking on Sunday. But he will need to improve his chipping and putting this week to have any chance at the title.

    He seemed to put it all together last week and if he can keep up that short game play, the U.S. Open trophy may be as good as his.

    Westwood is a solid investment this week. At worst he should contend, and if he can put his short game woes aside, he might finally capture that coveted first major championship title.

    Chances: Very Good

Jason Dufner

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    If anyone thought his PGA Championship performance was a fluke, Jason Dufner has served notice in 2012.

    Early on in the year, Dufner grabbed the lead in the earlier rounds in a number of tournaments, a harbinger of greater things to come.

    Dufner finally captured his first PGA Tour victory at the Zurich Classic in April and wasted little time in picking up his second with a win at the Byron Nelson less than a month later.

    He also almost captured a third victory at Colonial in late May before falling just one shot short.

    It's been a fantastic year for the Auburn grad and there's no reason it shouldn't continue at Olympic.

    While it's possible that Dufner could run out of gas this week, his mellow attitude serves to calm him even under the greatest stress and he's gotten a nice little break since Colonial anyway.

    In addition, Olympic is a very good course for the 35-year-old.

    Ironically, the man whose name is one letter away from "duffer" could easily be the tour's best player from tee to green. He's 11th on tour in driving accuracy and sixth in greens in regulation, a deadly combo for the curved fairways and small greens at Olympic.

    The waggle makes its way to San Francisco this week and it's contagious. Dufner should have plenty to cheer about at Olympic as he makes his first big run at a U.S. Open title.

    Chances: Very Good

Dustin Johnson

9 of 15

    First there was offseason knee surgery that guaranteed Dustin Johnson a slow start to the year.

    He got his game together quickly though and with a string of three consecutive top-10 finishes in February, his game looked back on track.

    Then, Johnson hurt his back, forcing him out of the Masters and leaving him away from competition for three months right as he was surging.

    The 27-year-old's 2012 campaign was a frustrating one cut off at just the wrong times. That is until last week.

    There, in Memphis, the uber-talented long bomber surged to victory at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, securing his sixth career PGA Tour title.

    In just his second event back from injury, he returned all the way to the winners' circle and looked like the Johnson of years past.

    Therefore, he should be in prime shape for the Open, right?

    Not so fast, though. While impressive, Johnson's victory doesn't mean everything's come together. Sure, he's been playing well in his comeback from injury, but it's too soon for his game to be ready to hold up under major championship pressure.

    Besides, Johnson's loose driving style really isn't fit for Olympic anyway.

    Certainly, the promising young American is playing with confidence and has contended in majors (including a U.S. Open) before.

    Don't be so sure on Johnson though, he might well disappoint this week.

    Chances: OK

Matt Kuchar

10 of 15

    The 2012 Players Champion really doesn't have a weakness.

    He's accurate with the driver, precise with the irons, delicate with the wedges and smooth with the putter.

    He exudes a quiet confidence, one exhibited through his sly, encouraging smile.

    He doesn't really get flustered and never seems to lose his temper.

    How could this guy possibly lose at Olympic?

    Well, try putting those skills under the test of a U.S. Open and see what happens. Open pressure can be a huge burden on players, making even the most patient of competitors absolutely outraged.

    Also, remember that Kuchar is coming off a big win, which is usually detrimental in the following months (just ask Bubba Watson).

    Maybe Kuchar can avoid these negative factors or maybe not. He is a solid pick this week, but with caution.

    The rising Georgia Tech grad has become a premier player and may be a threat on Sunday, but don't bet it all on him.

    He's still a bit of a question mark and may still be in a post-Players hangover at Olympic.

    Chances: Good

Bubba Watson

11 of 15

    After Bubba Watson broke through at the Masters this past April, a wild few months ensued.

    Trips to late-night shows like David Letterman became common, as did engagements seemingly anywhere in the world.

    One night after a concert, Watson had to lose a car that was following him and his family for a good 45 minutes. The chase was a clear indication of the negatives of instant fame.

    With all of this going on, Watson has played sparingly. He skipped the Players to spend time with family and has played just twice since the Masters.

    Although he put together a solid top 20 in New Orleans, his last event was a Friday exit at the Memorial.

    Clearly, Watson hasn't been totally vested in the game in recent months. He has been able to focus more in recent times, but not enough to give him much of a shot this week.

    His head and game are simply nowhere near ready to contend for an Open title.

    Many believe that Watson will miss the cut this week. I think he will make the weekend at Olympic but he won't do much with it.

    Winning a major takes a lot of time and practice, and with little of that in the preceding months, Watson is very unlikely to be holding the U.S. Open trophy Sunday evening.

    Chances: Bad

Rory McIlroy

12 of 15

    The wunderkind Rory McIlroy hasn't appeared to be golf's next great force in recent times.

    Poor play marred the 23-year-old over the past month as he went on a streak of three consecutive missed cuts.

    A seventh place finish in Memphis this past week helped, but a huge hook into the water on the 72nd hole of that tournament with victory on the line certainly didn't give him great confidence in pressure situations.

    McIlroy is a very good player and will continue to be one of the best in the world for years to come. That's why I'll give him somewhat of a chance this week.

    However, I don't see much in his favor at Olympic. The high finish at Memphis was impressive but his game is still far more inconsistent than it was early on in the year.

    The course itself is also not a fit for McIlroy. The long bomber is not an accurate driver and he will likely struggle to find enough fairways at Olympic to post good scores.

    Finally, this might be the major that least suits his game. Yes, I understand he is the defending champion, but I wouldn't exactly say his win at Congressional was one played under U.S. Open conditions (in fact it played more like a PGA, a better fit for McIlroy).

    As noted of other players on this list, he's a player who thrives when he can go low (like 16-under-par low). Maybe he can develop the grind-it-out style necessary to handle a U.S. Open in the future, but for now, he is a man who struggles when birdies and eagles are scarce.

    Again, there's no reason McIlroy should be completely discounted this week but stay away from him in your office pool.

    Chances: OK

Phil Mickelson

13 of 15

    Phil Mickelson was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012, a fantastic accomplishment for a fantastic player.

    Unlike other sports though, golf necessitates that many of its Hall of Famers are still active players when they are inducted and Mickelson still has some unfinished business to attend to.

    Namely that would be a U.S. Open title, something that has crushingly eluded him his entire career. He's been the bridesmaid five times but never the bride at his national open and more than ever he wants to get that Open trophy and avoid the fate of the great but U.S. Open-less Sam Snead.

    At first glance this doesn't seem to be the year he would do it. The last time Mickelson played a competitive round, he shot a 79 and then withdrew due to "mental fatigue."

    In addition, this course isn't tailor-made for him like Augusta. Mickelson has long been one of the PGA Tour's least accurate drivers, and with these fairways being a nightmare to hit, Mickelson could find himself in the long grass a lot this week.

    That being said, I like Mickelson to have a solid Open this week. His poor play at Memorial was really an anomaly, as he has played solid golf this whole season.

    Also, picking against Mickelson because of his last performance isn't very wise.

    The lefty is completely unpredictable and has shown at times that poor play before a major can actually mean good play during it.

    The course is still not a great one for Mickelson and that should hurt his shot at the title a little, but overall he does in fact have a lot in his favor going into Olympic.

    Don't forget that he desperately wants this championship, so he will be very motivated.

    The newly anointed Hall of Famer will definitely have a shot to win this week and can fill a long-standing hole in his résumé by doing so.

    Chances: Good

Tiger Woods

14 of 15

    Tiger's back!!!!!!!!!!!

    That was the exclamation from the general golfing public when Woods pulled out a victory at the Memorial.

    Back to what exactly?

    If you mean his old, pre-scandal self that's a bit of stretch. That chip-in on 16 was absolutely as incredible as it seemed, but one shot can't tell us that Woods will win five to six events annually like he used to.

    My point is, don't overreact to recent events. Woods is once again clearly one of the top players in the world and could possibly become his old self in the future. In the present, though, he isn't quite to that old level of play yet, and the days of picking Tiger vs. the field are still a thing of the past.

    Nonetheless, Woods did show great form at the Memorial and must bring a lot of confidence coming to the year's second major. His fairway splitting at Jack's place was a good sign going onto a tournament that punishes players with severe rough.

    This is not my indication to pick the 36-year-old though. While his driving at Muirfield Village was impressive, those fairways are far wider and flatter than those at Olympic. Woods has had one of his best years ever in terms of driving accuracy, but it is an on-and-off skill for him.

    He's still struggled at times to find the fairway this year and with Olympic's twisty, small surfaces demanding supreme accuracy, Woods may not be up to the task.

    Woods certainly deserves to be one of the odds on favorites this week but with a skill set that isn't ideal for Olympic and the acknowledgement that he still isn't the Tiger of old, picking the nearby Stanford grad isn't a safe bet.

    Or at least as not a safe a bet as the final player on this list...

    Chances: Decent

And the Winner Is...Luke Donald

15 of 15

    Yes, the No. 1 ranked player in the world is my pick to hold the U.S. Open trophy Sunday evening (how outlandish).

    After struggling early on in the season, Donald has found the game that made him one of the world's elite players in 2011.

    A win at the Transitions Championship in March has  been followed up by consistent results, as noted by his three top 15s on the PGA Tour since that time.

    Donald also put together a convincing performance in his four-shot victory at the BMW PGA Championship (one of the European Tour's flagship events) three weeks ago.

    So, Donald's confidence level is clearly there.

    As for the course, it should serve him well.

    A number of Olympic's fairways narrow around 270-280 yards, neutralizing driving distance as a factor. This will only serve to help a short hitter like Donald who has also improved his accuracy off the tee immensely in the past two years.

    For years and years of finishing in the high 100s on the PGA Tour's driving accuracy list, Donald shot up to 57th in 2011 and is eighth on the list thus far in 2012.

    This fast improvement is key, since finding Olympic's fairways will be somewhat of an art form this week.

    Also, something that hasn't been mentioned a lot is short game.

    While Olympic may favor a fairways-and-greens type guy, closely mown collection areas and ungraduated 5" to 6" rough around some of these greens will make up-and-downs a difficult proposition this week.

    When players do miss greens here, those who can save these crucial pars will be in good position to stay in the hunt. This should work to Donald's favor, as he is ranked No. 1 on tour in scrambling in 2012 and is as good as anyone at grinding out pars when his ballstriking is off.

    Ever since Donald became the No. 1 golfer in the world, people have been criticizing him for not winning a major. He's not a real No. 1 until he wins one of golf's big four.

    Well, the wait will end this week. Donald will finally capture his first major at Olympic.

    Olympic has produced an underdog winner at every previous Open it has hosted, but this week the No. 1 ranked player in the world will show his worth and break the trend.

    Chances: Extremely Good

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