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US Open Favorites 2012: Phil Mickelson and Other Winners That Will Contend

Ron JuckettContributor IIIDecember 19, 2014

US Open Favorites 2012: Phil Mickelson and Other Winners That Will Contend

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    Phil Mickelson leads a pack of golfers outside the world’s Top 10 that have a good shot this week in winning the U.S. Open.

    In Phil’s case, he has been a runner-up five times throughout his career. Others in this group of eight have either won this championship or won other major championships. One golfer on the list could pick up his first ever major if things go his way.

    While not currently in the top 10 in the world, at least via the computer rankings, these golfers either have had great careers and still play at a high level or will have a great career because they can play at such a high level.

    As it is with any major champion, the eventual winner will lead or be near the top in fairways hit, greens in regulation and total putting. Throw in some luck and some blind courage and that is how one wins an Open.

    In any event, here are eight proven players that could easily be holding onto the trophy come either Sunday night or Monday afternoon.

Keegan Bradley

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    Age: 26

    OWGR: 24

    Best Open Finish: First Open

    What He Has To Do To Win:

    The key to Bradley’s week here is just how patient will he be.

    While winning the first major he ever played in is quite an accomplishment, the USGA and PGA course setups are not similar. The best experience in trying to win an Open is by learning from one’s own mistakes.

    Pro players know that birdies are good scores week in and week out. The USGA setup ensures that par is a good score on any and every hole.

    If Bradley can adjust to that mindset, and that bogey is not the end of the world, then, as long as he has shots at keeping his approaches on the greens, he will do just fine this week. The trick is believing that while he plays.

Angel Cabrera

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    Age: 42

    OWGR: 189

    Best Open Finish: Champion (2007)

    What He Has To Do To Win:

    At 42, the best thing Cabrera has going for him right now is experience. His game is still well suited for Augusta and The Masters, where he finished seventh last year, but knowing just how to handle the pressure of an Open will also help him.

    Cabrera has 46 wins in his professional career and his best finish overall in 2012 was a tie for 21st at the Shell Houston Open.

    While considered a long shot this week, he can make things go his way with smart play and just hanging around all weekend.

    His Open win at Oakmont in 2007 came after trailing by four shots to start the final day. Angel really needs to capture lightning in a bottle. 

Ernie Els

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    Age: 42

    OWGR: 43

    Best Open Finish: Champion (1994, 1997)

    What He Has To Do To Win:

    Ernie has three top 10s this year including a second place finish at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

    After failing to qualify outright for The Masters, Els is chomping at the bit to prove his doubters wrong and contend for his third Open championship.

    Ernie made the cut at Olympic Club in 1998, finishing in a tie for 49th.

    As with the other golfers over 40, Els just needs to use his experience and make no worse than a bogey when he does get into trouble. Playing in his 20th Open, he certainly knows how these courses are set up and what to expect from his own game.

    Known as “Easy Ernie” for his cool exterior, his wisdom will help if he has a chance on Sunday over less experienced players in the hunt. He just has to put himself in that position.

Rickie Fowler

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    Age: 23

    OWGR: 20

    Best Open Finish: T-60 (2008)

    What He Has To Do To Win:

    Blessed with length and seasoned with experience, Fowler has a very good chance of winning by just keeping the ball in play.

    Fowler’s win in Charlotte came at the 2016 home of the PGA Championship. His runner-up finish the next week at The Players at Sawgrass was major championship quality.

    The question with Rickie is not whether he can win a major but whether he can win an Open as his first major. He has played well enough this year that he will be a serious contender.

    How well he plays out of trouble will determine if this is his time.

Jim Furyk

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    Age: 42

    OWGR: 36

    Best Open Finish: Champion (2003)

    What He Has To Do To Win:

    Furyk comes into this year’s Open playing like a golfer with something still to prove.

    With three top 10s this year and a history of good play at the Open, he could be a long shot that pays off in spades.

    With the course not too terribly long—just over 7,100 yards—Furyk should be able to reach greens with short irons and put him in the position to make enough pars to find himself with a chance come Sunday. Furyk also played well the last time the Open was held at Olympic Club, finishing in a tie for 14th.

    As with the other 40-something players, his knowledge of how Open courses are laid out and knowing that bogeys are not the kiss of death will help him if he is in contention come Sunday. He finished 11th at Augusta this year, and his game is in good shape.

Zach Johnson

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    Age: 36

    OWGR: 18

    Best Open Finish: T-30 (2010)

    What He Has To Do To Win:

    When Zach Johnson won The Masters in 2007, he did it by not going for those second nine par-five’s in two. He laid up short on both 13 and 15 and assured himself of birdie.

    For an Open course, Olympic Club is not terribly long and that plays into the resurgent Johnson’s hands. There are only two par-five’s at Olympic Club, and no one is reaching the 670-yard 16 in two. 

    Johnson won at Colonial, a shot maker’s course full of hilly terrain and trees similar to Olympic Club. He finished second at the RBC Heritage at Harbor Town in Myrtle Beach, another course that favors ball placement rather than length.

    There are many Open courses that will be too long for the shorter hitters like Zach, but this one sets up rather nicely for his game. He needs to putt well of course, but with his accurate iron play, he certainly can contend here for his second major. 

Graeme McDowell

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    Age: 32

    OWGR: 21

    Best Open Finish: Champion (2010)

    What He Has To Do To Win:

    The last time the Open was played in California, McDowell was the winner down the road at Pebble Beach.

    Graeme had a great spring, highlighted by his second-place performance at Arnold Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill. He was scoring well and playing solid all-around golf. He had a good Masters, tied for 12th, and it looked like he was going to be in fine form this summer.

    Then the game goes away for a bit. McDowell missed the cut in his last two stops on tour, including last week in Memphis.

    The magical thing about golf is that it can be so unpredictable. What may seem like garbage one week can turn into wins the next.

    That is where McDowell is going into the Open this year. He has one Open under him already and could win a second if things can click this week when needed. Unlike others, if the scoring turns low, he can keep up.

Phil Mickelson

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    Age: 41

    OWGR: 13

    Best Open Finish: 2 (1999, 2000, 2004) T-2 (2006, 2009)

    What He Has To Do To Win:

    Mickelson has all the talent and game in the world. If you need someone to create a shot to save par, then Phil is your guy.

    The reason he has never won an Open, however, is his course management skills are just awful. Case in point: Leading by one on the final tee at the 2006 Open at Winged Foot, Phil pulled driver out of his bag and drove the ball way left. He ended up making a double-bogey six, which cost him the tournament.

    While his swashbuckling aggressive play has won him majors, his third round at The Masters two years ago was just an amazing piece of art, shooting five-under par over a stretch of three holes on the second nine. He cannot win an Open with his foot on the gas all the time.

    He does think his way better now around the course, but he has to assess the risks on each and every shot before hitting it. If he does win here, it will be because he did not try to jam his way on every hole.

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