US Open Golf Predictions 2012: Where Phil Mickelson and Top Stars Will Finish

Ron Juckett@ronjuckettContributor IIIJune 14, 2012

US Open Golf Predictions 2012: Where Phil Mickelson and Top Stars Will Finish

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    All this week here at Bleacher Report, we have tried to break down who you should be watching along with who you want to watch this week at the United States Open.

    With help from our team of experts and from the finest odd-makers around, we have tried to provide good reasons as to why your favorite player should win golf’s national championship.

    With the tournament starting today, it is now time and peek in those crystal balls one more time and try to give you a rough idea on where they should really finish.

    A couple of things to remember before going through twelve players who hope to win: Golf is a notoriously difficult sport to predict. While technically any of the 156 golfers playing could win this week, come Sunday afternoon only a handful will have the actual chance.

    Also in the four previous Opens, one of the superstars of the sport ended up on the losing side to someone out of nowhere: Ben Hogan to Jack Fleck, in 1955, and Payne Stewart to Lee Janzen, in 1998.

    So where does your favorite golfer fit in? Let’s find out.

Jason Dufner

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    While he's had a terrific summer, we really have no point of reference as to how he will do at an Open.

    He contended at The Masters, so we know that the green speeds and slopes are not going to rattle him all that much, but can he keep it in the fairway off the tee?

    A missed cut would surprise some, but it could happen.

    While not being something flashy and daring does have distinct advantages at an Open, his track record here at the Open goes against him. It will happen—just not this year.

    He makes the cut but fails to challenge.

    A top-50 finish unless he hits that zone early and shoots up the leaderboard Thursday or Friday, Dufner has yet really to prove he is anything beyond a very good player.

Rickie Fowler

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    Fowler seems to be on the cusp of breaking through for his first major. He excelled on major championship style layouts this year, but his experience is lacking for the Open.

    Yes, Rory McIlroy won his first Open last year at 22, but he put himself in a position Sunday where nothing short of absolute collapse would stop him.

    It is plausible that he contends this week. It is also plausible that he misses the cut.

    It all really depends on how he uses what he has learned when he gets in trouble and how well he deals with those greens.

    As with others, watch how he reacts to his putting. If he shakes his head a few times watching putts go long to save par, such as anything past four feet, then the weekend will be an accomplishment.

    If a player can be seen both winning and bombing, then he really should not be thought of as a lock. He plays the weekend and learns a ton, but finishes in the top 30.

Bubba Watson

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    Conventional wisdom says he has no chance to win.

    With his limited playing schedule on tour since the adoption of his baby, some will say that even making the cut will be a stretch.

    While a win is probably not in the cards, a solid top-20 performance is not out of the question.

    There are long par-fours here that have huge elevation changes from tee to the fairway. With his length, provided he keeps the ball in the short grass, he will be able to take short irons and wedges at a couple holes that others will not be able to.

    He putted well at Augusta, so the greens here should not be a big problem for him. His creativity out of the rough is incredible, but missing too many fairways will lead to bogeys after awhile.

    Like Tiger Woods, watch where Watson is come sunset Thursday. Top 60 and ties play the weekend. If Bubba gets through the first day above that by a couple shots, then he could get a top 20.

Dustin Johnson

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    Dustin Johnson’s chances completely depend on how he thinks his way around the course.

    If he thinks about when to pull out the driver, and takes his time making sure that he likes his read on putts, then he will have a great week.

    If he tries to overpower the course and rush his decision-making process, it will be a short week.

    He led at Pebble Beach after three rounds two years ago but could not handle the Sunday pressure.

    Two things also hurt Johnson’s chances. He missed a big chunk of the spring due to a back injury.

    Hopefully trying to power a shot out of the rough will not aggravate it and force him not to play at full throttle.

    He also won last week. You want to play well before a major to make sure your game is in good shape, but winning back-to-back weeks is nearly impossible.

    Johnson should see the weekend with ease and a top 20 can be his by playing good golf.

Rory McIlroy

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    It has been 23 years since the Open had a repeat champion.

    While the young McIlroy certainly has the game to win his second open, his recent play at the other majors indicates that, for the 24th straight year, there will be no repeat Open champion.

    One of the things McIlroy didn't have to worry about last year was pressure on Sunday, as he won by seven shots. He certainly will not be able to do that again, no matter how well he plays.

    There are scenarios in which he could miss the cut, even as his accuracy will determine whether he can shoot well enough to play the weekend.

    We know he can handle the greens—he had Augusta’s figured out last year and brought Congressional to its knees at the Open—but the question is getting it there for two putts.

    Rory should not be missing the cut, although it would not be the biggest surprise if he did. A top 20 would be a good week for him and, if everything falls right for him, a chance to win on Sunday.

Hunter Mahan

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    He is not a name you want to be paired with on Sunday.

    Mahan personifies the fact that these tournaments are marathons and not sprints.

    He''ll do what he must to stay in the hunt as he has a solid golf package from tee to green.

    While he has yet to pull off four great rounds to win a major, he also won't beat himself. If he can keep clear of the mental fatigue that comes with too many visits in the rough, this top 10 golfer will finish in the the top 10.

    He should hang just off the lead until Saturday and could make a good move then.

    A missed cut for Mahan would indeed be a surprise.

Justin Rose

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    The closer the leader is to even par, the better off Rose will be.

    There really is nothing about his game that reaches out and grabs you, but his game is so solid all-around that he will hang in there for the entire championship.

    Par this week is 70, and of course, Rose goes out and shoots 70 for all four days and flies home to England with the trophy and the first ever Jack Nicklaus Medal—newly awarded to the Open champion.

    Realistically, Rose needs to keep that inevitable bad stretch of golf to a couple holes before the weekend. He has played enough of these to know about rough and green speed. What he does not get in Europe is a course as hilly as Olympic Club. It's just not flat.

    Rose should be comfortable in Northern California where conditions can be chilly, as supposed to sunny and hot Florida.

    The first six holes on the course are the toughest. Watch how Rose plays them for a good indication of what his week will be.

    He plays well—just not well enough to seriously threaten. He flies home with a good paycheck and a top 15.

    Watch Royal Lytham and St. Annes as he will contend at the Open Championship.

Lee Westwood

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    All the elements are there to break through for Westwood, with years of experience and refining raw talent into an extremely polished game.

    Now, he would love to take that to the next level.

    Once a young rebel, Westwood has matured into a capable player that should get his first major sometime in the next 18 months.

    Grouped the first two days with Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy, the spotlight will really be on from the first tee—giving Westwood the same kind of scrutiny he would normally face back home at the Open Championship.

    Also like Donald, a missed cut here would really be a surprise.

    Westwood won last week in Sweden, but that tournament went from Wednesday until Saturday, giving those coming over from Europe an extra day to adjust and travel.

    The more greens he hits, the better his chances. While a solid top 10 choice, his experience may get him a couple places' boost on the board.

    No worse than eighth. 

Phil Mickelson

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    While Mickelson’s expectation is to win his first Open, he has to limit the damage he can do to himself by making bad course management decisions.

    Lefty should have absolutely no trouble here making the cut. Not only is Mickelson intimately familiar with how Open courses are set up, but he played the last time the Open was here in 1998.

    The best guess for Phil would be no worse than a top five. He understands where he is in his career and has a huge knack for being able to make things happen when he needs to.

    Provided he does not really press to make a move on Sunday, such as pulling out driver when a 3-wood or long iron would be prudent, he will be comfortable enough to take the bogey that will hit everybody each day.

    Watch how he's putting. If he looks mystified after a number of putts on the speed and break, he'll be in trouble. When Phil finds himself grinding, he over-thinks and makes bad decisions.

Tiger Woods

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    Up until his win two weeks ago at The Memorial in Ohio, the consensus would have been no chance to win and a top-30 finish.

    Woods won two weeks before The Masters at Arnold Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill. The thinking was that Woods would roll to his first major win since 2008.

    We know how that turned out, and Friday’s second round on ESPN turned into an absolute horror show for Woods and the patrons.

    We will know Tiger’s fate today.

    He has to put his shots in play, both fairways and greens. His putting is better coming into this week than it was at Augusta, but if he is constantly playing his approach shots out of the rough then he has no chance.

    He wants a win. The fans want a win. Top 10 would be a good place to put him. He needs to be within a couple off the lead each day to seriously contend because Open courses do not lend themselves for good scoring.

Luke Donald

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    If there was a golfer playing this week that is just itching to see if all the parts and pieces are there to win a major, it's Luke Donald.

    We know he has the game.

    This is a short Open course at just 7,100 yards so Donald will not feel the need to overpower it to win.

    If he plays his normal game, he should be top five or even a top three.

    He'll be fine when he misses fairways and his short game will be alright when he misses greens.

    Where Donald’s chances are going to hinge on is if he has figured out the greens. There is no such thing as a flat putt here and judging the speed will be essential for the winner.

    If Donald’s lag putts for birdie are near the hole for easy pars, then he has a real chance at winning.

    A missed cut by Donald would be a big stunner—he is just playing too well. He will be a factor Sunday.

Matt Kuchar

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    Sometime Saturday afternoon, after a Jimmy Roberts piece on Jack Fleck, the 1955 champion, or on the numerous times this course was rebuilt after landslides, the leaderboard will appear on the screen—and Matt Kuchar’s name will be very close to the top. You will stare a second and wonder just where in the world that came from.

    Kuchar has spent the last couple years just smiling, nodding, and collecting big paychecks.

    He contended late at the Masters and already has won a USGA event—the 1997 US Amateur.

    Provided that a Tiger or a Rory has not run away with the tournament by the back nine on Saturday, watch Kuchar smile and nod his way into the last group Sunday by simply not making a big mistake.

    Come Sunday, Kuchar can either press to make up that shot or two he needs or play great defense and hold off a charge

    He is pretty much unflappable and could easily become a United States Open Champion.