US Open Golf 2013 Leaderboard: Top Finishers Who Can Win 1st Major This Year

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US Open Golf 2013 Leaderboard: Top Finishers Who Can Win 1st Major This Year
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The 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania fostered yet another first-time major winner in Justin Rose, who fired an even-par 70 on Sunday to win by two strokes over Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

Rose became the eighth of nine winners of the year's second major to be first-time major champions. That highlights not only the increased parity in modern golf, but also makes his victory that much more impressive considering how brutal the venue was.

Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN went as far to say that Rose's Round 4 performance was among the best level-par stretches of 18 holes many fans will ever witness:

Perhaps some of the tournament's top finishers can draw inspiration from Rose's breakthrough and get into the winner's circle as early as this year. Below is an analysis of the best candidates to do just that.

Note: Past tournaments and season statistics were obtained from PGATour.com. U.S. Open statistics are courtesy of the championship's official website.

 

Luke Donald

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Rose said after his triumph that he used his good friend Adam Scott as a muse in preparing for this latest major, per PGA Tour on Twitter:

Perhaps Donald can do the same, because he got a firsthand view of what it takes to be a major champion in being paired with Rose on Sunday.

This was the first time that Donald had really put together three quality rounds in one of golf's four biggest events since the PGA Championship in 2006, where he was able to make the final pairing alongside Tiger Woods, but faltered and shot a 74 on the last day after three prior rounds in the 60s.

Something similar happened on this occasion, as Donald fell to five over through six holes and never quite recovered.

The former world No. 1 was congratulatory to Rose afterward:

This one had to sting deeply, but there's reason to believe Donald can pull off another major outside of bearing witness to Rose. The experience of being in the thick of the hunt is invaluable, and Donald is among the best when having to grind out pars thanks to his fabulous short game.

Look out for him at Muirfield in the British Open, a venue that places a premium on precision much like Merion and isn't terribly long—but is without Merion's outliers of 500-plus-yard par-fours and par-threes in which Donald has to hit driver, as he did on No. 3 in the final round.

 

Jason Day

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Something about the majors brings out the best in Day, who at age 25 registered his second runner-up finish in three years at the U.S. Open in Ardmore.

The Aussie wasn't a factor on the first such instance in 2011, because Rory McIlroy blew away the field by eight shots that year.

That was a particularly generous championship in terms of scoring conditions though, and Day has now proven he can adjust his game to suit venues where par is a spectacular score.

AP golf writer Benjamin Everill took pride in the high finish of his compatriot, noting that Adam Scott was the most consistent in majors in 2012, then broke through at The Masters this year:

Day placed third in at Augusta National in April and had a strong chance to win it in 2011 if not for Charl Schwartzel's birdies at the final four holes, which dropped Day to a tie for second.

The man who was knotted with Day that evening more than two years ago was Scott, another countryman, and Day has all the game to triumph in a major of his own sooner rather than later.

As he continually figures out how to harness his immense potential, the wins should come naturally for Day—and it may happen at the PGA Championship. With how well he putts it and how he relishes the grandest stages in golf, Day seems destined to find the winner's circle again very soon.

 

Rickie Fowler

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Just as Jason Day has had to, Fowler deals with the criticism of not winning more frequently. The difference is that Day has been in position to win a plethora of majors, while Fowler hasn't really been a factor.

Change in that regard may be on the horizon, because Fowler finished in the top 10 this week and tied the best score of the tournament with a three-under 67 in Round 3.

The intertwining between these two young guns continues, too, because Day was right behind him on Saturday in shooting a 68 according PGA Tour on Twitter:

Who will win a major first among the U.S. Open's top finishers?

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Beyond those eery parallels, don't be surprised if Fowler makes his mark at the very next major, the British Open.

I attended the championship in 2011 at Royal St. George's. It was sideways raining and I could barely stand up. Somehow, Fowler was playing golf and managed a two-under 68 in the blustery conditions. He wound up tying for fifth—his best finish in a major to date.

From then on, I never doubted his talent nor his skill, and he has the ball flight to pierce the arduous conditions Mother Nature often throws at players in that particular event. Fowler is beginning to show signs of coming more into his own at majors, and that could be the site of his true coming-out party.

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