Golfers Most in Need of a Strong Performance Before the 2014 US Open

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2014

Golfers Most in Need of a Strong Performance Before the 2014 US Open

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    The U.S. Open at Pinehurst is a little over a month-and-a-half away. The best golfers in the world have put their performances at the first major of the year behind them and are beginning to think about the shots they'll need at Donald Ross-designed Pinehurst No. 2. 

    While golfers such as Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar are firing on all cylinders, others on the PGA Tour are in need of a strong showing (or better yet, several of them) as we inch ever closer to Father's Day weekend.

    Which golfers find themselves on this not-so-hot list? Keep reading to find out.   

Justin Rose

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    Justin Rose has made seven of eight cuts on tour this season and has racked up three top-10 finishes. He rebounded nicely at the Masters after an opening-round 76 to finish tied for 14th.

    However, as the No. 10 player in the Official World Golf Rankingand one who has dropped several spots this yearRose, who won last year's U.S. Open, needs a win or a series of top 10s to re-establish himself. 

    He took a step toward such a result at the Zurich Classic last week, where he finished tied for eighth. 

Phil Mickelson

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    Dealing with injury this season, last year's Open champion hasn't been at his best in 2014. However, after a strong showing at the Shell Houston Open following his withdrawal from the Valero Texas Open, Mickelson seemed to be heading in the right direction. 

    Unfortunately, the left-hander missed the cut at the Masters for the first time since the '90s. 

    Mickelson, now 43, has begun the final chapter of his PGA Tour career. If he wants to finally capture the U.S. Open win that has eluded him thus far in his career, he'll want to put together a series of solid finishes over the next month or so. 

    With six second-place finishes at the U.S. Open, winning the country's national open is the only missing element of the Hall of Famer's career. It's unclear how many more opportunities he'll have as a competitive golfer to win a U.S. Open, so staying healthy and playing well prior to the third week in June is of paramount importance. 

Nick Watney

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    California native Nick Watney has fallen from 30th to 54th in the Official World Golf Ranking. He hasn't finished inside the top 10 this season and has only one top-25 finish. 

    He finished tied for 44th at the Masters and tied for 75th at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Showings like that won't vault him up the OWGR and will see him remove himself from the conversation about the best golfers without a major victory.

Ernie Els

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    Ernie Els is now 44 years old. He's running out of years to add another major to his tally. 

    Els has twice won the U.S. Open (1994, 1997). He still has the game to win majors, as he proved by winning the 2012 Open Championship. If he wants to have a shot at Pinehurst, he'll need to get his act together after missing the cut at the Masters and again at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. 

    Perhaps a strong showing at the U.S. Open itself is what we should be hoping for from the Big Easy. Els finished ninth at the U.S. Open in 2012 prior to winning the Open Championship a month later. 

Dustin Johnson

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    Dustin Johnson started strong in 2014, winning the WGC-HSBC Champions. In the succeeding five events, he never finished worse than 18th. 

    However, things changed after a tie for fourth at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. DJ withdrew from the Shell Houston Open and missed the cut at the Masters. He hasn't teed it up since. 

    It's important that he right the ship as we move toward the U.S. Open. 

Steve Stricker

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    Steve Stricker has been a relative ghost this season. Even though he's made four of four cuts on tour in 2014, he's fallen from eighth to 15th in the Official World Golf Ranking and sits at 164th in the FedEx Cup standings

    Like Mickelson and Els, the clock is ticking for Stricker. He's never finished better than fifth at the U.S. Open, and if he wants to better that result this season, he'll need to establish some momentum rather than a streak of ho-hum finishes.

Ian Poulter

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    Ian Poulter began the year in the No. 12 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, but he's fallen to No. 20. Just a few years ago, Poulter was on the cusp of becoming one of golf's elite players. Since then, he hasn't been among the world's bestsave for in Ryder Cups, in which he seems to acquire superhuman powers. 

    The flamboyant Englishman began the year with a strong showing at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where he finished second. Since then, however, Poulter hasn't finished inside the top 10 anywhere. 

    He tied for 20th at the Masters but hasn't played in a tournament since. He'll want to build on that finish heading to Pinehurst, where he'll continue his pursuit of his first career major and attempt to reverse the downward trend of his last two seasons. 

    Poults nearly cracked the top 10 in the OWGR in 2013. If he wants to make a substantial jump in that direction, a few strong showings prior to the U.S. Open would go a long way. 

Jason Dufner

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    Duf Daddy has dropped from 15th to 18th in the OWGR. While this isn't a precipitous fall, Dufner hasn't followed up his PGA Championship win with any further victories. Indeed, he missed the cut in his first major since joining golf's elite fraternity. 

    Perhaps it's not surprising that Dufner seems blase on the course. He's finished inside the top 25 four times in eight finishes, but he seems content just collecting a paycheck. He may be at a point in his career when he's deciding whether he wants to dedicate himself to being elite or merely make a pile of cash while playing a game for a living. 

    Dufner doesn't so much need a strong showing as he needs to make a declaration. It will be very interesting to see what Jason Dufner does in the lead-up to the second major of the year and how he ultimately performs at Pinehurst No. 2.