Golfers Making an Early Case to Be the 2014 US Open Favorite
While there really doesn't seem to be a dominant player on the PGA Tour at the moment, there are obviously some great ones. And some of those have gotten their 2014 seasons off to fast starts and appear to be hitting on all cylinders as the U.S. Open gets closer and closer.
They are the ones who'll be getting all the attention when the discussions turn to who will be the favorites at Pinehurst Resort's famed No. 2 course.
You won't find Phil Mickelson in that discussion, even though he'll by trying to win this Open to complete the career Grand Slam. And you won't find Angel Cabrera there either, although he always seems to be a factor at the big events.
Tiger Woods just won't be there, period.
The following is a list of players who, in my mind, will be in that discussion, and deservedly so.
Even at age 20, Jordan Spieth has certainly stated his case for being a favorite at Pinehurst.
He contended at the Masters into the final round and did the same thing at the Players Championship.
Spieth has already posted six top-10 finishes in 15 starts and won over $3 million this year.
He's proved himself worthy of the hype that surrounded him coming into this season and it's a matter of when, not if, in terms of him winning a major title.
Bubba Watson is second in the FedEx Cup points race and is the fifth-ranked player in the world, according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
As the owner of two green jackets from Augusta National, he has stamped himself as a player to be contended with during major championships.
And despite a final-round 76 at the Players Championship, Watson has put together an impressive first few months of the 2014 season. He's won twice, finished second twice and has six top-10 finishes in 10 starts.
His creativity should be a tremendous asset on Pinehurst No. 2, where the greens' complexes will determine the U.S. Open champion.
Much has been expected of Adam Scott since he won the Masters in April of 2013.
He played well in both the Masters and Players Championship this year, but was doomed by one bad round in each tournament.
Scott will be among the group of favorites, even though he doesn't have much of a history in the U.S. Open. In 12 starts, he's made only six cuts, with his best finish a tie for 15th in 2012.
It will be interesting to see how he handles being the No. 1 player in the world between now and arriving at Pinehurst.
A case could be made that Matt Kuchar should be the flat-out favorite in the U.S. Open.
Still looking for a major title, Kuchar has had an outstanding season to this point. He won at the RBC Heritage with a thrilling hole-out from a green-side bunker on the 72nd hole.
His worst finish came at the Valspar Championship, where he put up a 38th-place tie. Otherwise, he has a win, a runner-up and nine top-10 finishes in 13 starts.
Kuchar has been a bulldog and a money-making machine on the PGA Tour and certainly appears to be playing at a level that should serve him well in the U.S. Open.
Sergio Garcia is a long-time participant and non-winner in major championships. He is currently in an 0-for 62 slump in those events.
But his play early in this season make him someone to watch when things get started at Pinehurst. Eight starts, five top-10 finishes, including a pair of third-place finishes, certainly have him on the right track. Seven of his eight PGA Tour starts have resulted in top-25 placings. The only bad start was a missed cut at the Masters.
Also a positive for Garcia is his third-place finish when the U.S. Open was last held there in 2005.
The combination of Zach Johnson's grinder mentality and the accuracy figure to serve him well at Pinehurst No. 2.
The fact that he's gotten off to a nice start in 2014 won't hurt him, either.
He started off the new year with a win in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, and he has gone on to post four top-10 results in 14 starts thus far.
Johnson is fifth in driving accuracy, 35th in greens in regulation and 28th in strokes gained putting, per PGATour.com.
That sounds a lot like a game that's ready to take on a very difficult and classic Donald Ross course.
Rory McIlroy's golf game hasn't been in this sort of form in quite a while.
But will his announcement this week that he has broken off his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki derail what had the makings of a banner season for him?
The Northern Irishman has finished in the top 10 in each of his last four starts, including an eighth-place tie at the Masters.
His situation will now make for interesting watching between now and Pinehurst to see if he'll be able to keep his personal life outside the ropes.