Preview and Analysis of Top 25 Players to Watch at the US Open

Fred AltvaterContributor IIJune 9, 2014

Preview and Analysis of Top 25 Players to Watch at the US Open

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    Justin Rose is the U.S. Open defending champion.
    Justin Rose is the U.S. Open defending champion.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The best golfers in the world will gather this week for the second major championship of the season, and all but two of the Top 50 from the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) will be on hand for the festivities.

    Tiger Woods is still rehabbing from his back surgery, and Thomas Bjorn withdrew due to neck and shoulder issues.

    Bjorn is leading the European Tour's Race to Dubai and is still looking for his first major trophy.

    This will be the 114th playing of the U.S. Open and Donald Ross' famous Pinehurst No. 2 will host the U.S. Open for the third time.   

    Payne Stewart won his last major championship here in 1999, and Michael Thompson won his lone major championship at Pinehurst in 2005.

    The course has been restored to Ross' original design by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. The result has drawn rave reviews.

    The fairways are forgiving with very little rough. Waste areas bordering the wide fairways are complete with tall fescue and may prove to be much more penal than normal USGA rough.  

    As always, the player who wins this week will have managed to conquer the difficult greens on this iconic golf course. They are bowl-shaped with closely clipped run-off areas that will test the nerve of every player.

    The USGA always manages to provide a full examination, and this year will be no exception to that rule.

    Here are 25 players who bear watching this week and reasons why they could hoist the U.S. Open trophy on Father's Day.

No. 25 Bill Haas

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    Bill Haas won the 2011 FedEx Cup.
    Bill Haas won the 2011 FedEx Cup.Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Bill Haas is 32 years old and has five PGA Tour wins.

    Even though he only has three top-10 finishes this season, he is ranked No. 34 on the OWGR and is coming off a T-8 at the Memorial in his last start.

    He won the 2011 FedEx Cup and the $10 million that goes along with it but is still considered somewhat of an underachiever.

    He has the all-around game to win on a difficult golf course and is a native of North Carolina.

    If he can relax and not let his emotions run too hot, he could just win his first major championship this week at Pinehurst.

No. 24 Webb Simpson

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    Webb Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club.
    Webb Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Webb Simpson has the "right stuff" to win major championships.

    He is long enough off the tee, keeps his driver in the fairway and is an excellent iron player.

    His putting is questionable at times, but the premium this week will be on chipping and management around the greens.

    He is also a North Carolina resident and should like the home cooking this week.

    With one U.S. Open trophy already at home on his mantle, can he add a second?

No. 23 Brandt Snedeker

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    Brandt Snedeker won the 2012 FedEx Cup.
    Brandt Snedeker won the 2012 FedEx Cup.John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Brandt Snedeker is not having one of his better seasons on the PGA Tour.

    He is No. 117 in the FedEx Cup and No. 31 on the OWGR.

    His sometimes erratic driving gets him into trouble, but the friendly fairways at Pinehurst should give him more room to operate.

    If he is healthy enough to swing the club freely this week, his putter always makes him a threat to win.  

No. 22 Martin Kaymer

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    Martin Kaymer with the Wanamaker Trophy.
    Martin Kaymer with the Wanamaker Trophy.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Martin Kaymer won the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits but had not won another tournament on the PGA Tour until the 2014 Players Championship last month.

    He has regained his old swing and confidence on the golf course.

    Kaymer is No. 28 on the OWGR and may be ready to win another major title.

     

     

No. 21 Lee Westwood

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    Lee Westwood is still looking for his first major win.
    Lee Westwood is still looking for his first major win.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Even though Lee Westwood has 23 career wins on the European Tour and two PGA Tour wins, he has yet to win a major championship.

    Westwood has finished inside the Top 10 in 11 of the last 21 major championships.

    His accuracy off the tee and to the green will be a huge asset for him this week.

    The question is whether or not his short game will hold up to U.S. Open pressure.

No. 20 Miguel Angel Jimenez

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    Miguel Angel Jimenez has two wins on the European Tour this season.
    Miguel Angel Jimenez has two wins on the European Tour this season.Joshua Paul/Associated Press

    Miguel Angel Jimenez is 50 years old but has the heart of a man half that age.

    He is the only European Tour member with multiple wins on that tour this year.

    He is making a run at earning a spot on the European Ryder Cup Team; a win this week would assure his place on the team.

    Pinehurst requires a copious amount of imagination around and over the humps and bumps that comprise the severe greens.

    Jimenez has the experience and touch to do well this week in the U.S. Open.

No. 19 Ian Poulter

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    Ian Poulter likes the big stage.
    Ian Poulter likes the big stage.Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Ian Poulter, like Lee Westwood, is still seeking his first major title.

    He is a showman and likes the big moments in golf.

    Pinehurst may just be the type of golf course that will allow Poulter to shine.

    If he can channel some of the intensity that he exhibits at the Ryder Cup, he could be a factor this week.

No. 18 Patrick Reed

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    Patrick Reed won the 2014 WGC-Cadillac.
    Patrick Reed won the 2014 WGC-Cadillac.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Patrick Reed just became a father, and what would be more fitting than a new dad winning on Father's Day?

    He has two wins this season including the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March.

    Reed certainly has the confidence to win a major. Will his aggressive style of play get him to the top of the leaderboard on Sunday? 

No. 17 Graeme McDowell

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    Greame McDowell won the U.S. Open on Father's Day in 2010.
    Greame McDowell won the U.S. Open on Father's Day in 2010.Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Graeme McDowell had his father by his side when he won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

    He has five top-10 finishes in 10 starts this season on the PGA Tour.

    McDowell has the gritty grind-it-out style of play that is needed at Pinehurst No. 2.

    Pebble Beach was firm, fast and windy when he won there in 2010.

    Fairways, greens and determination are his specialty. That could be the recipe for a win this week.

No. 16 Victor Dubuisson

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    Victory Dubuisson proved bountiful imagination on the golf course.
    Victory Dubuisson proved bountiful imagination on the golf course.Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Victor Dubuisson proved at the WGC-Accenture Match Play that no one has more imagination and variety of shots around the greens than he does.

    Time after time he was able to scrape out a par from the most dire circumstance.

    That attitude and aptitude will be exactly what is needed to score well on Pinehurst No. 2 this week at the U.S. Open.

    He has the flair and the short game to win his first major title.

No. 15 Luke Donald

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    Luke Donald is due to win a major.
    Luke Donald is due to win a major.Hamish Blair/Getty Images

    Luke Donald won the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour last November but has not won on the European or PGA Tours since 2012.

    The former No. 1-ranked player in the world has slipped to No. 18 on the OWGR.

    In his last three starts on the PGA Tour, he finished runner-up at the RBC Heritage, T-38 at the Players and T-49 at the Memorial.

    He has the best short game in golf. If he can control his driver, his iron play and putting could be just the right combination to win his first major championship. 

No. 14 Steve Stricker

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    Steve Stricker is focused on a major championship win.
    Steve Stricker is focused on a major championship win.Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    At 47 years old, Steve Stricker has to be the sentimental favorite to win this week at Pinehurst.

    He has 12 career wins on the PGA Tour and has curtailed his schedule to just a few select events.

    He has not missed a cut in six starts this year and is coming off his best finish—a T-6 at the Memorial.

    Stricker is another one of those guys with the short game that should prove to be all-important at Pinehurst this week. 

No. 13 Zach Johnson

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    Zach Johnson was hot early in the 2014 season.
    Zach Johnson was hot early in the 2014 season.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Zach Johnson has cooled off since his win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, T-8 in the Sony Open and T-3 in the Humana Challenge.

    He is still ranked No. 13 in the FedEx Cup and No. 14 in the OWGR.

    At a golf course that places a premium on accuracy and touch around the greens, he is a very close second to only Luke Donald in that department.

    He won the 2007 Masters by displaying his magnificent short game, and he could find Pinehurst to his liking this week. 

No. 12 Hideki Matsuyama

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    Hideki Matsuyama receives the 2014 Memorial trophy from Jack Nicklaus.
    Hideki Matsuyama receives the 2014 Memorial trophy from Jack Nicklaus.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Hideki Matsuyama is only a 22-year-old rookie on the PGA Tour, but he just won his first title at the Memorial.

    He has five wins in Japan and finished inside the top 10 in the U.S. Open and the Open Championship last year.

    He has the game and the confidence to play with the big boys, but inexperience will probably keep him out of the winner's circle this year.

No. 11 Jim Furyk

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    Jim Furyk won the 2003 U.S. Open.
    Jim Furyk won the 2003 U.S. Open.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Jim Furyk has the grit and determination to grind out a win at Pinehurst.

    He finished runner-up to Jason Dufner at the 2013 PGA Championship and is performing well on tour this year.

    Although he does not have a win, he has two runners-up and five top-10 finishes in his 12 starts.

    A former FedEx Cup winner, he is No. 12 in the 2014 FedEx Cup ranking and in the world.

    This is exactly the type of golf course that should fit Furyk's controlled and consistent golf game.

    A second U.S. Open trophy could be in his future.

No. 10 Phil Mickelson

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    Phil Mickelson has struggled in 2014.
    Phil Mickelson has struggled in 2014.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Phil Mickelson is not having the type of year golf fans are accustomed to seeing from the superstar.

    He has yet to post a top-10 finish this year, but he has finished T-11 in two of his last four starts.

    The recent announcement of his involvement in an insider-trading investigation by the FBI and SEC, as reported by The Guardian, will not help his chances this week.

    Six career U.S. Open runners-up has left a hole in Mickelson's resume, and he wants to complete the career grand slam with a win at Pinehurst.

    He has the length and, like Luke Donald and Zach Johnson, the short game to contend this week.

    Can Mickelson block out the distractions and focus solely on his golf?

No. 9 Jordan Spieth

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    Jordan Spieth likes the bright lights of the big events.
    Jordan Spieth likes the bright lights of the big events.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Jordan Spieth is just in his second year on the PGA Tour but has established himself as one of the favorites every time he tees it up.

    Spieth battled Bubba Watson right down to the finish at the Masters in April.

    He does not have a win in 2014, but he has had two runners-up and six top-10 finishes.

    He is not afraid of the big moments and enjoys being in the spotlight.

    Spieth will win multiple majors in his career, but he probably won't win this week.

No. 8 Justin Rose

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    Justin Rose won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Country Club.
    Justin Rose won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Country Club.Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Justin Rose is the defending champion this week. 

    He battled injury earlier in the season but has been returning to form.

    He missed the cut at the Memorial in his last start, but he posted three consecutive top-10 finishes prior to that.

    It is difficult to win any major, but it is far more difficult to defend a U.S. Open Championship.

    Curtis Strange was the last man to win consecutive U.S. Opens in 1988 and 1989.

     

No. 7 Sergio Garcia

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    Sergio Garcia is still looking for that first major title.
    Sergio Garcia is still looking for that first major title.Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Sergio Garcia has finished top-five in every major championship but is still looking for his first major championship victory.

    It has been 15 years since he burst onto our television screens bounding across the fairway to watch his shot in the 1999 PGA Championship.

    At 34 years old, Garcia is in his prime golfing years and is having a very good year on the PGA Tour.

    He has five top-10 finishes in eight starts and is No. 8 in the world rankings.

    Will he win a major title in his career? 

    Yes, but not this week.

    Pinehurst demands more patience than Garcia can give.

     

No. 6 Jason Day

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    Jason Day won the 2014 WGC-Accenture Match Play.
    Jason Day won the 2014 WGC-Accenture Match Play.Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    Jason Day started the PGA Tour season with a runner-up at the Farmers Insurance Open and a win at the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

    He also had a win in Australia at the ISPS World Cup of Golf and a T-9 at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge at the end of 2013.

    A wrist injury curtailed his season, and the Masters was his only start from March through the beginning of June.

    He is only 26 years old and another of the young golfers that likes the big stage.

    He finished inside the top 10 in three of the majors in 2013, but lack of competition over the last few months will hurt his chances of winning this week.

No. 5 Rory McIlroy

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    Rory McIlroy has not won on the PGA Tour since 2012.
    Rory McIlroy has not won on the PGA Tour since 2012.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Although Rory McIlroy has not won on the PGA Tour since 2012, he won the 2014 BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour last month.

    He finished 2013 with a win at the Australian Open and has six top-10 finishes in nine starts this year on the PGA Tour.

    He was runner-up at the Honda Classic and posted four consecutive top-10 finishes in April and May.

    McIlroy already has two major titles—he won the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship.

    He may be ready to add a third major championship to his already impressive resume.

No. 4 Matt Kuchar

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    Matt Kuchar is No. 3 in the FedEx Cup standings.
    Matt Kuchar is No. 3 in the FedEx Cup standings.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Matt Kuchar has one win, one runner-up and nine top-10 finishes in 2014.

    He is a threat to win every week.

    Kuchar has built a swing that will produce consistent shots under pressure and is one of the fiercest competitors on the tour.

    If he can get his putter to cooperate on the Pinehurst greens, he could get his first major title.

No. 3 Bubba Watson

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    Bubba Watson won his second Green Jacket in April.
    Bubba Watson won his second Green Jacket in April.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Bubba Watson seems to be in a very good frame of mind right now.

    He won the Northern Trust Open in February and his second Masters title in April. 

    Add to that runners-up at Phoenix and Doral and you have the makings of a very good season.

    He is No. 2 in the FedEx Cup and No. 3 in the world ranking.

    Watson's putting is sometimes suspect, but if he can putt the treacherous Augusta National greens, he should be able to handle Pinehurst.

No. 2 Henrik Stenson

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    Henrik Stenson won the Race to Dubai and the FedEx Cup in 2013.
    Henrik Stenson won the Race to Dubai and the FedEx Cup in 2013.Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

    Henrik Stenson won the Race to Dubai and the FedEx Cup in 2013 but has gotten off to a slow start in 2014.

    A sore wrist affected his play at the end of last year, and he only has one top-10 finish in eight starts on the PGA Tour this season.

    Stenson has yet to win a major and does not appear to be playing at his best right now.

    He is No. 2 in the world but is not one of the favorites this week.

No. 1 Adam Scott

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    Adam Scott is the No. 1 golfer in the world.
    Adam Scott is the No. 1 golfer in the world.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    With Tiger Woods on the mend, Adam Scott ascended to the No. 1 spot in the world rankings.

    He immediately validated the honor by winning the Crowne Plaza Invitational two weeks ago.

    Scott won the 2013 Masters and The Barclays in the FedEx Cup playoffs. 

    He also won two tournaments in Australia in November, finished third in the ISPS World Cup of Golf and runner-up to Rory McIlroy in the Australian Open.

    He has five top-10 finishes in just nine starts on the PGA Tour this year.

    He has to be one of the players to watch this week if only for his beautiful swing and presence on the golf course.