The 2014 U.S. Open begins this Thursday at Pinehurst, and there are a few clear favorites that are expected to be in the running to win the second major championship of the season.
Tiger Woods may not be in this year's tournament, but that doesn't mean this year's U.S. Open is without some big names in golf. From the famous lefty Phil Mickelson to 20-year-old phenom Jordan Spieth, there are a ton of names to watch for as they look to make a run at Pinehurst.
With the tournament set to begin on Thursday, let's take a look at some of the favorites to win this year's U.S. Open along with predictions for where each will finish.
It's been a rough couple of years for Rory McIlroy since winning the PGA Championship back in 2012, but he's finally getting back on track this season.
McIlroy was able to get a big win back in May at the BMW PGA Championship. During this year's PGA season, he's played in nine events, finishing in the top 10 six times, the top 25 all nine times and coming in second at the Honda Classic. McIlroy might have had a chance to win the Honda Classic back in March, but a rough final round at four over par kept him from getting another win.
Back in 2011, McIlroy was able to win his first career major at Pinehurst. Now, as he looks to win his third career major, he plans on playing it safe, according to James Corrigan from The Telegraph, with the 25-year-old saying:
I’m going to adopt a really conservative game plan. Middle of the green, middle of the green, middle of the green. I think if your iron game is in really good shape, then you can hit the middle of those greens. Even if it’s a 30- or 40-foot birdie putt every time, you’re going to do really well. If you short-side yourself, you bring a really large number into play.
That conservative approach should help McIlroy from making any huge mistakes, but if he's really planning on playing it safe, it'll be hard for him to win. Still, with how he's been playing lately, expect McIlroy to finish pretty close to the top and within the top five.
Predicted finish: fourth
For as successful as Mickelson has been over the years, he's never won the U.S. Open. The five-time major champion has finished in second place six times at Pinehurst, with the most recent second-place finish coming back in 2013.
So far, this season has not gone Mickelson's way. In 14 PGA Tour events, he hasn't recorded a single top-10 finish and ended in the top 25 only seven times. He even missed the cut at this year's Masters Tournament, finishing five over par through two rounds.
The good news for Lefty is that it looks like he's settled down a bit recently. At the FedEx St. Jude Classic, he started the tournament strong with scores of 67, 68 and 67 before ending with a 72 to have his best tournament of the year, finishing in a tie for 11th place.
After coming so close to winning the U.S. Open so many times, Mickelson is still confident he'll win and complete the career Grand Slam, according to Hank Gola from the New York Daily News:
'It would mean a lot to win the national championship, complete the career Grand Slam, and I’ve said that for a while, so I’m not going to deny it, and I do believe it will happen, whether it’s at Pinehurst or at an upcoming event, upcoming championship,' the 43-year-old said. 'I’m not sure where it will happen, but I am confident it will.'
This probably won't be the year Mickelson finally wins it, but since he settled down in his last tournament, I think he'll finally be able to get his first top-10 finish of the season.
Predicted finish: ninth
Bubba Watson is looking to join some very elite company by winning the Masters and U.S. Open in the same season, and with how well he's been playing so far, he just might be able to do it.
The two-time Masters champion has been terrific all year, as he's currently in second place in the FedEx Cup standings. He's won two tournaments this year while also grabbing two second-place and another two third-place finishes.
Those results are great, but now Watson will be looking to win his second major of the year. According to ESPN's Stats & Info, only five other players have ever been able to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same season.
The U.S. Open has never been kind to Watson, with his best finish coming back in 2007 when he was tied for fifth. In the past three years, he's tied for 63rd in 2011, missed the cut in 2012 and then finished tied for 32nd in 2013.
However, with how hot he's been this year, I expect Watson to come very close to winning his third career major.
Predicted finish: third