US Open Field 2014: Golfers to Watch on Day 1

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2014

US Open Field 2014: Golfers to Watch on Day 1

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    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    The U.S. Open field is full of quality golfers. Included are 10 past U.S. Open champions, 28 of the top 30 in the current FedEx Cup standings, nine of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking and 22 players with PGA Tour wins this season.

    In other words: Some pretty good golfers will be teeing it up at Pinehurst No. 2 this weekend.

    The 156 men in the field will be competing for more than just the U.S. Open Trophy and a hefty paycheck. The winner also receives:

    • a 10-year U.S. Open exemption 
    • Five-year exemption to the Masters, British Open, PGA Championship and The Players
    • Five-year exemption on the PGA Tour (if a member or joins the tour) 
    • 600 FedEx Cup points (if a tour member)

    Even if you're planning on calling in sick and occupying the couch all day tomorrow, you can't follow all of the players in the field. Who should you keep your eye on (and why)? 

    Keep reading to find out.

Sergio Garcia

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Tee time: 7:18 a.m. ET

    Why to watch him: Sergio Garcia tied for third at the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. The performance was the Spaniard's best in 14 appearances in the national championship. Overall, he's finished inside the top 10 four times at the U.S. Open. 

    Why does this matter? Well, Garcia is having a quality season. He's made seven of eight cuts on the PGA Tour, with five top-10 finishes to his name. He's eighth on Tour in greens in regulation and is presently 41st in strokes gained-putting. 

    In 2005, Garcia was 164th in that essential metric of one's proficiency with the flatstick. 

    Garcia, one of the best players without a major, is looking as poised to win a U.S. Open entering the tournament as he has at any point in his career. 

Rory McIlroy

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Tee time: 7:40 a.m. ET

    Why to watch: Rory McIlroy is favored to win the U.S. Open. Most books have him at 11-1 or 12-1 odds to lift the U.S. Open trophy.

    The Ulsterman's last major victory came at the 2012 PGA Championship, and he hasn't played well in the U.S. Open recently, finishing tied for 41st last year and missing the cut in 2011. But Rory's luck might be turning around.

    If you haven't been attuned to the goings-on of the world of golf lately, Mr. McIlroy has been playing pretty well since announcing his split from fiancee Caroline Wozniacki. He won the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour, then tied for 15th at the Memorial Tournament. 

    McIlroy is paired with Webb Simpson and Graeme McDowell for his first two rounds. It's certainly worth tuning in to see how the favorite performs. 

Justin Rose

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Tee time: 7:51 a.m. ET

    Why to watch: One of this year's more compelling groupings, Justin Rose's three-ball includes amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick and Phil Mickelson.

    Rose, the defending champion, is fifth or sixth at most sportsbooks among players favored to win this year's tournament. No golfer has won the Open back-to-back times since Curtis Strange did so in 1988 and 1989. 

    Will Justin Rose follow in Strange's footsteps? He'll need a good showing in the opening round if he hopes to do so. 

Phil Mickelson

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Tee time: 7:51 a.m. ET

    Why to watch: With Tiger Woods out of the field, Phil Mickelson will be one of the most closely watched golfers at this year's U.S. Open.

    Mickelson famously finished runner-up to Payne Stewart at the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, so he's going for a shot at redemption this week—one the tournament's more intriguing storylines. 

    The all-time leader in second-place finishes at the Open, Mickelson will be desperately hoping for his first U.S. Open victory as he enters this tournament with an abundance of confidence and an awareness that his time is running out. 

    Justin Rose and Matthew Fitzpatrick are Mickelson's running mates for the first two rounds at Pinehurst. 

Matthew Fitzpatrick

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Tee time: 7:51 a.m. ET 

    Why to watch: U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick will be thrown into the fire in his bid to make it on golf's professional circuit—he'll forfeit his amateur status after the competition.

    The former Northwestern standout will be joined by Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose for the first and second rounds of this U.S. Open, so he'll be teeing it up with a pair of major champions.

    Fitzpatrick was the low amateur at the Open Championship last year, but he missed the cut at this year's Masters. It will be interesting to see which performance he replicates at Pinehurst.

    Keeping tabs on how the 19-year-old Brit fares is a must during the first round.  

Will Grimmer

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    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Tee time: 8:57 a.m. 

    Why to watch: The youngest golfer in the U.S. Open field, amateur Will Grimmer is paired with Anthony Broussard and Nicholas Lindheim for the first two rounds.

    17-year-old Grimmer earned a spot in sectional qualifying. 

    Although he won't be the youngest participant in the U.S. Open (14-year-old Andy Zhang has that honor), the whiskerless Grimmer is still a high school student playing in the U.S. Open—which is pretty cool. 

    He's had some success on the courses of Pinehurst Resort. Playing the No. 1 track at last year's North & South Junior Amateur, Grimmer carded a 59.

    You've got to be at least moderately curious as to how Grimmer plays in his opening round. 

Steve Stricker

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Tee time: 1:03 p.m. ET

    Why to watch: Entering the twilight of his PGA Tour career, Steve Stricker returns to the U.S. Open venue where he finished fifth in 1999. The Wisconsin native is now 47 years old. He can't have many years as a contender left. With 10 top-25 finishes in 18 starts at the Open, Stricker has been close.

    He tees off on the tenth hole at 1:03 p.m. with Jim Furyk and Bill Haas.

Justin Leonard

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Tee time: 1:14 p.m. ET

    Why to watch: Justin Leonard made it through U.S. Open qualifying (winning his section, in fact). He's competing in his first U.S. Open since 2010. 

    Leonard's group for the opening rounds includes fellow major winners Stewart Cink and Y.E. Yang. The last time he competed in the U.S. Open, he finished tied for 14th. He's made 14 of 17 cuts this season with two top-10 finishes. 

    Among the U.S. Open qualifiers, Leonard has to be on the short list of most likely to win the U.S. Open. It will be interesting to see how he fares this week.  

Adam Scott

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Tee time: 1:25 p.m. ET

    Why to watch: World No. 1 Adam Scott enters the U.S. Open after finishing tied for 14th at the Masters. Although he's never finished inside the top 10 at the U.S. Open, the Australian has been playing well as of late: He won the Crowne Plaza Invitational at the end of May and finished tied for fourth at the Memorial Tournament. 

    Joining Scott for the first two rounds of this U.S. Open: Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel. 

    The top-ranked golfer in the world is certainly worth following during the opening round at Pinehurst. 

Bubba Watson

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    Charles Riedel/Associated Press

    Tee time: 1:25 p.m. ET

    Why to watch: Bubba Watson hasn't historically played well at the U.S. Open. He finished tied for fifth at Oakmont in 2007—but hasn't cracked the top 15 since.

    The left-hander has had a great season thus far. In addition to winning the Masters, he was victorious at the Northern Trust Open and finished third in his last start at the Memorial.  

    Watson is grouped with Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel for the first two rounds.