Ranking the Top 10 Golfers Ahead of the 2018 US Open

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2018

Ranking the Top 10 Golfers Ahead of the 2018 US Open

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    The sands are nearly through the preparatory hourglass, which means it's time for our annual pre-U.S. Open ranking.

    Dustin Johnson entered the 2017 event as the defending champion and the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, but he missed the cut after shooting four over par through 36 holes in Erin, Wisconsin.

    What goes into the breakdown this time around, you ask?

    A golfer's last several starts and a glance at his world ranking are the main considerations, and we also detailed career U.S. Open performances.

    How do we factor in Tiger Woods' resurgence? Who is the best non-American contender? Does defending champion Brooks Koepka fit into the mix anywhere?

    Who fills out our top 10 before the first groupings get going on Thursday at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York?

    Scroll through for the answers.

10. Brooks Koepka

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    OWGR: 9

    Best of 2018: Defending champ Brooks Koepka hasn't set the world ablaze in 2018, but he got progressively better on the leaderboard in three recent events. He moved from a tie for 42nd at the Wells Fargo Championship to a tie for 11th at The Players Championship and to a solo second-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational in late May.

    Why He's Here: Had this list been assembled based solely on 2018 outings, Koepka would have missed the cut. But he is the defending champion and thus warrants consideration.

    U.S. Open History: Koepka has made the cut in four consecutive U.S. Opens and finished tied for 18th or better in each. A tie for fourth in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2 was his best finish before last year's four-shot win at Erin Hills.

9. Jon Rahm

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    OWGR: 5

    Best of 2018: Jon Rahm has been sniffing at contention for much of 2018, racking up two wins, a second place and two other top-10s across 11 events. He beat Andrew Landry in a playoff to capture the CareerBuilder Challenge in January and was a two-shot winner over Paul Dunne at the Open de Espana in mid-April.

    Why He's Here: The 23-year-old had relatively insignificant results in his first six appearances at majors before breaking through with a fourth-place finish two months ago at the Masters. His two wins this season indicate further success could be looming.

    U.S. Open History: Not much to speak of in two appearances, though a 2016 effort at Oakmont did leave him tied for 23rd as the tournament's low amateur. His follow-up last year was ignominious, though, and resulted in a missed cut.

8. Tiger Woods

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    OWGR: 80

    Best of 2018: A tie for second at the Valspar Championship in March is the best effort thus far for the 14-time major champion, though the truest indicator of his renewed relevance is a move from 656th at the end of last year in the world rankings to his present position at No. 80. Heady stuff for a 42-year-old with more surgeries than majors in the last decade.

    Why He's Here: He's here because he's won every tournament there is to win, because he's made more money than any golfer before him had ever dreamed of and because even the slightest hint of a resurgence moves the needle further than any other star can.

    His ball-striking throughout his 2018 appearances has been on a winning level, though his putting at The Memorial was not quite ready for prime time. How he'll fare down the stretch if he's in a contending position is a question because his final rounds haven't been his best this year, but it'll be fun to find out.  

    U.S. Open History: He's played four full rounds at the U.S. Open 16 times and has won it three times, though the last of those wins came 10 years ago at Torrey Pines and was his last major triumph, too. In five U.S. Opens since that victory, his extremes have included ties for sixth (2009) and fourth (2010) as well as a missed cut (2015).

7. Rickie Fowler

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    OWGR:

    Best of 2018: It's not been a banner 2018 for Rickie Fowler, but it's worthwhile to point out that his best finish came in this year's lone major to date—a close second at the Masters, one shot behind champion Patrick Reed. Outside of that, he's picked up a tie for fourth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and a tie for eighth at The Memorial.

    Why He's Here: Well, someone has to walk around this week with the "Best Player to Never Win a Major" cloak on, right? And if anyone deserves it, it's Fowler. Five of the six players ahead of him in the Official World Golf Ranking have at least one major trophy, and Fowler, now 29, has been knocking on the door since a tie for fifth at the British Open in 2011. He has nine career top-10s in majors, including second-place ties at both the U.S. and British Opens in 2014. 

    U.S. Open History: It's essentially been feast or famine for Fowler in nine previous U.S. Opens, including three top-10s and four missed cuts. He wound up tied for fifth last year at Erin Hills, but he led after the first 18 holes and was just two shots behind entering the final round before skidding back with an even-par 72.

6. Justin Rose

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    OWGR: 3

    Best of 2018: If it feels to you like Justin Rose is on the leaderboard at least as often as not, you're not mistaken. The 37-year-old native of South Africa has posted top-10 finishes in five of his last 10 events, including a three-shot win at the Fort Worth Invitational in late May and a third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in mid-March. He has already jumped three spots in the Official World Golf Ranking this year. 

    Why He's Here: A former U.S. Open champion with 13 top-10 placements in past majors belongs on this list, particularly given his excellence this spring. Careerwise, though, he's made the cut in nearly 70 percent (39 of 56) of the majors he's played since 1998 and has wound up in the top five of 14.3 percent of them. 

    U.S. Open History: Rose tied for fifth at the U.S. Open in 2003 and tied for 10th in 2007, but he broke through in 2013 at Merion by playing just well enough to outlast a field in which no player finished even par or better. Rose was four shots off Phil Mickelson's first-round lead but climbed within one shot at the halfway mark and was two back after 54 holes before a final-round 70 left him two ahead of Mickelson and Jason Day.

    In his four subsequent appearances, he has headed in the wrong direction, however, beginning with a tie for 12th in 2014 and missing the cut in 2016 and 2017.

5. Justin Thomas

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    Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

    OWGR: 2

    Best of 2018: Already a major champion thanks to a win at the 2017 PGA Championship, 25-year-old Justin Thomas has continued his ascension in 2018 with five top-10 finishes in 11 events—including in four of the last seven he's played.

    The Kentucky native began the year at No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking, then won the Honda Classic in February, moved to No. 2 on the strength of two top-five finishes in March and claimed the top spot after finishing tied for 11th at The Players Championship. He stayed in the top spot until Monday. 

    Why He's Here: Sure, go ahead and put together a top-10 list without the No. 2-ranked player in the world, sheesh. But seriously, the finishes tell the story. Thomas has made the cut in nine of 11 majors he's played, including all four in 2016 and three of four last year. He tied for 17th at the Masters in April and will arrive at Shinnecock Hills with as much pre-Open momentum as anyone.

    U.S. Open History: Thomas missed the cut as a precocious 21-year-old in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2 but played all four rounds in his next appearance in 2016 and reached the top 10—tying for ninth—last year at Erin Hills.

4. Jason Day

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    OWGR: 8

    Best of 2018: Not too many players will show up at Shinnecock Hills having already won two tournaments in 2018, but Jason Day is one of them. He bested Alex Noren and Ryan Palmer to take the Farmers Insurance Open in his first start of the calendar year and then finished two shots clear of Nick Watney and Aaron Wise at the Wells Fargo Championship in May. The results of his last two events are a tie for fifth at The Players Championship and a less noteworthy tie for 44th at The Memorial. 

    Why He's Here: There's little doubt that Day is on the short list of top picks every time a major rolls around. In 30 career Grand Slam events, he's finished in the top 10 nearly half of the time (14), including eight top-five results.

    U.S. Open History: Among the majors he's played, Day has his best ratio of cuts made at the U.S. Open, where he's made the weekend six times in seven tries. He was a solo second to Rory McIlroy in 2011 and tied for second behind Justin Rose two years later. All that said, he missed the cut by nine strokes last year after shooting 79 and 75 at Erin Hills.

3. Jordan Spieth

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    Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

    OWGR: 4

    Best of 2018: It's tough to read the pre-U.S. Open run that Jordan Spieth has had in 2018. He had won 14 tournaments in the previous five years, but he has none this year. After a two-week stretch in April in which he was third at both the Houston Open and the Masters, he's followed with four tournaments when he's missed a cut and finished no better than tied for 21st. His two other top-10s in 2018 came in January and February, respectively.

    Why He's Here: Of course, lest we forget, Spieth is still a month-plus shy of his 25th birthday, and it doesn't take too great a memory to recall a 2015 season in which he won the Masters and the U.S. Open, tied for fourth at the British Open and was second at the PGA Championship. That run was as close to unilateral post-Tiger dominance as we've seen, and his presence on a weekend leaderboard will stir the drink like that of few others.

    U.S. Open History: Spieth has made the cut in five of six U.S. Opens he's played, including a low-amateur finish in 2012 as a 19-year-old and the one-shot win over Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen in 2015. He's made the cut, albeit tied for 37th and 35th, respectively, in two appearances since that victory.

2. Rory McIlroy

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    OWGR: 6

    Best of 2018: Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy is another of those players arriving at Shinnecock Hills having already revved the title-winning engines this year. The Northern Irishman has vaulted from 11th to sixth on the Official World Golf Ranking list thanks to six top-10 finishes in 13 events, including a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and seconds at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the European PGA Championship.

    Why He's Here: Check the resume. Two dozen top-25 finishes in 37 career majors, including a 2011 U.S. Open win in which he blitzed the field by eight shots while setting 12 tournament records. McIlroy was second to Patrick Reed through 54 holes at the Masters in April and is never far from the top pick on any list of contenders for an imminent major. If he's holding a trophy on Sunday, it'll shock no one.

    U.S. Open History: McIlroy has missed the cut in four of nine career U.S. Opens, so a lot will be told by his first-round performance. Since the field-crushing win in 2011, he's been far closer to ordinary, with three missed cuts and just one top-10 result (a tie for ninth in 2015).

1. Dustin Johnson

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    OWGR: 1

    Best of 2018: Dustin Johnson began the year with an eight-shot victory over Jon Rahm at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He had five top-10s and three more top-20s in nine subsequent events and then added another trophy in his final pre-U.S. Open start thanks to a six-shot win at the St. Jude Classic. He even made news at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play—where he tied for 59th—with a ridiculous 489-yard drive on the 12th hole at the Austin Country Club.

    Why He's Here: He was ranked No. 1 in the world at the end of 2017 and held that ranking in the early portion of 2018 until falling to No. 2, where he resided behind Justin Thomas before earning a reascension to the top spot after the win at St. Jude. He broke out of the "Best Player to Never Win a Major" doghouse at the 2016 U.S. Open. If he's playing his best golf for 72 holes, he will be awfully difficult to beat.

    U.S. Open History: Johnson entered the 2017 U.S. Open as the defending champion but was among a collection of high-profile players to miss the cut after he shot four over through 36 holes at Erin Hills. He has four top-10s in 10 career appearances at the event, including the 2016 win and top-10s in 2010 (tie for eighth), 2014 (tie for fourth) and 2015 (tie for second). He also missed the cut in 2012 and was an also-ran—not finishing higher than a tie for 23rd (2011)—in four other opportunities.

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