The second Major of the year is just hours away…
The season’s second major has arrived as the US Open heads to Shinnecock Hills in New York.
Patrick Reed won the Masters back in April to claim his first major championship, and this week’s field once again looks wide open. Brooks Koepka is trying to become the first person to successfully defend his U.S. Open title since Curtis Strange after winning last year at Erin Hills.
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club is no stranger to this event, having held the US Open back in 2004. The USGA had prepared extremely tough conditions that year, which were later argued by players as “unfair.” The final-round scoring average of 78.7 was the second-highest since World War II, with only Goosen and Phil Mickelson finishing under par. At 7,440 yards, there can be little doubt that power will be an enormous advantage, especially as it increases the options available from the tee. Players have largely been coy on that notion so far, but the next circle of insiders reveal plenty. Ted Scott, caddie for Bubba Watson, said with confidence that a “long hitter will hoist the trophy” and he’s not alone. He may also be right.
You can say with some certainty that a sharp short-game is going to be required. The green complexes at Shinnecock are one of its great defences and when they get firm, which tends to be the case on this sand-based course which really does play like a links granted dry weather, only those with the deftest of touches can survive.
Six-times a US Open runner-up, including here in 2004, Mickelson is an event specialist whose best performances have all come out here in the east. The consistency with which he’s contended for this title, over two decades, is both remarkable and significant: it tells us that his skills are suited to USGA set-ups and that his weaknesses tend not to be exposed by them.
Seven years earlier was Mickelson’s most painful defeat, as he hacked his way to second having led at Winged Foot entering the closing stretch. Again, missing fairways was not a problem, broadly speaking, even at a course whose rough was considered extreme. The left-hander hit little more than 40 per cent and ranked a lowly 51st in driving accuracy.
All of this is old news, but the good news is that Mickelson is just as dangerous as he ever was.
The Top Picks
With all the top contenders in great form, just like earlier in the year at The Masters, it is near impossible to pick an outright favorite. Dustin Johnson, back to world no.1, had an extremely impressive and dominant win last week in the St.Judes Classic just to remind everyone what he is capable of. Justin Thomas, now No. 2 in the world, and Justin Rose also look like prime threats to contend. If this event was held in January, Rose would have been the favorite following a blistering stretch of golf in which he finished in the top 10 in 10 consecutive worldwide events, including three victories. Even so, his most recent win at Colonial, plus the fact his lone major title came at this event in 2013, gives him a great chance this week.
Rickie Fowler is one of the most consistent players on tour and another accurate driver, Fowler nearly won his first major in April at the Masters. He has the talent and capability to deliver a Major championship to his cabinet but will it be this weekend.
Coming in under the radar is Jordan Spieth. We haven’t seen the best of Spieth in 2018 by any means but it doesn’t matter how he is playing coming up to a major, he’s still dangerous and deserves to be mentioned near the top of any U.S. Open picks list. Other notable players that have every chance to be atop the leader board come Sunday would be the likes of McIlroy, Day, Reed, Rahm, Koepka and even Fleetwood as an outsider. Glimpses of past Tiger have given people hope that it will be Major number 15 for Woods but we will have to wait and see.