U.S. Open Championship Preview
This year’s event at Shinnecock Hills should be much more of an international affair than last year.
Last year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills was very much a celebration of American golf, with all but two of the top 12 places filled by players wearing the Stars & Stripes on their sleeves. But as Mike Wilson writes, with five overseas players occupying the top-10 players on the Official World Golf Ranking, this year’s event at Shinnecock Hills could be much more of an international affair.
Tiger Woods is trying to win his first Major since lifting the U.S. Open trophy at Torrey Pines fully a decade ago. And his arch-rival Phil Mickelson is also attempting to complete the career grand slam by winning the only one of the four BIG titles to have eluded him to date. With 20 years elapsing since the last successful defence of the U.S. Open, the odds must be stacked against Brooks Koepka retaining the title he won in such convincing style at Erin Hills 12 months ago.
Hold onto your hats for what promises to be a rollercoaster ride up in New York State this month.
Ask your average American PGA TOUR player at the outset of his career which Major they would covet most were they able to choose, and it would be a toss-up between the Masters and the U.S. Open. Most other international players would select the Open Championship, one of the four flagship events most steeped in history and heritage would most probably top the poll.
Looking back to last year, Brooks Koepka won his first Major at the U.S. Open Championship, a stunning string of birdies down the stretch secured him a four-shot victory at Erin Hills last June. Having entered the final day one shot behind overnight leader Brian Harman, four birdies from the 14th on Sunday afternoon took the American well clear at 16-under-par.
Koepka started his 2017/18 campaign where he left off, tied-second at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai behind Justin Rose. But his form in this calendar year has tailed-off, only one missed cut but currently languishing outside the top-100 on the FedEx Cup rankings, recently dropping out of the top-10 on the OWGR.
The form might suggest that the winner of the 2018 U.S. Open will come from the top10 of the OWGR. With world number one Dustin Johnson and his closest rival Justin Thomas amongst the favourites, DJ at 10/1, ahead of Thomas at 14/1, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth squeezed in between at 12/1. Rickie Fowler, fresh from his runner-up finish at the Masters good value at 18/1.
Thomas has two wins under his belt already this term. But a lacklustre T-17 at The Masters will do his confidence no good. However, with eight PGA TOUR wins to his name, including a maiden ‘Major’ at last year’s U.S. PGA Championship means he goes into his ‘Home’ open as a reigning ‘Major’ champion.
It’s hard to believe that McIlroy, winner at the recent Arnold Palmer Invitational, hadn’t won at all since 2016 and hasn’t won a ‘Major’ for four years. His U.S. Open triumph all of
seven-years-ago. But if he can keep the ball in play and get his putter working, the Irishman is capable of anything.
Meanwhile, Jason Day, fresh from his win at the Wells Fargo Championship, another ‘W’ to his name this term at the Farmers Championship. And he is already a Major champion having won the 2015 U.S. PGA has a fine U.S. Open record, four top-10s in succession from 2013 before missing the cut at Erin Hills last year.
Jordan Spieth has yet to record a victory on the 2017/18 PGA TOUR, sitting down in 30th place on the FedEx Cup Rankings. But he’s a big-game player, witness his record of three Major titles in just five years in the paid ranks, he could conceivably become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2000 to hold Open Championships on both sides of the Atlantic simultaneously.
And then there is Rickie Fowler, current holder of that least-wanted sobriquet in golf The best player never to win a Major, runnerup at Augusta and the OHL Classic - Can he go one better at Shinnecock Hills?
That’s an interesting question. But there is something about Fowler come the final day on the biggest stages of all, in orange and contention, something similar happens as it did to Lee Westwood. Perhaps yet to convince himself that when the door opens, he’s big enough and good enough to step through it, flattering to deceive, perhaps destined to be the bridesmaid and never the bride?
Of the mainland European contingent, 2017 Masters champion Sergio García’s U.S. Open record mirrored his pre-2017 Major championship history, a case of ‘Close, but no cigar’. Five top-10 finishes in 18 outings, but, having recently become a father after getting the Major monkey off his back, he knows how to close out a victory and could feature down the stretch on Sunday afternoon.
For the first time in many years, García is not the best Spanish bet for a title that eluded the country’s best. Seve and José María Olazábal were never to win the U.S. Open. But history could well be made by Jon Rahm, who has the look of a man who knows what he wants - big titles - and knows how to get it.
Last year’s European Tour Rookie of the Year, recent winner of his home Spanish Open and two PGA TOUR titles already to his name, Rahm looks like an unstoppable force of nature. Major wins more a question of ‘how many,’ rather than, ‘when’. And with a Ryder Cup debut all-but assured in Paris in September, Shinnecock Hills could be his coming-of-age at just 23-years-old.
If there were to be a ‘Comeback Kid of the Year’ award in golf, that would have to go to Englishman Ian Poulter. All but shorn of his playing rights on the PGA TOUR, reinstated following ‘recalculation’ of the rankings, the man with the Ryder Cup running through his veins won the prestigious Houston Open. And a fifth in the WGC Match Play and a 7th in the RBC Heritage, the man from Woburn could conceivably win a Major in the twilight of his career. Following in the footsteps of compatriot Justin Rose, U.S. Open champion in 2013.
Another Englishman, Tommy Fleetwood, fourth at Erin Hills last year also has the game. And crucially, the temperament to win a maiden Major in New York State this month. Whilst 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose has enjoyed some good results of late, including third behind Rory McIlroy in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Swedes Henrik Stenson and Alex Norén could also go well, the best prospects for a first-ever Scandinavian victory at the U.S. Open. But German Martin Kaymer, champion in 2014 at Pinehurst, looks bang out of form, dropping out of the Top-100 on the OWGR for the first time in a decade.
Meanwhile, of the Asian contingent, Hideki Matsuyama, still inside the Top-10 on the OWGR, yet again looks the best bet. The 26-year-old fast-approaching sporting maturity, he could go one better than his tie for second-place at Erin Hills and become the first Japanese winner of a Major title.
Making the halfway cut on U.S. Open debut last year, Chinese protégé Li Haotong served notice of his potential as a Major champion-in-waiting. Tearing up the Royal Birkdale links with a final round 63 at the 2017 Open Championship, eventually
finishing third behind champion Spieth and runner-up Matt Kuchar.
South America has a surprisingly good record in Major championships. Argentinean Ángel Cabrera won not only the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont but also the Masters two years later. Following on from his compatriot, the great Roberto de Vicenzo’s victory in the 1967 Open Championship.
And history could well repeat itself. High-flying Argentinean Emiliano Grillo, 2016 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year already has three top-10 finishes in the U.S. this season. And, at 100/1, he could be worth a small investment with your friendly turf accountant.
Last time the U.S. Open was held at Shinnecock Hills GC, Southampton, New York State, it was a South African, Retief Goosen who won - his second U.S. Open title. Branden Grace, who had chances to win the 2015 U.S. Open behind Spieth, Johnson and compatriot Louis Oosthuizen, who, like Grace, is getting back to be close to his best. A tie for 12th place at the Masters, the 2010 Open Championship winner has been runner-up in each of the other three Majors and cannot be counted out to replicate Goosen’s feat.
But the intriguing sub-plot which will be bubbling under in the lead-up to the 118th U.S. Open will centre on those two American idols of golf. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, often bitter rivals, now more amiable with maturity, TV executives will for sure be lobbying USGA Tournament Director Mike Davis for the dynamic duo to be paired together for the first two rounds, sending the TV ratings for the Thursday and Friday off the scale.
It’s hard to believe it’s a decade ago since the once seemingly invincible Woods last won a Major. That very U.S. Open his third victory in the event - famously at Torrey Pines where he won despite a broken leg and ruptured ACL, even going to a fifth day to beat compatriot Rocco Mediate on the first hole of a sudden-death shoot-out after the 18-hole Monday play-off finished all square.
Shinnecock Hills is a linksstyle golf club, located in the town of Southampton on LongIsland, east of New York City
Brooks Koepka won his first Major at the 2017 U.S. Open Championship with a stunning string of birdies down the stretch secured him a four-shot victory at Erin Hills
Hideki Matsuyama could go one better than his tie for secondplace at Erin Hills and become the first Japanese winner of a Major title
Shinnecock Hills could be Jon Rahm’s coming-ofage at just 23-years-old
2008 U.S. Open Champion Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate, runner-up, share a moment on the 18th green during the trophy presentation after the playoff round