THE FRONT 9
A look at nine top contenders at the U.S. Open, in order of predicted finish Rory McIlroy NORTHERN IRELAND
Age: 29 Victories worldwide: 22 Majors: U.S. Open (2011), British Open (2014), PGA Championship (2012, 2014)
Best U.S. Open finish: Won in 2011 at Congressional. U.S. Open memory: Winning with a record score (268) just 10 weeks after losing a four-shot lead in the Masters. Backspin: McIlroy has missed the cut four times in the U.S. Open, compared with once for the other three majors. He at least has a victory this year (Bay Hill) heading into the major season.
Rickie Fowler UNITED STATES
Age: 29 Victories worldwide: 8 Majors: None Best U.S. Open finish: Runner-up in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2. U.S. Open memory: Playing in the last group at a major for the first time in 2014.
Backspin: The best player younger than 40 to have never won a major. Fowler earned that with eight top 5s in the majors. His problem has been going backward at the start of the final round when he has a chance, and making a run when it’s too late.
Patrick Reed UNITED STATES
Age: 27 Victories worldwide: 6 Majors: Masters (2018) Best U.S. Open finish: Tie for 13th in 2017 at Erin Hills. U.S. Open memory: Sharing the 36-hole lead with Jordan Spieth in 2015 at Chambers Bay.
Backspin: Reed has only one victory in his past 53 tournaments worldwide, but it was at the Masters, as big as it gets. Captain America loves the grind of the U.S. Open, but it’s the kind of course that will expose any weakness in this game.
Dustin Johnson UNITED STATES
Age: 33 Victories worldwide: 18 Majors: U.S. Open (2016) Best U.S. Open finish: Won in 2016 at Oakmont. U.S. Open memory: Winning his first major without knowing the score over the final seven holes at Oakmont. Backspin: Johnson hasn’t been sharp since February, that is until he won last week. Also, he hasn’t finished out of the top 20 in stroke play since September. The one area of his game that will need to get better for Shinnecock is off the tee.
Tiger Woods UNITED STATES
Age: 42 Victories worldwide: 90
Majors: Masters (1997, 2001, 2002), U.S. Open (2000, 2002, 2008), British Open (2000, 2005, 2006), PGA Championship (1999, 2000, 2006, 2007) Best U.S. Open finish: Winning at Pebble Beach in 2000 by 15 shots. U.S. Open memory: Winning at Torrey Pines in 2008, playing with severely damaged knee ligaments and two stress fractures in his left leg. Backspin: Woods has shown all the elements of being among the best if he could ever put them all together.
Jordan Spieth UNITED STATES
Age: 24 Victories worldwide: 14 Majors: Masters (2015), U.S. Open (2015), British Open (2017) Best U.S. Open finish: Won in 2015 at Chambers Bay. U.S. Open memory: Getting the second leg of the Grand Slam at the Chambers Bay course.
Backspin: Spieth has struggled with short putts for a little over a month. That’s getting better, and then his swing was out of whack at the Memorial. Even at 24, he’s wise enough to know one week changes everything.
Phil Mickelson UNITED STATES
Age: 47 Victories worldwide: 46 Majors: Masters (2004, 2006, 2010), British Open (2013), PGA Championship (2005) Best U.S. Open finish: Runner-up six times at five courses.
U.S. Open memory: A toss-up between Winged Foot, where he had a one-shot lead on the 18th hole and took double bogey; and Merion, where he led going into the final round and twice made bogey over the last six holes. Backspin: Mickelson needs the U.S. Open to complete the Grand Slam, and this is his fourth attempt.
Justin Thomas UNITED STATES
Age: 25 Victories worldwide: 8 Majors: PGA Championship (2017) Best U.S. Open finish: Tie for ninth in 2017 at Erin Hills. U.S. Open memory: Hitting 3-wood from 310 yards to an elevated green on the 18th at Erin Hills and making an 8-foot eagle putt for a record-tying 63. Backspin: Coming off a breakthrough year, Thomas is getting better each week. He doesn’t have a weakness in any part of his game. The key element for him at Shinnecock Hills is keeping his patience.
Jason Day AUSTRALIA
Age: 30 Victories worldwide: 13 Majors: PGA Championship (2015) Best U.S. Open finish: Runner-up in 2011 at Congressional and in 2013 at Merion. U.S. Open memory: Posting a score that would have won or tied 26 of the previous 29 U.S. Opens, only to finish eight shots behind Rory McIlroy at Congressional. Backspin: Day has turned the corner, but isn’t all the way back. He has won twice this year, in a playoff at Torrey Pines and by two shots at Quail Hollow.
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