When we talk about the 156 golfers in a U.S. Open field, we’re really only talking about 25 or 26 of them. Could somebody outside of these 25 listed below actually win the golf tournament? Sure, but it hasn’t happened since, well, 2010 when Graeme McDowell won at Pebble Beach.
But you can’t plan for that. You can’t randomly pick Sepp Straka or Tom Hoge and say, “Yeah, this is the week.” You can only evaluate the stars and superstars, their strengths and weakness and make an educated selection from there.
There still might be shock involved. For instance, I believe Tiger Woods is more likely to win than Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele is more likely than Rickie Fowler, and Patrick Cantlay is more likely than Brooks Koepka. But this is the foundation from which you’re operating.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a pool of nine guys that I believe will include your 119th U.S. Open champion, in no particular order. If you give me these nine, you can have the other 147, and I’m going to feel pretty great about my chances.
1. Tiger Woods: Off the top! Chip Patterson and I discussed this on our First Cut Podcast earlier this week, but if you take his name out of it (and everything that goes along with that), the statistical profile I’m seeing is of somebody who should be one of the handful of top favorites to win this tournament. Now layer in his history here and his recent history at majors (as in, he won one of the last two), and he should absolutely be in this group.
2. Brooks Koepka: He’s impervious to the pressure of winning three in a row in a way that Ben Hogan (1952) and certainly Curtis Strange (1990) probably were not. Also, if you don’t have Koepka on a list of players most likely to win any major at this point, then you’re either willfully ignorant or haven’t been paying attention.
3. Xander Schauffele: He’s on my non-negotiable list. I could be talked into or out of some others in this group, but Schauffele is embedded in the “do not answer the phone, and we do not negotiate with unreasonable people” camp.
4. Patrick Cantlay: See above with Schauffele. If you told me to pick two golfers under the age of 30 that I thought were going to have the lowest two-player score, I would give you Koepka and Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. I’d ride with these.
5. Jordan Spieth: There’s only one reason he’s on this list, and it’s not a particularly great one. In the same way that Royal Birkdale — where Spieth won the 2017 Open Championship — only crowns kings, Pebble Beach is much of the same. “Spieth” would fit nicely next to “Nicklaus,” “Watson,” “Kite,” “Woods” and “McDowell.”
6. Justin Thomas: I believe that Thomas will win multiple U.S. Opens. My only wish for this one is that his form was a little bit better — or maybe more consistent — going in. Still, I need him among my nine and not the other 147.
7. Tommy Fleetwood: Because I watched the last two U.S. Opens. That’s why.
8. Matt Kuchar: I’m beginning to talk myself into a Matt Kuchar/Brandt Snedeker/Webb Simpson U.S. Open win. According to Geoff Shackelford, the rough is going to be wild and the fairways a little narrower. I think one of the accuracy guys is going to have a big week, and I’m going with the one who’s having the biggest year.
9. Dustin Johnson: It seems almost … too obvious. That D.J. would return to the scene of one of his (many) major championship crimes and reconstruct it so that the forensics team couldn’t detect that anything untoward ever happened to begin with. The through line from 2010-19 at Pebble is so clean and linear that I won’t believe it can happen until it actually does.
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