2021 U.S. Open predictions, favorites: Ranking the top of the field from 1-21 at Torrey Pines

In many ways, U.S. Opens are the easiest majors to predict. It takes a combination of extreme length, mental endurance and proper luck to win this championship, or at least it has in recent years. The last five tournaments have been won by Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland and Bryson DeChambeau. They each had outstanding all-around weeks in their respective victories, but the through line there is not difficult to see.

So in ranking this field, I disproportionately weighted driving distance and past U.S. Open experience to try and figure out the top 21 going into the week at Torrey Pines. Incidentally, I didn’t give a lot of weight to past performance on this course. I looked at it a bit, but U.S. Open setups are so far from regular PGA Tour events, it’s sometimes difficult to consider them the same sport.

Here are the top 21 in the field as we look ahead to U.S. Open. (Oh yeah, and Phil Mickelson just won the PGA Championship, so remember that nobody knows anything at all.)

2021 U.S. Open field, ranked 1-21

1. Bryson DeChambeau (Won in 2020): He does what you need to do best at modern U.S. Opens better than anyone else in the world. He’s extraordinarily long, and because of the way the USGA sets up its courses, this benefits him at this tournament more than it does at a lot of others. Read this by Andy Johnson and then tell me DeChambeau, who will admittedly need to hit his irons better than he has been and nearly as well as he did at Winged Foot to have a shot, is not the best positioned to win this tournament for the next several years.

2. Xander Schauffele (T3 in 2019): Schauffele’s record in U.S. Opens (which is incredible) outweighs his record at Torrey Pines (which is not). He has four consecutive top 10s at the U.S. Open at four very different golf courses to start his major championship career. He also got a big Phil Mickelson endorsement on Monday.

“I would just say that I was 33 when I won my first major,” said Mickelson on Monday. “He’s significantly younger than that, and he is an incredible talent. He’s easily one of the best players in the world today, and his game is so complete with no weaknesses that I really get a lot out of playing with him and watching how he does things.”

3. Jon Rahm (T3 in 2019): He has not truly contended at a U.S. Open despite that T3 in 2019 at Pebble Beach, but if you haven’t been following golf for the last few months and are parachuting in trying to find who should win this tournament, it’s hard to see past Rahm. He thrives at Torrey (best strokes-gained number over the last decade at the Farmers Insurance Open), possesses astounding recent form (over 20 strokes gained in three rounds at the Memorial before withdrawing) and sits at No. 1 in the world in strokes gained when you look at every span of time from the last three months to the last 57 months. A major is inevitably coming.

4. Brooks Koepka (Won in 2017, 2018): I think I’ve given up trying to figure out why he cannot make a cut at an event where Chesson Hadley and Garrick Higgo are duking it out down the stretch and am simply embracing that he’s standard deviations better at major championships. Four top 10s in his last seven U.S. Open starts and 13 top 10s in his last 20 major starts. Toss in two U.S. Open wins and a near-win in his last three starts at this event, and it begins to feel more improbable that he wouldn’t contend this weekend than that he would.

5. Justin Thomas (T8 in 2020): J.T. has not had much hype so far this week, and that’s a bit curious. He has two top 10s at this tournament in his last four starts and is top 15 in the world over the last few months from tee to green. If he finds anything with his putter, we could have been talking about a PGA-Players-U.S. Open trio for him. 

6. Dustin Johnson (Won in 2016): if you’re backing D.J. this week then you believe in what happened at TPC Harding Park last year. He went into that PGA Championship with maybe less form than he has right now and played in the final pairing on Sunday. I remain somewhat dubious about where his game stands a few days out, but I’m hesitant to discount him at places like this that really identify a certain type of player.

7. Louis Oosthuizen (T2 in 2015): King Louis has been crushing. He has not finished outside the top 25 at U.S. Opens since 2014 (!). He has not missed a cut at a major since 2017. And he has top-three finishes in two of his last four majors. Make your lineups accordingly.

8. Rory McIlroy (Won in 2011): McIlroy should be getting more buzz than he has been so far this week. He’s great at Torrey Pines (second in strokes gained over the last decade) and is in the pool of 7-10 guys who have the type of game that can win a long, high-rough U.S. Open like this one. I think folks have maybe just lost faith in him at majors over the last few years. This is not necessarily unwarranted. Though he has a boatload of top-10 finishes at majors since he last won one in 2014, he hasn’t truly been in the mix late on a Sunday maybe except for the 2018 Masters (T5) and the 2018 Open Championship (T2). You could possibly throw the 2015 and 2020 U.S. Opens in there as well. Regardless, his record at majors over the last few years belies how many true rips he’s had at adding to his historic total.

9. Collin Morikawa (T35 in 2019): He’ll have to be almost perfect from tee to green because he’s not long enough to be included in the DeChambeau-Koepka-D.J. group. His 2.8 strokes gained per round from tee to green over the last two months would suggest that nobody is better suited to be perfect from tee to green.

10. Viktor Hovland (T12 in 2019): This course is absolutely perfect for Hovland. He does not yet have a top 10 at a major championship, but he also has finished T12 and T13 in his two runs at U.S. Opens in 2019 (as an amateur) and 2020 (as a contender). He finished T2 at this event back in January when Patrick Reed won. Hovland will be a fascinating watch early in the week for me to see if he can play his way into one of the final few pairings.

11. Patrick Reed (4th in 2018): A return to the scene of his crime in January! Reed won the Farmers here under some questionable circumstances in which he removed a ball and declared it embedded before getting a rules official to check the intention with his fingers and proceeding on to stomp the field. It’s a different Torrey but the same Reed. While everyone is focused on Brooks-Bryson, I hope we get some more insane drama out of him.

12. Hideki Matsuyama (T2 in 2017): Remains flushing. He followed his Masters win with T23 at the PGA Championship, and he has not finished worse than T21 at this tournament over the last four iterations. He and Oosthuizen always fly in under the radar, but both of them have been absolutely awesome at U.S. Opens over the past half decade.

13. Tony Finau (5th in 2018): Hear me out here. Finau has finished in the top 10 in five (!) of his last six major starts, and he’s among the three best golfers of the last decade at Torrey Pines in strokes gained (Rahm, Rory). He has two top 10s in his last three U.S. Open starts. I hear the critiques, but you have to include him here just because there’s a chance he might fall into one.

14. Patrick Cantlay (T21 in 2019): On paper, this makes sense. In reality? He doesn’t have a top 20 at a U.S. Open even though he’s played courses that I would say fit him even better than Torrey Pines. He’s coming in off a win, which is meaningful, and has been the best player in the world over the last 30 days. I wouldn’t be surprised if he contended, but I don’t expect him to.

15. Shane Lowry (T2 in 2016): Quietly playing some of the best golf of his career. Distance seems like it could be an issue (he’s not in the top 50 on the PGA Tour in driving distance), but he had no trouble with mighty Oakmont when he finished T2 there in 2016.

16. Will Zalatoris (T6 in 2020): He’s 25th on the PGA Tour in driving distance, and we have yet to go to a venue that doesn’t fit him. His T6 at Winged Foot last September is what launched this entire run, so a win here would be a fitting bookend.

17. Jordan Spieth (Won in 2015): I have to include him because he’s been so good so far this year, but I’m not feeling contention from him like I was at the Masters and PGA. He does not have a top 25 at a U.S. Open since winning Chambers Bay, and that remains his only top 10 ever at this tournament.

18. Scottie Scheffler (T27 in 2017): It’s always difficult to envision a golfer getting his first professional win at a major, much less the U.S. Open, but Scheffler is an unusual case. Four straight top 20s in majors, good form coming in (3rd at the Memorial), and he’s not without firepower. Solid semi-darkhorse option this week.

19. Paul Casey (T10 in 2007): Casey is impossible to ignore and equally impossible to pick. I have no idea what to do with him, but he has to be on this list and is a great proposition if you’re looking for a top-10 or top-20 pick.

20. Tyrrell Hatton (T6 in 2018): I absolutely love where his game is at, and he putts well on poa annua. I actually worry more about his length than I do him losing it mentally (which, to be fair, is also a bit of a concern).

21. Lee Westwood (3rd in 2008): A complete nostalgia pick. Somebody nearing their 50s has no chance of winning a major championship in this era, right?

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