PGA Tour Picks: 122nd U.S. Open

By TOM LaMARRE

Jon Rahm of Spain, defending champion in the 122nd U.S. Open this week at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.,  became only the fourth player in tournament history to win with birdies on the last two holes when he pulled off the feat last season on the South Course at Torrey Pines Golf Club in Jolla.

Not only did Rahm join this exclusive list, but he put his name alongside three of the greats of the game.

The others to achieve that feat were Ben Hogan at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa., in 1953, Jack Nicklaus at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., in 1980, and Tom Watson in 1982 at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

“I just had a good feeling knowing I was coming to San Diego,” said Rahm, who proposed to his wife, Kelley, on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Torrey Pines, which he has often said is one of their favorite spots in the world. “Every time we come here, we’re happy. It had to happen this way, every part of the journey.

“ … I might have looked calm, but I was not calm. I wish people could see our heart rate when we’re playing in those moments because that was tense. But you practice to let your body basically take over, right? That’s what I did.”

And Rahm’s winning puts weren’t exactly tap-ins.

Rahm was one stroke behind Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa when he came to the 17th hole at Torrey Pines and faced a 25-foot birdie putt with a big left-to-right break, but the ball slammed into the hole to pull him even.

Then on the final hole of the tournament, Rahm was facing another left-to-righter from 18 feet and again knocked it into the cup to cap a 4-under-par 67 and give him the first major victory of his career by one stroke.

Joining Rahm in the field this week are 10 other former U.S. Open champions, including Bryson DeChambeau (2020), Jim Furyk (2003), Dustin Johnson (2016), Martin Kaymer of Germany (2014), Brooks Koepka (2017, 2018), Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland (2011), Justin Rose of England (2013), Webb Simpson (2012), Jordan Spieth (2015) and Gary Woodland (2019).

Tiger Woods, who won the U.S. Open in 2000, 2002 and 2008, is not playing as he continues to recuperate from a serious leg injury he sustained in a serious rollover SUV accident early last year. Woods finished 47th in the Masters in April, but withdrew after three rounds of the PGA Championship last month at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., when the leg injury was bothering him.

Woods hopes to play in the 150th Open Championship next month on the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland.

Also in the field this week is Phil Mickelson, who claimed his sixth major title last year in the PGA Championship at the age of 51. Lefty has finished second in the U.S. Open six times and needs to claim this title to join Hogan, Nicklaus, Woods, Gene Sarazen and Gary Player of South Africa as the only players to complete the Career Grand Slam.

Koepka will be trying to join Woods and Hale Irwin as the only three-time winners of the U.S. Open.

Curtis Strange won the U.S. Open the last time it was played at The Country Club in 1988 when he beat  Nick Faldo of England in a playoff.

Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler claimed his first major title, one of his four victories this year, when he won the Masters in April, and Justin Thomas captured the second major of the year when he won the PGA Championship for the second time at Southern Hills last month.

BEST BETS

1. Scottie Scheffler, United States – The top-ranked player in the world has won four times this season, including his first major victory in the Masters. Scheffler missed the cut in the PGA Championship after finishing in the top 10 in four straight majors, and he has a huge lead in the FedEx Cup standings with eight results in the top 10 and 13 in the top 25 this season.

2. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – Coming off his 21st PGA Tour victory and second this season in the RBC Canadian Open, the third-ranked McIlroy is looking to end his drought in the Grand Slam events. He has won four majors, including the 2011 U.S. Open, but none since the 2014 PGA. Rory has 25 top-10 finishes in the majors, including second in the Masters in April.

3. Jon Rahm, Spain – The defending U.S. Open champion will try to win the tournament back-to-back, a feat which Brooks Koepka was the last to achieve in 2017-18. The second-ranked Rahm beat Louis Oosthuizen by one stroke at Torrey Pines last year for his first major victory, and has six top-10 results and 13 top-25s in the Grand Slam events over the course of his career.

4. Justin Thomas, United States – The fifth-ranked Thomas captured the PGA Championship for the second time last month in a playoff over Will Zalatoris at Southern Hills, and has placed in the top 10 on seven occasions and in the top-25 15 times in the majors. Thomas finished third in the RBC Canadian Open last week and has recorded nine top-10 finishes this season.

5. Collin Morikawa, United States – A two-time major champion, having won the 2020 PGA Championship and the 2021 Open Championship, the seventh-ranked Morikawa also finished solo fifth in the Masters in April for his fifth top-10 result in majors over the last three seasons. He has six top-10 finishes this season, and also won the 2021 DP World Tour Championship.

6. Cameron Smith, Australia – After winning the Players Championship, known as The Fifth Major, earlier this season, the next step for the sixth-ranked Smith would be to win one of the Grand Slam events. He tied for third in the Masters in April, his fifth top-10 major result, with his best a tie for second in 2020 at Augusta National. He also won the Sentry TOC in January.

7. Dustin Johnson, United States – The former world No. 1, who has slipped to No. 16, is a two-time major champion, having won the 2020 Masters and the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont among his 21 top-10 finishes in the Grand Slam events. Johnson has two top-10 results on the PGA Tour this season and finished solo eighth in the inaugural LIV Series event last week in London.

8. Shane Lowry, Ireland – Lowry claimed his only major championship by a whopping six strokes over Tommy Fleetwood of England in the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush, and recorded his seventh top-10 finish in the majors when he tied for third in the Masters in April. He finished solo second in the Honda Classic, one of his four top-five results this season.

9. Xander Schauffele, United States – Even though he has never won a major, Schauffele has some big victories, claiming the 2021 Olympic Gold Medal in addition to winning the 2017 Tour Championship, the 2018 WGC-HSBC Champions and the 2020 Sentry TOC. He has nine top-10 finishes in the Grand Slam events, the best a tie for second in the 2018 Open Championship.

10. Viktor Hovland, Norway – The eighth-ranked Hovland has become one of the top players on the list of the best to never win a major, but he was low amateur in a tie for 12th in the 2019 U.S. Open and also tied for 12th in the 2021 Open Championship. The 24-year-old already has six victories as a pro, including three on the PGA Tour, all coming in the last three years.

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Brooks Koepka, United States; Patrick Cantlay, United States; Hideki Matsuyama, Japan; Matt Fitzpatrick, England; Jordan Spieth, United States; Joaquin Niemann, Chile; Will Zalatoris, United States; Justin Rose, England; Sam Burns, United States; Abraham Ancer, Mexico; Phil Mickelson, United States; Tony Finau, United States; Billy Horschel, United States; Sungjae Im, South Korea.

SLEEPERS

1. Max Homa, United States – Has won six times as a pro and it’s about time for him to break through in a major. Homa’s best result in the Grand Slams was T-13 in the PGA last month.

2. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South Africa – Seven-time winner as a pro also is overdue to play well in the majors, with his best results a T-30 in the PGA and T-31 in U.S. Open last season.

3. Robert MacIntyre, Scotland – The left-hander has won twice as a pro and his best major finishes were a T-6 in the 2019 Open Championship and a T-8 in the 2021 Open Championship.

4. Guido Migliozzi, Italy – Has played in only three major championships, but finished T-4 in the U.S. Open last year at Torrey Pines, and has five victories during his professional career.

5. Matthew Wolff, United States – Lone pro victory came in 2019 3M Open and his best major results were second in the PGA and T-4 in U.S. Open, both in 2020. T-15 in 2021 U.S. Open.

For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html  

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