Ranking the 113th U.S. Open field: Nos. 1-20

By Jason SobelJune 11, 2013, 10:48 pm

ARDMORE, Pa. – Here at the 113th U.S. Open Championship, the big hitters are going to own an advantage, because they can leave driver in the bag on 6,996-yard Merion Golf Club.

On second thought, the advantage goes to the short, accurate hitters, since this isn’t a lengthy course and there will be a premium on getting the ball into the fairway.

No, wait. This tournament – like so many others – often turns into a putting contest, so the guy who rolls the rock best will triumph.


If golfers can suffer from paralysis by analysis, can the rest of us suffer from paralysis by overanalysis before major championships?

The fact is, the best golf courses tend to produce eclectic leaderboards rather than playing to only one type of player – and this golf course is undoubtedly one of the best. Of course, that makes predicting a final order of finish even tougher. But let’s try it anyway.

1. Matt Kuchar

On a collision course to win the year’s second major, the game’s most consistent player went and did something dumb a few weeks ago: He won The Memorial Tournament. Picking him now is akin to filling out your NCAA bracket sheet with a team that just rolled through its conference tourney, but Kuchar has the stuff to go back-to-back.

2. Graeme McDowell

It takes patience to contend at a U.S. Open and McDowell has proven he’s amongst the field leaders in that category. He has a win, a share of second and a T-14 in this event over the past three years. On the heels of a victory at Harbour Town two months ago, it’s hard to imagine McDowell not finding himself in contention again this week.

3. Adam Scott

Poor Adam. Fresh off his first career major victory at the Masters two months ago, he arrived on site at Merion and the first question asked of him was whether he’ll feel like a third wheel in a grouping with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. With seven finishes of 15th or better in his last nine major starts, Scott shouldn’t be considered a third wheel in any group.

4. Martin Laird

There are no discernible U.S. Open numbers which should suggest Laird will contend this week, but he’s a solid ball-striker who isn’t unfamiliar with slogging through the mud. Truth is, he evokes memories of Graeme McDowell before his 2010 title – an international player who knows how to win and is ready to make the next step.

5. Phil Mickelson

We’ve all heard the analysis: You’ve got to hit it straight at Merion. You can’t be in the rough at Merion. Well, there’s one thing getting overlooked: You’ve got to be a creative shotmaker. No player of this generation is more creative than Mickelson, although placing him in this spot could be bad karma. He already owns five career U.S. Open runner-up results.

6. Jason Dufner

If Retief Goosen had the proper mindset to win a few U.S. Open titles, then Dufner certainly qualifies, as well. But forget the mental part of the game – he’s also amongst the best ball-strikers around, at 29th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy and 31st in greens in regulation. Flew under the radar with a fourth place finish last year.

7. Tiger Woods

This Sunday will mark the five-year anniversary of Woods’ last major championship victory. Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than that fact is that at age 37, he still has a chance to overtake Jack Nicklaus someday. Some pundits contend that leaving the driver in the bag will suit him well this week, but it’s not the same advantage that it was a decade ago.

8. Matteo Manassero

It says more about our desensitization to success at a young age that Manassero isn’t a bigger story right now than it says about the 20-year-old’s success itself. He already owns four professional victories, including the BMW PGA Championship just a few weeks ago. Known as a tremendous wedge player, this could be a perfect venue for him.

9. Brandt Snedeker

His recent results haven’t been as awe-inspiring as those of the season’s first two months, but Snedeker still sounds confident in his game. Perhaps nobody in the field is cursing the weather more than him, though, because on a fast, firm golf course with speedy greens, he just might be the man to beat. As it stands, he’ll still be one of those men.

10. Kevin Streelman

Tough. Gritty. Determined. Those are words that often describe U.S. Open contenders and words that also describe Streelman, who claimed his first career PGA Tour title at the Tampa Bay Championship earlier this year. He may not be the most talented player in the field, but he can grind out pars and throw in a few birdies, too.

11. Jason Day

The last time a U.S. Open was played on a waterlogged course, he finished in a share of second place.

12. Steve Stricker

Now a part-time player, but still a threat here, with top-20 finishes in each of his last two U.S. Open starts.

13. Rory McIlroy

This just in: His “awful” season to date has included four top-10s in 11 starts. Not so awful after all, is it?

14. Luke Donald

It goes to show how consistent he’s been the last few years that the slight bit of inconsistency is seen as a major issue.

15. Rickie Fowler

Merion will require shot-making skills and Fowler is one of the better shot-shapers left on the PGA Tour.

16. Ian Poulter

One of the game’s more confident players gained an extra dose of confidence with a few solid rounds in Memphis last week.

17. Francesco Molinari

Hey, it’s the City of Brotherly Love – and his brother Edoardo won the U.S. Amateur here at Merion back in 2005.

18. Jim Furyk

Still has some unfinished business left from last year’s poor finish – and a few other ones, too.

19. Carl Pettersson

Root for him – if only to hear the conversation between the anchorer and the USGA’s Mike Davis during the trophy ceremony.

20. Justin Rose

On a course where competitors may be hitting wedge into as many as half of the greens, nobody has been better with a wedge this year.

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.

Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.