Nick Bonfield looks at some US Open favourites to ignore ahead of the year's second Major Championship at Erin Hills in Wisconsin
2017 US Open favourites to ignore
The US Open is one of those tournaments where the cream seems to rise to the top on a consistent basis. Look down the list of past winners and you’ll see a host of multiple Major victors and former World No.1s. The reason? US Opens are staged on incredibly difficult courses set up to protect par.
This year’s host venue, Erin Hills in Wisconsin, is slightly different from the normal US Open set-up – think Chambers Bay, not Oakmont – but it still promises to be devilishly difficult.
It stretches to 7,800 yards from the back tees, there are numerous par 4s above the 490-yard mark and all four of the par 5s are longer than 600 yards! That might suggest big hitters hold an advantage, but the rough is penal, so keeping the ball on the straight and narrow will be paramount.
Defending champion and World No.1 Dustin Johnson will go into the tournament as favourite, and it’s hard to see him being anywhere other than in contention. But can the same be said for some of the other favourites with the bookmakers? I’m not so sure.
Below, I’ve picked five US Open favourites to ignore…
The Masters Champion followed his sublime performance at Augusta National with three top-30 finishes, including a tie for 12th at the Dean & DeLuca invitational in his last outing. So why is he on this list? History, mainly. Only 12 golfers since WW1 have won back-to-back Major Championships. I just can’t picture a scenario in which golf’s perennial nearly man lands two Majors in three months after almost 20 years of hurt. Plus, the last six Major winners have all been first-time victors. Put those two pieces of information together and you can understand why I’m sceptical of his chances. What’s more, he’s currently 179th on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting – an area of the game that simply can’t be masked on a 7,800-yard golf course with lush rough.
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Unfortunately for Hideki Matsuyama, his rich vein of form came at the wrong time – between October 2016 and February 2017, aka non-Major season. There are so many great players in the world that maintaining a peak for more than a couple of months is nigh on impossible. Matsuyama hasn’t recorded a single top-ten finish since his victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in the first week of February. He’s also struggling on the greens at the moment – I just can’t see the player ranked 187th on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting walking away with the US Open trophy.
Bubba Watson has suffered an alarming fall down the world rankings over the last few months. The former World No.2, who was being talked about as part of a new ‘Big Four’ not so long ago, has slipped all the way to 34th. The left-hander hasn’t had a top-ten in the US Open since 2007 and has missed the cut three of the past five years. His statistics don’t make for particularly encouraging reading, either – he ranks outside the top 150 on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach-The-Green, Strokes Gained: Around-The-Green and Strokes Gained: Putting.
Matt Kuchar is a quality golfer whose consistency at the highest level is extremely impressive. However, I’m not convinced he has that ruthlessness required to win a Major Championship. He’s a top-ten machine, but the fact he’s only won seven times in 15 PGA Tour seasons despite registering 89 top tens and 167 top 25s suggests he’s lacking some form of cutting edge. He’s also modest in terms of length – not ideal on a 7,800-yard golf course – and he hasn’t notched a US Open top-ten since 2010 – the only one in his 14 career starts in the year’s second Major.
It doesn’t seem like it, but Rory McIlroy’s last Major victory was almost three years ago. He’s yet to hit top form this season – almost certainly a result of a rib injury that’s plagued him on and off since the South African Open in January. In fact, McIlroy has only taken part in six tournaments in 2017, and he was forced to pull out of the BMW PGA Championship – his last schedule outing – due to a flare up. With so many quality players in good form, it’s hard to back the World No.2, even though his prodigious driving will give him a significant advantage at Erin Hills.