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U.S. Open Preview: All Eyes on Phil

Greg Vara

Greg Vara

Vara is the lead golf writer at RotoWire. He was named the 2013 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. In addition to producing the weekly preview and the bulk of the draft kit content, Vara participates in Yahoo!'s "Experts Picks" where he routinely dominates. He also picks college football games against the spread in his "College Capper" article.

Although he was in no need of it, Ben Crane found some redemption last week in Memphis. It's funny how we view professional athletes. If they raise the bar at some point during their career and subsequently fail to live up to that standard at any point, they then must "redeem" themselves. In real life, redemption is for those that have done something improper; in pro sports, redemption means being as good as you once were ... if only for a moment.

In the case of Ben Crane, it's tough to say if his win at the St. Jude Classic will be a springboard to what he once was long ago, you know, back in 2011, but whatever the case, he need not worry about redeeming himself for a good 12-24 months. It's not easy living up to expectations on the PGA Tour; just ask any number of guys who started their careers with a heavy burden on top of their shoulders. Anything less than great for some golfers is just unacceptable. Crane wasn't necessarily in that boat as he entered the PGA Tour, but after a few strong seasons, he certainly worked his way onto the short list of "up and comers." Fast forward to 2014 and he was the forgotten one of the bunch, expectations had long since faded and we all moved onto something new, but that's the beauty of this game. One doesn't need to play well for months at a time to get back on top, just four consecutive days and that's exactly what Crane did last week. Now the circle of golf begins anew and Crane must deal with expectations again. With any luck he'll play at a higher level following this win to stave of any talk of redemption down the road.

This week:
The U.S. Open - Pinehurst Resort No. 2, Pinehurst, N.C.

Last Year:
Justin Rose shot a final-round 70 on his way to a two-stroke victory over Jason Day and Phil Mickelson.

PLAYERS TO CONSIDER

Phil Mickelson

After last year's heartbreaking defeat, Mickelson made it his main goal to be ready for the 2014 U.S. Open, and it looks like he's right there. It seems a foregone conclusion that he'll contend this week, the question is whether can he close with the pressure building.

Jason Day

Although he's yet to win a major, Day is no stranger to seriously contending at the majors. Last year was no exception as he finished just two strokes behind the eventual winner Justin Rose. As long as he's healthy, Day will be a factor.

Rory McIlroy

Speaking of redemption ... Seriously, McIlroy was poised to take over the golfing world just two years ago, but he wasn't ready at the time. With some added maturity under his belt, this could be the launching pad for Rory 2.0.

Steve Stricker

Although he's rarely been a serious contender at the U.S. Open, he's always in the mix, and by mix, I mean he's generally in the top 25 or that range. Not exactly the upside you'd like, but certainly a reliable option to cash a decent check this week.
Jordan Spieth

Every golfer, no matter how good they are cracks at some point, but Spieth has yet to hit a low. His bad outings generally result in a top-30 and his good ones result in a top-3. Sure, he's unaccustomed to the U.S. Open layouts, but an unfamiliar layout has yet to slow this kid.

PLAYERS TO AVOID

Dustin Johnson

Perhaps because of his run at Pebble Beach a few years back, there seems to be a misconception that DJ is a solid U.S. Open golfer, but that's not really the case. Other than his top-10 at Pebble, DJ has failed to crack the top 20 at any U.S. Open.

Stewart Cink

A British Open champion who nearly won a U.S. Open way back when, but that guy doesn't exist anymore. Cink is not the same guy who beat Tom Watson at the Open Championship, and he's failed to make the weekend the last three years at this event.

Ian Poulter

Poulter has a reputation for being a bulldog when the lights are bright, but that's rarely been the case over the years at the U.S. Open. Poulter has zero top-10s in 10 tries at the U.S. Open.

Luke Donald

The former No. 1 player in the world hasn't resembled his prior form at all over the last couple years and even at the top of his game he rarely played well at the U.S. Open. Donald has plenty of game left, but there's just something missing.

Patrick Reed

Reed has probably figured out the last couple months what many before him already knew about this game -- it's a fickle beast and there isn't much separating the worst from the best. Now that we are a few months removed from Reed's bone-headed comments, perhaps the focus can go back on his game. But believe me, if he's in contention come Sunday, those comments are going to resurface and the pressure again will build.

ONE AND DONE GOLFER

Last week:
Jonathan Byrd (MC) - $0; Season - $2,835,957

This week:
Phil Mickelson - I've been saving him all season for this exact spot. There are plenty of quality options this week, but if you have Mickelson, this is the time to use him.

YAHOO PICKS

Points:
3,048
Rank: 28,291

This Week:

Group A:
Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson

Group B:
Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Steve Stricker

Group C:
Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell

SURVIVOR PICK

Last week:
Harris English; Streak - 0

This week:
Steve Stricker - Mickelson is the best pick this week, but sometimes he's a crash-and-burn guy, so I'm going the conservative route with my survivor pick this week.

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