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U.S. Open Preview: Is it Finally Phil's Time?

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.

After 13 years of grinding it out on the PGA TOUR, it would have been easy for Harrison Frazar to focus on what he didn't have. He didn't have a victory; he didn't have the luxury of planning a vacation every December, because more often than not he didn't have his PGA TOUR card for the following year. He didn't have a Ryder Cup or President's Cup appearance on his resume. He didn't have name recognition. What he did have, however, was determination. It's easy for us to sit back and say, "he's got it made, he golfs for a living," but after 13 years of failing to achieve your main goal, it can become a grind. Sure, most of us would trade spots with Frazar in a heartbeat, but can you imagine working at something for so long and being unable to attain it? That's no longer an issue for Frazar. With his win last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, he now has just about everything a professional gofer could want: a victory, a card and some time off during the offseason.

What the FedEx St. Jude Classic means:

Harrison Frazar: Frazar had a lot of potential, about 10 years ago. Now he'll try to follow in the footsteps of Vijay Singh and Steve Stricker, players who had the majority of their success later in their careers.

Robert Karlsson: Entering last week, I was skeptical about Karlsson's ability to perform well again at the St. Jude. well, he certainly proved me wrong. But before you get too excited about his prospects this week at the U.S. Open, remember, it's an entirely different beast this week.

Retief Goosen: Goosen looks primed to make a run at yet another U.S. Open title. The nice thing is, he played well enough to build up his confidence for the upcoming week, but not so well that he'll be on everyone's radar.

This week:
U.S. Open

Last Year:
Graeme McDowell shot a final-round 74 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Gregory Havret.

Players to Consider:

1. Phil Mickelson

He might not be at the top of his game, but he loves the U.S. Open setup, and he's in the mix more often than not. Mickelson has finished runner-up in three of his last seven U.S. Opens.

2. David Toms

Toms is not known for being a strong player at the U.S. Open, but his track record at this event isn't half bad. Couple that with his play lately and you could see Toms make a run at major No. 2.

3. Ernie Els

Els is always a popular choice at the U.S. Open, and there's added incentive to take him this week. Els won at Congressional when the Open was last held here in 1997. The course has changed quite a bit since then, but Els must feel good strolling around these grounds.

4. Dustin Johnson

It is entirely possible that Johnson's performance at the Open last year was based on the venue as opposed to the setup, but I still think he's got something to prove this week and that we'll see his best form.

5. Peter Hanson

Considering the European domination of the majors last season, I had to put at least one in the top-five this week. Hanson is certainly a sleeper pick this week, but he's played well at his last three U.S. Opens, and he could be the Euro that comes out of nowhere this week.

Players to Avoid:

1. Rory Sabbatini

Sabbatini and the USGA setup just do not get along. Judging by his past performance at the U.S. Open, you wonder if he'd rather just skip this week. Sabbatini has nine appearances at the Open and zero finishes inside the top-50.

2. Nick Watney

Watney doesn't appear to be a big fan of the USGA setup either. In his four tries at the U.S. Open, he's cracked the top-60 only once.

3. Alvaro Quiros

It makes perfect sense that this bomber would struggle with a USGA layout that features tight fairways and punishing rough. After all, Quiros likes to overpower the course, and if there's any trouble just off the fairway, it ends up being a long day.

4. Sergio Garcia

Garcia's game is starting to come around, and he has a decent record at the U.S. Open, but I don't think he's ready to make the jump to major champion this week.

5. Robert Karlsson

It didn't work last week, so why not try it again? Karlsson appears to be primed for a good showing this week at the U.S. Open, and that's exactly why I am staying away. A solid performance the week prior to any major is usually a sign of a letdown at said major. I know, it doesn't make much sense, but more often than not, that's how it works out.

Yahoo! Fantasy Golf:

This week:
U.S. Open

Group A

1. Phil Mickelson
2. Dustin Johnson

As mentioned, Johnson has something to prove this week. He needs to show that his first three rounds last year at Pebble were not a fluke. He also needs to show he belongs in the upper echelon of golfers on the PGA TOUR.

Group B

1. David Toms
2. Hunter Mahan
3. Charl Schwartzel
4. Steve Stricker

There are a lot of good options in Group B this week and even though only one player on my roster is listed in my top-five, I have a really good feeling about this bunch. Toms and Stricker are playing really well and each has had his share of success on U.S. Open layouts. Mahan has also shown the ability to maneuver around the USGA layout, and he comes in under the radar this week, which we all know is the place to be. Schwartzel won his first major earlier this year, and although it would be a shock to see him pull off two in a row, it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see him play well all week.

Group C

1. Peter Hanson
2. Rory McIlroy

A long list of names to choose from in Group C this week but few quality options. I found two players who fit the bill this week, though, in Hanson and McIlroy. Hanson is a nice sleeper pick this week, and if he plays well, it will be a good opportunity to gain ground on the competition. McIlroy is going to win a major at some point, and this spot is just as likely as any other.

Starters Round One

1. Phil Mickelson
2. Hunter Mahan
3. Steve Stricker
4. Peter Hanson

I'm starting with Mickelson in round one this week. He's more reliable than Johnson, and Johnson has something to prove this week. Mahan and Stricker are the starters in Group B. Stricker is playing very well, and Mahan has a good feel for U.S. Open setups. Peter Hanson in Group C. My hunches have paid off for the most part this season, and I have a feeling Hanson will be one of the surprise players on the leaderboard this week.

Round Two and Going Forward:

Mickelson is certainly the alpha dog in Group A this week, but Johnson could steal a spot with a good start Friday. I am very interested in seeing how he plays this week. If he starts well, there's no reason to hold him out of the line-up on Friday. The weekend is a toss-up, but I'll definitely lean Mickelson on Sunday. I feel good about the starters in Group B this week, but this is the U.S. Open and anything can happen, so after round one, I'll go with the hot hands. I assume that Stricker and Mahan will play well enough to earn at least two starts this week, perhaps three, but if Toms shows his form from a couple weeks ago, I'll find a spot for him. Schwartzel might have a hard time getting a start, but if he shows his Masters form, then he'll find a spot on the weekend. Group C is up in the air after Thursday. My hunch is that Hanson plays well all week, but if that doesn't pan out, I won't be stubborn about it. I've got no problem admitting I was wrong and moving on. Besides, it's not like I've got some bum behind Hanson.