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U.S. Open Preview: Phil's Feeling It

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.

It's human nature to look ahead to more exciting things in life. The same holds true for golf as well, which is why the event prior to any major is often afterthought the moment the final putt drops. With that, I'll say congrats to Harris English on his first PGA Tour win ... and promptly move onto what we're all here for, the U.S. Open. In case you haven't heard, and if you have a television or the Internet, you probably have, there's a bit of moisture in the air this week at Merion. OK, according to reports, it's a tad more than a bit of moisture. Some have already started in on the Ark jokes, which in case you aren't there, means we are dealing with a substantial amount of rain. So what does that mean for players this week? The obvious answer is the course will play longer. True, but that doesn't automatically eliminate the short hitters. Wet fairways mean wet greens and wet greens are much more receptive to approach shots, even those coming off the club of a 3-iron as opposed to a 6-iron. Long story short, if you had a short-hitter pegged before the start of this week, there's no need to jump ship. With more rain in the forecast, you'd be insane to abandon ship.

This week:
U.S. Open

Last Year:
Webb Simpson shot a final-round 68 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson.

Players to Consider:

1. Graeme McDowell

A week ago, McDowell looked like a great pick, and though he's getting a lot of attention, I'm sticking with him. His record at the U.S. Open is outstanding, and the shorter layout should help as well. McDowell has a good chance to pick up his second major this week.

2. Phil Mickelson

Mickelson is no stranger to U.S. Open layouts. While he's never won the U.S. Open, he's come close several times. His most recent close call ended with a 72nd-hole debacle, a memory he'd like to put behind him with another major win. He has the form heading into this week, but as always, the question is about his decision making.

3. Tiger Woods

While many in the field this week will look to take advantage of the slow fairways with bigger clubs, Tiger likely will play it smart off the tee, knowing his higher irons will hold on the greens. As long as his performance at the Memorial is not a sign of something bigger, Woods should be back in the mix this week.

4. Matt Kuchar

More than any tournament on the schedule each year, a golfer has to have it between the ears to succeed at the U.S. Open. Kuchar has never had any issues keeping it together, a trait that helps him during the majors and one that should come into play this week. Kuchar has two wins already this season and another this week would vault him to an entirely new level.

5. Scott Stallings

Stallings comes into the U.S. Open on fire with three consecutive top-5s, and though the U.S. Open is an entirely different beast, you have to think that his form will carry over, at least somewhat, to this week. This will be a true test of Stallings' game this week as well as a test of momentum in general.

Players to Avoid:

1. Freddie Jacobson

Jacobson's early season momentum is a thing of the past as evidence by his MC last week at the St. Jude. Add to that, Jacobson is hitting little more than 55 percent of his fairways this year, a number that just won't cut it this week.

2. Dustin Johnson

Johnson played well for three rounds last week, but his accuracy off the tee again doomed his chances of winning. D.J. is hitting less than 50 percent of his fairways this season - a number he won't overcome this week.

3. Jimmy Walker

Walker is having a fantastic season, but he's starting to slow down as evidence by his two most recent performances. He barely made the cut at the Memorial two weeks back and missed the cut last week at the St. Jude. Walker has posted 10 consecutive rounds in the 70s entering this week.

4. Bubba Watson

Watson is another player who struggles to find the fairway off the tee, at about 56 percent, but this pick is due more to his lack of fire this season. Much was expected of Watson this season after his Masters win last year, but he hasn't given any indication that he's ready to take his game to another level.

5. Brandt Snedeker

It's well documented that Snedeker is having some health issues and his play seems to be suffering because of those issues. He unexpectedly missed the cut last week, and if he thought it was difficult to navigate the course last week, he's in for an even more brutal test this week. The U.S. Open is not the place to get healthy.


Group A

1. Graeme McDowell
2. Tiger Woods

It doesn't get much more difficult than this. Three of my top-5 come from Group A this week as well as a couple other big names. My choice obviously came down to Mickelson or Tiger. Tiger's desire and determination to get another major trumped Mickelson's form from last week. That and Mickelson's driving accuracy this season left a lot to be desired.

Group B

1. Steve Stricker
2. Matt Kuchar
3. Justin Rose
4. Jim Furyk

An interesting group of players to choose from in Group B this week. A ton of big names, who are all good options, but not too many great options. In fact, Kuchar looks like the only must-have from this group, but that's not to say that the other golfers are slouches. Rose is in the top-20 in driving accuracy as is Furyk. Furyk's track record on Open layouts is also very strong. Stricker is on board because he's played very well this season on his reduced schedule.

Group C

1. Adam Scott
2. Lee Westwood

I struggled with the selections in Group C this week as I don't see anyone from this group winning this week. Scott and Westwood are both capable of winning, I just don't see it happening this week. That said, Westwood is always good for a few good rounds during a major and Scott may have turned the corner at Augusta.

Starters Round One

1. Graeme McDowell
2. Matt Kuchar
3. Jim Furyk
4. Lee Westwood

Make no mistake, Tiger Woods is on my team in Group A this week, but this group belongs to McDowell. As such, McDowell gets the nod Thursday. Kuchar is my top pick in Group B, so he gets the first starting spot. Furyk gets the other spot because of his track record on Open layouts and his driving accuracy this year. Group C was a tough call, but I decided to wait on Scott because of the pairing Thursday and Friday. There'll obviously be a lot of attention paid to the Woods/Scott/McIlroy pairing, and I doubt that all three will come out smelling like roses.

Round Two and Going Forward:

As I selected Tiger this week, I noticed that I have only four starts left. That fact, coupled with my expectations for McDowell this week, means it might be tough to get Tiger off the bench this week. Then again, it is Tiger, so a strong start could change everything. If all goes well, McDowell will come out of the gate strong and I won't have to make any tough decisions. Group B likely will be up in the air after Thursday. All four players are capable of winning this week, and it will just be a matter of seeing who looks sharp Thursday. I can't even say who's the first in off the bench as Rose and Stricker are on equal ground. Group C is also up in the air after Thursday. Westwood and Scott are on equal ground entering Friday, so I'll have to make the call on how they each performs Thursday.