US Open golf: Six who’ll be in the mix at Shinnecock Hills

Our Golf Insider has picked his five to follow for the year’s second Major and even kindly gave us an extra outsider at 50/1 as an added bonus…


So, who will become Shinnecock’s fifth US Open champion?

Ten years after Tiger Woods won his last major at Torrey Pines (is it really a decade?), with a busted knee in an 18-hole play-off with Rocco Mediate, there is still a chance the 14-time major winner can now be regarded as a realistic contender once more but there are other, more compelling candidates for glory in 2018.

Lengthened to 7,440 yards in 2012, Shinnecock will still not make the top 10 of longest US Open set-ups, some 405 yards shorter than last year’s record breaker in round one at Erin Hills.

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Dustin Johnson – 15/2

A walk off eagle at the 18th for victory in Memphis on Sunday was some way to sign off and head to Shinnecock as US Open favourite, even if history is against the 2016 champion.

If DJ was to win this weekend he would be the first golfer to win the tournament and the event which preceded it.

There are plenty of reasons to like the American who regained his world number one ranking with the St Jude Classic win. He hits it long and reasonably accurately, enough to lead the PGA Tour this season in both strokes gained: off the tee and from tee to green, and in scoring average at 68.827.

Also has the best US Open scoring average in the field over the last five played at 69.4, one of only two under 70 alongside Masters champion Patrick Reed (69.8).

Brooks Koepka – 18/1

The defending US Open champion who brought Erin Hills to its knees 12 months ago, has recovered well from a wrist injury and marked his comeback with a second behind Justin Rose at Fort Worth.

He won last year’s US Open at 16 under-par, a figure which means of the golfers to have made the cut in at least four of the last five US Opens he is the only one of them under-par, at eight under overall having made four cuts from four starts. The nearest to Koepka is fellow American Brandt Snedeker at three over-par from four cuts made.

Kopeka features in another interesting and exclusive US Open group. Of those with an average finish of 10th or better when making the cut in their last five US Open starts, Kopeka averages ninth from his four cuts made, third best behind Jason Day (5.8 average from four cuts made) and Rickie Fowler (5.7 from three).

The only other to manage the feat is Jason Dufner, right on the mark with an average of 10th from three cuts made.

Justin Rose – 14/1

The world number three and 2013 US Open champion won at Colonial in Fort Worth the other week to hold off Koepka with a consummate display of ball-striking to add to his WGC-HSBC Champions success before Christmas and followed victory in Texas with a tie for sixth at the Memorial a fortnight ago.

The Englishman leads the PGA Tour with a birdie average of 4.83 and stands second in scoring average this season behind Dustin Johnson 69.346.

Rose relishes a tough US Open challenge having won at Merion five years ago and Shinnecock certainly represents that, while his confidence on Long Island will be reinforced by a great sand-save percentage of 62.34, good enough for sixth on the PGA Tour.

Phil Mickelson – 30/1

You have to love a guy who despite finishing US Open runner-up six times and needing this major to complete a career Grand Slam still skipped last year’s tournament at Erin Hills to attend his eldest daughter’s high school graduation.

One of those second places came at Shinnecock in 2004 behind Retief Goosen, while he also finished T4 on the previous visit to Southampton, NY in 1995. What’s more he arrives on Long Island following a closing one-bogey, five-under 65 in Memphis on Sunday.

It confirms his performance stats, with Mickelson second on the PGA Tour for strokes gained: putting and dialling in his iron play with a ranking of 10th place for strokes gained approaching the green, while leading for sand-save percentage.

The only flaw right now is his driving, but with his 48th birthday coming on Saturday, Mickelson could become the oldest US Open champion, surpassing Hale Irwin.

Rory McIlroy – 11/1

We’ve been here before, but McIlroy really is knocking on the door of a first major championship since 2014 and this is the Northern Irishman’s chance to atone for that disappointing last day at the Masters when he disappeared from contention into a tie for fifth, playing in the leading group alongside eventual champion Patrick Reed.

A winner at Bay Hill in March, his post-Augusta form shows a missed cut at the Players, but a rebound with runner-up finish to Francesco Molinari in Europe at the BMW PGA Championship followed by T8 at Memorial.

Can Rory finally put four good rounds together again in a major?

Long shot: Francesco Molinari – 50/1

The Italian has come into some rich form in Europe, winning the BMW PGA at Wentworth to hold off McIlroy and following up with second place in his home open to lead the European Tour’s Race To Dubai standings.

Always metronomic from tee to green with a great swing and good ball striking, the key this week could be Molinari’s much improved putting, once so poor but now an aspect of his game that can underpin all his good work elsewhere, as displayed by a 40-footer at the 72nd hole in Italy to pile pressure onto Thorbjorn Olesen as he putted to avoid a play-off.

During that fine two-week spell he went 85 holes without a bogey and returns to America after top-20 finishes at the WGC-Match Play, Wells Fargo and the Masters this season.

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