US Open Golf preview: Players duel on the course while two tours battle off of it

This Thursday at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, 156 golfers will tee off in pursuit of golf’s national championship. The U.S. Open has a history of making its winners earn the title — sometimes not by what they do (great shots), but by what they don’t do (as in mistakes).

If history has taught us anything, we should expect a fantastic finish Sunday: Three times they’ve held the U.S. Open at Brookline, and each time, they’ve needed a playoff to determine the champion (Curtis Strange over Nick Faldo in 1988, Julius Boros over Arnold Palmer and Jacky Cupit in 1963, and Francis Ouimet over Ted Ray and Harry Vardon in 1913).

There will be additional drama this year in the form of the recent startup/breakaway tour named “LIV Golf” (LIV: the Roman numerals for 54, the amount of holes in each tournament as opposed to the PGA Tour’s 72). Currently, 48 players have signed up for the Saudi-backed tour, a list that includes multiple major winners like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

Mickelson is more than a six-time major champion and six-time runner-up at the U.S. Open: He’s been a fan favorite since turning pro and has become — along with Tiger Woods — one of the PGA Tour’s biggest names.

His 2021 PGA Championship victory made Lefty the oldest man to win a major at age 51. As a tour lifer (his 45 victories are tied for eighth all-time), he’s been a big draw wherever he’s played, and becomes the big draw for the new tour, even after his comments disparaging the Saudis became public in February.

In the aftermath of the PGA Tour suspending players participating in the LIV Tour, Mickelson hopes to keep one foot on each course moving forward.

“I feel that I gave as much back to the PGA Tour and the game of golf that I could throughout my 30 years here, and through my accomplishments on the course I’ve earned a lifetime membership,” Mickelson said Monday at a news conference. “I intend to keep that and then choose going forward which events to play and not.”

The PGA Tour might not be that accommodating.

Rory McIlroy won his first major 11 years ago at the U.S. Open at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. He cites the tradition and history of the PGA Tour as reasons why he has stayed.

“The PGA Tour was created by people and tour players that came before us, the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer,” McIlroy said. “They created something and worked hard for something, and I just hate to see all the players that came before us and all the hard work that they’ve put in just come out to be nothing.”

Truth be told, there has been a ton of money thrown at these players to join the new tour. But to quote Charlie Sheen in the movie “Wall Street,” how many yachts can you water ski behind?

“Truth be told, I could retire right now with what I’ve made and live a very happy life and not play golf again,” defending U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm said, “I’ve never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I’ve played for the love of the game and I want to play against the best of the world. I’ve always been interested in history and legacy and right now the PGA Tour has that.”

But for now there are two tours. One with bigger names and guarantees, one with cuts to make and larger fields. Golf’s house isn’t divided against itself 50-50, but the blending of both on the course in Brookline this week will certainly add some spice to a major that is intriguing enough.

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, watches his shot from the first fairway during the third round of the Memorial golf tournament Saturday, June 4, 2022, in Dublin, Ohio. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Favorites (odds are from Vegas Insider)

Rory McIlroy (+1000)

On the green: He’s coming off of a victory at the RBC Canadian Open, Rory’s posted a pair of top-ten finishes in this year’s majors, and has finished in the top 10 the previous three years in this tournament.

In the rough: It feels like there’s always one day out of the four where McIlroy cards a contention-killing 74. It’s lurking in the shadows again this week, trust me.

Justin Thomas (+1200)

On the green: The 2022 PGA Championship winner is on a roll, having finished third this past weekend, and he also tied for fifth at the AT&T Byron Nelson last month.

In the rough: Zero top five finishes in seven career US Opens. And the double-play of the PGA & US has happened only twice since 1950: Jack Nicklaus in 1980 and Brooks Koepka in 2018.

Jon Rahm (+1500)

On the green: He won the tournament last year and has posted five top-tens during the current season, including a victory at last month’s Mexico Open.

In the rough: Since World War II, only Curtis Strange (1988-89) and Brooks Koepka (2017-18) have won consecutive US Opens. And unlike last year (tying for third, fifth, and eighth at the other majors) 2022 has been rougher for Rahm on the big stage (tying for 27th at the Masters and 48th at the PGA).

Brooks Koepka (+5500)

On the green: Okay, so he’s not a “favorite” per se, but when you mention him in two straight entries we have to put the two time winner on the board-especially with four straight top five finishes in this event. And Brooks has a knack for winning on the big stage: four of his eight victories on tour have come at majors.

In the rough: He hasn’t won a tournament in over a year and has more missed cuts (six including the Masters) than top 20 finishes (four) this season.

Scottie Scheffler (+1500)

On the green: In addition to his three wins on tour this year, he’s finished in the top 10 five other times, and wrapped up the RBC Canadian Open (tied for 18th) with a 66 Sunday.

In the rough: The Masters-US double play has been recorded three times in the last fifty years (Jack Nicklaus in 1972, Tiger Woods in 2002, and Jordan Spieth in 2015).

Recent Champions

2020 winner Bryson DeChambeau (+12,000)

On the green: He’s proven he can win what is arguably the most challenging major and a victory would be an ace for the new LIV Tour.

In the rough: Not only has he not won in over a calendar year, but DeChambeau has missed four straight cuts (including the Masters).

2019 winner Gary Woodland (+16,000)

On the green: He’s made four top tens this season.

In the rough: Woodland has missed the cut 10 times in 18 tournaments entered, including the Masters. He hasn’t finished in the top 10 of a major since his US Open win at Pebble Beach.

2016 winner Dustin Johnson (+4400)

On the green: The LIV Tour’s other early signee has more top fives (four) in this major than at any other and tied for 12th at this year’s Masters.

In the rough: Johnson missed the cut at the PGA (one of three weekends he hasn’t made in his last seven tournaments).

2015 winner Jordan Spieth (+2500)

On the green: He’s performed well at big non-major (do we call them “Captains”) tournaments this year, finishing second at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Byron Nelson.

In the rough: He hasn’t made a cut at the US Open since winning the tournament seven years ago and he’s been underwhelming (missed cut at the Masters, T34 at the PGA) at majors this year.

2013 winner Justin Rose (+7000)

On the green: Oh Canada! He’s coming off of his best finish this season by tying for fourth at the RBC Canadian Open and hopes to ride the momentum of a final round 60 from Ontario to Massachusetts.

In the rough: Rose has not bloomed lately at this major, missing the cut the last two years. It’s also been thorny for him in general, with zero victories on Tour since 2019.

Recent Major Champions

2020 PGA Championship and 2021 British Open winner Colin Morikawa (+3200)

On the green: He tied for fourth last year and has five top 10 finishes in his last eight majors and began the current season with five straight top tens.

In the rough: Morikawa missed the cut in his most recent tournament and finished out of the top twenty in his four previous starts.

Six time major champ and six time US Open runner-up winner Phil Mickelson (+22,000)

On the green: Perhaps with a chip on his shoulder, Lefty won’t think about the near misses over the years? And for those saying he’s 51, nobody carded him last year when he won the PGA.

In the rough: Phil’s victory at Southern Hills is his only top 10 finish since 2016. And even before he stopped playing on the Tour in late January he had missed two straight cuts.

2021 Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama (+4100)

On the green: He’s won twice on the tour this season and is just over a calendar year removed from his major victory.

In the rough: Matsuyama tied for 60th at the PGA and his last top 10 in the US Open came in 2017.

Top PGA Tour earners

No. 2 Cameron Smith (+2100)

On the green: Two wins on tour this year, he also tied for fifth at the Masters and 13th at the PGA. He’s finished as high as a fourth-place tie in the U.S. Open.

In the rough: Since his debut in 2015, Smith has missed the cut twice while tying for 38th, 72nd and 59th. He also has competition for the “top Cameron” with Cameron Young (+4100) and Cameron Tringale (+28,000).

No. 3 Sam Burns (+2700)

On the green: He’s won three times on tour this season, most recently at the Charles Schwab Challenge where he beat world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler in a playoff. He’s coming off of his strongest showing at a major and this past week shot four rounds in the 60s en route to a tying for fourth at the RBC Canadian Open.

In the rough: He’s missed five cuts this year (including the Masters) and tying for 20th at the PGA Championship is his best finish at a major.

No. 6 Patrick Cantlay (+2400)

On the green: He’s won three times in the last 10 months and tied for third at his most recent tournament (the Memorial). He has four other top 10 finishes since the start of January.

In the rough: Tying for 39th at the Masters and missing the cut at the PGA don’t deliver a ton of confidence, and Cantlay’s missed the top 20 as many times (three) as he’s made it at the U.S. Open in his career.

No. 7 Will Zalatoris (+3000)

On the green: His six top ten finishes this season include a playoff loss to Justin Thomas at the PGA Championship. He also tied for sixth at the Masters (after finishing second last year).

In the rough: Zalatoris has yet to win on the tour in his young career and missed the cut at last year’s U.S. Open.

No. 8 Max Homa (+4100)

On the green: After winning the Wells Fargo Championship at TPC Potomac last month, Homa tied for 13th at the PGA. He tied for fifth at the Memorial in his most recent start and has finished even par or better in his last five tournaments.

In the rough: He’s missed the cut in seven of 11 career majors (and all three U.S. Open starts).

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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