As is usual with the U.S. Open, Sunday has come and there is a core cluster of characters that could win the toughest test in golf. The Olympics Club has proven to be a treacherous challenge with the leaders at -1 and the field struggling to find birdies. Here is a list of ten potential protagonists for an exciting 4th round in San Francisco. Let’s start with the leaders:
Prime Time: Graeme McDowell
This Northern Irishman and 2010 U.S. Open winner, at a similarly difficult Pebble Beach, finds himself sharing a -1 tournament score with another former U.S. Open winner. McDowell has shined on the biggest stages, winning a major and representing Europe in the Ryder Cup, but has found wins few and far between. However, this is one of the biggest stages and despite his problems off the tee all weekend, McDowell is one of the few players who has shined through with incredible approach shots and clutch putting. If his short games continues to excel, he should have a strong chance of entering an elite fraternity of golfers who have won multiple U.S. Opens (He would be #22).
Blue Collar: Jim Furyk
Nothing about Furyk’s game screams champion, and yet Furyk is a former U.S. Open champion. On Saturday he was constantly out shot by Tiger using far lesser clubs. However, his play was fairly mistake free (by that I mean he made very manageable mistakes) and much like McDowell he excelled in his short game. Furyk has a far more impressive Résumé than McDowell (a lot which has to do with the fact he’s nearly a decade older), as he has finished in the Top 10 in Majors 18 times, including a win and two second place finishes in the U.S. Open. He has played solid all three days and should be your odds on favorite to take home his second U.S. Open. He might not look like a star, but he does all the little things right.
Wild Card: Fredrik Jacobson
His game his bizarre, but all day Saturday he put himself in an opportunities to make birdies (a big reason why he sits in 3rd right now, +1). He hasn’t ever really had a standout win and the odds of him playing as well on Sunday as he did on Saturday are incredibly rare on such a tough course, but then again the last eight major winners have been first time major winners so a betting man might pick this wild card.
The Guy Who’s Due: Lee Westwood
The number 3 player in the world has somehow found his way into contention. This week has been ugly, though his game looked beautiful compared to Thursday and Friday partners Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald (both missed the cut). Every golf analyst says that Westwood is extremely good and will eventually win a major, so why not this one? He has the skills and seems not to be phased by poor play at time, a huge mental strength at such a difficult course.
The Big Gun: Nicolas Colsaerts
This young Belgian (“The muscles from Brussels”) has been out driving everyone all weekend, and yet seems to play the game with the sensibility of a member on the senior tour. Watch out for that combination of poise and ability to kick-start him to the front of the pack.
The Natural: Ernie Els
Everyone wishes they had a swing like Ernie, and for good reason as he’s put that swing to good use as he’s won three majors (two of which were U.S. Opens)*. Ernie had the good fortune of holing his third shot (a chip from just off the green) on the easiest 17th hole at Olympic. It could be one last run for Ernie as he is far into the twilight years of his career.
*Though both were in the 90s.
On the Cusp: Jason Dufner
Dufner has been on fire as of late with a career renaissance, why not continue his success at the major level. Winning a major is the one remaining feat for him to accomplish before entering that elite class of golfer (He was so close… that damn Keegan Bradley). His chance may be a long shot, but he has been even keel everyday giving us all hope that he could break through on Sunday.
Rising Star: Webb Simpson
Not much more to say. We are constantly looking for the next great American golfer, Webb is just one of a slew of young golfers would could fill those shoes. He just happens to be contending this weekend.
The Kid: Beau Hossler
Yes, this 17-year-old has a legitimate chance at the U.S. Open. His goal may have begun as being the low amateur, but his even keel demeanor, simple swing, and incredible putting ability (both reading the green and executing) give him the chance to get birdies on a course that has very few to offer. Regardless of how he finishes out, as mentioned with Webb Simpson, this guy could be the next great American golfer (especially once his body fills out to get some more power in his game).
The Shadow of a Legend: Tiger Woods
Tiger has been great off the tee, playing very conservative using mostly irons. BUT his putting is so far off that unless he has some revelation tonight he doesn’t have a shot, but then again he’s arguably the greatest ever so that change may come. If he can figure out his putting he has a chance, because he has the combination of power and tenacity. Yes, I know he has never won a major coming from behind, but this isn’t the same old Tiger (could be something new for him to try in this post scandal era).
In conclusion we’ve got a great cast for a spectacular Sunday at the U.S. Open. My pick is Lee Westwood, though look for Beau to make a push (who doesn’t love a good underdog story).
Thanks for reading and check me out on Twitter @Alex_Rosenbaum