10 players to watch at the 2012 U.S. Open

A look at 10 players (outside the top 10 in the world ranking) to watch at next week’s U.S. Open in San Francisco:

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1. Steve Stricker (No. 11 in Official World Golf Ranking/No. 4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings)

It’s mind-boggling that a player as steady as Stricks hasn’t contended more at majors, particularly the U.S. Open (only one top 10 in his past six starts: T-6, ’06). Now 45, he’s running out of chances.

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2. Phil Mickelson (12/11)

Has Lefty ever been more interesting? Five times a U.S. Open runner-up, this may serve as Phil’s best chance to win his national championship — so long as he’s recovered from his “mental fatigue,” that is.

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3. Louis Oosthuizen (15/44)

Three MCs in his past four starts doesn’t inspire that much confidence. This sweet-swinger seemingly always brings it for the majors, though (see: 2012 Masters).

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4. Zach Johnson (16/5)

Put the ’07 Masters winner in your top 3 of hottest players on Tour. Such attributes as “grinder” and “solid ballstriker” typically translate well at U.S. Open venues, too.

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5. Rickie Fowler (18/17)

Remember a month ago, when we all loved Rickie’s chances to claim his first major title in San Fran? Sigh. Now, there are plenty of good seats available on the bandwagon, after Fowler’s Sunday 84 alongside Tiger at Memorial. Don’t worry: I’m still onboard.

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6. Dustin Johnson (20/19)

The last time the Open was held in Northern California, DJ led by three after 54 holes. Much scar tissue has developed since then, of course, and he’s playing only his second event since March. But it’d certainly be entertaining to see this immense talent get another crack at the Open trophy.

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7. Sergio Garcia (22/7)

The Spaniard is a ballstriking whiz, no doubt, so you can’t help but wonder if this is the week he — just once — silences the demons and wins that elusive major.

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8. Jim Furyk (36/23)

He’s displayed good form since March, and Olympic would seem an ideal venue for his methodical approach.

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9. Carl Pettersson (38/29)

When the big Swede gets rolling, he can pure it as well as anyone. Though he hasn’t played an Open since ’09, his sharp iron game should keep him in the mix.

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10. Ernie Els (43/38)

Why not? Sure, that wobbly putter probably will keep him from closing the deal come Sunday, but you can’t ignore his championship resume — or, better yet, the potential for this feel-good story.

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