PINEHURST, N.C. – It’s still two days before the first shot is struck in the 114th U.S. Open, but finding trends from previous Open victories and previous performances might help predict who will come out on top this week.
The biggest key to winning is a fast start, since few have ever gotten off to a mediocre start and won a U.S. Open.
Last year Justin Rose was 16th after a first-round 71 at Merion, then stepped it up with a 69 Friday and was never out of the top 10 for the remainder of the week – positioned third on Friday and fifth after Saturday’s second round.
Rose was an example of how the U.S. Open has played out since 2000, with the winner getting into position by the halfway point and making a charge on the weekend to maintain or overtake the leader.
When Tiger Woods shot an opening 65 at Pebble Beach in 2000, he never relinquished the lead. It was one of three times, which included Woods again in 2002 and McIlroy in 2011, when the winner led all four days.
With the exception of Webb Simpson in 2012 and Michael Campbell in 2005, every winner of the U.S. Open since 2000 has been in the top four going into the weekend. And in Campbell’s case he was sixth at the hallway point at Pinehurst.
In 2012 at The Olympic Club, Simpson was the exception to the rule, showing little form in the first two days with rounds of 72-73 that put him 23rd and 29th after the first two rounds, respectively. But his consecutive 68s on the weekend made the difference.
The other big story of the week is that of Phil Mickelson. Coming into his 24th U.S. Open, the left-hander has six runner-up finishes – with the first coming in a heartbreaking loss to Payne Stewart in 1999 here at Pinehurst.
Mickelson came to the Sandhills with a zero in the win column in 1999 and in his last two events leading up to Pinehurst were two consecutive 11th place finishes at Colonial and Memorial.
It was the only time Mickelson would go winless in a calendar year and finish as a runner-up in the U.S. Open.
In 2002, Mickelson won the Bob Hope; in 2004, both the Hope and the Masters; in 2006, BellSouth and the Masters; in 2009, the Northern Trust Open and WGC CA Championship; and last year, Mickelson won in Phoenix.
In 2014, Mickelson has not only not won, but he has not broken into the top 10 in 14 events on the PGA Tour. He finished second at Abu Dhabi.
Mickelson has never won immediately going into the U.S. Open as he did last year at the Open Championship, when he won the Scottish Open. His record ranges from 59th at the St. Jude Classic in 2009 to a second in the same event in 2013.
Mickelson also recorded a MC at the Players in 2013, just as he did this year.
Boiling it down, a Mickelson win would be contrary to the history he has shown in the past, mainly because he hasn’t won in 2014. But the T-11 finish last week in Memphis, his best finish of the year, showed a little better form than earlier this year.
For Mickelson, will it be enough?