2017 U.S. Open preview: Top 10 players to watch at Erin Hills

USGA rules-US Open Andrew Redington/Getty Images

2017 U.S. Open preview: Top 10 players to watch at Erin Hills

PGA Tour

2017 U.S. Open preview: Top 10 players to watch at Erin Hills

Combine the inconsistent play of late from golf’s stars, a course unknown to all but a few players and this might be the toughest major championship to prognosticate in some time. We know this: Erin Hills is going to play more than 7,500 yards most days, will sport plenty of sidehill lies and early reviews say the greens might be the most impeccably smooth the players have seen in a modern U.S. Open. With those elements in mind, here are 10 players to watch at the 2017 U.S. Open.
We’ll count ’em down.

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Rickie Fowler is always a threat. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

10. Rickie Fowler

OWGR: 9
Best U.S. Open Finish: T-2
Last three U.S. Opens: T-2, MC, MC
So far this year: Honda Classic winner has been consistently contending except for a May lull that saw a missed cut at Zurich and lackluster Players Championship (T-60).
Why he could win: Temecula, Calif. native has shown an ability to play in the wind and should relish the challenges of Erin Hills. Has the power and shotmaking to deal with whatever is presented by the USGA, and recent play at the Memorial (T-2) was especially impressive given his mediocre record at Muirfield Village.
Holding him back: Statistically strong in all categories, weakest is off the tee where he’s still a very manageable 45th in strokes gained. Immensely popular player faces pressure to carry the game, but seems due to finally break through in a major.

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2017 US Open preview-Alex Noren

Scottish Open champion Alex Noren didn’t really want the 2016 season to end. (Getty Images)

9. Alex Noren

OWGR: 8
Best U.S. Open finish: T-51 (2011)
Last three U.S. Opens: DNP, MC, MC
This year: Other than a missed cut at the Masters, the 34-year-old Swede has chipped away at a nice follow-up season to last year’s four-victory tour in Europe. He moved into the spotlight again with a career-defining victory at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Why he could win: Solid all-around player last year who might have helped Europe’s Ryder Cup squad, and he is seeing his ballstriking come together at the right time. Played best round of his life at Wentworth with 62, and when he’s off his game he’s a master scrambler.
Holding him back: Almost no U.S. Open track record, but he’s a new man and currently one of the best players in the world. If recent improvement in driving and iron play continues, expect him to hang around at Erin Hills.

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2017 US Open preview-Billy Horschel

Billy Horschel and caddy Josh Cassell embrace after Horschel’s victory over Jason Day in the AT&T Byron Nelson playoff. (Ray Carlin/USA TODAY Sports)

8. Billy Horschel

OWGR: 48
Best U.S. Open finish: T-4 (2013)
Last three U.S. Opens: T-23, T-25, T-32
This year: After four missed cuts, came out of nowhere to win the AT&T Byron Nelson in a playoff over Jason Day.
Why he could win: An elite ballstriker when he’s on, Horschel sounds like he’s found something that could fuel one of his patented hot streaks. His wife, Brittany, went public with an alcoholism battle that has been a burden on the Horschel family, and the outpouring of support can only help.
Holding him back: His recovery play around the greens. He’s barely in the top 200 on the PGA Tour, and if Erin Hills becomes a scrambling contest, he’s got no shot.

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2017 US Preview-Jon Rahm

Jon Rahm has won over many fans during his rookie season. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

7. Jon Rahm

OWGR: 10
Best U.S. Open finish: T-23 (2016, only appearance)
This year: Rookie’s dream season has included a win at the Farmers, a finals loss to Dustin Johnson in the WGC-Dell Match Play and third at the WGC-Mexico City. Finished T-23 in first Masters, fourth at Wells Fargo and was having a nice Players until a third-round 82.
Why he could win: Draw a line through that Players 82 after he rebounded nicely with T-2 at Colonial. Focus on his all-around game and consistency, no matter the layout. That said, a big golf course that requires power and physical conditioning will suit him. Rahm is strong as an ox and should love the challenge.
Holding him back: Putting is the weakest part of his game, so how he takes to the Erin Hills greens is key. Only other issue is that Players third round, but he likely will put that dreadful day behind him quickly.

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2017 US Open preview-Adam Scott-preview

Adam Scott seems due to have a strong U.S. Open week. (Getty Images)

6. Adam Scott

OWGR: 12
Best U.S. Open finish: T-4 (2015)
Last three U.S. Opens: T-9, T-4, T-18
This year: A T-6 at Players and T-9 at Masters show he’s still got game.
Why he could win: Recent trends suggest he’s warmed to the U.S. Open – he contended at Chambers Bay, a venue similar in scale and modern yardage. The pure A4 greens should appeal to the eye of someone who doesn’t like the poa annua of West Coast venues. If the course gets firm and there is wind, the Aussie should thrive.
Holding him back: Has been solid in all statistical categories except recovery play around the greens. Otherwise it’s hard to bet against such a steady player overdue for another great major championship week.

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Rory McIlroy-US Open-2017 preview

Rory McIlroy should be well-rested for the U.S. Open. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

5. Rory McIlroy

OWGR: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: 1 (2011)
Last three U.S. Opens: T-23, T-9, MC
This year: A rib injury curtailed plans for an ambitious pre-Masters schedule and is doing so again heading into the U.S. Open. His T-7 at the Masters offered hopeful signs, but McIlroy blamed his golf ball for not performing better in the blustering conditions. He has since signed with TaylorMade.
Why he could win: Even injured, McIlroy at his worst is still better than most. Power, confidence, maturity and width of Erin Hills should let him attack with the driver. When McIlroy feels unconstrained, he plays a different game than all but Dustin Johnson.
Holding him back:  Theoretically should love the Irish-style course, but he has a lack of affinity for links-style courses and playing in wind. New ball may help that. Besides health, putter is key for the 2011 champion at Congressional.

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2017 US Open-jordan spieth-preview

Jordan Spieth was halfway to the Grand Slam after his 2015 U.S. Open win. (Getty Images)

4. Jordan Spieth

OWGR: 6
Best U.S. Open finish: 1 (2015)
Last three U.S. Opens: T-17, 1, T-37
This year: Was a picture of consistency early in the season with a win and four top-10s on the West Coast Swing, but has tailed off since a mediocre Masters (T-11) by his high standards. Missed cuts at Players and AT&T Byron Nelson included putting his beloved blade in the doghouse for a week, but he rebounded impressively at Colonial with a T-2.
Why he could win: Spieth can turn things around quickly, especially when he gets the U.S. Open juices flowing. The early reports of immaculate Erin Hills greens should help him continue to find his putting stroke, while his ballstriking has remained strong statistically all year. Posted 69 in 2011 U.S. Amateur stroke-play qualifying at Erin Hills, then won three matches before losing in the quarterfinals.
Holding him back: Putting inconsistency. Spieth proved at Chambers Bay that he can look past venue issues and use them to his advantage should others not take to Erin Hills.

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jason-day-2017 US Open-preview

Jason Day should not be rattled by the challenging course at Erin Hills (Getty Images)

3. Jason Day

OWGR: 3
Best U.S. Open finish: 2nd (2011, 2013)
Last three U.S. Opens: T-4, T-9, T-8
This year: Byron Nelson playoff loss was first significant sign of life from previous World No. 1. Finished T-22 at Masters, and Players title defense yielded disappointing final round 80 (T-60).
Why he could win: Big, bad golf courses in Wisconsin do not phase him, as he proved in winning the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits. When he’s on, has all the game and then some to deal with challenges of a long track.
Holding him back: Statistically mediocre in all categories this year except in recovery play around greens. Good-hearted soul is also burdened by mom’s cancer fight.

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2017-US Open-preview-Justin Rose

Justin Rose nearly won the Masters in April, but fell just short in a playoff to Sergio Garcia. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

2. Justin Rose

OWGR: 11
Best U.S. Open finish: 1 (2013)
Last three U.S. Opens: T-12, T-27, MC
This year: Still knocking on the door of a 2017 win after a heartbreaking Masters playoff loss to Sergio Garcia. Has many strong showings to draw from at Sony (2), Farmers (T-4) and Genesis (T-4). The 2016 Olympic gold medalist is building his season around the majors and has shown no signs of diminished ballstriking.
Why he could win: Veteran with a major on his resume. Should take to Erin Hills, which is part links, part inland exam.
Holding him back: Surprisingly mediocre in approach play this year. Putter has been so-so, but that’s never been his strength. Remains one of the world’s best all-around players. His handling of tough Masters loss bodes well for arriving in Wisconsin ready to contend.

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2017 US Open-entries-field-Erin Hills

Dustin Johnson with the 2016 U.S. Open trophy. (Getty Images)

1. Dustin Johnson

OWGR: 1
Best U.S. Open finish: 1
Last three U.S. Opens: T-4, T-2, 1
This year: Took over top spot in world, has won three times and finished in the top 25 eight times in 10 starts. Tied for 12th at Players on a course not suited to his power.
Why he could win: Adapts well to any course that lets him play his game, and all signs point to Erin Hills allowing DJ to swing away. Duties as defending champion won’t cause him much stress after handling last year’s controversy with class.
Holding him back: Statistically his worst category this year is around the greens, and even there he’s 41st in strokes gained. Maybe he doesn’t take a liking to Erin Hills, but all signs point to a huge defense of his title.

(Note: A version of this story appeared in the June 2017 issue of Golfweek and included Phil Mickelson as one of the top 10 players to watch. Mickelson was removed since it is unlikely he will play this week.

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