2011 U.S. Open: Contender capsules

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson

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A capsule look at 20 notable players in the U.S. Open, to be played June 16-19 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.:

THE OLD GUARD

photo

Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot on the sixth hole during the final round of the U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., Sunday, June 17, 2001.

PHIL MICKELSON

Age: 41 (on Thursday of U.S. Open)

Country: United States.

World ranking: 5.

Worldwide wins: 41.

Majors: Masters (2004, 2006, 2010), PGA Championship (2005).

U.S. Open highlight: Nearly making up a five-shot deficit to Tiger Woods at Bethpage Black in 2002 before finishing second.

U.S. Open lowlight: Setting the U.S. Open record with his fifth runner-up finish in 2009 at Bethpage Black.

Why he can win: He's the best player in the field.

Why he might not: Attitude and putting. Perhaps the biggest mental obstacle for Mickelson to overcome is that Rees Jones — his least favorite architect — did the redesign at Congressional. If he figures out the right speed on the greens, he can do that.

•••

photo

Lee Westwood of England watches a shot during a practice round prior to the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia.

LEE WESTWOOD

Age: 38.

Country: England.

World ranking: 2.

Worldwide wins: 34.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open highlight: Missing a playoff at Torrey Pines by one shot.

U.S. Open lowlight: Leaving a downhill, 15-foot birdie putt short on the 18th green to miss out on a playoff at Torrey Pines.

Why he can win: He's the best all-around driver at the U.S. Open, and that never hurts.

Why he might not: While he brings the best combination of talent, form and ball-striking, his chipping remains suspect. And this being a U.S. Open, chipping tends to take a lot of stress off the putting.

•••

photo

David Toms watches his tee shot on the second hole during the third round of the Colonial golf tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, May 21, 2011.

DAVID TOMS

Age: 44.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 27.

Worldwide wins: 13.

Majors: PGA Championship (2001).

U.S. Open highlight: Never shot worse than 73 and tied for fifth at Oakmont in 2007.

U.S. Open lowlight: Has never finished a U.S. Open under par in 14 tries.

Why he can win: Players Championship playoff aside, he's one of the most reliable putters in golf. And when he's in a groove, which he is now, he has great precision with his irons.

Why he might not: His lack of power can hurt him in two areas — if he gets loose off the tee and has to deal with the rough, and chipping out of the thick stuff around the green.

•••

photo

Ian Poulter during the second round of the 2011 Masters.

IAN POULTER

Age: 35.

Country: England.

World ranking: 13.

Worldwide wins: 12.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open highlight: A 69 in the second round at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2005. It's the only time he broke 70 in the U.S. Open.

U.S. Open lowlight: He has finished in the top 10 at every major except the U.S. Open.

Why he can win: Johnny Miller once said Poulter is not a great ball-striker, which is true. Poulter is No. 1 when it comes to self-belief, and his short game is superb, especially the putting.

Why he might not: Rabbit ears. NBC Sports televises the U.S. Open. Johnny Miller works for NBC.

•••

photo

Jim Furyk hits out of a sand trap on the seventh hole during the second round for the Memorial golf tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, Friday, June 3, 2011.

JIM FURYK

Age: 41.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 17.

Worldwide wins: 19.

Majors: U.S. Open (2003).

U.S. Open highlight: Winning his only major at Olympia Fields in 2003.

U.S. Open lowlight: Making bogey on the last two holes at Olympia Fields with a chance to break the U.S. Open scoring record.

Why he can win: If there is such a thing as a prototype U.S. Open player, Furyk might be it. He's long enough, has a repeatable swing and is relatively accurate, and tends to turn mistakes into pars.

Why he might not: He already has missed four cuts this year, and his only top-10 came at Bay Hill when he tied for ninth. He's also tinkering with his putting, which is not unusual, just not very inspiring this close to a major.

•••

THE NEW GUARD

photo

Luke Donald during the opening round of the BMW PGA Championship.

LUKE DONALD

Age: 33.

Country: England.

World ranking: 1.

Worldwide wins: 7.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open highlight: Bouncing back from a 78 at Winged Foot in 2006 to shoot 69 and make the cut.

U.S. Open lowlight: Having to withdraw after three rounds at Torrey Pines in 2008 with a wrist injury that kept him out of the next two majors and forced him to miss the Ryder Cup.

Why he can win: He's playing the best golf of anyone in the world, and his chipping and putting are flawless at the moment.

Why he might not: Even though he looks like a good U.S. Open player — not long but straight — he is not always straight off the tee. His key to a first major could lie with the driver.

•••

photo

Dustin Johnson watches his tee shot on the second hole during the third round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia.

DUSTIN JOHNSON

Age: 26.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 9.

Worldwide wins: 4.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open highlight: Building a three-shot lead through 54 holes at Pebble Beach last year.

U.S. Open lowlight: Closing with an 82, the highest final round by a 54-hole leader in nearly 100 years.

Why he can win: He's powerful, fearless, very talented and has a short memory.

Why he might not: He still hasn't shown he has the patience required at a major.

•••

photo

Nick Watney after opening with 8-under 64 at The Players Championship.

NICK WATNEY

Age: 30.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 14.

Worldwide wins: 3.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open highlight: Still waiting for one.

U.S. Open lowlight: Shooting an 81 in the final round last year at Pebble Beach.

Why he can win: Has a well-rounded game and is learning to cope with pressure in big events after last year's PGA Championship.

Why he might not: His game might not be sharp with limited competition going to Congressional.

•••

photo

Rory McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, tees off on the third hole during the third round for the Memorial golf tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, Saturday, June 4, 2011.

RORY MCILROY

Age: 22.

Country: Northern Ireland.

World ranking: 7.

Worldwide wins: 2.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open highlight: Closing with a 68 at Bethpage Black in 2009 to finish in the top 10.

U.S. Open lowlight: Missing the cut at Pebble Beach last year with rounds of 75-77.

Why he can win: He has a dynamic, powerful game that produces lots of birdies and a confidence in every shot reminiscent of a young Phil Mickelson. In nine majors as a pro, he already has four top-10s.

Why he might not: His short putting raises questions. Also must be noted that he has shot 80 from the lead in two of the last three majors, including the final round at the Masters. But the public will remember that more than him.

•••

photo

Italy's Matteo Manassero during the second round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Golf Club.

MATTEO MANASSERO

Age: 18.

Country: Italy.

World ranking: 30.

Worldwide wins: 2.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open highlight: Winning the Malaysian Open to secure a spot in the top 50 and be exempt for his first U.S. Open.

U.S. Open lowlight: Failing to qualify last year in his first attempt.

Why he can win: Despite his youth, he has a mature game and high expectations. His lack of length will be easily compensated for by his putting and experience getting up-and-down.

Why he might not: It has been 98 years since a player won the U.S. Open in his first attempt.

•••

photo

Bubba Watson during the final round of the Zurich Classic.

BUBBA WATSON

Age: 32.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 12.

Worldwide wins: 3.

Majors:None.

U.S. Open highlight: Tied for fifth at Oakmont in 2007.

U.S. Open lowlight: Rounds of 77-77 at Torrey Pines in 2008 to miss the cut.

Why he can win: His three PGA Tour victories are the most of any American over the last year. More than just length, he sees shots differently from other players. The question is whether he can pull them off.

Why he might not: Two reasons between the ears. He can get down on himself, which is never helpful in the U.S. Open, and he can have a short attention span. Then again, so did Payne Stewart.

•••

photo

Martin Kaymer tees off in the first round of the Transitions Championship.

MARTIN KAYMER

Age: 26.

Country: Germany.

World ranking: 3.

Worldwide wins: 9.

Majors: PGA Championship (2010).

U.S. Open highlight: A 72-72 weekend at Pebble Beach to finish in the top 10.

U.S. Open lowlight: Open with a 76 on a soft day at Bethpage Black that led to his only missed cut.

Why he can win: He has an efficient game, plenty of power and a knack for scoring that already has led him to nine wins in his career. Will come into this U.S. Open with a better attitude than he had at Augusta, where he all but predicted he would fail.

Why he might not: He still struggles to hit a draw, which will come in handy on certain holes at Congressional. The last four major champions haven't shown great form in subsequent majors.

•••

photo

Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland holds up the U.S. Open trophy after winning the golf tournament Sunday, June 20, 2010, at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif.

GRAEME MCDOWELL

Age: 31.

Country: Northern Ireland.

World ranking: 8.

Worldwide wins: 8.

Majors: U.S. Open (2010).

U.S. Open highlight: Putting his name on the list of U.S. Open champions at Pebble Beach alongside Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Tiger Woods.

U.S. Open lowlight: Having to return the trophy when he gets to Congressional.

Why he can win: His toughness and clutch putting make him a good fit at any U.S. Open venue. This is the one major that he has never missed the cut.

Why he might not: He seems to be running out of steam following a dream season. Already has two rounds in the 80s since March, and he lost a one-shot lead at The Players Championship by closing with 79.

•••

photo

Charl Schwartzel of South Africa reacts after making a birdie putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 10, 2011, in Augusta, Ga.

CHARL SCHWARTZEL

Age: 26.

Country: South Africa.

World ranking: 11.

Worldwide wins: 7.

Majors: Masters (2011).

U.S. Open highlight: A 70 in the second round at Bethpage Black in 2009, the first time he matched par in 10 rounds of a U.S. Open.

U.S. Open lowlight: Missing the cut at Bethpage Black for the only time in his four U.S. Open appearances.

Why he can win: Masters mojo seems to last a little while. The last Masters champion who failed to get to the weekend of a U.S. Open that year was Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999, who withdrew with a hand injury after punching a hotel room wall.

Why he might not: Of the last four major champions, Graeme McDowell is the only player to make the cut in his next major.

•••

photo

Louis Oosthuizen

LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN

Age: 28.

Country: South Africa.

World ranking: 34.

Worldwide wins: 7.

Majors: British Open (2010).

U.S. Open highlight: Playing at Pebble Beach for his first U.S. Open.

U.S. Open lowlight: Missing the cut at Pebble Beach in his only U.S. Open.

Why he can win: His smooth, repeating swing — Geoff Ogilvy called it the best swing in golf, "and it's not even close" shouldn't get him in too much trouble anywhere. Plays within himself, which never hurts in this major.

Why he might not: He has missed the cut in nine of the 11 majors he has played, the exception being his win at the British Open last year and finishing 73rd in the 2008 PGA Championship.

•••

THE CONGRESSIONAL GUARD

photo

Steve Stricker hits his second shot to the 10th green during the final round of the Memorial golf tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio Sunday, June 5, 2011.

STEVE STRICKER

Age: 44.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 4.

Worldwide wins: 10.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open highlight: Tied for the lead at Oakmont in 2007 with nine holes to play.

U.S. Open lowlight: Shot 42 on the back nine Sunday at Oakmont.

Why he can win: He is the highest-ranked American for the first time in his career, is coming off a win at Memorial and has all the tools to win a U.S. Open, particularly his putter. He was a runner-up at Congressional in the AT&T National in 2007. He tied for 13th in the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional.

Why he might not: Jack Nicklaus said he would be a factor at Congressional. Nicklaus also said after Tiger Woods won the Memorial in 2009 that he would be shocked if he didn't win the U.S. Open.

•••

photo

Hunter Mahan

HUNTER MAHAN

Age: 29.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 18.

Worldwide wins: 3.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open highlight: Posting a 280 at Bethpage Black in 2009 to tie for fifth.

U.S. Open lowlight: One shot out of the lead in the final round at Bethpage Black, his 8-iron hit the pin on the 16th hole, turning birdie into a bogey and ending his chances.

Why he can win: Not many players make cleaner contact than Mahan, off the tee and particularly with his irons. Two years ago at Congressional, shot a 62 in the final round and was runner-up to Woods.

Why he might not: His chipping has not shown to be up to U.S. Open standards. If he misses greens, he could be in trouble.

•••

photo

Ernie Els, of South Africa, holds up the trophy after winning the U.S. Open Sunday, June 15, 1997, at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.

ERNIE ELS

Age: 41.

Country: South Africa.

World ranking: 22.

Worldwide wins: 62.

Majors: U.S. Open (1994, 1997), British Open (2002).

U.S. Open highlight: His 5-iron into 12 feet on the 17th hole of the final round at Congressional that secured a one-shot lead for his second U.S. Open title.

U.S. Open lowlight: Playing in the final group at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 and shooting 80.

Why he can win: He has a big game for big courses, especially the U.S. Open. He's strong enough to handle the rough, off the fairway and the greens. And he has the memories of winning his last U.S. Open at Congressional.

Why he might not: The last time he returned to a U.S. Open course where he had won, he shot 301 at Oakmont. He is off to one of his worst starts this year, and is desperately seeking answers for his putting.

•••

photo

Anthony Kim waves after making birdie on the 15th hole during the second round of the Houston Open.

ANTHONY KIM

Age: 25.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 60.

Worldwide wins: 3.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open highlight: Closing with a 67 at Oakmont in his U.S. Open debut.

U.S. Open lowlight: Shooting an 80 in the third round at Oakmont to fall out of contention.

Why he can win: He won at Congressional in the 2008 AT&T National, and finished third a year later.

Why he might not: He turns 26 on Sunday of the U.S. Open. The question is whether he'll be around to celebrate it at Congressional. He form has been so bad that he no longer is among the top 50 in the world ranking.

•••

photo

K.J. Choi pumps his fist after sinking a birdie putt on the 17th hole at The Players.

K.J. CHOI

Age: 41.

Country: South Korea.

World ranking: 16.

Worldwide wins: 16.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open highlight: Making it through 36-hole sectional qualifying in 2001 to play in his first U.S. Open.

U.S. Open lowlight: Opening with a 78 at Southern Hills in his U.S. Open debut.

Why he can win: He has been hanging around the top of leaderboards at majors for the last several years, and equipped with a big win at The Players Championship, comes into this U.S. Open filled with confidence.

Why he might not: He has missed the cut in five of the 10 U.S. Opens he has played.

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