U.S. Open: Closer look at 20 key players at Merion

Hunter Mahan

Hunter Mahan

A capsule look at 20 top players for the 113th U.S. Open golf championship, to be played June 13-16 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. (listed in predicted order of finish):

• • •

HUNTER MAHAN

Age: 31.

Country: United States.

World Ranking: 22.

Worldwide wins: 5.

Majors: None.

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for 6th in 2009 at Bethpage Black.

U.S. Open memory: Hitting the flag with his approach on the 16th at Bethpage Black, turning birdie into bogey.

Backspin: He hasn't won since the Houston Open a week before the 2012 Masters and ran into a bad patch this year when he had at least one round of 74 or higher in seven consecutive tournaments. But form has shown to mean very little this year, and Mahan is one of the best ball-strikers on tour. A U.S. Open is made for his game.

• • •

TIGER WOODS

Age: 37.

Country: United States.

World Ranking: 1.

Worldwide wins: 90.

Majors: Masters (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005), US Open (2000, 2002, 2008), British Open (2000, 2005, 2006), PGA Championship (1999, 2000, 2006, 2007).

Best U.S. Open performance: Win.

U.S. Open memory: A record 15-shot win at Pebble Beach in 2000.

Backspin: He is the favorite to win no matter where he plays after his victory at The Players Championship, his fourth win of the year. The last time he won a major on a course he had never played was Royal Liverpool at the 2006 British Open. There is no reason to bet against him except that golf is unpredictable, and Woods now has gone five full years since his last major. That drought will end. The question is where.

• • •

TIM CLARK

Age: 37.

Country: South Africa.

World Ranking: 49.

Worldwide wins: 5.

Majors: None.

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for 3rd at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2005.

U.S. Open memory: An active streak of 22 consecutive rounds without breaking par in the U.S. Open.

Backspin: Four of the last six major champions have used a long putter. Perhaps it would only be fitting if Clark were the next one. His dignified opposition helped rally PGA Tour players against the next rule that outlaws the anchored putting stroke. More than his putter, Clark is always dangerous on courses where accuracy and clean iron play is paramount.

• • •

MATT KUCHAR

Age: 34.

Country: United States.

World Ranking: 4.

Worldwide wins: 6.

Majors: None.

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for 6th in 2010 at Pebble Beach.

U.S. Open memory: Smiling his way around Olympic Club in 1998 as an amateur on this way to a tie for 14th to earn a trip back the following year.

Backspin: He has become one of the steadiest performers in America over the last three years, with more top 10s than anyone on the PGA. There is nothing fancy about his game. He is exceptionally efficient with everything. No one is in better form going into the U.S. Open except Tiger Woods.

• • •

GRAEME MCDOWELL

Age: 33.

Country: Northern Ireland.

World Ranking: 8.

Worldwide wins: 11.

Majors: US Open (2010).

Best U.S. Open performance: Win.

U.S. Open memory: His name listed among the US Open champions at Pebble Beach with Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Tiger Woods.

Backspin: He was poised to win the U.S. Open last year at Olympic Club until he failed to make up ground on the par 5s late in the round. With his driving and knack for holing putts, and with two wins already this year, he has been looked upon as a favorite to add another U.S. Open trophy to his collection. If he wins, he might be able to build another bar and call it Nona Blue Two.

• • •

JUSTIN ROSE

Age: 32.

Country: England.

World Ranking: 5.

Worldwide wins: 10.

Majors: None.

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for 5th at Olympia Fields in 2003.

U.S. Open memory: Winning the Memorial and not being exempt for the U.S. Open because the exemption categories had closed. Since then, the U.S. Open has extended its world ranking category until the week of the U.S. Open.

Backspin: He's not quite in the best-without-a-major conversation because he hasn't won enough, but he's winning some big events — FedEx Cup playoff event, Memorial, Aronimink and World Golf Championship. It's been 15 years since that teenager tied for fourth in the British Open. Rose has had good starts at a few majors, and is due for a strong finish one of these times.

• • •

ADAM SCOTT

Age: 32.

Country: Australia.

World Ranking: 3.

Worldwide wins: 20.

Majors: Masters (2013).

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for 15th in 2012 at The Olympic Club.

U.S. Open memory: Being the third wheel when the USGA grouped together the top three players in the world ranking in 2008. The other two were Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Backspin: It seems only Tiger Woods gets questions about a Grand Slam when he wins the Masters. Scott at least deserves the question. He is playing less, practicing more and always looks ready when he shows up at a tournament. If he hadn't blown the British Open, he would have two of the last three majors. He plans to play Merion seven times before it counts.

• • •

RORY MCILROY

Age: 24.

Country: Northern Ireland.

World Ranking: 2.

Worldwide wins: 10.

Majors: US Open (2011), PGA Championship (2013).

Best U.S. Open performance: Win.

U.S. Open memory: Hugging his father, Gerry, on the 18th green at Congressional after winning his first major with a record score in the U.S. Open.

Backspin: McIlroy had no idea he was about to go on a big run last summer that took him to No. 1 in the world. He had no idea he was about to go into a slump at the start of last year. His game can change without notice. The fact he spent time with Dave Stockton (putting coach) instead of Michael Bannon (swing coach) at the Memorial could be an indication that he's close.

• • •

LUKE DONALD

Age: 35.

Country: England.

World Ranking: 7.

Worldwide wins: 12.

Majors: None.

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for 12th in 2006 at Winged Foot.

U.S. Open memory: Withdrawing after the third round in 2008 with a wrist injury that kept him out the rest of the year, and eventually got him back on a path that took him to No. 1 in the world.

Backspin: Donald was No. 1 in the world for six majors, the most times of any player who has never won a major. Maybe having slipped in the ranking, and coming to Merion under the radar, could ease some of the expectations. What would help — a little more accuracy and some improved scores.

• • •

BRANDT SNEDEKER

Age: 32.

Country: United States.

World Ranking: 6.

Worldwide wins: 5.

Majors: None.

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for 8th in 2010 at Pebble Beach.

U.S. Open memory: Having to withdraw last year because of a rib injury, the same injury that kept him out a month leading up to the Masters this year.

Backspin: The takeaway from his share of the 54-hole lead at the Masters was a feeling that he will get more chances in the majors. Snedeker now has been a contender in two of the last three majors, and the U.S. Open could suit him if he's driving the ball well and hitting clean irons.

• • •

PHIL MICKELSON

Age: 42.

Country: United States.

World Ranking: 10.

Worldwide wins: 43.

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

Best U.S. Open performance: Runner-up (five times).

U.S. Open memory: Setting the U.S. Open record at Bethpage Black in 2009 with his fifth silver medal as a runner-up.

Backspin: The slogan, "What will Phil do next?" is never tougher to answer than in the U.S. Open. When he's on his game, he can disappear. When he's out of form, he can contend. There will be plenty of attention on his driving, but his iron play and chipping will go a long way at Merion.

• • •

JIM FURYK

Age: 43.

Country: United States.

World Ranking: 28.

Worldwide wins: 18.

Majors: US Open (2003).

Best U.S. Open performance: Win.

U.S. Open memory: The fondest memory is his 2003 win at Olympia Fields. More recent is hooking a 3-wood on the par-5 16th at Olympic Club last year that dropped him from the lead in the final round.

Backspin: His loss at Olympic Club last year was one of several missed chances, and Merion would be his best shot at redemption, especially for a Pennsylvania native. Driving accuracy will be a plus for Furyk. The key is how dialed in he will be with his wedges, and whether he can erase memories of poor finishes.

• • •

SERGIO GARCIA

Age: 33.

Country: Spain.

World Ranking: 14.

Worldwide wins: 23.

Majors: None.

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for 3rd in 2002 at Bethpage Black.

U.S. Open memory: Playing in the final group with Tiger Woods at Bethpage Black in 2002 and getting heckled by the fans over his constant waggles.

Backspin: He might be the second-most popular player at Merion, which is not necessarily a good thing. Garcia is playing in America for the first time since his public feud with Woods at The Players Championship, and his "fried chicken" remark about Woods in London.

• • •

ANGEL CABRERA

Age: 43.

Country: Argentina.

World Ranking: 62.

Worldwide wins: 41.

Majors: Masters (2009), US Open (2007).

Best U.S. Open performance: Win.

U.S. Open memory: Sitting in the locker room at Oakmont as Tiger Woods, the last player with a chance to catch him, failed to birdie the 18th hole.

Backspin: There isn't a lot to suggest Cabrera will be a contender at Merion except that his game is on the rise and he tends to show up at big events. He will be forced to leave his driver in the bag during the stretch of short holes in the middle. He won the last U.S. Open in Pennsylvania. And this might be his next chance to become the first grandfather to win a major.

• • •

STEVE STRICKER

Age: 46.

Country: United States.

World Ranking: 12.

Worldwide wins: 12.

Majors: None.

Best U.S. Open performance: 5th at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999.

U.S. Open memory: Being tied for the lead going to the back nine at Oakmont in 2007. He shot 42 on the back nine and tied for 13th.

Backspin: If this is the year of the feel-good winner in the majors, Stricker is at the top of the list. One of the most considerate personalities in golf, his part-time schedule isn't hurting him too much. And his game might be suited for Merion more than most majors — a good driver, great control of his wedges, and putting so good that he should be on Tiger Woods' payroll. But in the five chances he's had on a Sunday in the majors, his closing skills have been suspect.

• • •

LEE WESTWOOD

Age: 40.

Country: England.

World Ranking: 11.

Worldwide wins: 37.

Majors: None.

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for third in 2008.

U.S. Open memory: The 15-foot birdie putt he missed on the 18th green at Torrey Pines in 2008 that would have put him into a playoff.

Backspin: The U.S. Open would seem to be his best chance at a major because of his great driving and ball-striking, and with thick rough around the green that limits the choice of shots, his improved chipping might not be a hindrance. The concern is his form, with a poor finish at Wentworth and a missed cut at the Memorial.

• • •

MATTEO MANASSERO

Age: 20.

Country: Italy.

World Ranking: 26.

Worldwide wins: 4.

Majors: None.

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for 46th at Olympic Club in 2012.

U.S. Open memory: A 69 in the second round at Olympic Club, the only time he has broken par in the U.S. Open.

Backspin: The Italian's win at Wentworth turned heads because it was his fourth European Tour win and he just turned 20 in April. Manassero doesn't get as much hype as other young stars because he doesn't have a lot of power. The kid hates to make bogey, though, and he comes to Merion in superb form.

• • •

IAN POULTER

Age: 37.

Country: England.

World Ranking: 16.

Worldwide wins: 15.

Majors: None.

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for 12th in 2006 at Winged Foot.

U.S. Open memory: Wearing hot pink pants for the final round of a U.S. Open in New York.

Backspin: He gets the most out of his game with a terrific short game, particularly his penchant for holing par putts. But while his form is always up-and-down, this has been one of his worst starts. He missed the cut at the Masters, The Players Championship and at Wentworth. He can be counted on to make putts from the 10-foot range. But they need to be for par, not bogey.

• • •

CHARL SCHWARTZEL

Age: 28.

Country: South Africa.

World Ranking: 15.

Worldwide wins: 9.

Majors: Masters (2011).

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for 9th at Congressional in 2011.

U.S. Open memory: Opening with a 68 in the 2011 US Open as the Masters champion. It was his 15th U.S. Open round, and first time he broke par.

Backspin: A complete player who contends in streaks, Schwartzel is among the most polished of the growing group of South Africans. His putting has been a problem, which could be a big problem at Merion, though he's been working with Mark McNulty, who was among the best of his time.

• • •

DUSTIN JOHNSON

Age: 28.

Country: United States.

World Ranking: 19.

Worldwide wins: 7.

Majors: None.

Best U.S. Open performance: Tie for 8th at Pebble Beach in 2010.

U.S. Open memory: Losing a three-shot lead at the 2010 U.S. Open with a triple bogey on the second hole and closing with an 82.

Backspin: Johnson has been MIA for so much of the year after winning at Kapalua. He played in the final group three times in a span of six majors and still has to be considered the most talented young American. But Johnson is known more these days for dating Paulina Gretzky than anything he has done on the course. Still, it takes a lot to distract him. His game can show up unannounced.

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