The 2019 U.S. Open begins on Thursday at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Here are 10 players to watch in the third major of the year.
Best U.S. Open finish: 1 (2017, 2018)
This year: A T-2 at the Masters and a two-stroke win at the PGA
Championship. Played well with a T-2 at the Honda, too.
Why he could win: The defending champion faces a course where he has little history, but this one is a major so he should be just fine. Koepka hit iron off most of the tees there and since he seems to love all kinds of golf courses, especially U.S. Opens, he will adapt. Since missing the cut in his first national championship, he has gone T-4,T-18, T-13, W, W.
Holding him back: Well, let’s see? Has only one Pro-Am appearance at Pebble, a T-8 in 2016. That’s not it. So here’s a reach: Putting on Poa annua has been, by admission, his kryptonite. Then he went and won at Shinnecock Hills and Bethpage where the greens are predominantly Poa.
Best U.S. Open finish: 1 (2016)
This year: Steady as can be, with a win at the WGC-Mexico Championship, a T-2 at the Masters thanks to a final-round 68 and a Sunday charge at the PGA that fizzled down the stretch. His second place sealed the career second-place grand slam.
Why he could win: Won back-to-back AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Ams in 2009 and 2010, then posted 71-70-66 to take a three-shot lead over Graeme McDowell heading into the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble. A closing 82 left him T-8. He can conquer Pebble in any condition, and he’s a far more complete player nine years later.
Holding him back: If there is anything to quibble about, his short game and putting at Bethpage was just OK. He will need to tighten up his greenside work and putting for some of the tiniest greens in golf.
Best U.S. Open finish: 1 (2013)
This year: A win at the Farmers and mostly steady play. A shocking missed
cut at the Masters is past this world-class talent, as a third place at Quail
Hollow displayed. Was under the weather at the PGA Championship and
faded over the weekend en route to T-29.
Why he could win: Builds schedule around the majors and has a repeating swing that continues to crank out long, accurate drives. He’s also having a sensational year on the greens, ranking in the top 10 in strokes gained putting.
Holding him back: Has never played a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, so he needs to forget about the conditions seen in those Pro-Am appearances. Accuracy off the tee issues since Torrey appear to be dissipating.
(Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports)
Best U.S. Open finish: 1 (2011)
This year: Rory is coming in hot after routing the field at the RBC Canadian Open with a closing-round 61. A resounding Players Championship win came after a rough final round at Bay Hill, but overall steady play with a second in Mexico City and T-4 at the Genesis Open. A T-21 at the Masters was undone by an opening 73, and a similar slow start story at the PGA Championship (T-8) was salvaged by playing final 45 holes 6 under.
Why he could win: Tee to green the best ballstriker on the PGA Tour and a more consistent player than ever, except for mediocre major showings so far. Has grown to like putting on Poa.
Holding him back: A letdown after winning this past week? McIlroy’s lack of passion for firm and fast setups and courses limiting driver does not bode well. Yet he’s due for a huge week when he puts his emotions aside.
Best U.S. Open finish: 1 (2000, 2002, 2008)
This year: Masters champion missed the cut at Bethpage, where he seemed under the weather and somewhat defeated by Koepka’s dominance.
Why he could win: Had his greatest performance in 2000 here, winning by 15 after earning the Pebble Beach Pro-Am trophy that year. Also finished T-4 in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble. Has only played Pebble four times since, and last appearance was in 2012, not that anyone doubts his ability to get up to speed on course changes.
Holding him back: Has not had a U.S. Open top-20 since 2010, and has struggled with his driving accuracy in the intervening years and at Bethpage. Will he dial in a stinger-like shot and reclaim the precision of Augusta? Will he let Poa greens annoy him?
Best U.S. Open finish: T-23 (2014)
This year: Won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and had the Masters lead going to the back nine Sunday only to deposit his tee shot on 12 into Rae’s Creek. Finished T-48 at Bethpage.
Why he could win: Last year’s Champion Golfer of the Year can handle any course when he’s on, but has shown himself to be particularly superior when conditions are firm and fast. If the normal Pebble Beach shows up, he should relish the precision and patience required.
Holding him back: His U.S. Open record stinks, but he’s also become a different player in the last two years. Has fallen off in every statistical category this year except on the greens, where he’s improved. A 12-yard drop in distance and 8-percent reduction in greens hit have to be concerns. Missed the cut in 2010 at Pebble.
Best U.S. Open finish: T-5 (2017)
This year: Win at Sentry Tournament of Champions, T-2 at the Masters and T-16 at the PGA Championship.
Why he could win: Emerging as a big-stage player. Contended late into last year’s British Open, has played well in the two U.S. Opens for which he qualified and fought back at Bethpage after a slow start. The San Diegan is familiar with California coastal conditions. Won the 2011 California State High School Championship at nearby Poppy Hills.
Holding him back: Brooks Koepka, for starters, given that he’s the back-to-back winner in Schauffele’s two excellent U.S. Open starts. His recovery game and putting, at least statistically, have moments of some inconsistency.
Best U.S. Open finish: T-21 (2011)
This year: T-3 at the RBC Heritage and his best finish in a major, a T-3 at the PGA Championship thanks to a 68-71 weekend.
Why he could win: Californian is a former U.S. Amateur champion and should thrive at Pebble. Grew up on Poa annua greens, has one decent finish at Pebble (T-9 in 2013 Pro-Am) and the even-keel attitude that will withstand extreme difficulty presented in June by a firm, fast and breezy course. He bested a stellar field at the Memorial two weeks ago.
Holding him back: Accuracy with the driver can depart from time to time, as has his putting at times this year.
Best U.S. Open finish: 2 (six times, most recently
This year: Has cooled off since a hot start, failing to register a top-10 since the win at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. A missed cut at the Players, a T 18 at the Masters and a T-71 at the PGA.
Why he could win: Has won five times at Pebble Beach. In U.S. Opens played at Pebble, he missed the cut in the 1992 edition, finished T-16 in 2000 and T-4 in 2010. His affinity for the place and ability to putt greens that give others fits give him an edge.
Holding him back: What will be his approach? Will he play more conservative golf needed to win a U.S. Open when Pebble Beach bakes out and is on edge? Will he keep driver in the bag and enjoy pars? Will he flip out when he sees a hole location he despises?
Best U.S. Open finish: T-2 (2017)
This year: Three top-10s led by a T-3 at Torrey Pines and a T-16 at Bethpage in the PGA Championship undone by a final-round 77.
Why he could win: Talented player has shown an affinity for the U.S. Open grind with a T-10 in his debut at Merion. A missed cut at Oakmont is the only blemish. One of the best iron players on the PGA Tour. Overall ballstriking this year is stout, and wrist issues seem behind him.
Holding him back: Putting. After improving his work on the greens in 2018, regressing in 2019 to be one of the worst putters on the Tour.
(Note: A version of this story appeared in the June 2019 issue of Golfweek.)