US OPEN ‘21: Capsules of 10 top contenders at Torrey Pines


By DOUG FERGUSON - AP Golf Writer



A capsule look at 10 top contenders for the U.S. Open from June 17-20 on the South course at Torrey Pines (listed in predicted order of finish):

PATRICK REED

Age: 30.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 9.

Worldwide victories: 9.

Majors: Masters (2018).

U.S. Open history: In seven appearances his only top 10 was fourth place in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, three shots behind Brooks Koepka.

U.S. Open moment: Snapping a wedge over his knee in frustration on the 18th green at Pebble Beach in 2019.

Backspin: Reed won at Torrey Pines in January and will try to join Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to win a tour event and a U.S. Open on the same course in the same year. He has not finished out of the top 20 in his last six majors.

BRYSON DECHAMBEAU

Age: 27.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 5.

Worldwide victories: 9.

Majors: U.S. Open (2020).

U.S. Open history: His only top 10 in six appearances was his victory last year at Winged Foot.

U.S. Open moment: Winning by six shots and posting the lowest score (274) in a U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

Backspin: Is there a better way to get back at Brooks Koepka than to join him as a back-to-back U.S. Open champion? DeChambeau hit driver often at Winged Foot when he realized no one would be hitting the fairways. That’s a recipe that might work at Torrey Pines, too. Often overlooked at Winged Foot was how well DeChambeau putted.

DUSTIN JOHNSON

Age: 36.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 1.

Worldwide victories: 25.

Majors: Masters (2020), U.S. Open (2016).

U.S. Open history: Along with winning at Oakmont in 2016, he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead in three other U.S. Opens.

U.S. Open moment: Winning his first major at Oakmont while playing the final seven holes without knowing the score as the USGA debated whether to penalize him for a ball that moved on the fifth green.

Backspin: Johnson is at his best in the U.S. Open. He has never played Torrey Pines particularly well, and hasn’t played the PGA Tour there at all since 2017. Of greater concern is the state of his game. Johnson, who was playing the week before in South Carolina, has he not seriously contended since the Genesis Invitational at Riviera in February.

JORDAN SPIETH

Age: 27.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 23.

Worldwide victories: 15.

Majors: Masters (2015), U.S. Open (2015), British Open (2017).

U.S. Open history: Has only one top 10 (his victory at Chambers Bay) in nine previous appearances. He was low amateur at Olympic Club in 2012.

U.S. Open moment: Making a 25-foot birdie on the 16th, a double bogey on the 17th and a birdie on the final hole at Chambers Bay, and then watching in disbelief as Dustin Johnson three-putted from 12 feet that gave Spieth the victory.

Backspin: Spieth’s record in the U.S. Open is surprisingly ordinary given his level of play. The U.S. Open he won was not a typical U.S. Open course. He has never played the South course at Torrey particularly well. Spieth his hopeful that playing in June when it’s drier, and when he’s in midseason form, will make a difference.

JON RAHM

Age: 26.

Country: Spain.

World ranking: 3.

Worldwide victories: 11.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open history: In five appearances, his best is a tie for third at Pebble Beach.

U.S. Open moment: Opening with a 76 in his U.S. Open debut at Oakmont in 2016, and rallying to tie for 23rd.

Backspin: Rahm infamously was knocked out of the final round of Memorial by a positive COVID-19 test while leading by six shots. His 10 days of self-isolation ends Tuesday morning of the U.S. Open. Rahm’s first PGA Tour victory was at Torrey Pines in 2017. He might be the most curious of contenders.

PATRICK CANTLAY

Age: 27.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 7.

Worldwide victories: 4.

Majors: None.

U.S. Open history: Has made the cut in all five of his U.S. Open appearances, but has yet to crack the top 20.

U.S. Open moment: Finishing as the low amateur at Congressional in 2011.

Backspin: Cantlay loves California courses and comes into this U.S. Open off a strange victory at the Memorial. He now has two wins in a season for the first time. He has played the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines only three times, and he has yet to break par on the South course.

RORY MCILROY

Age: 32.

Country: Northern Ireland.

World ranking: 10.

Worldwide victories: 27.

Majors: U.S. Open (2011), British Open (2014), PGA Championship (2012, 2014).

U.S. Open history: A victory in 2011, as many top 10s (5) as missed cuts.

U.S. Open moment: Setting the U.S. Open scoring record at 16-under 268 at Congressional just two months after losing a four-shot lead in the Masters.

Backspin: On the 10-year anniversary of his U.S. Open title, McIlroy is fielding questions on when he’s going to win another major. He is approaching the seven-year mark from the last of his four majors. He played Torrey Pines in January and was 5 under in his three rounds on the South Course.

BROOKS KOEPKA

Age: 31.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 8.

Worldwide victories: 11.

Majors: U.S. Open (2017, 2018), PGA Championship (2018, 2019).

U.S. Open history: Two wins, four top 5s in his seven appearances.

U.S. Open moment: Winning at Shinnecock Hills to become the first back-to-back U.S. Open champion in 29 years, and then nearly making it three in a row at Pebble Beach.

Backspin: He’s getting more attention for his chirping with Bryson DeChambeau than his stout U.S. Open record. His runner-up finish to Phil Mickelson in the PGA Championship showed he is healthy enough to contend at any major. Koepka did not play Winged Foot last year because of injuries.

PHIL MICKELSON

Age: 50.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 31.

Worldwide victories: 48.

Majors: Masters (2004, 2006, 2010), British Open (2013), PGA Championship (2005, 2021).

U.S. Open history: A record six runner-up finishes, and the only major keeping him from the career Grand Slam.

U.S. Open moment: Take your pick. He made double bogey on the 18th hole to lose by one at Winged Foot in 2006. He made two bogeys with wedge in his hand at Merion in 2013 to lose the lead on the back nine. He took double bogey on the 17th hole at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 and lost by two.

Backspin: Becoming the oldest major winner at the PGA Championship gave him five more shots at finally winning the U.S. Open. But he has not played well at Torrey Pines since the redesign to prepare for the 2008 U.S. Open. This would be monumental to complete the career Grand Slam at this point in his career. With Mickelson, who knows?

JUSTIN THOMAS

Age: 28.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 2.

Worldwide victories: 14.

Majors: PGA Championship (2017).

U.S. Open history: Two top 10s in his six appearances and a share of the 18-hole record.

U.S. Open moment: Hitting 3-wood to 8 feet for eagle on the 18th hole at Erin Hills in the third round to tie the U.S. Open record at 63. He closed with a 75 and tied for ninth.

Backspin: It’s hard to ignore the No. 2 player in the world, but Thomas has been very quiet since winning The Players Championship. He attributes that victory to a great weekend of iron play. He would attribute the pedestrian results since then to a cold putter. He has not played Torrey Pines since 2015.

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By DOUG FERGUSON

AP Golf Writer