The U.S. Open returns to picturesque Pebble Beach for the 119th U.S. Open Championship. Scene of five U.S. Opens, including Tiger Woods’ masterful 15-stroke win in 2000, Tom Watson’s miracle chip in on No. 17 in 1982 and Jack Nicklaus’ famous 1-iron on the same hole in 1972, Pebble Beach figures to offer another memorable finish featuring the biggest names in the game battling for major immortality. Not everything will go to plan, however, and here are eight bold predictions ahead of this year’s U.S. Open.
Brooks Koepka Doesn’t Three-Peat
Brooks Koepka is the betting favorite. He has won back-to-back U.S. Opens. He has won three of the last five major tournaments and finished second in another. Clearly, the man feels comfortable in major settings. But the last person to win three straight U.S. Opens was Willie Anderson in 1905. Koepka has the game to join him, and if he does, he would instantly become a golfing legend (well, he already is, but he would be in some seriously elite company if he wins this week). All the same, historical stats suggest it won’t happen, and I don’t see Koepka bucking history more so than he already has.
Tiger Woods Finishes Inside the Top 10
Tiger Woods authored the greatest performance of his career at Pebble Beach, winning the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 strokes. He also won the Masters this year with a throwback performance that harkened back to prime-time Tiger. But then he missed the cut at Bethpage and everyone wrote off his Augusta performance as an apparition. Well, Tiger finished T-9 at the Memorial, a course he likes, with a Sunday 67 and his precision game is where it needs to be now to attack Pebble’s smaller greens. When Tiger feels comfortable, he tends to play well, and he usually feels comfortable at U.S. Opens on the West Coast. Expect Tiger to be in contention on Sunday.
The Winning Score Will Be 7 Under Or More
The USGA likes to use par as a measuring stick for greatness, and therefore typically sets up courses to make that score a winning number. Moreover, some of the toughest U.S. Opens in history were played at Pebble Beach. Tom Kite won in 1992 with a 3-under score and was one of two players under par for the week. Outside of Tiger in 2000, every other player finished over par. Graeme McDowell won the last U.S. Open played here with an even-par score. But with the way guys like Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy can drive the ball with power and accuracy, setting up short irons into these greens, birdies should be available at Pebble Beach this week.
Rory’s U.S. Open Struggles Continue
Rory McIlroy is coming off a masterful win at the Canadian Open, where a Sunday 61 propelled him to a dominant seven-stroke win. It was his second win on tour this year (The Players Championship) and he’s got 10 Top 10 finishes this year too. Yup, it’s been an amazing season for the Northern Irishman. But something has been off for Rory at the U.S. Open lately. Maybe he’s putting too much pressure on himself or maybe it’s something different, but he’s missed the last three cuts at the U.S. Open and doesn’t have a Top 10 since 2015. Overall, he has more missed cuts at the U.S. Open (five) than Top 10s (three). I’m not saying Rory misses another cut at Pebble Beach, but I don’t think he is in contention on Sunday either, and I think we’ll see some of the same struggles from past U.S. Opens.
Spieth Proves He’s Back
It’s been a rough two years for three-time major champion Jordan Spieth. He hasn’t won since The Open Championship in July 2017 and has looked lost on the course for big stretches of time, especially off the tee. But lately the signs are there that he’s turning things around. Spieth had three straight Top 10 finishes (including a T-3 at the PGA Championship) and he won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am back in 2017. His aforementioned driving struggles have been a dreaded double whammy of hitting it short and crooked. If those issues raise their head again, he’ll struggle scrambling around Pebble’s thick rough. But I’m expecting Spieth to hit it steady and straight, which should put him in position to stay in contention, though he’s probably not fully ready to win another major.
USGA Avoids Controversy
Controversy has surrounded the U.S. Open and USGA recently. Last year at Shinnecock, Phil Mickelson hit his ball on the green while it was still moving out of frustration after the USGA allowed the green to get too fast. At Chambers Bay, basically everyone not named Jordan Spieth (he won it) complained about the bumpy, burnt greens. And then there was the Dustin Johnson delayed ruling at Oakmont, which didn’t alter the outcome of the event but was another black eye for the way the USGA left Johnson in the dark late into his final round on Sunday. Pebble Beach is a historic site that’s used to hosting PGA Tour events every year in addition to its spot in the U.S. Open rotation. With that benefit, the USGA will get this one right by staying out of the way and allowing the players and course to be the stars.
Phil Mickelson Misses the Cut
All signs point to Phil Mickelson having a good week at Pebble Beach during the U.S. Open. Beyond his six runner-up finishes in this major, which will be overly discussed this week, Mickelson has five wins at Pebble Beach, including one this year, and loves playing on the west coast. But let’s not forget Mickelson also has three missed cuts at the U.S. Open and finished at +16 last year. He is coming off two missed cuts in his last three PGA Tour events and the other event he finished T-71 at +12. Simply put, Mickelson has been inconsistent this year with five missed cuts overall. You can’t be inconsistent at the U.S. Open and, despite his past success at Pebble, I’ll go out on a limb and say he won’t be around this weekend.
Dustin Johnson Wins His Second Major
Dustin Johnson has quietly had a dynamite season this year. He has one win, two second-place finishes and seven Top 10s. If you’re wondering where those second-place finishes came, they were at the Masters and the PGA Championship. Johnson’s game is best suited for the U.S. Open. He won at Oakmont in 2016 and probably should have won at Chambers Bay in 2015 too. He finished in third place last year and has five Top 10 finishes in his career at the U.S. Open. He’s also won twice at Pebble Beach, though they came in 2010 and 2011 and this year he finished T-45. DJ has been close so many times before in major settings. This year, he gets it done for a second time.