- Brooks Koepka has won the last two U.S. Opens, but he'll have to take down a loaded field to claim his third straight. Here are five golfers to watch at Pebble Beach.
Golf returns this week to one of the world's most historic and historic courses in the sport: Pebble Beach. For the sixth time in the course's history, Pebble Beach is set to host the 2019 U.S. Open. Like many of the U.S. Open’s in years past, the talk has been how the USGA will handle the California sun and keep the play of Pebble Beach reasonably suitable for the field.
As usual, the big names like Brooks Koepka, Jordan Speith, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson are among the favorites to take home hardware. However, as years prior to Koepka’s dominance have taught us, the U.S. Open is up for anyone’s taking. Given the treacherous holes, long rough, and speedy greens, there are a number of players that could contend that are currently sneaking under the radar. For all the fans out there riding the Koepka bandwagon (after all, he's won the last two U.S. Opens) or rallying off Woods’ past success, don’t be caught off guard if you see some of these dark horse contenders competing late into Sunday evening.
World Golf Ranking (WGR): 14
Finau has been in the mix in several tournaments the last couple of years, but has yet to come out on top at a major. Last year he finished 5th at Shinnecock Hills after a strong third round, but couldn’t get over the hump on Sunday. This year, Finau ranks No. 4in the world in driving distance, averaging 311.9 yards. By no means is Finau a bad short game golfer (he avoids three putts more than most players in the PGA), but that's the area that typically makes or breaks his round. Therefore, if he can control his drive and decrease the yardage on his approach shots, Finau can find himself in a number of positive opportunities. He’s been in position before at major tournaments, soon enough he’s going to break through, and Pebble sets up well for his game.
Fleetwood has three top-five finishes this season, including a second-place showing at the Zurich Classic. Last year at the U.S. Open, Fleetwood tied an Open record with a 63 in the final round to shoot up the leaderboard and finish one stroke behind Koepka. He’s flirted with the winner's circle a couple times in his major career and his game has only gotten better. With the extremely small and fast greens of Pebble Beach, if you’re not on top of your iron games, you’ll find the beach comes into playy. Thankfully, Fleetwood ranks No. 3 in the world in sand saves at 66.1%. Off the tee, Fleetwood ranks No. 4 overall in shots gained at .808, another statistic that only increases his chances. Fleetwood is young, confident, and primed for a run at the U.S. Open this year, especially if he can pull out another big Sunday round like last year.
Woodland played very well in the PGA Championship last month and has showcased his ability to compete in majors. He can really crush the ball off the tee and has the perfect demeanor to play late into Sunday. Woodland hits 70.28% of greens in regulation and averages 4.67 birdies per round. If he can keep the ball relatively accurate on his first shot, he is primed to do well. Like many of the players out on the course, it’ll come down to putting. If Woodland putts well and stays around till Sunday, his strong ability to quickly shoot under par will prove vital. Out of all players competing this weekend, I love Woodland’s chances the best to win the first major title of his career.
Every golf fan in the world knows how important this U.S. Open is for Phil Mickelson. He wants it and we do too. Pebble Beach is primed for Phil to make a legitimate run and capture his first ever Open to complete the career grand slam. Back in March, Phil won at Pebble with a strong 19–under performance, his fifth victory at that event. Phil doesn’t necessarily have the greatest driving abilities in his tool bag, however, he tweeted out a couple weeks ago that he’s planning to play with two drivers: one short and one long. Phil’s best part of his game is the approach shot and if he can master that for four rounds of golf, he can make history. Plus, if he can repeat that hole-in-one in Jim Nantz’s backyard again, it’ll be quite a fun weekend for Phil and his following.
This one might come as a surprise. Stenson has flown under the radar this year in tournament play, not really making a name for himself in 2019. That is until this past weekend’s tournament at the RBC Canadian Open. Stenson remains one of the most accurate drivers in the game, hitting the fairway 71.19% of his tries. His approach game is also a strength, which will pay huge dividends with the expected thick rough that’ll line the course this week. He’s won the British Open before and has what it takes to win the U.S. Open with his fantastic ball striking skills. If he can fire at pins, Stenson will be right in the mix to add to his list of PGA Tour victories.