Sleepers: U.S. Open
Brendan Steele ... If he just plays to his average, he'd very much be in the proverbial conversation of identifying the best golfer. Currently ninth on the PGA TOUR in total driving, 41st in greens in regulation, T34 in proximity to the hole and 20th in strokes gained: off-the-tee. Also 35th in birdie-or-better percentage, 38th in adjusted scoring, sixth in bogey avoidance and No. 1 in scrambling. His splendid season features a win and another six top 20s, the last a T6 at THE PLAYERS. Placed T15 at Oakmont last year, so the stage isn't too big and the lights aren't too bright for this 34-year-old in his prime. Byeong Hun An … If there's still a chip on his shoulder for failing to slam the door at the Waste Management Phoenix Open four months ago, Erin Hills presents the kind of open-air routing that feeds into his zeal for bringing a course to its knees. While this track is too long to achieve that objective, he should no doubt double down on the confidence borne from the possibility. Combine fantastic form over the last month – he's gone T8-T5-T24-T25 worldwide, respectively – and there's reason to believe that the magic will continue. Alexander Levy … France's top-ranked talent needed sectional qualifying to book his second appearance (T27, 2015), but he was already connecting with the kind of form that was deserving of a spot in the field. The 26-year-old's win at the Volvo China Open in April punctuated a burst started by a solo fourth in Malaysia in February. That was trailed by a T8 at the Shenzhen International the week prior to what was his fourth title on the European Tour. He's since added a T15 at the Nordea Masters. Ranks 41st on his circuit in greens in regulation and 35th in scoring. Bud Cauley … Making his first start in a major in four years and it really couldn't have occurred at a better time. The 27-year-old has been a regular on leaderboards for the last two months. He strung together four consecutive top 10s and last logged a T25 at the Memorial. His surge can be directly correlated to hitting enough more greens in regulations and sinking a few more putts than field averages. Like diet and exercise to tone the body, it's a formula that should trim scoring, and it has. Joaquin Niemann … His résumé is the stuff of hyperbole, but you need to be familiar with it. Just 18 years of age, he's already the world's top-ranked amateur. To put that into some perspective, he kicked aside all-everything Maverick McNealy of Stanford for the honor in April, while recent NCAA individual champion Braden Thornberry ranked 16th prior to his T4 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Niemann arrived at Erin Hills having won his last five competitions by a respective nine, six, eight, four and eight strokes. That blistering streak was sparked by a win in a professional competition in his native Chile, which was already his second pro victory of 2017. His run of wins included titles at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course (host of the Valspar Championship) and at the Mexican International Amateur this past Sunday, which is where he traveled after surviving a playoff in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier the previous Monday. Committed to the University of South Florida this fall, he opened the year with a playoff loss at the Latin America Amateur Championship.
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