The wide open U.S. Open
ERIN, Wis. – The top three players in the world are gone for the first time since rankings began in 1986. It’s the first major championship without Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson since 1994. But there are plenty of reasons to get pumped up for this U.S. Open weekend at Erin Hills. There’s the young talent that already sits on the “best player to have not won a major list”. There’s the journeyman veteran who has knocked on the door plenty of times but hasn’t closed the deal. There’s the PGA TOUR rookie. The European star you should know more about but you don’t. The star player who could bring his country its first ever major championship. The amateur looking to smash history. The pint-sized lefty looking to become the first south paw to win a U.S. Open. The guy whose wife almost died – which would have seen him quit golf to be a full-time dad. There’s the former prodigy who disappeared for a time thanks to injuries and is now back on track. There’s the recent PLAYERS champion who is proving not to be a one-hit wonder. There’s the former FedExCup champion whose dad played 86 majors without winning one. And there’s the guys who have won majors before, one of which is the only guy who can continue the grand slam dream alive. All of these are within four shots of the lead with 36 holes to play at Erin Hills. So buckle up – it’s the really open Open. The past six major winners have been first timers and given the top 18 on the leaderboard through 36 holes are yet to taste major victory the streak could well be alive. Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Brandt Snedeker have all had their names tossed up as the best active players without a major championship. Koepka is part of a four-way tie for the lead at 7-under. Fowler sits one shot back while Matsuyama and Snedeker are just two off the pace. “It (the weekend) will be good. I feel pretty confident. And I'm excited. I'm driving the ball really well,” Koepka said. He has just one PGA TOUR win to his credit from the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open but has two runner-up finishes in each of the last two seasons and is currently 19th in the FedExCup. He also won the 2014 Turkish Open on the European Tour and the 2016 Dunlop Phoenix Open on the Japan Tour. He’s long been touted as a star. Fowler has four TOUR wins to his credit including the 2015 PLAYERS Championship. Thanks to a victory at the Honda Classic earlier this year he currently runs eighth in the FedExCup and is ninth in the world. He also has two European Tour wins. The 28-year-old is arguably the most popular player on TOUR and would be an extremely popular winner. He has six previous Top-10 finishes in majors and started the final round just one shot off the lead at the Masters this year before fading to 11th. “I haven't had the best showing in majors the last couple years so it's nice to get back up there,” Fowler said. “It's our National Championship, so to be in a good position to go play well this weekend and have a chance to win it, it's special.” Matsuyama is ranked fourth in the world and therefore is technically the best player right now without a major. His country, Japan, has never had a major winner. He does have four PGA TOUR wins and seven Japan Tour wins and sits third in the FedExCup this year. “I really can't think about it until maybe after I win. But anytime a Japanese player wins a major, it would be great for the golf world in Japan,” Matsuyama said after a sublime 7-under 65 on Friday. Snedeker has eight TOUR wins and a FedExCup title. He has eight top-10s in majors, half of which have come in U.S. Opens. Then there is the case for Paul Casey, another of the co-leaders. The Englishman is closing in on his 40th birthday. He has 12 European Tour wins and one PGA TOUR win. His major record boasts nine top-10s although his best U.S. Open result since 2008 is T39 in 2015. On Friday he found his way to the lead despite having a triple bogey eight on his card. “There will probably be more nerves, more excitement, there is a lot of golf to be played here,” Casey said. “I've shown what can happen with one bad swing. So you've got to be very, very patient and stay in the moment. I know it's cliché, but the last thing you need to be doing is thinking ahead, especially on this golf course.” His fellow Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, that you may not have heard about but you should know, joins him in the lead. Fleetwood has two European Tour wins including the 2017 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. He was runner-up at the World Golf Championships – Mexico Championship earlier this year and also added a top-10 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Coming into the week he had made just one cut in seven major starts. Brian Harman is trying to become the first left-hander to ever win the U.S. Open. Would be ironic to come in the first Open since 1993 that “Lefty” Mickelson is missing. He is part of the lead crew. Joining Fowler just one back is his former Walker Cup teammate Jamie Lovemark. Lovemark was the alpha dog in the 2007 team despite playing with Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel, Webb Simpson and Chris Kirk among others. Injuries have curtailed his progress but now he’s back and he has eight top 10s on the PGA TOUR in the last season and a half as he builds towards the promise of his youth. Si Woo Kim is looking to become just the second player in history to win the PLAYERS and U.S. Open in the same year. He’s two back. Xander Schauffele ranks 135th in the FedExCup in his rookie year on the PGA TOUR. That could change exponentially as he starts Saturday two off the lead. Amateur Cameron Champ is also two shots back. The last amateur to win a major was John Goodman in the 1933 U.S. Open. Marc Leishman was on the verge of losing his wife to toxic shock syndrome and quitting the game two years ago. He starts Saturday three back despite ranking 121st in hitting fairways. Bill Haas’ father Jay had 86 cracks at majors without success. Can Bill atone starting three off the lead? And then sitting four back is two-time major winner Martin Kaymer and recent Masters winner Sergio Garcia. Garcia is looking to be just the third player in the last 44 years to win the first two majors of the season. “To be 3-under par with a chance on the weekend - I'm proud of that,” Garcia said. “And I've got to keep hopefully keep the confidence going, keep the momentum and see if we can have a good weekend and have a chance on Sunday.” Whatever storyline plays out. You don’t want to miss it.
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