Five players to watch at the US Open
By Michael Arkush
The Masters, the first major of the year, was won by Scottie Scheffler, 25, who is on the rise.
The PGA Championship, the second, was won by Justin Thomas, 29, who has been one of the game’s best in the last five years.
Now comes the third major, this week’s U.S. Open at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Will youth be served once more, or will someone in his 30s or 40s produce some magic? Here are five players to keep an eye on at Brookline:
Forget about the missed cut in last month’s PGA Championship. Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world, rebounded with a second-place finish the next week at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. If not for Sam Burns, who fired a final-round 65 and made a 38-foot birdie putt in the playoff, Scheffler would have five victories this season.
Some of the credit should go to his caddie, Ted Scott. The two first connected last year. Before working with Scott, Scheffler was in contention a few times but failed to break through. For 15 years, Scott was the caddie for the two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson.
Winning a second major, as Thomas did at the PGA this year, puts a golfer on a new plateau. Winning a third would elevate him even further. Only 47 players have collected three or more major championships.
Thomas, who finished third at last week’s RBC Canadian Open, is more than capable of adding to that total at Brookline. As skilled as he is with the wedge — a prime example was his approach to the green on the first playoff hole at the PGA that left him with a 6-foot birdie putt — he’s likely to make his share of saves to keep himself in contention.
Phil Mickelson never captured an Open, finishing second a record six times. It would be something if his former caddie, Jim Mackay, who now works for Thomas, were to win one without him.
As well as he’s performed in big events, with five top 10s in his last seven majors, it’s hard to believe Zalatoris has yet to win on the PGA Tour. He is bound to break through.
He took a significant step with his showing in the PGA, losing in a playoff to Thomas. The key might be his ability to make short putts, which has plagued him in the past.
Zalatoris, 25, who tied for fifth two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament, has registered only one professional victory, the 2020 TPC Colorado Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour.
McIlroy, 33, who shot a 62 on Sunday in Canada to post his 21st tour victory, is still trying to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship. What were the odds that a drought in majors would last this long?
He had his chances this year, finishing second at the Masters and eighth at the PGA. McIlroy needs to start strong, as he did at the PGA with a 5-under 65, and stay within range, even if he isn’t at his best. He trailed by nine strokes heading into the final round of the PGA, which is too big a deficit even for a player of his caliber.
To contend, McIlroy will need to putt well from inside 10 feet.
Given his suspension by the PGA Tour last week for joining the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, there is no doubt that Johnson will be attracting a lot of attention at Brookline.
The Open is a U.S. Golf Association event, so the suspension won’t keep him from the tournament, but he’s still not likely to make a run at the title. Since winning the Masters in 2020, Johnson, 37, who has fallen to No. 16 in the world rankings, has posted a top 10 in only one of his six major appearances. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t won any PGA Tour events during that span.
In 10 starts this season, his best finish was a fourth at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play tournament in March. He missed the cut at the PGA with successive rounds of 73.