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Who can win the U.S. Open, and who can’t

Justin Thomas, center, and Rory McIlroy are two of the favorites to win the U.S. Open. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
9 min

Golf’s opposing factions have gathered this week in Brookline, Mass., for the U.S. Open, with those who have stuck with the PGA Tour paired with players who have joined the breakaway LIV Golf Invitational Series. But the U.S. Open tends to treat everyone equally poorly, and the setup this week at The Country Club will present the usual set of exasperating challenges to everyone who tees off. The trick, then, is figuring out who can weather the storm.

While the site of the U.S. Open changes every year, we can still learn something from the type of golfer who tends to win. To wit, we’re looking for someone who is in pretty good form and also has done well in previous majors:

  • Each of the past 12 U.S. Open winners was ranked inside the Official World Golf Ranking top 30. The most recent winner from outside of the top 30 was Lucas Glover, who was ranked No. 71 before winning in 2009.
  • Each of the past 12 winners had a previous top-25 U.S. Open finish on his résumé. Once again, Glover was the last to win without such a previous finish. (He had three missed cuts in three U.S. Open appearances before his 2009 victory.)
  • Each of the past 10 winners made the cut in both his previous U.S. Open start and in his previous major appearance. Rory McIlroy was the most recent champion who can’t claim that, having missed the cut in 2010 before winning in 2011.
  • Eight of the past 10 winners had posted a top-10 finish in at least one of his previous two majors.
  • Seven of the past 10 winners had a top-15 finish in one or both of his previous two starts.
  • Seven of the past 10 and each of the past three winners didn’t play the week before.
  • Ten of the past 13 champions were first-time major winners.

As for the skills possessed by the typical U.S. Open champion, it’s going to take someone who is accurate and long off the tee, can avoid the diabolical rough and is good around the greens, which will be key this week thanks to The Country Club’s tiny putting surfaces, which will be tough to hit.

Here’s a rundown of who can win this week’s U.S. Open — along with a look at how they match up with our list of trends — and who might struggle.

All odds taken Tuesday from DraftKings Sportsbook. DFS prices are also taken from DraftKings.

Everything you need to know about the U.S. Open

Who can win

Rory McIlroy (+1000 to win, $10,500 on DraftKings DFS)

We’re starting off with chalk, but there’s plenty to back up the selection. McIlroy ranks 11th in weighted total driving (a mix of length and accuracy, with distance weighted slightly more), 17th in strokes gained: around the green and 22nd in scrambling. Since a missed cut in early April at the Texas Open, here are his finishes: 2 (the Masters), 5, 8 (PGA Championship), T-18 and 1 (last week’s Canadian Open). The world No. 3 is at the peak of his game, and he seems to be on the verge of major No. 5.

Trend match: McIlroy played (and won) last week and has four major championship victories, but he meets the other five prerequisites.

Justin Thomas (+1100, $10,900)

More chalk, but hear me out. Thomas was in the final threesome with McIlroy on Sunday at the Canadian Open and was tied for the lead late before bogeys on Nos. 17 and 18 doomed him to third place. This season, he has lost strokes around the green at a tournament only twice, on approach only once and off the tee only twice. Thomas, this year’s PGA Championship winner, looks to be in good shape to become the first golfer to win back-to-back majors since Jordan Spieth did it in 2015.

Trend match: Thomas fits the bill on 5 of 7. He played last week and has won a major championship, the second of his career.

Xander Schauffele (+1600, $9,600)

Schauffele has played in five U.S. Opens and never finished worse than a tie for seventh. He enters this year’s tournament with a win (at the Zurich Classic team event) and three straight top-18 finishes over his past four events, and he tied for 18th in a strong Memorial field this month despite some shakiness with his driver and putter. Schauffele ranks seventh in weighted total driving, stands 30th in strokes gained: around the green and is tied for 49th in scrambling, which is good enough for me.

Trend match: Schauffele is a match on 6 of 7. He doesn’t have a top-10 in his previous two majors, but he did tie for 13th at last month’s PGA Championship.

Matthew Fitzpatrick (+3000, $8,500)

Fitzpatrick has never performed all that well at majors; he has just two top-10s in 28 appearances. But the Englishman enters in fine form, with top-10s in three of his past four tournaments, among them a tie for fifth at the PGA Championship. He’s also fourth in scrambling, 10th in strokes gained: off the tee, 16th in weighted total driving and 18th in strokes gained: around the green. Plus, Fitzpatrick won at The Country Club the last time it hosted a prestigious event, the 2013 U.S. Amateur.

Trend match: Fitzpatrick hits on 6 of 7; he played last week in Canada, tying for 10th.

Shane Lowry (+3500, $9,000)

Lowry hasn’t won a tournament since his British Open title in 2019, but you have to think another victory is coming soon. He has made the cut in 13 straight events and hasn’t finished worse in a stroke-play event than a tie for 32nd over that stretch, with four top-10s. Only Matt Kuchar has better scrambling numbers than Lowry this season, and if the Irishman can keep things in the fairway, it could be a productive week.

Trend match: Lowry played last week (T-10 in Canada) and has won a major. Otherwise he fits the rest of the prerequisites.

Joaquin Niemann (+4000, $8,900)

Niemann is coming off a third-place finish at the Memorial, where he struggled around the greens. But he’s usually pretty good in that department, ranking 19th on tour, and generally is steady off the tee, ranking 17th in weighted total driving. The Chilean hasn’t finished better than a tie for 23rd in his past seven major appearances, but he has made the cut in every one.

Trend match: Niemann aligns with 6 of 7. His only miss is not having a top-10 in either of his past two major appearances; he tied for 23rd at the PGA Championship and tied for 35th at the Masters.

Sungjae Im (+4000, $7,600)

Im has gained strokes off the tee, on approach and — most importantly at a course where the tiny greens won’t hold much of anything — around the green in each of his past four tournaments, at which he has finished no worse than a tie for 21st. He hasn’t missed a cut since February’s Honda Classic, though he has won that tournament — played at challenging PGA National in South Florida — in the past. Im also ranks 22nd in weighted total driving and third in scrambling. He’s criminally underpriced in DFS this week, which may inflate his ownership.

Trend match: Im meets every single one of them, a perfect 7 for 7.

Cameron Young (+5000, $8,800)

This will be only the fifth major appearance for Young, who is coming off a tie for third in the PGA Championship. He followed that with three rounds of excellence at the Memorial before a calamitous 12-over-par final round sent him spiraling down the leader board. Young ranks second in strokes gained: off the tee, 20th in weighted total driving and a respectable 40th in scrambling, and he finished either second or third in the three tournaments that preceded the Memorial.

Trend match: Young only matches on 4 of 7, but he’s close on one of his misses (No. 31 in the rankings).

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Who can’t win

Dustin Johnson (+2800, $9,400)

I’m not putting Johnson here because of his heel-turn LIV Golf decision. I’m putting him here because he’s not accurate off the tee (No. 169 on tour in that department) and has been horrific anywhere close to the greens. Johnson has lost strokes putting in seven of his past eight measured tournaments, ranks 132nd in scrambling and is 150th in strokes gained: around the green. The Country Club is known for its tiny greens, comparable with those at Harbour Town in South Carolina, site of the annual Heritage tournament. Johnson missed the cut there this year.

Collin Morikawa (+3000, $10,000)

The two-time major winner is elite off the tee and on approach, but things start to go haywire for him once he reaches the greens. Morikawa ranks 182nd in strokes gained: around the green and has gained strokes putting in only one of his previous seven measured tournaments. His form hasn’t been great, either: After finishing fifth at the Masters, Morikawa hasn’t finished better than a tie for 26th in five events, with a missed cut at the Memorial his most recent time out.

Brooks Koepka (+4000, $8,700)

The most recent golfer to win consecutive U.S. Opens has been battling injuries for years and has played sparingly in recent months, with his most recent two tournaments being a missed cut at the Masters and a tie for 55th at the PGA Championship. He ranks 179th on tour in driving accuracy, and the winner this week probably will need to be extremely accurate off the tee. There were recent tournaments where everyone would say “you need to bet Koepka at any price.” Those days are over. I would rather bet him to miss the cut if you can get odds on that — DraftKings did not have him listed in that category as of Tuesday.

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