As the world's best golfers descend on New York for a chance to compete in all four days of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills starting Thursday, here are three predictions that defy popular opinion:
Nobody wants to see it, but the likelihood of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson packing their bags Friday evening is high. The U.S. Open cut is one of the toughest to make on Tour, as 156 golfers are vying for a top-60 position after Round 2, compared to the typical 70 spots available at most tournaments.
Let's start with Tiger.
Woods will be forced to hit a ton of drivers this week, something he has struggled with this season ranking 123rd in strokes gained: off the tee. Missing fairways at Shinnecock Hills will be devastating and impact Tiger's biggest weapon - his elite iron play. If the rough forces Tiger to miss greens or leave long birdie putts, he'll have a frightening number of 5-to-10-foot putts to save par. Tiger recorded his worst career putting performance his last appearance at the Memorial, losing over seven strokes on the greens. Unless sleeping on his yacht corrects his putting woes or straightens out his driver, it will be a long two days for Tiger.
A similar story exists with Mickelson, who ranks 201st out of 205 PGA Tour pros when it comes to driving accuracy. His wildness off the tee will put him into some of the thickest fescue on the property, areas only "Lefty" is capable of finding. Mickelson's aggressive nature will come back to bite him on numerous occasions, and multiple triple-bogeys in the opening two rounds are well within the cards.
Shinnecock Hills is a beast of a course. At 7,445 yards, it's one of the longest par-70 tracks the Tour pros play. Distance will be important in order to hit shorter irons into the hard-to-hit greens. However, playing from the fairway will prove to be even more imperative.
Check out how gnarly this rough is, only a few yards off of the fairway:
Get the point?
The winner of the 118th U.S. Open will lead the field in driving accuracy and as a result, lead the field in greens in regulation hit.
Perhaps it's not super contrarian to say one of the best players in the world will win the toughest test in golf, but only giving five golfers a chance out of a 156-man field really narrows it down. The game's elite - Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose - are all playing extremely well as of late, greatly decreasing the odds a long-shot takes down the U.S. Open. Jon Rahm fits the U.S. Open set-up perfectly and three-time major champion Jordan Spieth can never be counted out, regardless of his poor putting lately. Shinnecock Hills will test every single aspect of a golfer's game, most importantly, patience and mental toughness. These five will be up to the test.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)