The 2015 U.S. Open is underway at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., golf's second major of the year.
On Wednesday, we profiled five golfers with the best U.S. Open-winning storylines, numbers 10 through six on our list. Below, in part two, we take a look at the golfers who, if they win, would make for the best story over the weekend.
Remember our caveat: players listed must appear to have a reasonable chance of winning, so while a victory by 15-year old amateur Cole Hammer would be an incredible story, he won’t be appearing on this list.
There’s no doubt the PGA Tour has invested a lot of time and money into Fowler. He’s insanely popular with younger fans - a group the tour has had trouble connecting with for years - and on-course success is starting to come as well. After being named alongside Ian Poulter as the most overrated player on tour in an anonymous player poll, Fowler, 26, picked up his second career win at the tour’s flagship event, the Players Championship. This came after a terrific 2014 season, when Fowler became only the third player in history to finish in the top five in all four majors in a single season, joining Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
Fowler will always be a popular player, but his success on the course, with major wins potentially on the horizon, could push him to a whole other level.
Sixteen years ago, a 19-year-old Garcia nearly defeated Tiger Woods at Medinah in the 1999 PGA Championship, and a rivalry was thought to have been born. While Garcia has had success as a player, his major win total has remained at zero, a full 14 behind Woods. The talent is not in question, as Garcia’s ball striking is as good as anyone’s, and his putting - which used to be a cause for concern - has improved greatly. For whatever reason, Garcia has frequently had issues closing out tournaments, and has talked himself out of tournaments before they start by suggesting he might not be good enough to win a major. He’s backtracked on that in recent years, and you can tell he’s far happier on the course now, but fairly or unfairly, the questions will remain until he wins a major.
He’s too talented not to win one someday, right?
Spieth was always supposed to be a superstar - but not this fast. At 21, Spieth has three wins on his resume, including a major in this year's Masters. Equally impressive is that, unlike Rory McIlroy, Spieth never really seems out of contention. It’s common to be watching a tournament on the weekend and all of a sudden, see Spieth on the broadcast for the first time all day, and find him only three shots back despite being nowhere near the lead when the day started.
Spieth is actually one of the few players in the field this week who has played Chambers Bay in a competitive setting, at the 2010 U.S. Amateur. Of course, he shot an 11-over 83 in his final round, but back then, he didn’t have his current caddie, Michael Greller, on the bag. Greller got his first job as a caddie at Chambers Bay and should help Spieth shave a few shots.
Two major wins at 21 is not something that should happen, but no one will be surprised if it does.
The story of Mickelson and the U.S. Open is well known: it’s the only major he’s never won, and he’s had more than his fair share of heartbreak at the tournament. Mickelson has been the runner-up six times, the most of any competitor, twice having the title in his grasp and letting it slip away.
The problem is that at 45, he’s running out of time to win the national open. Mickelson was never the most consistent player, but good performances have been few and far between in recent years, with the last of his 51 professional wins coming nearly two years ago at the 2013 Open Championship.
If Mickelson can win this week, he’ll become only the seventh player in history to win all four majors, which in most cases would put him in the No. 1 spot on a list like this, but ...
Even the most ardent Woods fan would admit him winning the U.S. Open is one of the longest of longshots, but it’s impossible to leave him off this list. Sure, he’s played only three times since February, and posted his worst-ever 18-hole score (85) the last time we saw him, on a course he’s won on five times. But nobody gave him a shot at the Masters, and he played well at Augusta National. The buzz around the Masters entering the final round was incredible, and a lot of that had to do with Woods being near the top of the leaderboard. The fact is: he’s still the player most people want to see, which isn't going to change anytime soon, regardless of how he plays.
The good news for Woods at Chambers Bay: if he continues to have trouble finding the fairway, he should be able to take out shorter clubs and get a good amount of roll with the fast and dry conditions.
As unlikely as it may be, there would be no greater story to emerge from the U.S. Open than Woods winning his 15th major.