From 100 to 1
U.S. Open 2021: The top 100 golfers competing at Torrey Pines, ranked
Last month’s PGA Championship reinforced two valuable life lessons. First, age is just a number. Second, trying to forecast golf tournaments is a fool’s errand.
Phil Mickelson’s history-making triumph at Kiawah Island was as unlikely as it was remarkable—Lefty didn’t have a top-20 on the PGA Tour in 10 months and had fallen outside the top 100 in the World Ranking. Apart from the man himself and perhaps his immediately family, no one saw that one coming.
That, of course, is part of what makes this wildly unpredictable game so much fun. We can comb through the numbers, look at current form and course history, and still be wildly off-base.
That doesn’t mean we won’t keep trying to help you profit from your wagers, win your office pool or simply be a more informed viewer during this week’s U.S. Open. Here is your ranking of the top 100 players teeing it up at Torrey Pines.
100. Jimmy Walker
Age: 42 World ranking: 332 U.S. Open appearances: 9
Best U.S. Open finish: T-9, 2014
He’s in the last year of his five-year exemption into all the majors from winning the 2016 PGA Championship, and he’s going to need to turn things around if he’s to play any besides the PGA next year. Had a wonderful ball-striking week out of nowhere his last time out, finishing T-6 at the Memorial. That marked his first top-10 on the PGA Tour since May 2018.
99. Zach Johnson
Age: 45 World ranking: 123 U.S. Open appearances: 17
Best U.S. Open finish: T-8, 2015
He’s fighting an uphill battle distance-wise on long, thick U.S Open courses—which makes his T-8 last year at Winged Foot that much more impressive. An assistant captain on this year’s Ryder Cup team, he's not far off a captaincy of his own. Has missed the cut in both majors in 2021.
98. Bo Hoag
Age: 32 World ranking: 233 U.S. Open appearances: First
Missed seven of his last eight cuts before heading back to his home state of Ohio, and it made all the difference. Finished T-13 at the Memorial then cruised over to U.S. Open Final Qualifying in Springfield, where he earned a spot in his first major. There truly is no place like home.
97. Rikuya Hoshino
Age: 25 World ranking: 78 U.S. Open appearances: 1
Best U.S. Open finish: MC, 2018
With two wins already this year, the young Japanese player leads the Japan Tour’s Order of Merit and played his way into the field through the Southern California qualifying site. Missed cut last month at PGA Championship.
96. Henrik Stenson
Age: 45 World ranking: 149 U.S. Open appearances: 14
Best U.S. Open finish: T-4, 2014
Simply not much good news to report here. Had missed eight of his last 11 cuts heading into last week’s Scandinavian Mixed event, which he hosted with Annika Sorenstam, and his last top-10 on the PGA Tour came at the 2019 U.S. Open. His low World Ranking, already a shock to see, would be even lower if not for his win at the 18-man Hero World Challenge in December 2019. Missed the cut at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and has never played the Farmers Insurance Open.
95. Sung Kang
Age: 34 World ranking: 196 U.S. Open appearances: 3
Best U.S. Open finish: T-18. 2016
Does not have a top-10 on the PGA Tour since the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational but played well when he needed to, getting through Final Qualifying in Columbus. Does have some solid history at really tough courses—finished T-18 at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont and solo seventh at the 2019 PGA at Bethpage.
94. Greyson Sigg
Age: 26 World ranking: 168 U.S. Open appearances: 1
Best U.S. Open finish: MC, 2020
Poised to become the next in a long line of former Georgia Bulldogs on the PGA Tour. Sits third in the Korn Ferry points standings and won the Knoxville Open last month, then cruised through Final Qualifying in Atlanta.
93. Cameron Champ
Age: 25 World ranking: 112 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-32, 2017
First flashed his jaw-dropping length and potential at the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where he led the field in driving distance as an amateur and finished T-32. There have been plenty of good moments—he’s won two PGA Tour events—but it’s hard to believe a player of his natural gifts is currently outside the top 100 in the world and moving in the wrong direction. His last three starts: 15 over at Kiawah, a missed cut at Colonial and an opening-round 82 before withdrawing from the Memorial. He’s too talented to be playing like this, so you wonder how he’s doing physically. And mentally.
92. Cole Hammer (a)
Age: 21 World ranking: N/A U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: MC, 2015, 2020
If you’re wondering “how is this guy still an amateur?” it’s because when you first heard about him more than a half-decade ago when he qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open he was only 15. Went on to become No. 1 amateur in the world and has played on two winning U.S. Walker Cup teams. Finished as the first alternate in Columbus qualifier but quickly got into the field when Mikko Korhonen pulled out due to COVID-19 travel concerns.
91. Brian Stuard
Age: 38 World ranking: 232 U.S. Open appearances: 5
Best U.S. Open finish: T-65, 2019
If this golf thing ever dries up, he should seriously consider running for mayor of Springfield, Ohio. Got through the Final Qualifying site there for the sixth time. Now, if he could only channel some of that success at the actual U.S. Open, we’d really be on to something. Has five MCs and a T-65 in his five appearances.
90. Sahith Theegala
Age: 24 World ranking: 702 U.S. Open appearances: 1
Best U.S. Open finish: MC, 2019
Swept the Nicklaus, Hogan and Haskins award as college golf’s top player during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Got a sponsor’s invite into the Memorial, finished T-32 then got in to the U.S. Open through the Springfield site. Grew up in Orange County, roughly an hour away from Torrey Pines.
89. Russell Henley
Age: 32 World ranking: 63 U.S. Open appearances: 7
Best U.S. Open finish: T-16, 2010
Finished third on PGA Tour in strokes gained/approach last year and ranks sixth this year. It’s a hugely important part of the game, and he’s great at it, but he simply hasn’t been able to convert it into top-level play. His last four starts have yielded two missed cuts and two finishes outside the top 70, and he’s yet to post a top-10 in 26 career major starts. His best showing in a U.S. Open came in his first start in 2010, when he finished T-16 and took low amateur honors at Pebble Beach.
88. Marcus Armitage
Age: 33 World ranking: 122 U.S. Open appearances: First
The video of him, tearful, after winning last month’s Porsche European Open went viral. “Bullet,” as he’s affectionately known, was broke and had to camp out as he chased the dream—a dream that was finally realized with that maiden Euro Tour victory, which got him into his first U.S. Open and first major outside his native U.K.
87. Chan Kim
Age: 31 World ranking: 83 U.S. Open appearances: 3
Best U.S. Open finish: MC, 2017, 2019, 2020
He’s earned quite a few opportunities in big events via his strong play on the Japan Tour. Lives in Arizona, played at Arizona State and wants desperately to secure PGA Tour status. Missed the cut in four straight majors before a solid T-23 at Kiawah, and he took medalist honors at the Southern California qualifying site.
86. Akshay Bhatia
Age: 19 World ranking: 879 U.S. Open appearances: First
Turned pro as a 17-year-old after the 2019 Walker Cup and a legendary junior career, eschewing college golf in an era where virtually every top American spends at least some time on a campus. Hasn’t quite shot to stardom like he’d hoped but there have been some solid signs. The lanky lefty gets his first crack at a major championship after advancing through a 3-for-1 playoff at Final Qualifying in South Carolina
85. Martin Kaymer
Age: 36 World ranking: 104 U.S. Open appearances: 13
Best U.S. Open finish: WIN, 2014
Eight-shot romp at Pinehurst in 2014 feel like a lifetime ago given the former World No. 1’s journey since. Lost his PGA Tour card after 2019 and while he’s had some success in Europe, he’s failed to elbow his way back into relevance. Has missed the cut in his last three major starts and his last three starts period, two of which came against weaker fields on the European Tour. It’s been a strange career arc to say the least.
84. Chez Reavie
Age: 39 World ranking: 136 U.S. Open appearances: 8
Best U.S. Open finish: T-3, 2019
Crept as high as No. 26 in the world in 2019 after his win at the Travelers. He’s been on the struggle bus in 2021, though, having missed six straight cuts before he caught a heater at the Columbus qualifying site—made 13 birdies and two eagles over 36 holes to pace a field full of PGA Tour players. Torrey will but just a little bit more resistant to scoring, but he’ll take some confidence with him nonetheless.
83. Martin Laird
Age: 38 World ranking: 99 U.S. Open appearances: 6
Best U.S. Open finish: T-21, 2013
Everything came together for the Scot last fall in Vegas—he got a sponsor’s exemption into the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and parlayed it into a career-boosting victory, his fourth on the PGA Tour. Still had to go through qualifying to get to Torrey Pines, for professional golf is a cold world.
82. Justin Suh
Age: 23 World ranking: 441 U.S. Open appearances: 1
Best U.S. Open finish: MC, 2016
Former World No. 1 amateur sat alongside Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa and Matt Wolff for a press conference the week after turning pro. Hasn’t been able to mirror the success of his fellow Class of ’19ers, but he’s made the cut in six of his eight starts on the PGA Tour this year and thus sits on the precipice of joining those three on the PGA Tour.
81. Matt Kuchar
Age: 42 World ranking: 59 U.S. Open appearances: 18
Best U.S. Open finish: T-6, 2010
Free-falling down the World Ranking as he’s having his worst season in more than a decade (zero top-10s in 18 stroke-play starts). No one area of the game to point to as the culprit, either. You’d expect a player as steady as Kuchar to have a better U.S. Open record than a lone top-10 finish in 18 career starts. Missed the cut at both the Masters and PGA, and withdrew from his last start at the Memorial with a forearm injury.
80. Brendon Todd
Age: 35 World ranking: 62 U.S. Open appearances: 4
Best U.S. Open finish: T-17, 2014
The bunter that could—he’s the shortest full-time PGA Tour player at less than 275 yards per drive. In an age where distance dominates, he ranks 160th on tour in strokes gained/off the tee despite leading the tour in driving accuracy. He’s also second in strokes gained/putting, but his physical limitations ensure he’s fighting an uphill battle most weeks—especially in the majors. He’ll have to play pretty much perfect to have a semblance of a chance.
79. J.T. Poston
Age: 28 World ranking: 98 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: MC, 2017, 2020
Been missing quite a few cuts this season, include at Congaree, where he’s an ambassador. Ball-striking—141st in SG/off the tee, 181st in approach—has been so poor that even his world-class putting (eighth in SG/on the greens) has often been unable to bail himself out. Missed the cut in both his U.S. Open appearances and four of his six major starts overall.
78. Francesco Molinari
Age: 38 World ranking: 173 U.S. Open appearances: 10
Best U.S. Open finish: T-16, 2019
Teased us with three top-10s during the West Coast swing, which gave the impression he was on the comeback trail and would creep back into the Ryder Cup picture. He’s missed three of four cuts since and thus continues his World Ranking slide. Will be joined in the field by older brother Edoardo, who got in through the European Tour’s U.S. Open-series list. Has not played an event since the Wells Fargo in the beginning of May.
77. Troy Merritt
Age: 35 World ranking: 132 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: 58, 2020
Failed to qualify for either of the year’s first two majors but did post back-to-back seventh-place finishes at the AT&T Byron Nelson and the Charles Schwab Challenge. Not the best ball striker out there, he’s missed the cut in five of his eight major appearances and five of his last six starts at Torrey Pines.
76. Adam Hadwin
Age: 33 World ranking: 100 U.S. Open appearances: 5
Best U.S. Open finish: T-39, 2011
Shorter-hitting Canadian has made a nice living for himself (more than $12.5 million in career PGA Tour earnings) feasting on the right layouts for his game, but it hasn’t translated to the majors—best finish in 16 starts is a T-24, and he’s had virtually no success at U.S. Opens. Got through qualifying in Columbus after missing the cut at the Memorial.
75. Kevin Na
Age: 37 World ranking: 38 U.S. Open appearances: 9
Best U.S. Open finish: 7, 2016
Has a knack for winning when he’s in contention, which can’t be said for too many tour players these days. Picked off fourth title since July 2018 at the Sony Open. He’s not a long hitter, and he fares best on manageable-length tracks that are angly and scorable. The majors, however, don’t tend to be played on such layouts, and he has just two top-10 finishes in them in 40 career starts—and none since the 2016 U.S. Open. Ranks 165th on tour in SG/off the tee and 142nd in SG/approach, and Torrey will not react kindly to any loose ball-striking.
74. Lanto Griffin
Age: 32 World ranking: 70 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-43, 2020
Enjoyed a strong start to the season that brought him to the top 50 in the world, but a lot of that was due to some incredible putting weeks, which are hard to replicate. In related news, he’s hit a roadblock since, with four missed cuts in his last five starts. Missed the weekend in the Masters and the PGA but did make the cut last year at Winged Foot.
73. Jhonattan Vegas
Age: 36 World ranking: 138 U.S. Open appearances: 3
Best U.S. Open finish: T-41, 2018
His short game continues to hold back the three-time tour winner who has dropped a level over the last five years. Got through a 5-for-4 playoff at the Columbus qualifier and kept the momentum going with a nice T-2 at Congaree, his second runner-up on tour in 2021.
72. Matthew Wolff
Age: 22 World ranking: 32 U.S. Open appearances: 1
Best U.S. Open finish: 2, 2020
His five-under 65 at Winged Foot gave him a three-shot lead heading into Sunday at last year’s U.S. Open. Bryson DeChambeau leapfrogged him for the victory, but Wolff had finished T-4/solo second in his first two major championship starts. In his next start, he lost in a playoff in Las Vegas and rose to No. 12 in the world. Ever since, however, his game has forsaken him and there are clearly some non-physical issues he’s working through. Was DQ’d from the Masters (he was going to miss the cut by quite a bit anyway) and withdrew from both the Players and the PGA Championship for unspecified reasons. Was photographed watching his Oklahoma State Cowboys play during NCAA Regionals—he’s a kid who, it seems, misses being a kid. Returns home to Southern California this week, and he deserves a ton of credit for taking time away to get himself right. With his physical gifts, he’s got decades ahead of him.
71. Thomas Detry
Age: 28 World ranking: 92 U.S. Open appearances: 1
Best U.S. Open finish: T-49, 2020
Former Big Ten player of the year at Illinois is slowly emerging as one of the better players on the European Tour. The Belgian tied for second in his last start at the European Open and made the cut last September at Winged Foot.
70. Guido Migliozzi
Age: 24 World ranking: 103 U.S. Open appearances: First
It’s the most fun name to say in the field, and the Young Italian also comes in with some serious form, with back-to-back solo seconds in his last two starts on the European Tour. Marks his first appearance in a major, but the unknown here is intriguing.
69. K.H. Lee
Age: 29 World ranking: 64 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: MC, 2014, 2019
If you need further proof how fleeting form is in this game—and how different hard courses play compared with easy ones—consider Lee’s last three starts. At the AT&T Byron Nelson, he shot 25 under to win by three. He followed it up with an 11-over MC at the PGA Championship and 79-74 on the weekend at the Memorial. The next cut he makes in a major will be his first.
68. Kevin Kisner
Age: 37 World ranking: 51 U.S. Open appearances: 7
Best U.S. Open finish: T-12, 2015
Took five weeks off after the Hawaii two-step for the birth of his second child and hasn’t kicked it into gear since. This, from his presser before the Palmetto Championship, was telling. He was asked whether he gave fellow Georgia Bulldog Davis Thompson any advice upon turning pro: “I had breakfast with him yesterday, and I was asking him for advice. He’s playing better than I am right now, so I was hoping he could help me.” Proceeded to miss the cut at Congaree, his sixth MC in seven starts. He’d be the first to tell you it’d be difficult to draw up a worse fit course-wise for his modest distance than the long and juicy Torrey Pines.
Kevin C. Cox
67. Patrick Rodgers
Age: 28 World ranking: 236 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-41, 2018
Reached No. 1 in the world amateur rankings during a stellar career at Stanford and profiled as a future star. It hasn’t quite materialized—he’s hung around on tour for a while but doesn’t have a win and needed to qualify to get into the field at Torrey. Heading into Congaree, he’d missed the cut in 10 of his 17 starts this year but found his way near the top of the leader board through 36 holes.
66. Matt Jones
Age: 41 World ranking: 60 U.S. Open appearances: 5
Best U.S. Open finish: MC all five times
Broke a seven-year winless drought at the Honda Classic in February, which was enough to keep him in the top 60 of the World Ranking and gain an exemption into Torrey despite back-to-back missed cuts in his last two starts. Speaking of missed cuts—he has failed to make the weekend in five U.S. Open appearances.
65. Wyndham Clark
Age: 27 World ranking: 147 U.S. Open appearances: First
One of the longest hitters on tour, he ranks fourth in driving distance at 315.6 yards but near dead-last in accuracy at just over 47 percent. If Torrey’s fairways are anywhere near as hard to hit as Winged Foot’s—which were the hardest fairways to hit on record on the PGA Tour—that would actually play into his hands; if everyone’s missing them, length is critical.
64. Rafa Cabrera Bello
Age: 37 World ranking: 139 U.S. Open appearances: 7
Best U.S. Open finish: T-23, 2020
Spent the better part of five years inside the top 50 in the World Ranking but the bottom has fell out a bit, and he’s now in a fight to keep his PGA Tour card heading into next season. Been better of late: he’s made three straight cuts and got through the loaded Columbus qualifying site.
63. Cameron Smith
Age: 27 World ranking: 28 U.S. Open appearances: 5
Best U.S. Open finish: T-4, 2015
Won the Zurich Classic alongside Marc Leishman but hit a bit of a wall since, with a T-59 at the PGA Championship and a missed cut at Memorial. He’s a shot-maker with a breathtaking short game but his ball-striking can get a bit squirrely—over his last 24 rounds, he ranks sixth on tour in SG/around the green and 24th in SF/putting but 87th in approach and 99th in off-the-tee. Benefits from width off the tees, which is why he’s fared so well at Augusta (three top-10s in five starts) but has struggled in recent U.S. Opens, which leave little room for loose shots. Missed the cut at the Farmers this year after shooting 79 on the South on Friday.
62. Victor Perez
Age: 28 World ranking: 35 U.S. Open appearances: 1
Best U.S. Open finish: CUT, 2020
Big Frenchman—and University of New Mexico grad, for a nice piece of trivia—finished T-9 in the Players and fourth at the WGC-Match Play, which built some momentum heading into the Masters. So, golf being golf, he missed the cut at Augusta, then at Kiawah and at the Memorial, too. Still, has a good chance to get his PGA Tour card through non-member points and remains in the Ryder Cup picture, so there’s everything to play for.
61. Sebastian Munoz
Age: 28 World ranking: 65 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-59, 2020
Doesn’t rank better than 78th in any of the six main strokes-gained statistics but does have three top-10s on the year, including a T-3 at last month’s Charles Schwab Challenge. Been a somewhat disappointing season for the Colombian after his 2019-20 campaign lasted all the way to the Tour Championship. Made the cut at Winged Foot last year but did not come close to factoring on the weekend.
60. Brendan Steele
Age: 38 World ranking: 79 U.S. Open appearances: 4
Best U.S. Open finish: T-13, 2017
Tour veteran from California has made the cut in all 12 starts in 2021, including a T-4 to begin the year in Hawaii and a T-3 at the Honda Classic. Has a pair of top-15 finishes in U.S. Opens but has not played in once since 2018.
59. Sungjae Im
Age: 23 World ranking: 26 U.S. Open appearances: 3
Best U.S. Open finish: 22, 2020
After making 11 straight cuts from last December through March, he missed four of his next seven and had to sweat it out at Congaree. In typical Sungjae fashion, he seems intent on playing his way out of it, as the U.S. Open will mark his fifth straight week of competition. Finished T-17 at Kiawah after missing the cut at Augusta, where he finished T-2 to Dustin Johnson last November. For as beautiful as his swing and rhythm are, he’s been a very average iron player in his time on tour—he’s never finished better than 88th in SG/approach and currently ranks 93rd in that stat. His short game is a weakness, so it’s hard to love his chances on a course that’ll force everyone to scramble from the rough.
58. Wilco Nienaber
Age: 21 World ranking: 141 U.S. Open appearances: First
A tantalizing prospect from of South Africa—6’2” with extra-long arms and a highly efficient move—he’s able to produce Bryson DeChambeau-level ball speeds with a silky tempo. Gets a spot in his first career major by way of leading the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit. Acclimated himself with the U.S. by playing at Congaree and was hanging around the lead after 36 holes. With he and Garrick Higgo, the future of South African golf looks bright.
57. Bernd Wiesberger
Age: 35 World ranking: 52 U.S. Open appearances: 6
Best U.S. Open finish: T-16,. 2017
Successfully defended his Made in Denmark title over Memorial Day weekend, which was his eighth European Tour victory. All those wins have pushed him up the World Ranking, but he has not been able to find anywhere near that level of success in the U.S. The Austrian has zero top-10s and just four top-25s in 26 career major starts.
56. Matt Wallace
Age: 31 World ranking: 55 U.S. Open appearances: 4
Best U.S. Open finish: T-12, 2019
Ultra-fiery Brit has made the cut in eight straight major starts, although the last six have all been between T-34 and T-77. Swings it beautifully but sometimes struggles with his putter, which might be the shortest on tour. (Seriously, it’s very cute.) Wants desperately to get into the Ryder Cup picture, but he’s going to have to make some magic happen if that’s to become a reality.
55. Gary Woodland
Age: 37 World ranking: 57 U.S. Open appearances: 10
Best U.S. Open finish: WIN, 2019
Career peaked (at least thus far) up the coast at Pebble Beach two years ago, where he put forth a macho back-nine display to win his first major. Has not played to the same standard since while dealing with injuries, and it’s a bit jarring to see him so low in the World Ranking after a half-decade hanging around the top 25. There have been some positive signs recently, however, with a top-five at Quail Hollow and a T-14 at Colonial.
54. Kevin Streelman
Age: 42 World ranking: 54 U.S. Open appearances: 7
Best U.S. Open finish: T-13, 2016
His T-8 at Kiawah was the 42-year-old’s first top-10 in a major, and golf remains the best sport there is. Built on that momentum with top 20s in each of his two starts since, and all the sudden he’s creeping up on getting back inside the top 50 in the world rankings—and he’s doing it despite putting only decently, which is rather impressive for a player who hits it as relatively short as he does. Has played the Farmers every year since 2016 and made the cut in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey.
53. Bubba Watson
Age: 42 World ranking: 61 U.S. Open appearances: 14
Best U.S. Open finish: T-5, 2007
Finished 80th at the PGA and withdrew from the Memorial after an opening-round 77, so hardly an ideal run-up. He’s struggled big time in U.S. Opens, which call for a disciplined approach that stifles his creativity—he’s missed the cut in eight of his 14 tries, including five of the last seven. That said, he’s won times at Riviera, another Southern California course with kikuyu fairways and poa annua greens.
52. Carlos Ortiz
Age: 30 World ranking: 53 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-52, 2019
Gravitated between the Big Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour for a few years but has turned a corner, winning his first PGA Tour event last November and hanging around the top 50 in the World Ranking. Shared the 54-hole lead at Torrey earlier this year but an ugly Sunday 78 saw him stumble to a T-29 finish. His younger brother, Alvaro, played his way into the field, too, through Final Qualifying. Mr. and Mrs. Ortiz must be proud.
51. Sergio Garcia
Age: 41 World ranking: 50 U.S. Open appearances: 21
Best U.S. Open finish: T-3, 2005
His continued struggles in the majors baffle the mind. Dating to the 2017 PGA Championship, a few months after he removed the best-to-never-win-a-major monkey from his back at the Masters, he’s missed the cut in 11 of his last 13 major starts. Entered Sunday at Colonial with a chance to win but shot six over to finish T-20. That was actually a positive step, as he’d missed four straight cuts leading into that event. The putting has always been an issue, but it’s particularly bad right now—he’s lost strokes to the field with the flatstick in 10 straight events.
50. Ian Poulter
Age: 45 World ranking: 56 U.S. Open appearances: 15
Best U.S. Open finish: T-12, 2006
Finished T-3 at Colonial to get back inside the top 60 in the world just in time to get one of the last exemptions into the field. Closer to 50 than 40, he’s relying heavily on his short game, which remains world class—but he ranks 146th in SG/off the tee and 164th in SG/off the tee. He’s as scrappy as they come, but scrappy doesn’t usually cut it on demanding U.S. Open setups. Explains why he does not have a top-10 in his 15 career starts in golf’s toughest test. Has some extra motivation this summer to get onto the European Ryder Cup team, as he knows this might be his last realistic chance to play in his favorite competition.
49. Erik van Rooyen
Age: 31 World ranking: 86 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-23, 2020
The casual fan will know him for two things, neither of which have anything to do with actual golf shots: first, his popularizing of joggers on the PGA Tour. Second, his violent temper outburst at the PGA Championship, where he took out anger from a string of bad results on a poor old tee marker. Perhaps, in some odd way, it’s served as motivation—he shared medalist honors at the Columbus qualifying site and was in contention after 36 holes at Congaree. Has made the cut in both U.S. Open appearances.
48. Cameron Young
Age: 24 World ranking: 172 U.S. Open appearances: 1
Best U.S. Open finish: MC, 2019
He’s giving us some Will Zalatoris vibes, and we can explain. Last year, Zalatoris was the hotshot Korn Ferry player who used the U.S. Open as a coming-out party. This year, Young is the prime suspect to do the same. The fellow Wake Forest graduate won back-to-back Korn Ferry events last month then blitzed the field at his Final Qualifying spot back in his native New York. “I expected to get through,” he said after the 36-hole day. “Knowing the places like I do, and feeling like my game is in a pretty good spot, it’s pretty hard not to get through.” If he could ever get over his lack of confidence, he may have a future in this game.
47. Robert MacIntyre
Age: 24 World ranking: 48 U.S. Open appearances: 1
Best U.S. Open finish: T-56, 2020
Starting to become a familiar presence in big events as he’s been hanging inside the World top 50 for most of 2021. Took T-12 in his debut Masters to ensure a return trip and also made the cut at Kiawah—in fact, he’s made the weekend in all five of his major championship starts to date, highlighted by a T-6 in his first one at the ’19 Open Championship. Very much in the Ryder Cup picture but needs a strong finish to book his ticket to Whistling Straits; a strong week at Torrey would go a long way toward that goal.
46. Si Woo Kim
Age: 25 World ranking: 49 U.S. Open appearances: 4
Best U.S. Open finish: T-13, 2017
Feels like he’s been around forever but he’s still just 25. Won The American Express in January for his third PGA Tour victory and comes in off a solid T-9 at Memorial. Has made the cut in just one of his four U.S. Open starts, though, as he can be a bit wide off the tee, and missed the weekend at Farmers this year. He runs extremely hot and doesn’t profile as the type to take U.S. Open bumps-and-bruises in stride.
45. Billy Horschel
Age: 34 World ranking: 23 U.S. Open appearances: 8
Best U.S. Open finish: T-4, 2013
His World Ranking is inflated by his WGC-Match Play victory, where he played solidly but unspectacularly. Otherwise, he has just two top-10 finishes in 12 stroke-play starts in 2021. Seems to be living in the T-20 to T-50 range recently, and the same can be said for his history at the majors: he’s made the cut in 20 of his 30 starts in the big four but has just one top-10 to show for it, a T-4 at the 2013 U.S. Open. Made the cut on a U.S. Open-esque course at the Memorial but made nine bogeys and three doubles over the weekend in shooting 82-73.
44. Charley Hoffman
Age: 44 World ranking: 58 U.S. Open appearances: 7
Best U.S. Open finish: 8, 2017
Snuck into the field thanks to a strong run of play that saw him crack the World top 60 at the deadline. Which is awesome—he was born and raised in San Diego, making this absolutely a home game. Took solo second to Jordan Spieth at the Valero Texas Open the week before the Masters, then finished T-18/T-18/T-17 in his next three events before a T-3 when the tour returned to Texas at Colonial. He’s played the Farmers a remarkable 24 times and has three top-10s to show for it, including a T-9 in 2020. He’ll be highly motivated, and he’s playing great golf, but U.S. Open setups do not care for such romanticism.
43. Garrick Higgo
Age: 22 World ranking: 39 U.S. Open appearances: First
Talented young South African lefty left UNLV in 2019 after one-plus year to turn pro. A good choice, in hindsight—he has two wins in Europe this year by a combined nine shots. Then made an even bigger splash on Sunday when he charged from six shots back to take the title at the Palmetto Championship in just his second career PGA Tour start. The first was at last month's PGA, where he made the cut on the number and played a roller-coaster round on Sunday: eight birdies, three bogeys and a double for a closing 69. The bad happens, but the good shows what he’s capable of. Don’t be surprised if he makes the Presidents Cup team next year. A rising star.
42. Charl Schwartzel
Age: 36 World ranking: 110 U.S. Open appearances: 12
Best U.S. Open finish: 7, 2015
Former Masters champion has been in a mid-30s purgatory over the past couple years, but he’s flashed some promising signs with a T-26 at the Masters, a runner-up alongside Louis Oosthuizen at the Zurich Classic, a T-14 at the Wells Fargo and a T-3 at the Byron Nelson. Making his first U.S. Open appearance since missing the cut at Shinnecock Hills in 2018.
41. Stewart Cink
Age: 48 World ranking: 44 U.S. Open appearances: 20
Best U.S. Open finish: 3, 2001
One of the best, and most surprising, stories of the season. Has two wins since putting son Reagan on the bag, and he’s one of just five men with multiple wins in the 2020-21 season—and the only one who’s closing in on PGA Tour Champions age. A huge reason behind the resurgence: he’s 26th on tour in driving distance at 306.4 yards, which is nearly 11 yards more than what he averaged last year in ranking 113th. The fountain of youth? He’s found it. Has played the tour stop at Torrey 18 times (although just two top-10s) and finished T-14 at the 2008 U.S. Open, so you won’t find someone who knows this course better than he.
40. Sam Burns
Age: 24 World ranking: 37 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-41, 2018
He’s held the lead after more rounds than anyone on tour this year, a testament to his top-level gear that is good enough to win anywhere. Played in the final group at this year’s Farmers only to fall out of it with a closing 75. Finally broke through with his first win at the Valspar Championship, then finished runner-up to K.H. Lee the next week at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He rode that wave right into Kiawah, where he entered the PGA Championship as something of a sleeper pick … only to re-aggravate a back injury and withdraw during the first round. A brutal momentum-killer for a player who looked destined to challenge for a Ryder Cup spot.
39. Lee Westwood
Age: 48 World ranking: 27 U.S. Open appearances: 19
Best U.S. Open finish: 3, 2008
Captured the imagination of mid-40s men everywhere when he held back-to-back 54-hole leads at Bay Hill and the Players. He finished solo second in both then just kept on playing, and he’s admitted that he probably bit off a bit more than he could chew schedule-wise. No top-10s and three missed cuts in his seven starts since, but he’ll be energized by a return to Torrey, where he missed a putt on the 72nd hole in 2008 to join Tiger and Rocco in a playoff. Seeing as this has been the year of the older guys (shoutout Phil and Stewey Cink), it’d be only fitting for Westy to finally fill the major championship void in his trophy cabinet.
38. Ryan Palmer
Age: 44 World ranking: 34 U.S. Open appearances: 8
Best U.S. Open finish: T-21, 2011
Another 40-pluser having a really solid season, although it’s been a bit of a slog in recent months. His runner-up at Torrey Pines in this year’s Farmers was his third top-four finish in four starts, which pushed him all the way to World No. 24 and got him thinking Ryder Cup. Doesn’t have a top-10 since, though, and his best finish in eight career U.S. Open starts is a T-21. That said, he loves Torrey—in addition to the T-2 this year, he also finished runner-up in 2018, T-13 in 2019 and T-21 in 2020.
37. Christiaan Bezuidenhout
Age: 27 World ranking: 46 U.S. Open appearances: 1
Best U.S. Open finish: 55, 2020
The young South African has a lovely game that has held its own in big-time events in the U.S. With three wins on the European Tour, the next step in his progression is to earn a PGA Tour card through non-member points—he’s got a good chance to do it, but needs a few more solid finishes. Made the cut in the first two majors 2021 and has made the weekend in 16 consecutive starts around the world.
36. Matthew Fitzpatrick
Age: 26 World ranking: 20 U.S. Open appearances: 6
Best U.S. Open finish: T-12, 2019
Got as high as T-4 at Kiawah before a Sunday triple bogey at the 16th saw him drop outside the top 20. That would’ve been just his second top-10 in 25 career major starts, a puzzling stat for a player who hits it so straight—and who has excelled on really difficult layouts in non-major events. He’s the only player inside the top 20 in SG/overall who ranks worse than 60th in SG/approach, and he ranks outside the top 100; he’s putting stress on the rest of his game with that loose iron play, and that was the story again last week at Congaree. Had made the cut in his first five U.S. Open starts, including back-to-back T-12s in ’18 and ’19, before missing the cut by one at Winged Foot last year
35. Branden Grace
Age: 33 World ranking: 71 U.S. Open appearances: 8
Best U.S. Open finish: T-4, 2015
The South African was a Presidents Cup shoe-in throughout the 2010s and remains the only player to shoot 62 in a major championship. Dipped well outside the top 100 last year but is on the mend; won the Puerto Rico Open with an eagle-birdie finish back in February, finished solo fourth in his last start at Memorial and cruised through Final Qualifying at The Bear’s Club, his home course in South Florida.
34. Joaquin Niemann
Age: 22 World ranking: 31 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-23, 2020
Had a streak of 20 consecutive made cuts broken at Memorial, his final start before heading to Torrey. Seems to gain ground with his ball-striking every week and is rolling it nicely this year—he’s 23rd in SG/putting—but his chipping/around-the-green play has prevented him from taking full flight. Began the year with back-to-back runners-up in Hawaii, which (for better or worse) re-set our expectations of the former World No. 1 amateur. Has just one top 10 since then, though, and he typically does not putt well on Poa greens. Been around for a while already despite being just 22, as this will be his 10th major start.
33. Phil Mickelson
Age: 50 World ranking: 30 U.S. Open appearances: 29
Best U.S. Open finish: 2/T-2, six times
Sometimes in life, you need to put your hand up and say you were wrong. We had Mickelson ranked No. 92 on this list heading into the PGA Championship, and would you believe us if we said we thought that was generous? It couldn’t have been a worst fit on paper: a punishing, windy course and a guy who hits a super-high ball and didn’t have a top 20 on the PGA Tour since the prior July. But he summoned form from nowhere, as the great ones do, and added another chapter to his all-time great legacy. He initially needed a special invitation to play this U.S. Open in his hometown, which he accepted after first suggesting he might not. That’s moot, and all of a sudden his three wins at Torrey Pines jump off the page that much more. He missed the cut in his only start since Kiawah, which he only played because he personally told Charles Schwab—the man, not the company— he’d play in his tournament. We’re getting way ahead of ourselves, but if he won the U.S. Open after all his near misses in this tournament, in his hometown, for his second straight major, to complete the career Grand Slam … the entire golf media ecosystem might spontaneously combust.
32. Tommy Fleetwood
Age: 30 World ranking: 33 U.S. Open appearances: 5
Best U.S. Open finish: 2, 2018
He’s been stuck in neutral this year, plain and simple. It hasn’t been awful, as he’s made the cut in eight of his 11 starts this year and has a pair of top-10s on the PGA Tour, but he’s been a no-show in the big events—MC at the Players, T-46 at the Masters and MC at the PGA Championship. Went from being an equipment free agent to a TaylorMade staffer, and while correlation does not imply causation, his ball striking statistics are dramatically worse this year than last: once considered a top-five ball striker on Tour, he’s 167th in SG/off the tee and 102nd in SG/approach on the season.
31. Harris English
Age: 31 World ranking: 25 U.S. Open appearances: 5
Best U.S. Open finish: 4, 2020
Began the year with a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions but didn’t post a top 10 in his next 11 starts before finding himself in contention at Congaree. Struggled on Sunday's back nine but still came away with a T-2, best finish since Januray. He’s faded a bit from Ryder Cup contention and will need to start producing the goods if he’s to stay so high in the World Ranking. The culprit has been some imprecise iron play, which was a strength during his really strong second half of 2020—which included a solo fourth in last year’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot, his lone top 10 in 19 career major starts. Does have a T-2 at Torrey Pines in the 2015 Farmers, so there are good vibes to draw on.
30. Brian Harman
Age: 34 World ranking: 47 U.S. Open appearances: 5
Best U.S. Open finish: T-2, 2017
Few are playing better golf at the moment. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks 11th on tour in SG/overall and has six finishes of T-18 or better in his last seven starts. The bad news, however, is that one “other” start was a missed cut at the PGA Championship. He’s not a watch-on-practice-range ball-striker but he has one of the best short games on tour, and his lone top-10 in 20 major starts did come at a U.S. Open—although it was at Erin Hills, a course that resembles Torrey Pines in the same way I resemble Liam Hemsworth.
29. Shane Lowry
Age: 34 World ranking: 41 U.S. Open appearances: 8
Best U.S. Open finish: T-2, 2016
Don’t look now, but his form over the past three months has been the best since his dream week at the 2019 Open. He’s got four top-10s in in his last eight starts, including a T-4 at the PGA Championship and a T-6 at the Memorial in his last two outings. His world-class short game is firing on all cylinders, as he’s picked up a combined 7.5 shots over his last two starts with his around-the-green play. Navigates difficult courses well—in the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he held a four-shot lead after a third-round 65 only to shoot 11 shots worse on Sunday—and, for the first time in a few years, he’s on the right side of momentum.
28. Marc Leishman
Age: 37 World ranking: 45 U.S. Open appearances: 10
Best U.S. Open finish: T-18, 2016
Won the 2020 Farmers with some lights-out putting en route to a Sunday 65. He was among the best players in the world heading into the COVID hiatus but came out of it sleepwalking and trudged through a brutal summer on the golf course. He looked firmly on the rise with a T-5 at the Masters, a win alongside Cameron Smith at the Zurich Classic and a T-21 at the Nelson. Then missed the cut in the worst possible way at the PGA Championship—bogeying the last to finish one off the pace, a recipe for a true trunk slam—and did nothing of note at the Memorial. Doesn’t hit it particularly high or straight, and as such his record in the U.S. Open is his worst of any of the four majors.
27. Corey Conners
Age: 29 World ranking: 36 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: MC, 2017, 2020
I’ve got a theory that watching the Canadian hit golf balls eases anxiety—his syrupy rhythm, ever-present smile and über-consistent baby draw do good things for the soul. The putting, however, is a markedly different experience. Opened the PGA with a tremendous 66 but faded as the week went on in finishing T-17. He’s the only player who ranks inside the top 10 in SG/off the tee and SG/approach, which bodes extremely well for a layout as punishing as Torrey Pines during a U.S. Open week. With him, it all comes down the chipping and the putting, and he hasn’t exactly kicked the door down when he’s had a chance—he’s broken 70 just once in his last eight final rounds. That said, he’s made 11 straight cuts in stroke-play events, so we’re tempted to call him a solid sleeper for DFS formats, but it does seem like the world is catching word of how qualified a player Conners is.
26. Jason Kokrak
Age: 36 World ranking: 22 U.S. Open appearances: 4
Best U.S. Open finish: T-17, 2020
He won’t factor in the PIP rankings, but the big Ohioan is one of five players with multiple wins this season. Went 220-plus starts without a W to start his career but now has two in his last 16, the most recent coming when held steady as Jordan Spieth floundered a few weeks back at Colonial. Been putting lovely all year—he ranks sixth on tour in strokes gained/on the greens. He’s closer to 40 than 30 and has played in 16 major championships without posting a top 10, but he’s playing the best golf of his career at the moment. Three finishes between T-20 and T-29 in his last three starts in the Farmers.
25. Max Homa
Age: 30 World ranking: 40 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: MC, 2013, 2020
Los Angeles-area native played some really consistent golf to start the year, culminating in an emotional home-town win at the Genesis Invitational, but he’s been super hot and cold since. Like, frustratingly so. His last seven starts: MC/T-18/MC/T-6/MC/MC/T-6. Clearly, his good is good enough to contend against top-level fields, but his bad has been pretty awful recently—shot a combined 21 over par at the Wells Fargo and the PGA only to rebound with a T-6 in his last start at the Memorial. SoCal roots make him comfortable on kikuyu and Poa greens, and he finished T-21 or better in all four of his California starts on the West Coast Swing, including a T-18 at the Farmers. He’s on the precipice of stardom, but to be a star, you need to perform in the majors, and he simply has not: in seven career starts, he’s got six missed cuts and a T-64.
24. Justin Rose
Age: 40 World ranking: 42 U.S. Open appearances: 15
Best U.S. Open finish: WIN, 2013
Won the 2019 Farmers at Torrey as the sitting world No. 1; subsequently he has not won anywhere and now sits outside the top 40. It’s been quite a journey since, as he took an early out of an equipment deal and dumped then un-dumped swing coach Sean Foley, and his game has taken a hit. That being said, he’s actually been better in the majors than the non-majors over the past two years, with four top-10 finishes in his last seven major starts—including both this year’s Masters, where he led by four after Thursday, and the PGA Championship. Ball-striking numbers remain spotty but he’s 11th on tour in SG/putting, which is keeping him afloat.
23. Daniel Berger
Age: 28 World ranking: 16 U.S. Open appearances: 6
Best U.S. Open finish: T-6, 2018
Picked up his fourth PGA Tour victory in February at Pebble Beach and has been solid if unspectacular since then, with two top-10s in eight starts. You wouldn’t teach his swing or his putting stroke to any junior, but it’s hard to argue with the numbers—he’s 16th in SG/approach and 28th in SG/putting, and he’s missed just two cuts in 16 events this wraparound season. Played in the final round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock en route to a T-6 finish, his best career showing in a major. Missed the cut in three of his four starts in the Farmers before skipping the event this year.
22. Abraham Ancer
Age: 30 World ranking: 21 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-49, 2019
Since a missed cut at Riviera in February, he’s had 10 starts on the PGA Tour and finished T-26 or better in them all. That includes a runner-up at the Wells Fargo Championship, a solo fifth at Valspar and a T-8 at the PGA at Kiawah. As such, Data Golf pegs him as the seventh best player in the world despite still not winning yet on tour. Ranks third in SG/overall over his last 50 rounds in the U.S.—skipped the Memorial to jet over to Germany and play the Porsche European Open where he missed the cut. A little strange to have that be his last start before Torrey, and hardly ideal to fly all that way and miss the weekend.
21. Adam Scott
Age: 40 World ranking: 43 U.S. Open appearances: 19
Best U.S. Open finish: T-4, 2015
If Scott puts up another T-25 finish, but no one seems to notice, did it really happen? Carried awesome form into the COVID-19 break but has been able to build exactly zero momentum since. He’s made every cut except one (the PGA Championship) in his 16 events since the restart but just one top-10 to show for it, although it did come at Torrey Pines. He also finished solo second at Torrey in 2019, so definitely some good vibes there—maybe it’s the surf-town vibe of La Jolla? Or maybe it’s the kikuyu and Poa annua, which is quite common in his native Australia. Played alongside Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods in the first two rounds of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey in a predecessor for the modern “supergroup,” as they were the top three players in the world at the time. He insists the game feels close and the gut says it’s going to click soon; he’s making all these cuts despite struggling with his driver and continues to tweak equipment in search of an answer.
20. Tyrrell Hatton
Age: 29 World ranking: 9 U.S. Open appearances: 4
Best U.S. Open finish: T-6, 2018
Missed the cut in all three majors in 2020—and they were the only cuts he missed in 17 starts—so a relief to see him make the weekend this year at Augusta (T-18) and Kiawah (T-38), although he was never really a factor in either. Won his first start of 2021 in Abu Dhabi, his second big European Tour win in four months, to reach a career-high No. 5 in the world. Never one to wear himself out, Congaree marked just his fourth start since April 1, and he recently got married in North Carolina. Came away with a back-door T-2 finish. There’s simply not many data points to go off of, and he’s never played in the Farmers, so he’s one of the tougher ones to peg this week. What we do know, however, is he’s shown more than a little killer instinct down the stretch when he’s had a look.
19. Scottie Scheffler
Age: 24 World ranking: 17 U.S. Open appearances: 3
Best U.S. Open finish: T-27, 2017
Missed last year’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot after testing positive for COVID-19, so he’ll be anxious to tee it up at Torrey. His big game translates well to majors, and he’s taken T-19 or better in each of his last four starts in them, including a T-8 at the PGA. Also briefly held the lead on Sunday en route to a solo third in his last start at the Memorial—those were two much-needed results vis a vis the Ryder Cup picture as he’d been having a pretty quiet spring. Wedge game could use some sharpening, as he ranks 187th on tour in proximity from 100-125 yards, and fights a left miss with the short clubs. Missed the cut at the Farmers the past two years, including a 79 on the South Course on Friday in January.
18. Webb Simpson
Age: 35 World ranking: 12 U.S. Open appearances: 10
Best U.S. Open finish: WIN, 2012
As steady as they come and blessed with a relentlessly positive attitude, he’s made the cut in 16 straight major championships. Had to withdraw from the Wells Fargo with a neck injury and has thus played just three times since the Players in mid-March. He’s not afraid to skip marquee events if they’re on a course he doesn’t feel suits him—he prefers shorter courses that prioritize accuracy—and thus hasn’t played at Torrey Pines in 10 years. All this to say: He enters this week as something of a question mark.
Maddie Meyer/PGA of America
17. Hideki Matsuyama
Age: 29 World ranking: 15 U.S. Open appearances: 8
Best U.S. Open finish: T-2, 2017
Even if he didn’t play another event the rest of his life, he’d live forever in golf lore; that’s what happens when you become the first male major winner from a golf-mad nation. He’s played three times since his Masters triumph and made the cut in all three, including a pretty solid T-23 at Kiawah. He’d never admit it, but you wonder if all the added attention—on top of the Japanese press that for years has covered his every move relentlessly—bothers him. A ball-striker’s ball-striker, he’s missed the cut just once in his eight U.S. Open starts and has six finishes of T-21 or better. Always going to be a threat if he putts well, which he did at the Masters, but he putted dreadfully at the Memorial, losing 9.4(!) on the greens at Muirfield Village. The good news in that department is he’s historically putted Poa annua the best of any green surfaces.
16. Paul Casey
Age: 43 World ranking: 19 U.S. Open appearances: 17
Best U.S. Open finish: T-10, 2007
Another 40-pluser who has not shown the slightest sign of slowing down, and he’s all but a shoe-in to make his fifth European Ryder Cup team. Took T-5 at the Players and T-4 at the PGA Championship, so he’s shown up in some massive events this year. Remains a premier ball-striker ranking sixth in SG/approach this season and second in SG/tee to green over his last 24 rounds. Has 11 top-10s in his major career but just one of those has come in a U.S. Open, although he has finished 26th or better in his last four starts. His history at Torrey is nothing to write home about, with a T-65 at the 2008 U.S. Open and no starts in the Farmers since 2017. A major championship would be the perfect exclamation point on a terrific career that includes more than 20 wins worldwide.
15. Jordan Spieth
Age: 27 World ranking: 24 U.S. Open appearances: 9
Best U.S. Open finish: WIN, 2015
Inexorably climbing the World Ranking as the slump is now firmly in the rearview mirror, and you could make the argument he’s been the best player in the world in 2021. He leads the tour in SG/overall over his last 24 and 36 starts—and, crucially, his iron play is back to hyper-elite level. It’s no longer surprising or even exhilarating to see his name on the first page of the leader board; you expect it now. If there’s a weakness in his game it’s his driving, which tends to be hugely important at Torrey Pines. In related news, his six starts at the Farmers have produced zero top-10s and three missed cuts, and it’s been kind of the same story in his last three U.S. Opens: MC/T-65/MC. In fact, his win at Chambers Bay—an entirely different type of track than Torrey—is his only finish better than T-17 in this event.
14. Rory McIlroy
Age: 32 World ranking: 11 U.S. Open appearances: 12
Best U.S. Open finish: WIN, 2011
In some ways, it’s hard to believe a decade has passed since his breakthrough win at Congressional. But then you think of all the runs he’s been on, the highs and the lows, the never-ending media chatter about his game … and, yeah, 10 years sounds about right. He’s added three majors since Congressional and a whole boatload of victories, including his first in nearly two years at last month’s Wells Fargo, but he’s been stuck on four majors for nearly seven years now. Remains hard at work with new swing coach Pete Cowen but has looked uncomfortable with his move in both majors thus far this year, a missed cut at the Masters and a never-relevant T-49 at the PGA. Torrey would seem to fit his game quite nicely, and he’s fared well there since adding it to his schedule in 2019—T-5, T-3, T-16—but he must overcome his propensity for starting extremely slow in the major if he’s to have a chance.
13. Patrick Reed
Age: 30 World ranking: 8 U.S. Open appearances: 7
Best U.S. Open finish: 4, 2018
Won at Torrey Pines by five this January for his ninth career PGA Tour victory, but it was not without controversy—a question over an “embedded” ball that Saturday saw him at the center of yet another rules imbroglio. He hardly seems bothered, for what it’s worth, though you can bet the limited on-site fans will remind him of his transgressions this week as the afternoons wear on and the drinks flow. Possesses maybe the finest short game on the planet and it keeps him afloat on demanding setup; he’s finished T-17 or better in six straight major starts. Washed away a missed cut at Colonial with a solo fifth at the Memorial, so the game seems to be right where it needs to be.
12. Xander Schauffele
Age: 27 World ranking: 6 U.S. Open appearances: 4
Best U.S. Open finish: T-3, 2019
Something of a Koepka-light at the majors; he’s played four U.S. Opens in his young career and finished T-6 or better all four times. Gives himself chance after chance to win but has not been able to close the deal since January 2019, a frustratingly barren streak that he’s openly admitted has peeved him. Grew up in San Diego, went to San Diego State and lived in that area until recently moving to Las Vegas, so this absolutely counts as a home game. Tied for second at the Farmers earlier this year, which actually broke a pretty brutal string of results for him there, with four missed cuts in his first five tries. Posted a video showing the rough at Torrey Pines last Wednesday—spoiler alert: it was long—so it appears he’s been hanging out in SoCal for quite a while. Would be quite the place for him to check off major No. 1, which seems only a matter of time.
11. Will Zalatoris
Age: 24 World ranking: 29 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-6, 2020
It all started at this event last year—on the strength of his play on the Korn Ferry Tour, and because of one-time COVID rules, he was given a spot at Winged Foot and finished T-6. That got him into the following week’s event, where he finished T-8, and he was off. Finished one shot shy of a playoff in his first Masters in April and crept up for a T-8 at the PGA, so he’s making a habit of taking top-10 at majors. Finally took off two weeks to rest after what’s been a whirlwind couple months in golf and life, as he recently proposed to his longtime girlfriend. Finished T-7 in his first start at Torrey earlier this year. He checks all the boxes statistically and relishes the big moment. A star of the future but also a star of the present, and it truly would not be a surprise to see him leave with the trophy.
10. Viktor Hovland
Age: 23 World ranking: 13 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-12, 2019
With six top-three finishes in his last 15 starts, he’s firmly established himself as a top-level player and Ryder Cup shoe-in. Always been a terrific ball-striker—he led the field in SG/off the tee at the 2019 U.S. Open as an amateur, when he finished T-12 and broke Jack Nicklaus’ 72-hole amateur U.S. Open scoring record—and he’s showing serious improvement in the short game, which has held him back in his young career. Gained strokes both chipping and putting in three straight events before a sloppy showing in the Memorial. Has finished T-33 or better in all six of his major starts, and the next step of his progression is to contend in our sport’s biggest events. This week seems a great time to start—with its narrow fairways and juicy rough, Torrey will reward great driving, and he ranks fourth on tour in SG/off the tee … which helps explain why he finished T-2 at the Farmers earlier this year. His last two starts have been pretty meh (a T-30 at the PGA preceded the Memorial), which should bring his odds back to reasonable territory.
9. Justin Thomas
Age: 28 World ranking: 2 U.S. Open appearances: 6
Best U.S. Open finish: T-8, 2020
Call us greedy, but his play in the majors—despite already winning one—has not been up to the standard of his non-major play. Turned the page on a fraught beginning to the year at the Players, where he caught fire over the weekend to edge Lee Westwood on an exhilarating Sunday. It’s been pretty disappointing since; it’s been seven straight starts without a top-10 as the putter has gone ice cold. At the Memorial, he lost more than eight shots to the field with the flatstick, so that’ll most definitely be the focus of his practice. Has not played the Farmers since 2015, so not a ton to go off there. Approach play remains elite, and he hits it high and long, so perhaps a classic U.S. Open test like Torrey—with pretty manageable putting surfaces—will be to his liking.
8. Bryson DeChambeau
Age: 27 World ranking: 5 U.S. Open appearances: 6
Best U.S. Open finish: WIN, 2020
On the surface, Torrey Pines does have some similarities with Winged Foot. They’re both long, with narrow fairways flanked by juicy rough. In years past, we might say that plays into the straight hitters hands, but surely we learned our lesson during DeChambeau’s seismic six-shot romp last September. The Big Golfer does have a win in 2021, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational—another demanding track with punishing rough, for what it’s worth—and followed it up with a T-3 at the Players, but he’s been only OK since with just one top-10 in his last six starts. He’s also dealing with an off-course distraction, as his beef with Brooks Koepka—which, to be fair, seems to be Koepka’s doing—will surely be a storyline all week. He’s tried to distance himself and keep the feud confined to social media, but fans would not stop calling him “Brooksy” at Muirfield Village, and news that some of those fans were ejected will only increase the frequency and volume of those chirps at Torrey Pines. From an X’s and O’s perspective, he continues to do the majority of his damage with the driver (he leads the tour in SG/off the tee) but has been putting and chipping just OK. And the short game, as much as his driving, keyed the victory at Winged Foot. He didn’t just bludgeon his way to the trophy there, and he won’t here. Absolutely capable of winning, but he’ll have to do the other stuff better than he has.
7. Tony Finau
Age: 31 World ranking: 14 U.S. Open appearances: 5
Best U.S. Open finish: 5, 2018
His major record looks a lot like his PGA Tour record: a boatload of top-10s, a boatload of money and a conspicuous lack of trophies. He has four top-10 finishes in his last five major starts and nine in his last 13, including last month’s PGA and last year’s U.S. Open. Also finished joint second at this year’s Farmers at Torrey Pines, albeit five shots back of winner Patrick Reed, so he’s as good a bet as anyone to live on the first page of the leader board all week. Surely the law of averages will kick into gear sometime soon here, and he’ll convert all these near-misses into victories—or at least one victory. He enters in fine if muted form, with a T-20 at Colonial and a T-32 at the Memorial in his two starts between Kiawah and Torrey.
6. Louis Oosthuizen
Age: 38 World ranking: 18 U.S. Open appearances: 11
Best U.S. Open finish: T-2, 2015
Emerged as the chief challenger to Phil Mickelson on Sunday at the PGA until a double bogey at 13 torpedoed his chances. That sort of near-miss at a major has been a theme throughout his career—with that runner-up at Kiawah, he now has finished second in five major championships and still does not have a victory on U.S. soil. The first thing that comes to mind when seeing his name is that effortless swing, but he actually leads the tour in SG/putting this year. Played in the penultimate group at Winged Foot last year and finished solo third, and he’s made the cut in seven straight U.S. Opens. Seems to gravitate toward the top of leader boards on super-demanding tests, and this certainly qualifies.
5. Dustin Johnson
Age: 36 World ranking: 1 U.S. Open appearances: 13
Best U.S. Open finish: WIN, 2016
His Masters title defense never got off the mark, and his missed cut that week had to sting. Then he disappointed majorly again at the PGA, where he MC’d in his home state of South Carolina, joining Greg Norman as the only sitting World No. 1s to miss the cut in back-to-back majors. He’d gone seven straight events without a top 10 heading into the Palmetto Championship, a marked buzzkill after his late ’20-early ’21 play teased a dominant run to come. But it seems another trip to South Carolina and a weak field have played elixir, as he looked like himself through two days at Congaree. Has played the Farmers nine times but not since 2017. Interestingly, the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines was the first major championship he ever played in. He’s faded from the best-in-the-world conversation and his grasp on the No. 1 ranking is tenuous, but he’s been among the best U.S. Open player over the last seven years, with five top-10s and a victory in that stretch. Would be a surprise if he’s not lurking come Sunday afternoon—then again, we said the same thing before Augusta and Kiawah.
4. Patrick Cantlay
Age: 29 World ranking: 7 U.S. Open appearances: 5
Best U.S. Open finish: T-21, 2011 and 2019
He profiles as an ideal player for this tournament, with a no-nonsense fairways-and-greens game and an unflappable demeanor, but his best finish in the U.S. Open remains the T-21 he posted as a 19-year-old amateur in 2011. He’s been a trendy pick at the majors the past few years—that includes this year’s Masters, where he looked totally out of sorts in shooting 79-73, then missed the cut in his two starts right after that. That was actually the first time in his career he’d trunk slammed three weeks in a row, but righted the ship with a T-23 at the PGA and dismissed any slump talk by winning the Memorial … or, at least, winning the non-Jon Rahm division of the Memorial. No success in three career starts at Torrey Pines and has struggled a bit on Poa greens, but he plays tough courses quite well and couldn’t have asked for a better lead-up.
3. Jon Rahm
Age: 26 World ranking: 3 U.S. Open appearances: 5
Best U.S. Open finish: T-3, 2019
He’s had a whirlwind week—perhaps you heard? After switching to a new lineless putter, he blitzed a world-class field over three days at Muirfield Village to lead the Memorial by six, only to test positive for COVID-19 and be forced to withdraw before the final round. That would’ve been his 10th top-10 in his last 14 starts; while plenty of those have been of the backdoor variety, no one has been more consistent over 72 holes the last 12 months, even if he’ll be slightly disappointed to be winless since last August. There was some concern he wouldn't be able to prepare for this event much, but he tweeted on Sunday that he'd cleared protocols and was off to Torrey. Went T-5 and T-8 in the first two majors of the year but was never a threat to win either. To his credit, he’s been open about not being satisfied with simply creeping up the board on major Sundays. It’s time for him to truly content for one of these, and he enters as the Vegas favorite despite the hoopla of the last 10 days.
2. Collin Morikawa
Age: 24 World ranking: 4 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-35, 2019
He is the premier iron player in the world, and the gap between him and everyone else seems to be widening. At 24, he comports himself more like he’s 34, leads the tour in SG/tee to green for the season—and get this: his lead over No. 2 in that stat (Justin Thomas) is larger than Thomas’ lead over No. 30, Hank Lebioda. Morikawa is also the tour’s leader in SG/approach over his last 50 rounds … and his last 36 rounds … and his last 24 rounds … and his last 12 rounds … and his last eight rounds. The ball-striking is so dependably machine-like that his chances in any tournament hinge almost entirely on his putting, the Achilles heel that’s kept from reaching World No. 1. He lost at least 1.3 shots in each of his three starts prior to the Memorial and still managed to finish T-7 (RBC Heritage), T-8 (PGA Championship) and T-14 (Charles Schwab Challenge); he then putted well at the Muirfield Village (plus 5.4 shots for the week) and lost in a playoff. It’s as simple as this: If he putts well, he will almost certainly a chance to win. Switched to a “saw” putting grip earlier this year and had mixed results, then switched from a mallet to a blade—a similar one to the wand he used in his win at the 2020 PGA, where he led the field in putting—and looked much more confident with that at the Memorial. Finished T-21 at the Farmers in 2020 and will feel right at home on the kikuyu/Poa combo at Torrey, which he’s familiar with from growing up in Los Angeles and playing his college golf at Cal-Berkeley.
1. Brooks Koepka
Age: 31 World ranking: 10 U.S. Open appearances: 7
Best U.S. Open finish: WIN, 2017, 2018
One of these days, we’ll learn to essentially ignore his results in non-majors. That day is today, so we’re putting absolutely zero weight into his missed cut at Congaree. (He also missed the cut the week before the PGA Championship, and that went just fine.) He admitted his mind was already on Torrey by noon on Friday, as he seems to only have eyes for major championships—and they love him right back. The two-time U.S. Open winner has finished T-7 or better in 10 of his last 14 major starts, including a disappointing T-2 at last month’s PGA. Yes, disappointing, for he held the Sunday lead over Phil Mickelson after an opening birdie only to make several head-scratching decisions down the stretch. That was actually the second-straight time he’d been in major contention and put up a dud—at the 2020 PGA Championship, he shot four over on Sunday to fall out of it—and so his reputation as the game’s premier closer is taking on water. We feel obligated to at least mention his ongoing feud with Bryson DeChambeau, but Koepka seems to feed off animosity rather than be distracted by it. Let’s not overcomplicate this one: It’s Brooks, it’s a major, it’s a beefy golf course. He’s your favorite.
MORE U.S. OPEN 2021 STORIES FROM GOLF DIGEST:
• U.S. Open 101—Everything you need to know about this year at Torrey