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2021 U.S. Open: Best- & Worst-Case Scenarios for Torrey Pines Contenders

2021 U.S. Open: Best- & Worst-Case Scenarios for Torrey Pines Contenders article feature image

Harry How/Getty Images. Pictured: Bryson DeChambeau.

SAN DIEGO – It took a few days, but the buzz finally hit Torrey Pines during Saturday’s third round.

Whether it was limited spectator capacity, a leaderboard that was still intensifying or just a classic case of California cool, the first two rounds of this week’s U.S. Open featured all the electricity of a Wednesday pro-am, with a smattering of fans watching the festivities in relative tranquility.

That all changed on a Moving Day with plenty of leaderboard movement, as Louis Oosthuizen, Mackenzie Hughes and Russell Henley climbed into a share of the lead, with plenty of big-name contenders loitering just behind them.

Let’s take a look at the best- and worst-case scenario for each one of these players on Sunday.

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Louis Oosthuizen (5-under 208)

Best case: The man with the game’s prettiest swing has also been the best putter this season. It remains shocking that he hasn’t won on U.S. soil but in this scenario, that combination puts him up early and he never retreats in claiming his second career major.

Worst case: So many times over the years — five, in fact — Louis has come close to matching that lone major, only to finish runner-up. Perhaps resigned to this destiny once again, he never gets things rolling and adds yet another close call to the list.

Russell Henley (5-under 208)

Best case: Look, you don’t hold a share of the lead for a third straight day just because you’re lucky, but Henley did seem to be the recipient of some fortuitous breaks in the third round, including a hole-out from the bunker on No. 11 that had some steam on it. On a course with patchy rough, continuing to catch some breaks could make all the difference.

Worst case: Sleeping on a lead isn’t easy, sleeping on a lead at a major is even tougher and sleeping on a lead at a major for three nights is grueling. That’s what Henley is facing. At some point, that mental grind catches up with him in the final round.

Mackenzie Hughes (5-under 208)

Best case: The biggest longshot of all the contenders on the pre-tourney board, Hughes just embraces the underdog role against his big-name competitors. One of the better fast-greens putters around, a few long miracles drop once again, just as they did Saturday, as he becomes the most surprising major champion in a decade.

Worst case: In eight previous majors, Hughes has never finished better than T-40. In his last five starts, he hasn’t made a cut. At some point, the clock strikes midnight and he regresses to the recent mean.

Rory McIlroy (3-under 210)

Best case: We’ll likely know early. If he’s walking with his head held high and his chest puffed out, you know he’s confident. In this scenario, Rory plays like the Rory of old, the roars return and he finally claims that fifth elusive major title.

Worst case: We’ll likely know it early. If he’s walking with his shoulders slumped and shuffling his feet, you know he’s despondent. In this scenario, Rory never gets anything going, the epitome of so many years of failing to win that next major.

Bryson DeChambeau (3-under 210)

Best case: He sticks with the gameplan and keeps hammering drives with no regard for the fairways. Even though he’s hit a decent percentage of ‘em this week, this strategy worked last year and it’s working again. He’s never going to win by laying up. A victory by mashing the ball everywhere will solidify everything we’ve come to know about this tournament over the past half-decade.

Worst case: This is a U.S. Open and quite simply, you don’t get through an entire weekend without some mistakes. Bryson already played a bogey-free third round, which suggests some mistakes are lurking. If they happen early, chasing birdies is a tough way to play this one.

Jon Rahm (2-under 211)

Best case: He’s been telling us for three days that he feels like his game is close, but he hasn’t quite found his best stuff. If he does, though, the pre-tourney favorite is certainly capable of chasing down the guys in front of him and winning this thing.

Worst case: Rahm is a fiery dude and while I don’t believe that will ever inhibit him from winning, it’s tough to play an entire tourney, feel like you’re close to having your A-game, then never see it. Those frustrations could translate into him pressing too much.

Matthew Wolff (2-under 211)

Best case: I’ve spoken with Wolff in a few post-round interview sessions this week and he’s been very open about his recent struggles and how he feels like he’s freewheeling it this weekend. While his fellow contenders are feeling the pressure, a smile and carefree demeanor could go a long way.

Worst case: Let’s not forget that not only has Wolff not contended for a title in a while, he hasn’t even been playing competitive events. His story has been inspiring, but it has felt like he’s running before walking this week, which could change come Sunday.

Scott Scheffler (2-under 211)

Best case: While all eyes will be on playing partner DeChambeau, the sneaky Scheffler, who hasn’t received much airtime this week in comparison with others on the board, can continue to move up the board without too much attention on a guy who’s ranked 17th in the world, but still hasn’t won on the PGA TOUR yet.

Worst case: There aren’t many players in recent memory who have made their first PGA TOUR title a major championship. There’s a sense that Scheffler might still need to learn how to win before he racks up a major.

All others (1-under 212 and lower)

Best case: The lowest round we’ve seen this week is 67, but if one of these players throws up a 65 — which certainly could be out there — things are going to get very interesting. Among the possibilities: Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa.

Worst case: None of these players make an early run, the leaders don’t get rattled and the list of players who can win this tournament quickly dissolves to single-digits.

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