Sobel: Ranking the Entire U.S. Open field, from 1-156
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Dustin Johnson
- Justin Thomas hasn't finished outside the top 25 since winning the PGA Championship last season, and he's a good bet to contend again.
- Marc Leishman's low-ball-hitting talents will come in handy on Long Island this week, which is forecasted to be windy.
- A major breakthrough is coming for Tony Finau, and this course is a great fit for the uncommonly long hitter.
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Here at The Action Network, we understand the value of knowledge — and how that knowledge can translate into profit.
And so, while most other predictive lists for the U.S. Open will feature “Five Players To Watch” or “10 Players With a Chance To Win,” we decided to take it a step further.
All right, 156 steps further.
Here’s the ranking of the entire 156-man field for this week’s major championship, starting with a player who just might be on the verge of claiming his second, not too long after getting his first.
1. Justin Thomas. Official World Golf Ranking formula notwithstanding, Thomas has been the game’s best player for the past 18 months. Like all elite players, there’s no tourney or course that doesn’t suit his game — and Shinnecock might just suit it better than most. His third-round 63 at Erin Hills last year was mercurial, and while this week should provide a stiffer test, it would be surprising to see the reigning PGA Championship winner out of the mix come Sunday afternoon, considering he’s finished outside the top 25 in a tourney just once since claiming that initial major title.
2. Jason Day. Before last year’s MC at Erin Hills, Day had finished in the top 10 in five of the past six editions of the U.S. Open, including runner-up results in 2011 and 2013. It should be noted that those two were at East Coast venues in Congressional and Merion — and while they were as disparate from each other as they are from Shinnecock, there’s at least a sense that Day should find comfort on this mixture of turf. Oh, and one other little thing: With two wins under his belt already this year, he’s in great form.
3. Tommy Fleetwood. Over the past couple of years, “Fleetwood the Flusher” has established himself as one of the game’s premier ball-strikers, a talent that should serve him extremely well at Shinnecock. He’s also trending in the right direction, with only two finishes outside the top-30 in a dozen worldwide starts this year. He finished solo fourth in last year’s U.S. Open, to date his lone top-10 result in a major championship. The next step in Fleetwood’s emergence will be more title contentions in majors and this one should be right up his alley.
4. Marc Leishman. Growing up playing in the whipping winds of Warrnambool, Australia, Leishman has parlayed his low-ball-hitting talents into becoming one of the better wind players in the world. On a fast, firm golf course that could be exposed to some summer breezes, he is a not-so-sneaky pick to contend with the world’s best on a track that should suit him. His U.S. Open record is nothing special, but if this one plays a bit more like an Open Championship, his three top-six results in the past four years at that tournament should prove to serve as a strong barometer.
5. Patrick Cantlay. Wise beyond his 26 years, Cantlay strategizes his way around golf course like a hawk stalking its prey. His plotting is often plodding, but plodders have been known to win this tournament. (See: Simpson, Webb; Furyk, Jim; Goosen, Retief.) Fresh off a title contention in his last start at the Memorial Tournament, Cantlay has been remarkably consistent this year and enters the week trending in the right direction, with four finishes of 17th or better in his last eight starts.
6. Justin Rose. Five years after his lone major championship victory at Merion, Rose returns to another classic gem. He’ll arrive at Shinnecock fueled by the momentum of a win and T-6 in his past two starts. While Rose has continued his usual brand of premier ball-striking this year, an abnormally hot putter has lifted his overall game. If he can continue rolling it well this week, that could be a lethal combination.
7. Dustin Johnson. After looking downright dominant in last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic victory, right down to the final-hole eagle hole-out, DJ has emerged as the prohibitive favorite entering this event. The new (again) No. 1 deserves that position, but here’s one statistic that should force us to heed caution: No player has ever won a PGA Tour title the week before the U.S. Open, then doubled up.
8. Rory McIlroy. Quite simply, the 2011 champion is the biggest X-factor in this or any other tournament he plays. That’s because he owns the ability to take control of an event and lap the entire field — as he did in that previous U.S. Open win. He is also prone to hugely disappointing performances, weeks in which he seems primed to prevail, such as this year’s Masters, only to flail under pressure at the most inopportune moments.
9. Tony Finau. A major breakthrough is coming soon for Finau — and if Shinnecock plays as long as many experts believe it will, it just might come this week for the uncommonly long hitter. The truth is, based on last year’s progression of reaching the Tour Championship, it’s a bit surprising that Finau hasn’t won yet this year, or at least contended more frequently, but his ceiling remains immeasurably high and he still hasn’t reached that full potential.
10. Byeong Hun An. Here’s your chance to jump on a potential contender at a big price. Despite losing in a Memorial Tournament playoff just two weeks ago, An was largely off most radar screens, because he wasn’t officially in the U.S. Open field before this week, instead taking one of those TBDs on the original tee sheet thanks to his world ranking. A former U.S. Amateur champion, he could follow in the footsteps of so many previous players who seem to thrive on USGA setups.
11. Brooks Koepka. Last year’s champion has quickly returned to prominence after an early season wrist injury.
12. Rickie Fowler. Like constantly betting red on the roulette wheel, if you keep picking Fowler to claim a major, you’ll be a winner someday.
13. Gary Woodland. Another long-ball hitter who could thrive if this course plays as lengthily as some are expecting.
14. Jordan Spieth. I drove the bandwagon for as long as I could; now have to admit there are issues with his putting.
15. Louis Oosthuizen. Including the two-man Zurich Classic, has five finishes of 13th or better in his past seven starts.
16. Emiliano Grillo. Like An, he officially made it into the field this week off his OWGR number, so he could go overlooked.
17. Jon Rahm. All the talent in the world, but can he harness it without succumbing to a few temper tantrums?
18. Tiger Woods. At different times, he’s struggled with driving, distance control, wedge shots and putting. Optimistic to think it all comes together this week.
19. Phil Mickelson. He’ll turn 48 on Saturday and has made more U.S. Open starts than anyone in the field. That window to a career slam is starting to close.
20. Branden Grace. He’s in solid form and has contended at a U.S. Open, remaining in the mix until late Sunday at Chambers Bay.
21. Brendan Steele. Anytime strokes gained driving is a key statistic, Steele should be a player to watch.
22. Bryson DeChambeau. Fresh off a victory at the Memorial in his last start, he should be brimming with confidence entering this one.
23. Paul Casey. A high-ball hitter, he’s contrastingly at an advantage on quick greens and a disadvantage if the wind picks up.
24. Xander Schauffele. Last year’s T-5 in his debut might’ve shown his penchant for playing well on tough courses.
25. Henrik Stenson. The PGA Tour leader in driving accuracy and greens in regulation should find this track to his liking.
26. Peter Uihlein. Two fifth-place finishes in his past four starts should have Uihlein brimming with confidence this week.
27. Rafa Cabrera-Bello. Only one top-10 in 19 career major championship starts, but RCB is a much improved player now.
28. Matt Kuchar. Mr. Consistency is the type of player who would’ve won a U.S. Open before they started stretching the courses to 7,400+ yards.
29. Kyle Stanley. Underrated ball-striker who is playing some of the best golf of his career entering this week.
30. Alexander Noren. If this turns into a tourney for the plodders, he could be a factor; if it becomes a bomber’s paradise, probably not.
31. Keegan Bradley. He’s been a made-cut machine, reaching the weekend in 24 of 26 events dating back to last year’s U.S. Open.
32. Hideki Matsuyama. Trending the right way in his past two starts, Matsuyama could fare best when he’s further off the radar.
33. Patrick Reed. Trying to join his Ryder Cup buddy Jordan Spieth (in 2015) as players this decade who won the first two legs of the slam.
34. Francesco Molinari. Followed his victory at the recent BMW PGA Championship with a runner-up at the Italian Open the next week.
35. Steve Stricker. At 51 and senior tour eligible, he’s barely lost a step, still playing as well as he was 10 or 15 years ago.
36. Sergio Garcia. Obviously a welcome distraction, but in four stroke-play events as a father, he’s finished MC-MC-70-MC.
37. Trey Mullinax. The PGA Tour leader in driving distance owns a built-in advantage with his enormous length off the tee.
38. Matthew Fitzpatrick. It hasn’t been the breakthrough year for Fitzpatrick that many might’ve predicted, but there’s still plenty of time.
39. Aaron Wise. Only a month removed from his initial PGA Tour victory, this kid’s got more than a little star potential.
40. Webb Simpson. He’s trying to pull off the Players/U.S. Open double achieved by Martin Kaymer in 2014, but he missed the cut in his only start in between the two.
41. Jason Dufner. When he’s on at this event, he’s really on; owns four results of 18th or better, including a pair of T-4 finishes.
42. Jimmy Walker. Walker is healthy and playing better, but you have to wonder whether his social-media squabbles might be a distraction this week.
43. Ryan Fox. Big-hitting Kiwi could surprise some people this week; might be worth a top-20 flier.
44. Haotong Li. Got his first taste of major championship contention at last year’s Open Championship, where he finished solo third.
45. Sungjae Im. Don’t know the name? Learn it. The Web.com money leader was co-medalist in a stacked Columbus sectional.
46. Adam Hadwin. Good news: His last MC was back in August. Bad news: That one also took place on Long Island.
47. Doug Ghim (a). Gotta take some shots on amateurs and Ghim, last year’s U.S. Amateur runner-up, might be the best of the bunch.
48. Brian Harman. The PGA Tour co-leader in top-10 finishes this season, he fared well in the spotlight at last year’s U.S. Open, finishing T-2.
49. Bubba Watson. He insists he plays better on courses with plenty of sightlines. There aren’t too many at Shinnecock.
50. Charley Hoffman. Always a contender to claim first-round leader honors, Hoffman often struggles to remain on the leaderboard through the weekend.
Playing his first U.S. Open in six years, don’t be surprised if he gets off to a hot start in the early going.
62. Braden Thornberry (a)
After qualifying, Scott will have a local caddie, new (old) coach and is bouncing between putters. He’s clearly searching for … something.
The last time the U.S. Open was held on Long Island, Glover prevailed at Bethpage Black.
74. Scott Piercy
He might not be as combustible as Rahm, but a short fuse probably won’t serve him well in this event.
76. Patrick Rodgers
78. Mackenzie Hughes
79. Lucas Herbert
80. Shubhankar Sharma
81. Ernie Els
His game has obviously dropped off in recent years, but he’s still made the cut in five of his past six U.S. Open starts.
82. Ted Potter Jr.
84. Richie Ramsay
87. James Morrison
90. Matthew Southgate
Seems like more than just four years ago that Kaymer dominated the field at Pinehurst, winning by eight strokes.
93. Stewart Hagestad (a)
94. Matt Wallace
99. Ryan Lumsden (a)
Born in England and raised in Scotland, Lumsden plays at Northwestern and qualified among PGA Tour pros at the Columbus sectional.
100. Sebastian Munoz
104. Eric Axley
105. Cameron Wilson
106. Will Zalatoris
107. Dean Burmester
108. Kenny Perry
Reigning U.S. Senior Open champion will try to keep slinging those draws around Shinnecock.
109. Richy Werenski
110. Michael Putnam
111. Shintaro Ban (a)
112. Roberto Castro
113. Chun An Yu (a)
114. Lanto Griffin
115. Theo Humphrey (a)
116. Dylan Meyer
118. Tyler Duncan
119. Danny Willett
Initial reaction has been to automatically write off the past Masters champion, but a T-8 in his last start showed signs of life.
120. Brian Stuard
121. Philip Barbaree (a)
122. Matthieu Pavon
123. Ryan Evans
124. Harry Ellis (a)
125. Jason Scrivener
126. Paul Waring
127. Michael Hebert
128. Matt Parziale (a)
U.S. Mid-Am champion is a firefighter in Brockton, Mass., already with a Masters start under his belt this year.
129. Cole Miller
130. David Gazzolo
131. Luis Gagne (a)
132. Tim Wilkinson
133. Wenchong Liang
134. Jacob Bergeron (a)
135. Shota Akiyoshi
136. David Bransdon
137. Calum Hill
138. Sung Joon Park
139. Garrett Rank (a)
He’s a hockey ref, but he’s playing golf today. (Seriously: Rank’s day job is NHL referee.)
140. Tyler Strafaci (a)
141. Tom Lewis
142. Will Grimmer (a)
143. Kristoffer Reitan (a)
144. Sebastian Vazquez
145. Sulman Raza
146. Mickey DeMorat
147. Mike Miller
148. Noah Goodwin (a)
Won the U.S. Junior Am in July, but didn’t get into the field until October, when the USGA announced the winner would get an exemption.
149. Chris Naegel
150. Rikuya Hoshino
151. Michael Block
152. Franklin Huang (a)
153. Scott Gregory
154. Christopher Babcock
155. Rhett Rasmussen (a)
156. Timothy Wiseman (a)
Full disclosure: I love creating these lists before majors, but I hate having to place someone last — especially when it’s a college kid such as Wiseman who deserves a ton of credit just for qualifying. Here’s hoping he proves me wrong and makes me eat crow for the Mr. Irrelevant label.