By Ed Morgans @writered21 on June 12, 2014
As our national golf championship commences on Thursday, much of the focus for U.S. Open fans, broadcasters and experts will be on the top names, players like Rory McElroy, Adam Scott and of course, Phil Mickelson. If you think one of those three is going to win the tournament, it's not the worst thought you've ever had. But the U.S. Open is known for surprises (Lucas Glover's win in 2009), and here are 15 dark horses to watch beginning today.
Bo Van Pelt's best finish in the U.S. Open is tied for 14th in 2011. Even though he only has one career PGA Tour win, he has made the cut in the last four U.S. Opens and finished 21st in 2013.
Hunter Mahan is an instant factor in the U.S. Open, as he comes off a fourth-place finish in the 2013 event, his career best. Mahan has finished in the top 10 of every major except the PGA Championship, and is a winner of two World Golf Championship events. Mahan hasn't won a PGA Tour event in more than two years, but has finished in the top 26 in six of the last 10 majors he's played.
Kevin Na seemed like he had broken through when he finished 10th at the 2012 PGA Championship. Top-30 finishes the next year at The Masters and in the U.S. Open followed, but he's only played three of the last six majors, with a 59th-place finish in this year's Masters his only placing. He wouldn't seem like a logical choice to succeed this weekend, but Na is due for another breakthrough tournament.
Forget about Retief Goosen at your own risk. A veteran of majors now, Goosen won the U.S. Open in both 2001 and 2004. He has seven PGA Tour wins and 12 more on the European Tour. Goosen was 10th in the Open in 2013 and has seven top-20 finishes in his career. You don't hear much from Goosen week in and week out, but come the U.S. Open, he's still a definite threat to win.
The 2011 U.S. Open champion was also 21st in this event a year ago. Having perhaps fallen off somewhat from at one time being considered one of the best big-time players in the world, Darren Clarke is still a threat to post low numbers over challenging layouts, such as the one presented this week by the No. 2 course at Pinehurst.
This year, Kevin Stadler has stepped out of the shadow of simply being Craig Stadler's son and has made his own name, capturing his first career PGA Tour win in February at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, besting none other than Bubba Watson in the process. Stadler had just about nothing to show six starts in majors prior to this year's Masters, where he finished tied for eighth.
Jimmy Walker was also in that tie for eighth at the 2014 Masters, and it seems you can't turn on the television during a weekend and not see his name somewhere on the first couple pages of the leaderboard these days. Walker won both the Sony Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am so far in 2014, and he leads the current FedEx Cup standings.
Majors always tend to be kind to the old guard. It seems every year in every major, there are a couple true veterans who shoot a couple of nice rounds early and are in contention until late Saturday, or even early Sunday. Having just joined the Champions Tour this year, Maggert won the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic in March. He also has seven top-10 finishes in U.S. Opens.
Just 33, Watney already has five PGA Tour wins, the last coming at The Barclays in 2012. His best finish in a U.S. Open is 21st, which occurred in 2012. Watney had missed the cut in three straight majors before breaking through at Augusta for a 44th-place finish at The Masters.
One of the most recognizable faces in the golfing world, Jimenez enters the U.S. Open with good momentum, having captured the Open de Espana on the European Tour, his 21st victory on that circuit. Less than a month earlier, he won the Greater Gwinnett Championship on the Champions Tour. Since a 6th-place finish in 2008, the U.S. Open hasn't been kind to Jimenez, but he was on his game at Augusta, finishing fourth in the 2014 Masters.
If you were handed a list of golfers and told to pick out the U.S. Open winners, would Webb Simpson cross your mind? Believe it or not, it's been two years now since Simpson shocked the world and won the 2012 event. He's captured one PGA Tour event since, and comes to Pinehurst seeking to join that select group of players with multiple U.S. Opens to their credit.
There may not be anyone who enjoys being a professional golfer more than Angel Cabrera. Not an athletic type, Cabrera has let his play do the talking with two major wins, including the 2007 U.S. Open. He usually makes a quiet charge to the leaderboard, but if he is in contention on Sunday, no doubt the crowd will be behind him and it will be fun to watch.
Henrik Stenson, 38, has never won a major, but he's getting closer and closer each time. He's specialized in winning the "near majors," taking titles at The Players Championship, the Tour Championship, and the World Golf Championship Accenture Match Play. Stenson ran second in the British Open last year and backed that up with a third at the PGA Championship. He won three events on two tours in late 2013 and must be taken as a serious contender.
An 11-time winner on the PGA Tour, Zach Johnson got his latest victory early in 2014 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. The 2007 Masters champion has a stat line that compares somewhat to Stenson's. Johnson was sixth in the 2013 British Open, the 8th in the PGA Championship. Johnson hasn't finished better than 30th in the U.S. Open, but is due to better that soon.
Now a bit of an old hand at age 35, Matt Kuchar has seven PGA Tour victories, with the latest coming at the RBC Heritage in April. A consistent scorer who has finished eighth or better in three straight Masters, Kuchar seems to be playing some of the best golf of his career lately. He has placed 28th or better in the last four U.S. Opens, including sixth in 2010. He is also a WGC Accenture Match Play champion.
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