Sunday, June 23, 2024

2024 U.S. Open predictions, picks: Ranking the field, favorites to win from 1-24 at Pinehurst

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The fourth U.S. Open at Pinehurst has arrived, and it sounds like the golf course is already a monster. While this type of setup likely opens the door for more than just the stars to walk through — it takes juse one look at Pinehurst’s history as a major venue to confirm that — we decided to rank the top 24 in this field most likely to win the third major championship of the year.

Any list of the top 24 in any golf field in the world has to start with Scottie Scheffler, who is now looking for a second major in his last three starts after winning the Masters and finishing in the top 10 at the PGA Championship following his bizarre arrest and jailing in Louisville. He is the heavy favorite at 3-1, and yeah, he should be. Scheffler has won five of eight tournaments, solved the only thing that ailed him (a balky putter) and does not show any signs of slowing down. His U.S. Open history is sneaky-great, too, as we’ll explore below. 

Let’s take a look at why each of these guys will play well starting with the guy who is playing the best golf since Tiger Woods was cooking back in the early to mid-2000s.

2024 U.S. Open field, ranked

Parenthesis indicates the golfer’s best finish at a U.S. Open

1. Scottie Scheffler (T2 in 2022): How about this for another Scheffler statistic? He’s lost to just nine golfers in his last three U.S. Opens. That’s difficult to remember given how much he’s accomplished in that time, but he finished T7 at Torrey Pines, T2 at Brookline and 3rd a year ago at Los Angeles Country Club. The two gifts that really stand out as it relates to a U.S. Open at this golf course are his underrated short game (currently second in the world in 2024!) and his patience and course management. Both will be on full display and likely the reasons he wins his third major this week at Pinehurst No. 2.

2. Collin Morikawa (T4 in 2021): Morikawa has finished 2nd, 4th and 4th in his last three events and also has a sneaky-excellent U.S. Open history. He lost to three players at Torrey Pines, four at Brookline and then 13 a year ago at LACC. One quiet story so far in 2024 is how good his short game and putting have been. He has gained strokes in both categories across four of his last six events, which is scary given how accurately he hits it on a course like this one.

3. Rory McIlroy (Won in 2011): Speaking of somebody who has become sneaky-great at the U.S. Open, enter the runner-up a year ago. He has five (!) consecutive top-five finishes here and is playing at a clip quite similar to the last two years. It’s simply that Rory’s excellence has been consumed by everything Scottie has been doing. McIlroy gets a lot of credit for a lot of different things, but I’m not sure he gets enough for the way he has transformed himself into a solid U.S. Open player.

4. Xander Schauffele (T3 in 2019): How about this one? Schauffele has never finished worse than T14 at a U.S. Open in seven total attempts. Never worse than T14! That includes six top 10s and five top 7s. He’s been outrageously good, and now he’s entering this one fresh off the biggest win of his career at the PGA Championship. I’ve traditionally bumped Schauffele down to the bottom of the top 10 because of his inability to close out a major championship, but now that he’s got one under his belt, it’s not difficult to see a couple of them falling with how well-rounded his game is.

5. Ludvig Åberg (n/a): It’s shocking to think that, as good as Åberg was as an amateur, this is his first U.S. Open. He has been almost inconceivably good for his first year on the PGA Tour with six top 10s and nine top 25s in 12 starts. I go back and forth on whether you want to enter major championships with experience (especially U.S. Opens), but I’m leaning on how great he was at the Masters, where he generated .35 xWins, according to Data Golf. In other words, his score at Augusta National compared to the rest of the field was expected to win 35% of majors. And that was his first-ever major appearance!

6. Bryson DeChambeau (Won in 2020): Bryson and Pinehurst are not the match one would expect for somebody who’s in the No. 6 spot on this list, but that’s how good he’s been playing at the majors so far this season. He finished T6 at the Masters and 2nd at the U.S. Open. The only question mark is what he does around the difficult, fast greens at Pinehurst. He says he’s going to run wedges into the banks and bump them up toward the hole, which is the opposite of what Martin Kaymer did when he putted his way around the place in 2014 en route to an eight-shot win. We’ll see if it works for DeChambeau.

7. Brooks Koepka (Won in 2017 and 2018): Do I love how Koepka is playing coming into this event? No. Do I love how he’s played at majors so far this year? Also no. Koepka gets all the benefit of the doubt at U.S. Opens, though, given he has two titles — and dang nearly a third — so he’s proven himself in this arena. Opens are often less about physical ability and more about mental and emotional control. There have not been many better guys in those areas than Koepka over the last decade. I’m excited to watch him work. 

8. Tommy Fleetwood (2nd in 2018): This says less about Fleetwood as a true contender at this tournament and more about how few true contenders actually exist. Still, Fleetwood does have three top fives in his last seven U.S. Open starts, including one just a year ago at LACC. He’s built for the Opens (both U.S. and the original) and hasn’t missed a cut anywhere since March 10. He should contend here at some point this weekend.

9. Hideki Matsuyama (T2 in 2017): Matsuyama is being a bit forgotten about this week at Pinehurst, even though he has three top eight finishes in his last eight starts and a host of good showings at U.S. Opens. One stat that should encourage if you’re picking Matsuyama? He’s been the best in the world around the green so far in 2024. That’s better than Scheffler, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth — better than ’em all. 

10. Justin Thomas (T8 in 2020): I don’t know why, but I have a sneaky J.T. feeling this week. The golf has been up and down, but there has been plenty of good: T5 at RBC Heritage, T8 at the PGA Championship. He has not putted well so far this year, but perhaps that gets a bit negated by a difficult, fast, wild golf course. His iron play remains elite — Thomas has gained nearly two strokes on the field at the Memorial on approach shots — and he tends to thrive in big time environments.

11. Viktor Hovland (T12 in 2019): I have been all over the place on Hovland, mostly because he’s been all over the place himself. Before the PGA Championship, I thought he might finish outside the top 70 in the FedEx Cup. After the PGA Championship, I thought he had a real chance to win a major this year. Then he ejected from the Memorial, and I have no idea what to think. Certainly the ball-striking is (and has been) good enough. The short game, though, remains to be seen. He’s one of the most interesting guys in the field for me this week.

12. Max Homa (T47 in 2022): He has a strange U.S. Open record with absolutely no success to hang his hat on. Homa has four missed cuts in five appearances and never been in contention. It did feel like he turned a major championship corner in April when he contended at Augusta National, though. Plus he’s a great iron player, which will be useful this week.

13. Jon Rahm (Won in 2021): I can’t remember ever having Rahm this low on any list like this going into any major. I also can’t remember Rahm playing this poorly going into any major. His last five starts look like this.

  • Masters: T45
  • LIV Adelaide: T3
  • LIV Singaport: T10
  • PGA Championship: MC
  • LIV Houston: WD

That does not inspire confidence, though he has to remain on the list because the ceiling is so, so high.

14. Matt Fitzpatrick (Won in 2022): He’s had a similar season to J.T. in that he’s been up and down and kind of all over the place. However, he enters this event off a T5 at the Memorial, and he’s obviously a terrific U.S. Open player with a solid short game that could buoy him this week.

15. Will Zalatoris (T2 in 2022): I’m not that concerned about his middling play of late because of how awesome he’s been at majors over the course of his career. In the last five U.S. Opens, only Scheffler, Schauffele, McIlroy and Rahm have a better strokes gained number than Zalatoris.

16. Tony Finau (5th in 2018): Finau has quietly been striking the heck out of the ball so far this year. He’s gained strokes on approach in 12 of his 15 events and has top 20s in five of his last seven starts. I would be surprised if he didn’t bounce back from his MC-MC-T32 run at the last three U.S. Opens.

Who will win the U.S. Open, and which longshots will stun the golfing world? Visit SportsLine to see the projected U.S. Open leaderboard, all from the model that’s nailed 12 golf majors, including the last three Masters and the 2024 PGA Championship.

17. Patrick Cantlay (T14 in 2023): I do not have a lot of confidence in where Cantlay is at with his game, but he’s never missed a cut at the U.S. Open in eight total tries and has finished in the top 15 in each of the last three years. As with Morikawa and Schauffele, this event should set up perfectly for him, but it does seem a bit like all his work on the PGA Tour policy board is taking a toll on his success on the golf course as he’s having arguably his worst season in the last eight. 

18. Sahith Theegala (T27 in 2023): He’s electricity defined as we saw at the PGA Championship. However, I’m concerned that the driver might get a bit too wayward and that he won’t continue to get lucky lies in the waste and sandy areas. If he gets hot, though, Pinehurst will absolutely get behind him. 

19. Jordan Spieth (Won in 2015): I nearly left him off this list because of how poorly he’s playing. I couldn’t do it, though, not with how he’s driving the ball now and how magical he can be in any given event. I did not think I would be saying “well driver is fine, it’s just everything else that needs help” about Spieth, but here we are. It’s true, though. This is the best driving season he’s ever had, and he can’t stop missing cuts. Make it make sense.

20. Shane Lowry (T2 in 2016): Lowry has at times been a solid U.S. Open player, and he’s had a nice little run of golf recently with a T6 at the PGA Championship and no missed cuts since January. Also has an absolutely filthy short game, which should play nicely this week.

21. Wyndham Clark (Won in 2023): Clark has had one of the weirdest years I can remember. He won Pebble Beach, nearly took Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town, but then he missed the cut at both majors and the Memorial. I have to include him here as the reigning champion who has also been playing good golf (at times), but I don’t do so with much confidence. 

22. Sepp Straka (T28 in 2019): Why not us?! Straka has top eights in four of his last five stroke play events, and his iron play has been exquisite. It’s true that he’s not long off the tee, and that could hurt him, but if the irons are dialed, he’s a sneaky fun pick to make some noise. 

23. Cameron Smith (4th in 2023): Smith was awesome last year at LACC and finished T6 at this year’s Masters. He’s been pretty average since that finish at Augusta National, but like Lowry, his short game is magic and should carry the day for him at Pinehurst. 

24. Russell Henley (T13 in 2021): King of the “makes every cut he looks at but never contends to win” team. Data Golf has Henley ranked No. 8 (!) in the world, and a lot of that is because he’s missed just one cut so far in 2024 (The Players Championship). He played in one of the final pairings back in 2021 at Torrey Pines, and this place is probably even better suited for him to do so again.

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