In a typical year, the PGA Tour would have winded down by now, and the biggest names in the sport would be spending their weekends watching football with myriad ice packs nursing their battle wounds from a long season. The reality of the COVID-19 world is much different, however, and we now find ourselves in mid-September with a frantic finish ahead to a mentally obliterating 2020.
The second major of the year, the U.S. Open, is underway this week, which means diabolical setups from the deranged lunatics at the USGA, and the roughest rough that has ever roughed.
It will not be any easier this year than in the past for the world’s golfing elite, as the host venue is New York’s Winged Foot Golf Club, a course that had a 5-over winner when it hosted the 2006 U.S. Open. If we recall correctly, Phil Mickelson somehow played into the close of that event.
Phil will be back – now with Champions Tour eligibility, but unfortunately, his legion of fans will be prohibited from backing him up in person, another disappointing reality of COVID.
Among those who will also not be in attendance is Geoff Ogilvy, the man who benefited most from the collapse of the big names in 2006, but now sits outside the top 1700 in the world rankings. Also MIA will be injured superstars Brooks Koepka, who has gone 2-WIN-WIN in his last three U.S. Open starts, and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, and newest member of the 59 club, Scottie Scheffler.
There are many, many players we could see contending at Winged Foot this week. Here are the 25 (gulp!) names we have just a little more confidence in:
25. Viktor Hovland
Last year’s low amateur, Viktor Hovland broke the amateur major scoring record of Jack Nicklaus in finishing T12 at Pebble Beach last year. The 22-year-old from Norway has a game beyond his years, and even with declining results as of late, we like him to make some noise at Winged Foot.
His short game still needs improvement, and we are wondering how much of a pass we can give him for losing 4.5 strokes to the field with his putter during the final round at the Tour Championship, but he is normally at least passable enough there to not be TOO worried, and his ball-striking is a thing of beauty.
Hovland getting into contention would thoroughly assert the youth movement in professional golf, especially after Collin Morikawa took the PGA Championship last month.
24. Brendon Todd
Can a man who ranks 187th on Tour in driving distance hold his own on a 7500-yard course set up by the deranged lunatics who run the USGA? Stranger things have happened: there is a player in the field this week who has improved his world ranking from 2004th to 39th in a year-and-a-half.
That player? Brendon Todd, who toughed his way into two victories last season, held three other 54-hole leads, and was on the first page of the leaderboard seemingly every week.
The big issue with the 35-year-old though, is that he has been absolutely ghastly on Sundays; in six of his eight made cuts since the Tour restart, his final round score was a 73 or worse. He has the fifth best opening round scoring average, but is 162nd on Sundays.
23. Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood should have found it encouraging to see 47-year-old Stewart Cink win last week’s Safeway Open, as he is that same age, and probably needs a victory more than anyone in the field.
The Englishman is still winless in majors, but has been agonizingly close, racking up three runner-ups, and six third places, among 12 top fives. After not qualifying for the last two U.S. Opens, he is back again, and with a January win at Abu Dhabi, he ranks an impressive 42nd in the world.
In the past decade, he has been as high as 4th on Tour in strokes gained: putting, and as low as 170th, so who knows what we could see from him this week.
22. Justin Rose
Justin Rose has rarely looked like the Rose we’re used to in 2020, but the world No. 20 loves majors, and this is his favorite.
The now 40-year-old took the 2013 title at Merion, and has finished in the top 10 of the last two editions, even making the final pairing a year ago at Pebble Beach. He is trending upwards, as nine of his last 10 competitive rounds have been in the 66-70 range.
Obviously, we are not expecting THAT, but Rose knows what to do to get in the mix when the stakes are high. Closing has been another story, even though round 4 has statistically been his best this year.
21. Adam Scott
Despite barely playing since the COVID-19 layoff was lifted in June, Adam Scott very nearly played his way into the Tour Championship, but collapsed over the final four holes at the BMW Championship, carding a double-bogey on the par-5 15th, and then adding bogeys on 16 and 18.
Hopefully, that was the last of the rust the 40-year-old Aussie needed to shake off, because he has a game built for the U.S. Open. In his last six starts in this event, he has three top-10s, and in his last seven major championship starts, he has only one finish of worse than T22.
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