The second golf major of 2020 is here. While no fans will be in attendance this week for the 120th U.S. Open at the historic Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, NY, it promises to be an exciting event.
Just one month ago, we saw 23-year-old Collin Morikawa win his first major at the 102nd PGA Championship. Even with silence permeating the grounds, it produced breathtaking drama down the stretch.
As always, the storylines entering this tournament do not disappoint. Below are my top five storylines entering the 120th U.S. Open:
1. Dustin Johnson
There’s no golfer more dominant in 2020 than Dustin Johnson. Johnson poises himself for a stellar week at the U.S. Open as the defending Player of the Year. after three wins on the PGA Tour for the 2020 season, including the FedEx Cup,
Johnson has a history with the U.S. Open; in 2016, he won his first major at Oakmont Country Club. Winning at a challenging course like Winged Foot puts Johnson in a rare company, having won both of his majors at two of the most difficult tests in professional golf.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 14, 2020
There are some who doubt Johnson’s ability to close at major championships. Look no further than the 2020 PGA Championship, where Johnson had the 54 hole lead, and came up short, finishing second.
Since the PGA Tour’s restart, Johnson has led in scoring (68.2), strokes gained: total (1.76), making it the fourth time that the current World No. 1 won three or four times in a single season. His history at U.S. Opens, from winning in 2016 to coming “oh so close” in 2010 at Pebble Beach and Chambers Bay in 2016, makes Johnson a favourite to capture his second major this week.
2. Can Rory McIlroy Break Out of Recent Funk at Majors?
Rory McIlroy is a four-time major champion, including the 2011 winner of the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. However, McIlroy hasn’t won a major championship since 2014 and while he’s performed well at regular PGA Tour events, including two FedEx Cups, he knows a major is an ultimate prize.
According to Justin Ray of 15th Club, McIlroy is +16 in round one and a combined -23 in rounds 2-4 in his last eight major starts. McIlroy has 10 top-10 finishes since his last major win in 2014 at the PGA Championship, with only one runner-up at the 2018 Open Championship.
In his last 8 major starts, Rory McIlroy is +16 in round one and a combined -23 in rounds 2-4.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) September 14, 2020
There’s no doubt McIlroy’s ball-striking is one of the best on Tour; he finished 6th in both strokes gained: off the tee and strokes gained: tee-to-green in the 2019-20 season. If McIlroy’s going to win this year’s U.S. Open, his putting must be efficient. On a course like Winged Foot, known for its infamous sloped greens, leading to a course average of 74.99 when the U.S. Open was last played there in 2006, McIlroy needs to gain on the field in putting. His ranking of 122nd in strokes gained: putting is concerning, but if there is someone whose brimming with confidence as a new father, it’s McIlroy.
3. Will the trend of first-time major winners continue?
The last three major winners were inaugural champions: defending U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, Open Championship winner Shane Lowry and Morikawa. With two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka not in the field due to a knee injury, there are openings for players without a major to capture one.
Look no further than World No. 2 Spaniard Jon Rahm. Rahm won twice last season on the PGA Tour at The Memorial and the BMW Championship, with difficult course setups in both. Rahm’s ball-striking metrics set himself up for success at Winged Foot (4th in strokes gained: off the tee, 3rd in strokes gained: tee-to-green), which rewards golfers who find the fairway. Rahm has four top-10 finishes in majors and knows he wants to improve on his tied for 13th finish at the 2020 PGA Championship.
A 66-FOOT PUTT FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP!
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 30, 2020
While Bryson mania has simmered down since the summer, there’s no doubt DeChambeau will compete in many major championships in his career. He recorded his first top-10 at a major in Harding Park last August, showing his ability to remain calm amidst Sunday pressure. DeChambeau believes that his explosive driving off the tee will lead to consistent success. It will be interesting to see if it works at a course like Winged Foot, but being in the mix come Sunday afternoon will make this U.S. Open very entertaining.
4. How will Phil Mickelson fare in his return to Winged Foot?
The last time the U.S. Open was at Winged Foot was in 2006, where Phil Mickelson had the lead heading to the 72nd hole. Instead of hitting an iron off the fairway, Mickelson elected to be more aggressive with the driver. It didn’t work for the five-time major champion, leading to one of Mickelson’s several U.S. Open runner-up finishes.
With the absence of a raucous, New York, crowd who is always friendly to Mickelson, the fans from home certainly root for him to have a solid tournament. At age 50, Mickelson would be the oldest U.S. Open champion if he were to win on Sunday. He’s coming off a debut victory on the Champions Tour so it will be fascinating to see if there is any carry over heading into his national open.
5. Tiger Woods
Whenever Tiger Woods is in the field of a major championship, heads turn. Well, maybe not this week since there are no fans in attendance. But the same point nonetheless.
Woods spent some time at Winged Foot before heading to the BMW Championship a few weeks ago and arrived early to get some practice rounds in before the U.S. Open starts. Woods’ first major of 2020 at the PGA disappointed many, particularly with his underwhelming putting performance.
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) September 14, 2020
The greens at Winged Foot challenge any professional golfer’s putting abilities, not just Tiger. For Woods to be successful this week, it’s finding the fairway and getting his approach shots to the green to be close.
Woods missed the cut when the U.S. Open was last at Winged Foot. It’s understandable given it was the first tournament since his father passed away. Given his age and how he hasn’t played a whole lot leading up to the U.S. Open (just two tournaments), it would be a huge accomplishment if Woods were to make the cut this week.