Getting hot at the right time can be the difference between contending for a title and fighting to stay above cut line at the 2016 U.S. Open.
This is especially true when considering the venue for this year’s U.S. Open. Oakmont Country Club is a monstrous course with wicked teeth that has historically made some of the best golfers in the world look like rank amateurs.
Last year’s U.S. Open champion, Jordan Spieth, hasn’t been nearly as hot this year as he was during last year’s historic campaign, but he does hold a spot on this list. Others include a certain Norther Irishman who is coming on strong, a rising star from Japan and a first-time PGA winner this past weekend.
Anything can happen once the first tee shots start flying Thursday morning. That said, the following 10 golfers appear to have the best shot at using their positive momentum to climb up the leaderboard at Oakmont this year.
1. Jason Day (Australia)
No golfer in the world has been as hot as Day this season.
Surging ahead of Jordan Spieth to take the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings, Day has three wins under his belt already, including his victory in the World Golf Championshps-Dell Match Play event in late March. His latest win came last month when he routed the field at The Players Championship.
Not surprisingly, he is the odds-on favorite to win the 2016 U.S. Open, thanks to his brilliant campaign thus far.
After admitting Oakmont is “one of the toughest venues we have to play at,” via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Day relishes the chance to tackle the course.
“If I had to choose I’d choose courses like this. Even though this has some length to it, it’s still got that old-school flavor. The greens are the biggest thing for them. If you get it dry, the greens and greens speed are the defense for this course.”
With a winning attitude and momentum on his side, Day will shock us only if he’s not on the leaderboard heading into Sunday’s final round.
2. Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland)
Though McIlroy has only one win under his belt this year (Irish Open), he has been a top contender more often than not this year.
Playing on both the European and PGA circuits, the Northern Irishman has strung together seven top-10 finishes since January. This past month, he has three top-four finishes, including his big win at the K Club.
The 2011 U.S. Open winner at Congressional, he’s looking for his fifth major championship this weekend.
— Golfing World (@GolfingWorld) June 13, 2016
And as a side note, we should point out McIlroy’s big heart. He donated his entire winner’s check for the 2016 Irish Open to charity.
3. Jordan Spieth (USA)
With two wins and four top-four finishes in major tournaments last year, Spieth put himself on the historical map. He finished with five wins on the season and swept the major awards.
Discounting his poor showing at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament and The Players Championship (an event he has yet to master), this young golfer has continued to be a force on the PGA Tour. With two wins, a second-place finish at The Masters and five top-10 finishes this year, he’s a player who has continued to contend even when not at his best.
Spieth won last year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, though he had struggled in this tournament the two years prior to his breakout campaign.
4. Dustin Johnson (USA)
While he has yet to post a win this season, Johnson has been in contention an awful lot.
With eight top-10 finishes, he has been a regular on leaderboards this year. Dating back to the Shell Houston Open at the beginning of April, Johnson has put together a string of excellent finishes, with four top-fives, including his fourth-place performance at Augusta.
One of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, Johnson has the game to make a run at Oakmont, which features some long-distance par-4s and par-5s.
Though a major victory has eluded him to this point in his career, perhaps this will finally be the tournament in which Johnson breaks through. Let’s just hope his lip-out on the 18th hole at Congressional in 2011 doesn’t come back to haunt him.
5. Justin Rose (England)
The 2013 U.S. Open champion comes to Oakmont with a bit of positive momentum. With a win on the European Tour to open the season and five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, he is poised for contention this weekend.
That said, it’s been a few weeks since he competed professionally. A back injury forced him to miss the PGA Championship and the Memorial Tournament.
After resting and recuperating, Rose is feeling well again and has been practicing at Oakmont. Patience, he says, is key to winning at this venue.
“A U.S. Open can often be last man standing,” said 35-year-old Rose, via BBC.com. “Guys are going to make mistakes, you are going to have your stretch where you feel like you’re slipping out of contention. But you have to realise everyone is going to face that at some point through 72 holes, so just stick with it – grind it out.”
Grinding it out has been Rose’s specialty in the past. Let’s hope his back can hold up to the grueling challenge.
6. Phil Mickelson (USA)
Many Americans will be rooting for Mickelson to win the 2016 U.S. Open. It’s the only major Lefty has failed to win during the course of his magnificent career, and he has come agonizingly close on a couple of occasions.
With three top-three finishes this year and two top-fives this past month, he’s trending up during an up-and-down season.
Based on recent comments he made about Oakmont, it doesn’t seem like Mickelson is particularly excited about the challenge this weekend.
From the column, here is Phil Mickelson's theory on golf courses and where Oakmont fits in: pic.twitter.com/MOBp63iuFW
— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelESPN) June 13, 2016
The last time Mickelson came face to face with Oakmont, he injured his wrist hacking a ball out of the rough and missed the cut. With this in mind, winning this weekend would likely be the greatest personal achievement of his career.
7. Hideki Matsuyama (Japan)
Barring a surprisingly poor showing at The Memorial Tournament where he missed the cut, Matsuyama has been on an incredible run of late.
Showing up big for the biggest tournaments, he won the always entertaining Phoenix Waste Management Open and posted top-seven finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Masters and The Players Championship.
With a well-rounded game, he has already made his name in major tournaments and finished tied for 10th at the 2013 U.S. Open.
8. Sergio Garcia (Spain)
With 20 career top-10 major tournament finishes and nary a win, Garcia can almost be counted on to show up on the leaderboard at some point this weekend. He can also be counted on to hit a few speed bumps along the way. Truly, at this point in his career at the age of 36, it will be stunning if Garcia actually does win a major.
Still, he enters the U.S. Open on a positive note, having won the AT&T Byron Nelson last month and posting a third-place finish on the European Tour in mid April.
Though not quite as strong as he was in his youth, Garcia can still hit the ball a country mile, and his long iron play can be stunningly accurate when he’s on his game. As is always the case, Garcia’s bane is the short stick on the greens. He typically struggles with the 10-footers that make or break tournaments.
9. Adam Scott (Australia)
Scott has put together a strong overall season, which can clearly be seen by his No. 2 Fed-Ex Cup ranking.
But it would be wrong to say he enters the U.S. Open on a hot streak. Dating back to The Masters, Scott has failed to post a leaderboard finish. Still, with two wins and two more second-place efforts, Scott has been outstanding all year long.
Though the Aussie star has won but a single major, he has been a fixture as a top contender at major championships since 2011. Paired up with Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen the first two days, Scott should be right there in the thick of things this weekend.
10. Daniel Berger (USA)
We’d be remiss if we did not include Berger, who won the FedEx St. Jude Classic this past weekend by three strokes over the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Steve Stricker.
— AP Sports (@AP_Sports) June 13, 2016
It was Berger’s first PGA Tour win, but it wasn’t the first time we’ve seen him rise to the occasion at a big tournament. With five top-10 finishes this year, including a tie for ninth at The Players Championship and a tie for 10th at The Masters, he’s definitely a name to watch for this weekend.