Top 15 storylines for 2018 U.S. Open

The best golfers in the world have converged upon Shinnecock Hills for the 2018 U.S. Open. As we look forward to the event, there are a number of great storylines to look at.

Phil Mickelson is going for the career grand slam. At 48, it might be one of his last real chances to win the one major that’s eluded him. Lefty’s longtime rival, Tiger Woods, is also going for an important win.

While they’re not going for history, golfers like Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Thomas are all major storylines. The same can be said for a number of golfers vying for their first major championship win, with Jon Rahm and Rickie Fowler leading the charge.

Of course, given that happened in 2004, the course itself is a major storyline of the week. What will Shinnecock Hills look like? How will it play?

These are the top storylines to follow for the 2018 U.S. Open.

1. Phil Mickelson looks for career grand slam

Just like we did at Augusta with Rory McIlroy, we start with the man looking to join golf’s most elite group. Only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tiger Woods have won the career slam. Mickelson has six second-place finishes at his national championship, including one at Shinnecock Hills. So, he can definitely compete here. Even still, he will turn 48 on Saturday. So realistically, Lefty doesn’t have many great chances left. With the New York fans behind him, this would be a fitting place to make it happen.

2. Will we see another first-time major winner?

On the other side of the coin, we have a number of golfers vying for their first major win. of the world’s top-25 ranked golfers, 12 — Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Marc Leishman, Alex Noren, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafael Cabrera Bello, and Matt Kuchar — have yet to win a major. Nine of the last 10 major winners have been first time champs. So, recent history certainly favors these guys.

3. Dustin Johnson hoping to ride momentum to second U.S. Open

Johnson had been flying somewhat under-the-radar in 2018. But after his win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic (capped off in grand style), that’s changed. Johnson is again the No. 1-ranked player in the world and heads to Shinnecock Hills red hot. Johnson has a tremendous history at the U.S. Open. He has four top-10 finishes, three of which were top-fives, and one of those was a win. There’s a reason the odds are in Johnson’s favor this week.

4. Brooks Koepka looking to etch his name in history

Like Mickelson, Koepka can enter an exclusive club if he wins. He’d be the first man since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989 to win consecutive U.S. Opens. Prior to Strange, it was only done by Willie Anderson (1903-1905), John McDermott (1911-1912), Bobby Jones (1929-1930), Ralph Guldahl (1937-1938), and Hogan (1950-1951). Kopeka is playing the right kind of golf to join this group. He’s only won once since the 2017 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t missed a cut since March, 2017.

5. How will USGA set up Shinnecock Hills?

The world’s best will tee it up at Shinnecock Hills for the fifth time at a U.S. Open. Only Oakmont (nine), Baltusrol (seven), and Oakland Hills (six) have hosted the event more. The last time the event was at Shinnecock, the USGA was heavily criticized (far from the only time that’s happened) for how the course was set up. Particularly over the weekend, it straddled a hard line between challenging and unplayable. Given how low the scoring was at Erin Hills a year ago, don’t be surprised if that line is pushed again. Especially given the pace of the greens already (watch here).

6. Is Justin Thomas flying under the radar?

Even before losing the No. 1 ranking in the world, it felt like Thomas was having something of an under-the-radar season. We understand it, but this guy shouldn’t be flying under anyone’s radar. Thomas has been the hottest golfer in the world for nearly two years now. He won the PGA Championship in 2017 and finished T-9 in the U.S. Open, shooting a 63 in the process. If you want to overlook him heading into Shinnecock Hills, go ahead. But do so at your own risk.

7. Jason Day looks to carry revival season to more major success

While Day’s never won a U.S. Open, he has tremendous history at the event. He’s teed it up seven times at the U.S. Open and finished in the top-10 on five separate occasions. He’s coming in on a good run, too. Day hasn’t missed a cut in nearly a year. Since his last missed cut, he’s finished outside the top-25 only three times and has won twice. There’s clearly a lot to like about the way he’s playing. If Day brings his A-Game to Shinnecock Hills, the list of realistic contenders gets very short.

8. What will New York weather look like?

Something that will have a lot to say about the conditions at Shinnecock Hills will be the weather. Rain will create some challenges, but it will make the course much softer than we saw in 2004. If we get a dry week, we’ll likely see the lightning-quick conditions that are so synonymous with U.S. Opens. The Monday outlook points to a dry week. That will certainly be something to continue to monitor, as it will have a lot to say in how the week at Shinnecock Hills goes.

9. Can Jordan Spieth find winning mojo?

Apr 8, 2017; Augusta, GA, USA; Jordan Spieth walks up the 1st fairway during the third round of The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

It feels strange to say that the fourth-ranked player in the world is cold. But this hasn’t been a vintage year for Spieth. He hasn’t won anything yet and has already missed three cuts. That’s as many as he had in all of 2017 and more than he had in 2016. Retief Goosen and certainly Corey Pavin have proven that you don’t need to be a bomber to win at Shinnecock. If Spieth putts well, this is certainly a U.S. Open that he can win. Unfortunately, that’s been a big “if” far too often this year.

10. Americans look to continue domination at national championship

A golfer from the United States has won the U.S. Open in each of the last three years. That may not seem like much of a run, but the last time American golfers enjoyed that kind of a run at their national championship was 1998-2000. Americans haven’t won four straight since 1982-1993, when they actually won 12 in a row. There’s certainly a deep group of Americans who can make that happen, but there’s also a strong contingent of International players who will look to keep the run at three.

11. Rory McIlroy tries to get back in major winner’s circle

McIlroy’s enjoyed a nice season in 2018, winning for the first time in nearly two years. If he were to win at Shinnecock Hills, McIlroy would break an even longer drought. From 2011-2014, McIlroy won four majors. Since the 2014 PGA Championship, though, the former World No. 1 has been shut out at the majors. McIlroy’s quest to complete the career grand slam won’t resume until the 2019 Masters. But given that he’s playing well, the 2018 U.S. Open seems like a good chance for him to rediscover his major success.

12. Patrick Reed vies to get halfway to grand slam

Nobody’s ever won the Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship in the same calendar year. So, the odds are overwhelmingly against Reed. That said, if there’s any golfer who has the attitude needed to give it a run, it’d be Reed. In order to do something like this, you need to have some of the defiant attitude that Reed has become so known for. We understand that a single-season grand slam is highly unlikely, but it’s still possible. Reed is the only golfer who can do it in 2018.

13. Players looking to qualify for much anticipated Ryder Cup

While there’s always a lot of hype around the Ryder Cup, it feels as though there’s an extra bit of anticipation around this year’s event. The Europeans have dominated for so long that when the Americans do win, the next event feels a bit more spicy, especially given some of the chippiness that we saw in 2016. Golfers have until the end of the summer to earn points. But, as there are only two more majors to play after this, the U.S. Open represents one of the last chances to earn big points.

14. Change in playoff format

The 2018 U.S. Open will introduce a new playoff format. Gone is the 18-hole Monday playoff. In its place is a two-hole aggregate. While it was obviously deemed outdated, the 18-hole-playoff made the U.S. Open unique. It certainly was a grind, but an extra 18 holes at the world’s toughest event provided golfers with the ultimate challenge. Our last playoff came in 2008. As such, this might not come up. Still, this is definitely something that needs mentioning.

15. Tiger Woods attempts to break 10-year major drought

Saturday will not only mark Mickelson’s 48th birthday. It will also be the 10-year anniversary of Tiger’s 14th and, to date, most recent major. While it seems unlikely that Woods will catch (or break) Jack Nicklaus’ all-time major record of 18, it’s important to remember that Tiger is only four short of the Golden Bear. Woods will look to cut that number to three at Shinnecock. If he does, he’ll put a huge stamp on what’s already been a fantastic comeback season.