The 2016 U.S. Open is set to get under way this week at famed Oakmont County Club, which poses a daunting task with its lightning-quick putting surfaces and iconic church-pew bunker.
Jordan Spieth outlasted the field at controversial Chambers Bay last year when Dustin Johnson three-putted the 72nd green to lose by a shot. Spieth, the world's second-ranked player, enters this week as one of the favorites even though he hasn't yet achieved the same heights as last season.
Oakmont, a 7,254-yard par-70 course, is largely considered to be America's toughest test. Built 112 years ago out of farmland just east of Pittsburgh, the course is set to host a record ninth U.S. Open.
Even today, Oakmont's average handicap for its members is an astonishing 11.2, according to PGATour.com. Plus, six of the Open’s eight previous champions are in the World Golf Hall of Fame, as are winners from two PGA Championships, a U.S. Women’s Open and a U.S. Amateur held at the club.
Fox Sports is once again televising the event. The network has vowed to do a better job after a rough debut last year.
Here are this week's top players:
Jason Day (world ranking: 1) — While Spieth might get all the attention as the defending champion, Day is the one everyone needs to beat. The long-hitting Aussie has won seven times since last summer, including three out of his last seven events. Day finished T-10 at the Masters. This course should suit his eye nicely. Fantasy advice: Hard to turn away from in majors given his recent success. It would be more surprising to see him outside the top 15 than hoisting the trophy.
Dustin Johnson (6) — How much more heartbreak can one man suffer? Johnson seems to be in the final couple pairings on Sunday of every major, but ultimately finds a new way to screw it up in the end. This year, he's playing fantastic golf with five top-five finishes in his last seven starts. Expect him to be in contention Sunday, and this time we think he might pull it off. Fantasy advice: He loves the U.S. Open and is in great form; what's not to love?
Rory McIlroy (3) — Out of the "Big Three," McIlroy has been the forgotten man at times as he continues to adjust to new putting grips. His convincing win at the Irish Open last month proved he still has what it takes. He has struggled on Thursdays lately, but he hasn't finished outside the top 12 since March. Fantasy advice: May not be as enticing because of price, but as mentioned, he's been surprisingly consistent this season.
Jordan Spieth (2) — It's impossible to count him out, but Spieth's ball-striking has been woeful at times this year, which just won't cut it on this course. The two-time major champion can always light it up with his putter, and may like a gritty, over-par week, but he will be at a disadvantage to the longer hitters. Fantasy advice: This is a good week to sit him and play someone cheaper.
Sergio Garcia (13) — Like Johnson, Garcia has broken the hearts of many fans with nailbiting collapses down the stretch in majors. Still without a major title, and once proclaiming he just isn't good enough to win one, Garcia enters this week with a rejuvenated game. Fantasy advice: Could be a sneaky play. He could also bomb out and miss the cut. He's the ultimate risk-reward.
Phil Mickelson (17) — This might be the tournament that now means the most to him as he tries to complete the career Grand Slam. Mickelson finished in a tie for second last week, giving him five top-five finishes this season. This might be his last good opportunity. Fantasy advice: He will be heavily played, for good reason. We expect him to be in contention.
Adam Scott (8) — Though he has been quiet since his 2-1-1 stretch earlier this year, Scott has finished in the top 10 in the last two U.S. Opens, including a T-4 last year spearheaded by a 64 on Sunday. Scott has three top-17 finishes in six starts since the torrid stretch, but his putting was woeful during his last start in Texas. Fantasy advice: Momentum doesn't seem to be on his side enough to win, but a top 10 is entirely plausible.
J.B. Holmes (19) — In finishing T-4 at the Memorial last month — in his last start — Holmes notched his seventh top-15 finish this year. There are ups and downs to his game, but Oakmont should suit his eye nicely if he can keep it in the fairway. Fantasy advice: He finished T-4 at the Masters and has enjoyed a solid season. He might be off people's radar, too.
Brooks Koepka (16) — Koepka is rounding into form at just the right time after consecutive runner-up finishes in his last two starts. Though he doesn't get the hype as some of the game's other top, young stars — probably because he finishes second instead of winning — Koepka has the talent and form to win his first major this week. Fantasy advice: Finished T-4 at the 2014 U.S. Open, T-5 at last year's PGA Championship and T-10 at last year's British Open. In short, he thrives on the game's biggest stages.
Danny Willett (9) — The Masters champion also finished third at the BMW PGA Championship — one of the European Tour's signature events — a couple weeks ago. The Englishman hits it far and straight. He just needs to putt better than he did down the stretch at Wentworth. Fantasy advice: At this point, why not take a gamble? He is proven and in form.
Others to watch:
Daniel Berger, Rickie Fowler, Branden Grace, Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson
Kevin Chappell, Tony Finau, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Andrew Johnston, Martin Kaymer