As we inch closer and closer to the first round of the US Open at Chambers Bay, the more we talk ourselves out of conventional picks. Admit it. You do this. Rory? Have you seen his form lately? Jordan? Can he follow up Augusta? Phil? I won’t get fooled again.
We know close to nothing about both the course and the tournament it’s about to host. I mean that wholeheartedly. Martin Kaymer blew away the field last year at Pinehurst. In 2013, Justin Rose survived at Merion. The year prior, Webb Simpson earned his permanent Ryder Cup spot.
Throw in the 100-yard tee boxes, the Delaware-wide fairways, and the caked out greens that authorities swear won’t be an issue, and you have prediction chaos. Go with your gut, or anybody.
With that in mind, here are three guys outside the favorites who will make some noise near the Puget Sound this week. The sleepers, per se.
Sleeper 1: Zach Johnson (66-1)
His name has come up more and more as the first round draws closer. The reason? Johnson may not be long, but he can manipulate his ball flight better than most anyone on tour.
Moreover, he plays with the kind of self-control necessary to win tournaments. The 2007 Masters champ won’t chase birdies if they’re not there. Instead, he’ll collect his pars and limit his mistakes. That might be enough to win this week. Plus, I loved this quote from Stevie Williams:
SOME PLAYERS can’t be intimidated. Zach Johnson is at the top of that list. He knows his game, its strengths and limitations, and he trusts it. There isn’t a person or situation that is going to make him play beyond his capabilities or take risks he shouldn’t take. In fact, he’ll embrace who he is even more and relish the challenge of beating someone with a bigger game. It doesn’t mean Zach will win every time, it just means he won’t lose because of the guy standing across from him.
Sleeper 2: Tony Finau (150-1)
Finau has played reasonably well in 2015 considering his long path to the PGA Tour. He chose to turn professional as a 17-year-old in 2007 rather than pursue a college basketball career.
Eight years later, and that decision looks pretty good.
Finau has four top-10’s in 21 events, including a T8 at the Memorial. Why will he succeed at Chambers Bay? In a word, length. Finau kills the ball. He averages just over 300 yards off the tee, good for third on tour.
He’s also 13th in birdie percentage, which suggests he finds them where others can’t. You’ve heard the other bombers mentioned often—DJ, Bubba, Rory, Phil. Finau could sneak in as well.
Sleeper 3: Danny Willett (100-1)
As it stands, Willett might just be the second best Englishman in golf right now. He’s currently second to Rory McIlroy in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, and he claimed third place at last month’s WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship.
His performance there introduced Willett to American golf fans, although he played admirably at Pinehurst a season ago. What I like about Willett is his ability to adjust to different scenarios. It served him well at the Match Play, it will serve him well in Washington.
A solid driver of the golf ball and a smart putter, Willett has staying power this week and beyond.