14 June 2012

Who Could Grab US Open Triumph at Olympic Club?

This year the US Open has one of the most open fields in recent memory with a number of players in the running to claim the title. Jed Gore: A Sporting Insight takes a closer look at the top contenders:

Luke Donald (England)

The World Number One is yet to win a major title but will have high hopes of silencing his critics this week. The 34-year-old Englishman has been extremely consistent over the past two years with four wins in 2011 and two so far in 2012. Despite having five PGA Tour victories and seven on the European Tour he has largely underperformed at major championships with just six top-ten finishes. However two of these came last year during his rise to the summit of the world rankings. 

This season he became embroiled in a battle for the number one spot with Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy before reclaiming the position with a win at the BMW PGA Championship while McIlroy missed three cuts in a row. Despite his excellent record on the major golf tours he has a poor record at the US Open with a best of tied for 12th in 2006 as well as two missed cuts to his name. Donald faces a battle against the long par 70 Lake Course course this week and may struggle to haul himself into contention.

Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland)

The youngster from County Down has taken the golfing world by storm since he turned professional back in 2009 and briefly held the number one ranking earlier on this year. With six professional wins in four years he has improved every season, taking the US Open crown last summer by eight shots with a record low score of 268 at Congressional Club. At top of the PGA Tour money list this year he has performed excellently on the whole although has suffered a blip in form recently.

Three consecutive missed cuts, including the prestigious Players Championship and BMW PGA Championship, lost him the number one world ranking. Last week in Memphis McIlroy blew his chance of victory with a disastrous double bogey on the 72nd hole. But despite his poor recent form McIlroy is one of the leading names going into tomorrow's first round and should be confident teeing off as defending champion.

Tiger Woods (USA)

14 major titles. 35 major top tens. 73 PGA Tour victories. 100 professional wins. Over 250 weeks as world number one. 10 PGA Player of the Year awards.

The numbers stack up in favour of one of golf's greatest ever players despite form-hampering injuries and his much-publicized private life problems. Two wins on the PGA Tour this season have helped him rise to number four in the world rankings and is seeming to hit some good form. The man he tied at 73 PGA wins two weeks ago at Memorial, Jack Nicklaus, said that Woods' chip-in on the 16th was 'the greatest he had ever seen'.
The golfing legend also appears to have his old swagger and confidence back. After his win he said: "Boy, I hit it good. I never really missed a shot, I had the pace of the greens really nice and made a few putts."

Tiger is definitely one of the red-hot favourites this week and will be hoping to add a fourth US Open to his list of major wins and move one step closer to his goal of over-taking Nicklaus's record 18 major victories.

Lee Westwood (England)

The world number three has been on excellent form recently but at 38 years of age time is running out for him to claim his maiden major title. His 39 professional wins prove he has what it takes but is yet to find the winning touch when it matters most. The 'perennial nearly-man' tag has haunted him for the last few years although that view is vindicated by the fact he has 8 major top-tens in the last four years. His putter has been his nemesis and he has been left to rue missed opportunities and think of 'what might have been' on numerous occasions. However, he is on good form this year and will be expected to mount a serious challenge again this week.

Bubba Watson (USA)

The winner at Augusta in April, Bubba Watson has excited golf fans all over the world with his stunning long drives and outrageous iron shots. His shot from the trees at the second play-off hole in The Masters will go down in history as one of golf's most magical moments. In the world top five for the first time in his career, the left-hander will be hoping to add to his major wins this week.

Playing in a 'dream' group with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson he will be sure to offer up some great entertainment. Four PGA wins in the last two-and-a-half years show that he definitely has what it takes and his length off the tee will definitely set up some birdie opportunities over the next few days.

Phil Mickelson (USA)

'Lefty' has not been in the best of form since his Masters triumph in 2010 but is always capable of making a challenge at major championships. Despite having never won the US Open, he has five runner-up finishes and still has it in him to win another major, as showed by his run at The Masters where he finished in a tie for third. However, without a win since February, coupled with dropping out of the world's top ten; he may not be at the top of his game.

Justin Rose (England)

The Englishman has enjoyed an excellent start to the season with a win in the Cadillac Championship and a runner-up finish to Luke Donald in the BMW PGA Championship. He has risen into the world's top ten and finished tied for eighth at Augusta. With the spot-light on the bigger names, Rose may just be the European to watch out for this week.

The Others

As well as the favourites listed above there are many golfers holding high hopes for this week. Exciting US youngster Rickie Fowler recently gained a first PGA Tour win, Hunter Mahan is a double winner this year, as is Jason Dufner. South Africans Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Ernie Els will be looking for a lofty position on the leaderboard as will German ex world number one Martin Kaymer. Amongst all these great sportsmen going for glory is 14-year-old Andy Zhang, the youngest ever player at the US Open who qualified courtesy of Paul Casey's withdrawal through injury.

All these factors look set to make sure that the next few days are as dramatic as ever as the best golfers from around the globe go head-to-head for one of the game's biggest prizes.

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