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Tour Confidential: Will Phil Mickelson finally win the U.S. Open? Plus, contenders and dark horses, and the Tiger Woods void

Phil Mickelson
AP Photo
Phil Mickelson finished T11 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in his final U.S. Open tuneup.

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Phil Mickelson has long been the most unpredictable player in golf. So what’s your prediction for Mickelson this week at Pinehurst?

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Lefty showed some life at Memorial, and played very well at Memphis, in spite of the very real distractions. Plus, he's handled Pinehurst nicely in the past. Yet, his once genius short-game arsenal has displayed some cracks, and he's been iffy with the kind of four-footers one has to sink with regularity to win a U.S. Open, so those are negatives. Add it up, and I believe that the distractions will work in his favor, and he's peaking at a good time. I see him among the final groups on Sunday -- but not winning.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Seventh second. No FBI interviews. Two putters.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Phil will have at least one compelling early round that grabs the nation's attention then revert to the inconsistent golf he's been playing of late and won’t be a factor. It's a better week if Phil gets in the mix on the weekend, though.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Based on an insider tip from Carl Icahn, I'm shorting him. Big.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): Phil will have his moments, but I don't see him contending. He looks tired to me. Hope I'm wrong.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Phil still doesn't have a single top 10 this season, so you might say something like T35 is most likely, which is why he'll probably either win or MC.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): The forecast on Phil: cloudy ... with a chance of meatballs.

2. Other than Mickelson, who are the most compelling U.S. Open contenders?

SHIPNUCK: Rory and Adam Scott, for sure. Both have been playing well but still have much to prove. Bubba, too, for that matter. Pinehurst is probably the best Open venue he'll face -- can he win a major outside of Augusta city limits?

GODICH: It's the usual suspects: Bubba, Adam and Rory. The game is sorely in need of a dominant star. I'll also be interested to see how Jordan Spieth handles the spotlight. He may be only 20, but he's already set the bar awfully high.

VAN SICKLE: The soap opera that is Rory McIlroy is pretty interesting. Plus with two majors, he's playing for history. Steve Stricker, who has never won a major and is one of the most popular players on the tour, would be very compelling.

BAMBERGER: McIlroy, Scott and a player to be named later. But he will be an American, under 30, possibly a heavyweight, but he could be exceedingly skinny, and he will captivate us for three days.

SENS: I don't think he'll contend, but David Gossett, emerged from his years of darkness, has qualified, and that makes him compelling in a back-from-the-dead sort of way. But of the guys with a serious shot, I think Furyk is interesting to watch (despite the agonizing putting routine). He's won an Open, come through a bunch of recent heartache, and he's been playing well.

PASSOV: Watch out for Carolina boy (and former Open champ) Webb Simpson, who shook off some rust with a final-round 65 at Memphis to finish third. Matt Kuchar will also make some noise. He's been so steady all year, has a solid U.S. Open track record and is well up on the Tour's scrambling stats, which makes him a good fit for Pinehurst. And clearly, a free-swinging Rory McIlroy has to factor. Sans Tiger, and coupled with the new, unfamiliar version of Pinehurst No. 2, this is the most wide-open Open in years.

RITTER: I want to see if any of the guys who've been blanked in majors can finally snag one, particularly Spieth, Fowler, Kuchar, Snedeker and Westwood. Rory winning No. 3 would be massive. Jimmy Walker could win and become the front-runner for POY. And what about Watson getting halfway to a Bubba Slam? If you love golf, there are plenty of reasons to be psyched for this week.

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