U.S. Open 2016: Expert Predictions to Win, Dark Horse Picks
A U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club is unlike any other. Long rough, fast greens, 300-yard par-3s and more than 200 bunkers. Does that sound like fun? Maybe for most of us watching on TV, but this course is bound to give the pros headaches.
But who comes away with the second major of the season, the 116th U.S. Open? It's always tough to predict, but we did our best to try anyway. With the first round beginning in less than 24 hours, we polled our staff to pick this week's national championship winner. And for those looking for sleepers, we asked our panel to pick a dark horse, too. Agree with our decisions? Disagree? Leave your picks in the comments section below or tweet us at @golf_com.
WHO WINS THE U.S. OPEN?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Adam Scott wins the Open because Oakmont is a fairways-and-greens kind of place and Adam strikes the ball as well as anyone in golf, including the top three of Jason Day, Jordan Spieith and Rory McIlroy.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Rory, because Oakmont deserves (demands?) a big-time winner and the former boy king is overdue for a big win.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine: Jason Day will win because no one has a short game that measures up to his. He is a master of the crazy/ugly/beautiful par.
Alan Bastable, executive editor, GOLF.com: Rory. Best driver in the game will thrive on a course that demands exemplary driving. Also, he's tired of getting left in the Big Two's dust. It's his time, again.
Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine: Jason Day is the best golfer on the planet right now. He's got the strength, the touch and the temperament to tame Oakmont.
Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, SI Golf Group: I'll take Rory because it seems his game is coming together at the perfect time — his putting performance at Memorial, where he finished second in strokes gained while returning to the conventional grip, has to be a confidence-booster. Oakmont has a way of creating history, and a fifth career major for Rory fits the bill.. The soggy weather forecast also works in his favor.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Let's not out-think ourselves here. World No. 1 Jason Day not only bombs it long and straight, but he also has the short game to survive on Oakmont's diabolical greens. That's the perfect formula for winning golf's toughest test on America's hardest track. The Aussie takes it at three over par.
Josh Sens, contributor, GOLF Magazine: Rory. Revived by his switch back to a conventional putting grip.
Peter Madden, senior producer, GOLF.com: Jordan Spieth. No one has played the majors better these past two seasons. His last five results, dating back to his breakthrough victory at the 2015 Masters: Win, Win, T4, 2, T2. I'm not betting against that.
Marika Washchyshyn, multimedia producer, GOLF.com: My pick to win is Rory. Call me predictable, but I think he has the best chance out of the Big Three to take on the beast that is Oakmont. I don't buy that he's unsure about his putting by switching his grip back after his Irish Open win. I think he realized he's figured out other parts of his game (driving, long iron play) that will serve him well here and will let the putting take care of itself.
Peter Bukowski, associate editor, GOLF.com: Jason Day wins. After what he did to Whistling last year at the PGA, where he bombed drivers despite extremely penal rough and drained putts from everywhere, he feels like the horse for this course. He has the most complete game on Tour right now -- he's the No. 1 player in the world for a reason -- and history says the Oakmont winner will be one of the elite guys.
Sean Zak, assistant editor, GOLF.com: Adam Scott is your winner. If he plays his game well, he'll be avoiding the worst trouble of Oakmont: those treacherous bunkers and nasty thick rough.
Josh Berhow, staff producer, GOLF.com: Rory wins. I'm worried a little about him recently changing his putting grip, which seems like a warning sign so close to a major, but the Memorial proved it wasn't much of an issue anyway. I've also heard he's put together some pretty impressive practice rounds in the past couple of weeks at Oakmont, which can't hurt.
WHO IS YOUR OPEN DARK HORSE?
VAN SICKLE: Long-shot has to be Pittsburgh resident and local favorite Mike Van Sickle, who's got some local knowledge after winning a junior tournament at Oakmont and nearly winning a Pennsylvania Open here. Also, I know him.
SHIPNUCK: Mike Van Sickle is my dark horse. He'll be propelled by the collective good vibes of the entire SI Golf Group - that's powerful.
MORFIT: Bubba Watson was in the mix at the 2007 U.S. Open here, before he'd won anything, so the course must suit his eye. He's my dark horse, if you can use that term for a two-time Masters winner.
BASTABLE: Shane Lowry. The burly Irishman is coming into his own. Top 10 at Chambers last year, a top-40 finish at the Masters in April despite a 79 on Saturday. Oh, and you know that Irish Open that Rors won a few weeks ago that everyone went gaga over? Lowry won that title as an amateur. Dude likes the big moment. This week could be his biggest moment yet.
PASSOV: Brandt Snedeker has quietly put together an excellent year. With his putting touch, his chances at Oakmont can't be discounted.
RITTER: I see no dark horse that can win. The last six U.S. Open champs at Oakmont are in the Hall of Fame (including Cabrera, a future HOF'er). Is J.B. Holmes a dark horse? If so, I like him for a top 10.
GODICH: My dark horse is Jordan Spieth. How, you say, can the defending Open champion be a dark horse? Well, all we've heard for the past two months is how long it's going to take for Spieth to recover from his Masters meltdown. So I'd consider it an upset if he won in his next major. In the end, I fear a wayward driver will lead to his demise, but if Spieth were to pull this off, that would be every bit as stunning as what we witnessed at Augusta National.
SENS: Furyk. His wrist healed, the ultimate grinder on a courses that requires boundless patience.
MADDEN: How about Matthew Fitzpatrick? Closed with a 67 at Augusta to notch his first major Top 10 and picked up a win on the European Tour last week.
WASHCHYSHYN: My dark horse is J.B. Holmes. He was T4 at the Memorial and T4 at the Masters, so we know he can compete under pressure. His huge length off the tee will be his best asset, and if we forget about the fact that he missed the cut at the Players, he's a solid sleeper for the next biggest event in major golf.
BUKOWSKI: The dark horse is Phil Mickelson. Yeah, OK, a five-time major winner hardly seems worthy of the title but he hasn't won on Tour since before you knew who Jordan Spieth was. His swing is back on plane, he's competing in tournaments and he's third on Tour in strokes gained putting. At Oakmont, where you need local knowledge, putting prowess and probably a little magic, Phil is the non-Big Three name to watch this week.
ZAK: Jason Dufner is your dark horse. Remember this major winner? That major he won at Oak Hill, the biggest defense against that course was the lengthy rough, similarly to this dicey track. If Duf hits greens like he normally does, half the battle is taken care of.
BERHOW: Sergio Garcia. Good iron play wins at a course like Oakmont, and Sergio is one of the best. He also won in his last start. I feel good about this pick through Saturday. After that, we will see. A Sunday Sergio at a major is why this qualifies as a dark horse.