A year ago, Dustin Johnson erased his name from the “Best Players to Never Win a Major” list when he triumphed at the US Open. Since that career-defining moment, all he’s done is added five more wins to his name, vaulted to No. 1 in the world and established himself as the oddsmakers’ clear favorite to repeat at the year’s second major in Wisconsin.
But Johnson has company at the top. Gone are the days of the Big 3 or Big 4, as the amount of elite players in golf is steadily increasing. While DJ is the favorite, a strong argument could be made for 15-to-20 players.
Narrowing that list down isn’t easy, but here’s a look at my Top 10 contenders for Erin Hills:
1. Dustin Johnson
The top spot couldn’t be anyone else. Johnson missed the cut at the Memorial in his last start, but that might even be a good sign for things to come. After his lone missed cut in 2016, he responded by finishing 18th, eighth, first and sixth in his next four tournaments. After missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open back in January, he finished third, first, first, first, second in his next five.
So, yeah, he’s pretty decent at bouncing back from a bad tournament.
Moreover, DJ, the best driver in the world, is a perfect fit for Erin Hills, which checks in as the second-longest course in major history at 7,693 yards:
Players are going to have to be great with their drivers, and Johnson ranks first on Tour in both driving distance and strokes gained off the tee. He’s also first in strokes gained tee to green, first in GIR percentage, second in Par 5 scoring and fifth in Par 4 scoring. On the PGA Tour, it’s never a surprise if someone doesn’t win. There’s just too much variance. But it will be a surprise if Johnson isn’t right in the thick of contention come Sunday.
2. Jon Rahm
Also known as “Dustin Johnson Lite.” The 22-year-old rising star has been excellent in most phases of the game throughout his rookie season on Tour, but he’s especially good when he can let it rip, as he ranks 12th on Tour in driving distance and third in strokes gained off the tee. Like Johnson, he’s uses that power to set up easy approach shots (sixth on Tour in strokes gained approaching the green), and he kills both Par 5’s (13th in scoring average) and Par 4’s (second).
And also like Johnson, he’s coming off a missed cut at the Memorial but has otherwise been a Top-10 machine this season:
Moreover, after finishing 23rd as an amateur at last year’s US Open, and then 27th at the Masters earlier this year, it’s obvious Rahm doesn’t fear the brightest of lights.
3. Rory McIlroy
We haven’t seen Rory since the Players Championship about a month ago, but it’s still difficult to downgrade him too far. Though he hasn’t played enough rounds to officially qualify, he would rank fifth in driving distance (308.5 yards), second in strokes gained off the tee (1.110 per round) and second in strokes gained tee to green (1.831). You don’t need McIlroy to play 40 rounds to know that when he’s on, he’s arguably the best tee-to-green player in the world.
As always, it comes down to the flatstick. Rory would rank just 42nd in strokes gained putting, but if he can be merely average on the greens, he has the rest of the tools needed to conquer this massive course.
4. Sergio Garcia
You may be noticing a theme here. Like the first three guys on this list, Sergio can crush it. He’s “only” 27th on Tour in driving distance, but the combination of power and distance puts him at second behind only DJ in strokes gained off the tee.
Not only does his game fit the course, but Sergio is playing with more confidence than ever. He got the major monkey off his back at Augusta, and now his mental game matches his physical game. Winning two majors in a row is undoubtedly difficult, but there’s no reason Garcia–who has finished 30th, 20th and 12th since Augusta–shouldn’t be in the conversation of favorites. (Getty)
5. Rickie Fowler
In 10 individual events this season (not counting the team-format Zurich Classic), Fowler has finished in the Top 25 eight times. Since the start of February, he’s been outside the Top 20 just once. In the last 12 weeks, his average finishing position of 17.6 is second in the US Open field. After a 2016 season in which he missed five cuts and was all over the place, he has put together a pretty remarkable run of consistency.
Fowler’s biggest improvement has been on the putting surfaces, where he ranked 64th in strokes gained last year and sixth so far this year. And with his flatstick working like that, there’s no real weakness to his game, as he ranks 31st in driving distance, 19th in driving accuracy, 23rd in GIR percentage, fifth in strokes gained approaching the green and 15th in strokes gained around the green.
It’s only a matter of time before Fowler, who was 11th at Augusta, captures his first major.
6. Jordan Spieth
The biggest concern about Spieth at Erin Hill is his driver–the 2015 US Open champ ranks 86th in driving distance, 127th in driving accuracy and 107th in strokes gained off the tee. And over the last 12 weeks, he’s 67th in the field in the latter stat. That won’t get it done.
That said, Spieth has the mid-range game (first in strokes gained approaching the green, fourth in GIR percentage) to make up for the lack of driver, and after an uncharacteristic two missed cuts in a row, he seems to be back on track with a runner-up finish at the Dean & Deluca Invitational and a T13 at the Memorial.
It’s also worth noting that Spieth is one of the few players in this field with experience at Erin Hills, having played here during the 2011 US Amateur.
7. Jason Day
It’s been an inconsistent season for Day, who has had more important things on his mind with his mother’s lung cancer diagnosis earlier this year. But he has played his best golf of the year the last couple weeks, finishing second at the Byron Nelson and 15th at the Memorial.
Even with his 2017 struggles, this is still the third-ranked player in the world, and it’s still a talented player who is big off the tee and has the putting game to conquer what will likely be fast greens.
8. Kevin Kisner
Kisner has been racking up top finishes all year–six Top-10’s and 10 Top-25’s in 17 events–but he will enter the US Open with especially red-hot form, having won the Dean & Deluca and following that up with a T6 at the Memorial.
He lacks big power off the tee, which could be big here, but he makes up for that with driving accuracy (13th on Tour), terrific iron play (10th in strokes gained approaching the green) and consistent putting (23rd in strokes gained). Put it all together, and he’s fifth on Tour in total strokes gained, trailing only Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton.
9. Brooks Koepka
After a brutal stretch that saw him miss four cuts in six starts, Koepka has now played the weekend in seven straight tournaments. That’s a run that includes a T11 at the Masters, a T16 at the Players Championship and another couple of Top-10’s.
He has slowed down a bit in his last two starts (T50 and T31), but his length off the tee (fifth in driving distance) makes him a contender at this course.
10. Alex Noren
After missing the cut at the Masters, Noren–who quietly ranks eighth in the world–finished 31st at the Wells Fargo Championship, 10th at the Players Championship, won the BMW PGA Championship and finished 15th at the Nordea Masters.
He has historically struggled at the US Open, with three cuts in four stars, but that kind of recent form makes him a compelling darkhorse who isn’t getting a lot of attention.