Expert Picks for U.S. Open Championship
The second major of the season -- the US Open -- is here, expanding the fantasy audience to a group as large as it may get this season. The casual fan base for professional golf mirrors that fascination with this particular tourney as more people tune in to watch golf this week than any other week this season (barring a miracle return to dominance for Tiger, events we will not witness this week with Woods' withdrawal), and more of those people will enjoy the entertainment of fantasy golf. The challenge of a league during a major event is as grueling as any faced during the roto campaign, but at the US Open the list of virtual competitors swells, marking this week as the greatest test of the fantasy golf season.
More often than not, we are also faced with a course rarely seen in the PGA Tour rotation. The USGA, proud owners and operators of the US Open, rotates this illustrious event through various host venues without any specific schedule or destination, often giving fantasy owners the challenge of pondering a field with little relevant experience on that particular course. This season we are blessed as the US Open returns to the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. While it has been 14 years since the USGA brought the major to these links, Congressional also serves as an annual host for the PGA Tour's AT&T National. As such, we have history on our side with recent leaderboards produced on these same links to review and consider, giving the experienced and educated fantasy owner an edge on the competition.
We note the links of Congressional consistently rank among the best in the nation. Originally opened in 1924, this course has endured three reconstruction efforts, including two over recent years (1989 and 2006) under the famed guidance of Rees Jones, producing one of the longest (7,250 yards from the championship tees) and most difficult tests the professionals will face this season. The par-5 ninth, listed at 636 yards, is considered one of the most demanding holes in US Open history. Strategic bunkers are found throughout the grounds. Water is sparse, but will come into play at the turn as well as the famed 18th hole, one of the longest par-4 offering the US Open has ever seen (523 yards). Recent US Open champions include Tiger Woods, Retief Goosen, Jim Furyk, Michael Campbell, Geoff Ogilvy, Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, and Graeme McDowell.
Lee Westwood [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #28
Westwood may have fallen from the world's top ranking, but a mix of recent performance and history make him too tempting to ignore. He's been knocking on the major door for some time. This time he could break through.
Luke Donald [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #34
He is the hottest hand in the game today and his history is as impressive as almost any golfer in the field, and as such we are confident Donald will be a fave for fantasy heads this week. It is impossible to deny his value is peaking.
Matt Kuchar [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #11
Kuchar may be the best American golfer on the course today, but he seems to struggle when it comes to Sunday's closing opportunities. However, his ability to persistently chase the top ten should speak volumes about his potential for a major title.
Phil Mickelson [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #16
His work in 2011 has been somewhat disappointing, but there have been flashes of the famed dominance we've seen from Mickelson before. He carries history on this track and we would bet that comfort brings his best to the surface.
Martin Kaymer [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #12
Kaymer may be the most disappointing commodity of the fantasy season, but a move to compete at the US Open would quickly erase the negative short-term memory. His game should be an outstanding match for these links.
Steve Stricker [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #46
It certainly appears as if Stricker is building momentum toward the season's second major, fresh off a win with a week off to hit the Links at Congressional early. He's been a disappointment for much of the year, but his history at this track and his reversal of fortunes tell another story.
Jim Furyk [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #7
This guy carries positive history on almost any course in the land, but this particular venue could be as beneficial as any Furyk has seen in recent US Open experience. He should be a favorite for any major we get, but this week feels as promising as ever.
Nick Watney [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #140
Watney is pushing for honors as the top up-and-coming golfer on American soil and he has a well-documented penchant for challenging the game's elite. We have no doubts he will provide quality golf, as he has at Congressional before. For Watney, it's not a question of "if" but a question of "when."
Ernie Els [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #60
In 1997, when the US Open last visited Congressional, Els was the man in charge. We've seen that same elite play from Els at times 14 years later and we wouldn't be shocked at all if he had us talking about the lessons of history on Sunday.
Sergio Garcia [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #6
He wasn't qualified by traditional means, but we couldn't be more excited by Sergio's entry into this week's field. He has been surging through 2011, he carries history on these links we adore, and we believe he could be the best value on the board.
Hunter Mahan [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #23
Given one golfer of choice from the list of top talents ready to compete for a major, we might select Mahan at any given tourney or venue. That said, Congressional may be ideal for such a wager. Momentum and history are in his favor.
Ian Poulter [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #27
Most roto heads would struggle to lean toward Poulter this week with so many tantalizing options on the menu, but he has been a force at Congressional before and he tends to find his best when the best are joining the fight. Don't let him hide from your radar. His value versus his potential couldn't be better.