The field is set for the 120th U.S. Open at Winged Foot, and it’s time to sort out the contenders from everybody else before the major championship golf begins this week. Winged Foot historically identifies tremendous champions — Bobby Jones, Billy Casper, Hale Irwin, Fuzzy Zoeller, Davis Love III and Geoff Ogilvy among them — and this year should be no different, even if it might go down as the toughest test of them all.
When sifting through the best players in this field, I looked at a number of different factors, including recent form, recent U.S. Open performance, short game and driving accuracy. As Ogilvy recently noted, you have to have an unbelievable short game week to contend here so I leaned heavily on that (but not only on that) as I sorted out the top 20.
Ranking the field at these majors is always a balancing act, especially at a course like Winged Foot. So let’s look at who’s been hot over the last few weeks and rank golfers as I would handicap them for this event from most likely to least likely to win.
1. Dustin Johnson (Best finish: Won in 2016) — No matter how you feel about D.J. this week or at major championships in general, there is nobody else who deserves to be in this position going into the first major of the season. He’s finished first or second in his last four events and has four top-five finishes at the U.S. Open in his last six tries. An indisputable favorite at Winged Foot.
2. Jon Rahm (T3 in 2019) — The top two here actually seems somewhat indisputable with the way Rahm has been playing and the fact that he’s already won on two U.S. Open-like setups (Muirfield Village and Olympia Fields) this year. Quietly finished in the top five last year, and the only concern here is whether he can pace his energy for 72 holes at a monster like Winged Foot.
3. Justin Thomas (T9 in 2017) — J.T. only has three top-10 finishes at major championships. How about that? I want to like him this week, and I do in a lot of ways — mostly because his short game around the greens is outrageous — but he hasn’t contended at the very toughest setups this year. I do think he can contend here, and Winged Foot identifies elite champs, but there’s a sliver of hesitation because of a very leaky putter right now.
4. Collin Morikawa (T35 in 2019) — I’m trying to imagine explaining to myself on Jan. 1 that Morikawa would have a chance to play his first Masters as a two-time major winner with a chance at the COVID-19 Slam.
5. Webb Simpson (Won in 2012) — “Two-time major champion and Players Championship winner Webb Simpson.” Are you guys ready for that? Simpson is fascinating here for a number of reasons. He’s won a U.S. Open before, is playing quite well right now, hits barrels of fairways and has a really (really!) strong short game. In a lot of ways, what he does worst — distance off the tee — is mitigated at a place like Winged Foot. It will still take a grand week from the 2012 winner, but the setup is there for him.
6. Xander Schauffele (T3 in 2019) — A conundrum: Schauffele has never finished outside the top six at a U.S. Open, and yet, I still do not expect him to contend or win. Maybe that’s foolish on my part.
7. Adam Scott (T4 in 2015) — It’s a little odd to me that Scott’s best finish came at Chambers Bay in 2015 (mostly because I don’t remember much of it), but he has a lot of things going for him this week at Winged Foot. His short game was among the top 10 on the PGA Tour last season, his long game is among the best of all time, and he actually has some tournaments under his belt unlike at the PGA Championship a month ago.
8. Rory McIlroy (Won in 2011) — I’m not going to not have him on my top 20 list, but I’m just not seeing it this week. He’s missed three of his last four U.S. Open cuts and the game since golf restarted in early June has not been as sharp as it was early in 2020.
9. Patrick Reed (4th in 2018) — When it’s on, he has the best short game in the world. That greatly intrigues me. The problem is he does not hit many fairways. He’s a semi-sleeper that is worth keeping an eye on, though.
10. Hideki Matsuyama (T2 in 2017) — Do you worry about the putting? Of course, you always worry about the putting. But Matsuyama’s short game is excellent (fifth in strokes gained around the greens), and he can move the ball around into these greens like he did at Olympia Fields.
11. Tommy Fleetwood (2nd in 2018) — Only so-so on the PGA Tour since the restart, but he finished T3 at the Portugal Masters, and his U.S. Open record is impeccable. If he can finish second at Shinnecock Hill, he can do some work at Winged Foot as well.
12. Matthew Fitzpatrick (T12 in 2019) — I don’t think his tee-to-green game is enough to really get into contention, but he finished top 10 at both Muirfield Village and Olympia Fields this year. He’s also a past U.S. Amateur champ.
13. Tony Finau (5th in 2018) — Do I think Finau is going to win the U.S. Open? Not really. But I have to do something with four top 10s in his last seven events (including the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park). He has more than twice as many major top 10s as J.T.
14. Daniel Berger (T6 in 2018) — Fitting that these two golfers ended up next to each other. They played in the final pairing in the fourth round at Shinnecock in 2018. Berger has been extraordinarily good in 2020 and has an underrated and very creative short game. I worry a little that he performed poorly at Muirfield Village and Olympia Fields, but it’s easy to rationalize those two away — just like it is with J.T. — because of how well he’s playing.
15. Tyrrell Hatton (T6 in 2018) — He’s so intriguing here. If we, at any point, get a Rahm-Hatton pairing on the weekend, they might blow a hole in the lower layers of the troposphere because of this setup, but Hatton has been terrific in 2020 and could absolutely contend here.
16. Patrick Cantlay (T21 in 2019) — He’s terrifying to leave off a list like this because you never know if or when he’s going to have one of the great ball-striking weeks of his life. Sneaky good short game as well. If his recent form was better, he’d be in my top 10.
17. Tiger Woods (Won in 2000, 2002, 2008) — I don’t want the shame on my hands when he contends for this one. That’s the only reason he’s in my top 20 because, let me tell you, that short game is not where it needs to be for him to take on Winged Foot.
18. Harris English (T37 in 2016) — He’s playing the best golf of his life and can absolutely roll with the Schauffles, Thomases and Rahms of the world in the ball-striking department.
19. Jason Day (2nd in 2011) — Led the PGA Tour in strokes gained around the green last season and strung together four straight top 10s before falling off over the last two events he played in last season.
20. Gary Woodland (Won in 2019) — He gets respect here because he’s the defending champion, but if Brooks Koepka or Scottie Scheffler were playing, Woodland would be knocked from the top 20.