Published November 20, 2014
We have a rare occurrence heading into this week's U.S. Open.
The best of the best are, almost to a man, in peak form.
How much so?
I believe a case can be made for any of the top 20 players in the world as a solid, if not spectacular choice, to win the U.S. Open at Olympic Club.
Since they are top 20 in the world, obviously they are the favorites, but this parity is something to behold.
Nine of the top 20 in the world have either won or finished second somewhere in the world since the calendar turned to May.
That doesn't include a man who has the most runner-ups in the history of the event, the Masters champion, the Masters playoff loser, or a guy who has two PGA Tour wins already this year.
Of the seven men not mentioned, two won earlier in the year on tour, one is the '11 Masters champion, two finished second in major championships last year, one won twice in 2011 and the other was No. 1 in the world last year.
This group is a stunning array of talent, momentum and U.S. Open-style games, and all are contenders.
Obviously, you have to look at Tiger Woods, but fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.
After his win at the Memorial, Woods will once again head to a major winning his last event like he did at the Masters after he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He tied for 40th at Augusta, so who knows what we will see.
And, isn't it refreshing to have such a wide-open field as opposed to guessing whether Woods will win by less a touchdown?
Luke Donald has two wins this year worldwide.
Rory McIlroy set 12 different records en route to winning last year. Twelve!
Phil Mickelson has to eventually win one of these after five seconds, right?
Lee Westwood won by five in Sweden on Saturday.
Bubba Watson won the Masters and, since he has no discernable swing technique, can hit it any direction he wants, which is huge at Olympic Club.
Jason Dufner is hotter than Mila Kunis taking a bubble bath.
Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar won two huge events and contend almost every week. You can set your watch to them being on the leaderboard when they enter an event.
Steve Stricker tied for fifth here 14 years ago, and since, all he's done is win back-to-back Comeback of the Year awards, become a Ryder or Presidents Cup stud and putted lights out.
This whole group is dizzying.
To say this might be the best U.S. Open in recent history isn't hyperbole. The facts bare it out. The play of the best in the world make calling anyone a prohibitive favorite ludicrous.
Any one of them would be a huge favorite, if not for the fact that there are so many of them, the numbers won't allow a singular choice A.
But if the winner was to not come from this pool, who should we be looking at?
When Lee Janzen won here 14 years ago, he came into the week as the 42nd- ranked player in the world. He hadn't won in three years, but had a major title under his belt already. Janzen couldn't hit past most of your grandmothers, but he was able to play the course brilliantly and picked up his second major title.
The 42-ranked player in the world, heading into this week is David Toms. Does he not fit the Janzen bill perfectly? There's the matter of winning last year, but Toms is short, at the end of the run a bit and flying under the radar.
A player in a similar position is Jim Furyk. The 2003 U.S. Open winner has slipped considerably since his 2010 FedExCup triumph, but this year he has eight straight top-26s.
Olympic Club requires a lot of shot shapes and Furyk can do that. His game is rounding into form and is a nice value outside the top 20.
From the "You've Probably Never Hear of Me, American golf fan" Department, how about South Africa's Branden Grace. All he's done this year is win three times on the European Tour, including the Volvo Golf Champions, where he beat his two idols, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
What about the chain-smoking Spencer Levin? He's held 54-hole leads on tour a few times this year and could be ready for a breakthrough.
There are dark horses, but the winner of the 2012 will be a top-20 player.
See if you can figure it out.
My choice has won one of the biggest events of the season.
He had two top 10s in the WGC events and a top five at the Masters.
This young man is first on tour in scoring average, 10th in greens in regulation and 25th in driving accuracy, which is a perfect formula for U.S. Open success.
He even has history at Olympic Club.
As an amateur in 1998, he went 70-69 the first two rounds and was tied for fourth heading into the weekend. He smiled his way around Olympic, fell a bit on the weekend, but was a major story.
He's still grinning like a simpleton, but now, it's not the feeling of being overwhelmed causing the smiling, but rather success.
Matt Kuchar is ready to be a major champion. His game is perfect for the U.S. Open, his form is strong and he will carry those memories to his first major title.
And he will do so, despite being the seventh- or eighth-best option, even with everything you've just read.
- Aside from Kuchar, I also like Donald, Dufner, Fowler, Furyk and Mickelson a lot.
- I don't trust Woods, McIlroy, Watson, Westwood or Hunter Mahan.
- Shanshan Feng's win at the LPGA Championship could be one of those moments that people will look back on as the advent of something huge. She is the first player, male or female, to win a major championship, being born in mainland China. The impact that country could have on the world of golf is potentially monstrous.
- Tom Lehman's win at the Tradition was as ho-hum as ho-hum gets.
- Dustin Johnson's win at the St. Jude makes him a viable candidate for the U.S. Open, but I can't get huge mistakes out of my mind when I think of him in major championships.
- Movie moment - I DVR movies quite a bit, but some I know I'll never watch. I save them like I'm trying to impress someone who might come over. "Oh yeah, I have 'Midnight in Paris' on DVR. May pop it on one night." I'm never going to watch it and reality is, it's just taking up space on the DVR that would be better served by reruns of "Good Eats" or "Teen Mom."
- TV moment - Time to laud Ricky Gervais a bit more. "The Ricky Gervais Show" is just himself, collaborator Stephen Merchant and idiot friend Karl Pilkington discussing Pilkington's views on life. The kicker is, the show is animated, but in an elementary way in which Gervais looks like Fred Flintstone. Look it up.