The question remains the same as it does every year when the U.S. Open approaches: Who will emerge victorious and wear the green jacket come Sunday evening? Though the field may be 156 competitors deep, less than one-third of those participating in this nation’s championship truly have an opportunity to emerge as a major title holder.
Will Tiger Woods win his first event in five years? Is it time for Phil Mickelson to finally compete the career slam at a course he knows quite well at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, New York? Perhaps one of the young 20-something golfers tearing up the PGA Tour make a name for himself during the second major of the year.
Narrowing all of this down to a champion and top finishers is a tough task, but we here at CBS Sports are certainly up to it. Let’s take a look at our staff’s expert picks and predictions for the 118th edition of the U.S. Open.
2018 U.S. Open predictions
Kyle Porter, golf writer
Winner — Rickie Fowler: I have agonized over this. I picked Dustin Johnson on our First Cut podcast, which was recorded on Monday of U.S. Open week, but I’m officially changing it to Fowler the day before the event. He checks every box for me this week. He’ll be patient on a tough course. He can handle the wind and changing conditions. He’s top 10 on the PGA Tour in scrambling. Everything clicked into place for him at Augusta National (where I also picked him). It just makes sense to me that Fowler would win this event in this year. Everything else has felt like a crescendo. Somebody please remind me of this when D.J. rolls by seven on Sunday!
Top 10 lock — Jason Day: I don’t love the strokes gained on approach shots (outside the top 150 is not a great look), but boy is he tough at U.S. Opens. Top 10 in four of the last five and five of the last seven, and he he already has two wins this year to prove that he’s on current form. Best short game in the business right now, which will come in handy after how hard and fast the greens and run-off areas get later on this week.
Sleeper — Luke List (150-1): The top eight golfers from tee to green on the PGA Tour this year are Johnson, Justin Thomas, Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Justin Rose … and List. That’s a pretty incredible list (pun intended) to be slicing down the middle as List is in centered in that pack. As is the case with most great ball-strikers, if he putts, he could have a chance.
Top 5 in order: Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Jason Day
Bold prediction: Rory McIlroy misses his third straight U.S. Open cut. I’m certainly not hoping for this, but he’s struggled the last two years with U.S. Opens after a furious finish at Chambers Bay in 2015. I’m fascinated to see if he can solve a complex puzzle in Shinnecock. Recent form says he can, but I think his brawl with this track will be short and swift.
Lowest round: 65 (-5)
Winning score: 276 (-4)
Winner’s Sunday score: 69 (-1)
Chip Patterson, writer
Winner — Dustin Johnson: Instead of the hand-wringing necessary to choose another golfer, we can make this simple: the 2018 U.S. Open runs through Dustin Johnson. There’s not another golfer on the planet who has been better over the last three years than DJ, but his “athletically arrogant swing” (copyright Kyle Porter) and dominant distance off the tee is not the reason to like him at Shinnecock Hills. It’s the short game, particularly getting up-and-down, that looks dialed in and can help him win his second national championship in three years.
Top 10 lock — Rickie Fowler: Compared to 2017, Fowler’s statistics alone would suggest a bumpy start to the year, not the blazing performance at Augusta and a top-10 finish at the Memorial. Where last year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills was a wide-open, high-octane race to the lowest score, we’re anticipating more U.S. Open-like scores this week and I think Fowler’s game is in a position to grind out a top-10 finish for sure, and possibly a win.
Sleeper — Kyle Stanley (150-1): There are two areas where Kyle Stanley, runner-up to Bryson DeChambeau at the Memorial, has shown a strength in his game that I think is going to benefit him at Shinnecock Hills: driving accuracy and greens in regulation. Stanley is fourth on the PGA Tour in both statistics, converting at a more than 70 percent clip in both categories. With penal rough added in the last year to the fairways and run-off areas that are going turn birdies into bogeys, Stanley’s ball-striking could make him a surprise at this year’s championship.
Top 5 in order: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowlerr, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson
Bold prediction: Louis Oosthuizen finishes top 10. If you can’t hold the greens at Shinnecock Hills, you better be good around the green and no one has been better at scrambling this season than Oosty. A runner-up in four majors since winning the The Open Championship in 2010 — twice in a playoff — it’s time we start considering the South African with a sharp short game as an annual threat at any of these top-tier tournaments.
Lowest round: 65 (-5)
Winning score: 273 (-7)
Winner’s Sunday score: 69 (-1)
Who will win the 2018 U.S. Open, and which long shots are set to stun the golfing world? Find out by visiting SportsLine now to see the U.S. Open projected leaderboard from the model that’s nailed four of the last five majors heading into the weekend.
Matt Norlander, writer
Winner — Jon Rahm: Let’s have some fun with this one. Rahm’s controversial propensity for unleashing his passion and frustration on the course is hard to turn away from. Still, he’s damn good. He finished fourth at The Masters in April and already owns five professional tour wins. You realize he’s only 23, yes? Shinnecock’s a fantastic U.S. Open course because of its no-size-fits-all setup. No one player has a game that can fully take advantage of what this course provides. Because of that, I think it’s particularly tough to project a winner this year. I’ll go with Rahm on the belief that his natural talent and consistency in winning tournaments gives him a nice shot at another finish in a major near or at the top of the leaderboard.
Top 10 lock — Justin Thomas: The No. 1 player in the FedEx Cup standings at this point, and a top-three player in tee-to-green in 2018. Month to month, he’s as good and consistent as any player not named Dustin Johnson. I think Thomas is more reliable in a big spot than Johnson. I think he’s a very safe pick to finish in the top 10.
Sleeper — Webb Simpson (66-1): Very tempting pick. His season-long stats give him a great case as a dark horse to take this tournament. First of all, the 32-year-old has won this event before (2012). He enters this week’s Open tournament by ranking fourth in PGA Tour scoring average, second in scrambling and fifth in putting efficiency. In May, he won the Players with an aggregate 18-under. The window is very much open for him if he putts to the best of his ability.
Top 5 in order: Jon Rahm, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson
Bold prediction: The course winds up being the star of the event. Shinnecock Hills is held in high regard among golf purists, and after a botched hosting job at the 2004 U.S. Open, there’s a lot riding on this year’s tournament. Fairways have been reshaped, a return to fescue grass has been made, the pin positions should be better and the greens much more forgiving than 14 years ago. You won’t see any trees, which will give it a British Open-type of feel as you watch on television. The players who can take advantage of their creativity with shots and aggressiveness in approaching the greens will be the ones atop the leaderboard on Sunday. Playing it safe is a guarantee to not winning the trophy.
Lowest round: 66 (-4)
Winning score: 275 (-5)
Winner’s Sunday score: 68 (-2)
Adam Silverstein, assistant managing editor
Winner — Justin Thomas: I was having a hard time deciding between Johnson, Fowler and Rahm … and then I saw those above already claimed all three. Fine. While everyone focuses on D.J. and Tiger Woods over the first two rounds, Justin Thomas will be right there in the threesome knocking in birdies and pars. He is long off the tee and calm under pressure. Considering the difficulties it appears Shinnecock Hills will throw at these golfers, I’ll look for Thomas to win his fifth event and second major in the last 10 months. I wonder if Jordan Spieth feels Thomas running down his golden boy crown from behind?
Top 10 lock — Dustin Johnson: If I’m not picking D.J. to win, you can bet I’m sliding him in here as an absolute lock to finish among the top 10 on the leaderboard Sunday. The No. 1 golfer in the world will be giving that title right back to Thomas after taking it from him just last weekend, but that’s OK. He’s longer off the tee than Thomas and has just as good of a short game, if not better. Still, we all remember what happened in 2014 and 2015, right? Johnson did pick up his first and only major win one year later, but he missed the cut in 2017 and has not finished better than eighth in a major since that U.S. Open.
Sleeper — Adam Scott (66-1): It took a big-time effort for Scott to sneak into the field and continue his major streak, but he qualified and will have an opportunity to surprise this week. Scott also has an extra club in the bag, so to speak, after hiring Lenny Bummolo as his caddie for the tournament. Who is Bummolo, exactly? He’s a 60-year-old native of East Islip, New York, who previously caddied for Scott at Shinnecock when the 2013 Masters champion shot a 63. There’s too many fun storylines here for Scott not to be in the conversation on Sunday.
Top 5 in order: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson,
Bold prediction: Tiger Woods will be inside the top 10 and within four strokes of the lead at some point during Round 3. We have seen Woods get off to slow starts and even struggle to make the cut in his first full season back, but when he gets an opportunity on Moving Day … he moves. Woods will ultimately fall out of contention and not be in one of the final few pairings on Sunday, but he will surprise and excite at some point this week just as he always seems to.
Lowest round: 65 (-5)
Winning score: 273 (-7)
Winner’s Sunday score: 67 (-3)