In recent years, the narrative connecting U.S. Opens has been rooted in second-guessing at best, but two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka dismissed notions of criticism for the setups and preparation at Erin Hills and Shinnecock Hills in his meeting with the media on Tuesday. Quite simply, he said that everyone plays the same course.
While purists especially should count on witnessing a U.S. Open to their liking at Pebble Beach – all signs are pointing to exactly that – Koepka's message is one in the same with the commitment to fantasy. No matter the format, everyone is in the same boat. Like it or reject it, your opinion is revealed in your decision to play or not to play. No doubt about it, Koepka comes to play.
He landed atop my Power Rankings, but he doesn't appear in my lineup for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf. You'll find my reasoning in the COMMENT in Expert Picks. And despite his dominance in the last two editions of this major and the PGA Championship, I'm not recommending him for PGA TOUR Fantasy One & Done.
While Koepka can contend anywhere, taking the driver out of his hands would be like preventing Phil Mickelson from posting videos on social media. Sure, Mickelson could continue to tweet like everyone else, but he'd blend in and others might shine. Let's face it, Mickelson is so much better when he can play with every club in his bag, so to speak.
Speaking of whom, Mickelson's pursuit of the career grand slam is but a coincidence with Pebble Beach as the backdrop. It's exactly the kind of site that Mickelson would hand-pick to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in the exclusive club of those who have achieved victory in all four majors. So would One & Doners who are compelled to lean on Lefty this week.
The tight fairways and likelihood that he'll holster his driver on all but one or two of the 14 tees that aren't par 3s improve his chances of playing from the shortest grass. No one is more familiar with where to miss or more comfortable putting on Poa annua surfaces. No, this isn't the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am that he's won five times – of course it isn't – but this is by far his best chance to make history. And if he doesn't, accepting a top 10 is fine for our purposes.
If Patrick Cantlay wasn't available, I wouldn't hesitate on Mickelson, who I'll pocket for the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational (assuming he commits). Jack Nicklaus' lesson on self-awareness and having fun resonated with the Memorial champion. If I wasn't pacing entering that event, I'd have burned Cantlay then. Now that I'm chasing – in part because I played Matt Kuchar (MC) at Muirfield Village – redemption is my motivator. And because of how Cantlay is wired, the thought of him prevailing in consecutive starts is a non-starter.
Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods are going to vie for the highest ownership percentage, but DJ should win the battle. His record at Pebble Beach is fantastic and he threatened in the 2010 U.S. Open on the course. The final-round fade was a long time ago, but with the way he thinks, so was Sunday's T20 at the RBC Canadian Open. His light is green no matter your position.
I like Woods just as much; that is, unless you're saving him for the TOUR Championship, which isn't a bad idea.
Jason Day also jumps off the page. The beauty about the Aussie is that his middling form upon arrival and concern that it's rooted in a malady that isn't getting attention will discourage your opposition. He's perfect for those of us in pursuit.
Brandt Snedeker also occupies a spot in that lane. Front-runners might invest elsewhere and/or save him for the Wyndham Championship, but he's poised to strike now. An idea putting stroke for Poa, a superb record in the U.S. Open, including a T8 at Pebble in 2010, and a pair of victories in the AT&T provide all the evidence you need to support the play. Just continue to remember my philosophy: Target a top 10. Top fives are bonuses and victories are worth celebration.
If you're digging your heels in and taking a cut like Javy Báez, Rory McIlroy is your guy. He's not a super fit for the course, but the record books are loaded with major champions who didn't make sense before the tournament started, and he makes enough sense to be sure. His confidence is way up there and he's experiencing success over time after simplifying his plan of attack for 2019. If I was going to make an early call for the FedExCup champ, he's the guy. Meanwhile, consider that league leaders who can still play him are likely to plug him in at The Open Championship in his native Northern Ireland. You, however, should never wait to be stymied.
Jordan Spieth fits that profile as well, but only because of his success in the AT&T. Small greens don't yield putting contests, which is why he's been emerging on leaderboards again. They allow average putters an opportunity to shine with what is usually a stronger game in the air. Wait.
My second tier of considerations include Matt Kuchar, Adam Scott and Webb Simpson, but each lines up stronger at another time.
Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele also make the most sense as insurance if the chips haven't fallen your way to exhaust one of the haymakers reviewed above. I'm hesitating based on form and uncertainty on Poa.
Two-man gamers shouldn't think twice about including 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. Surging Shane Lowry also belongs on your radar. And give Kevin Na a peek.
Rank Expert Pick Comment 29th
Possesses the countenance to win most weeks, but it's at a U.S. Open where it's of greatest value. Rested after rising to victory in seriously impressive fashion at Memorial. 106th
Tiger Woods I whiffed using him on a track they "Tiger Proofed" so I'm not making the same mistake on a course he won by 15 shots in 2000. The rest and prep should pay off again this week and there isn't a better putter on Poa annua greens. 108th
I feel like it’s best to use him at a major. I’m kicking myself for not using him at the PGA. 119th
On the Mark
Dustin Johnson I don't think I will be the only one making this pick this week. 225th
Jason Day The Day from the 2011-2016 U.S. Opens is set to replace the Day from the 2017-18 U.S. Opens. Addition of Steve Williams likely needs time to mature, but I’ve got to swing for the fences being so far behind. 704th
Dustin Johnson I’m not going to waver on my plan for this season despite my poor record so far because this pick makes too much sense: DJ has a great record in the U.S. Open ... and the 2016 champ also has a great record at Pebble Beach. Done.
NOTE: Select golfers committed to the tournament are listed alphabetically. Future tournaments are sorted chronologically and reflect previous success on the courses on which the tournaments will be held in 2018-19. The numerical values in parentheses represent the order of relative confidence of where to use each golfer if multiple sites are listed (e.g. 1 for strongest, 2 for next-strongest and so on). To present weighted confidence in real time, numerical values will not change all season no matter how many tournament remain listed for each golfer. All are pending golfer commitment.
Daniel Berger … Travelers (1)
Keegan Bradley … Travelers (4)
Rafa Cabrera Bello … Wyndham (4)
Paul Casey … Travelers (1); TOUR Championship (3)
Jason Day … U.S. Open (10); Open Championship (9)
Bryson DeChambeau … Travelers (4); John Deere (7)
Jason Dufner … U.S. Open (2); Wyndham (8); TOUR Championship (10)
Rickie Fowler … U.S. Open (10)
Sergio Garcia … Open Championship (5); TOUR Championship (2)
Branden Grace … U.S. Open (4)
Billy Horschel … Wyndham (6); TOUR Championship (1)
Dustin Johnson … U.S. Open (1); WGC-St. Jude (6); TOUR Championship (7)
Zach Johnson … John Deere (1); Open Championship (2); TOUR Championship (8)
Brooks Koepka … U.S. Open (1; two-time defending); Open Championship (8)
Matt Kuchar … Open Championship (8)
Marc Leishman … Travelers (3); Open Championship (8)
Hideki Matsuyama … U.S. Open (14); Wyndham (7); TOUR Championship (5)
Rory McIlroy … Travelers (8); Open Championship (1); TOUR Championship (6)
Phil Mickelson … U.S. Open (6); Open Championship (9); WGC-St. Jude (3)
Francesco Molinari … Open Championship (1; defending)
Kevin Na … Wyndham (5)
Jon Rahm … TOUR Championship (7)
Patrick Reed … U.S. Open (3); Travelers (7)
Justin Rose … Open Championship (8); TOUR Championship (2)
Xander Schauffele … U.S. Open (3); Open Championship (4); TOUR Championship (1)
Adam Scott … U.S. Open (9); Open Championship (7); TOUR Championship (3)
Webb Simpson … Travelers (9); Wyndham (1)
Cameron Smith … Wyndham (3)
Brandt Snedeker … U.S. Open (5); Travelers (9); Wyndham (1; defending)
Jordan Spieth … U.S. Open (4); Travelers (9); Open Championship (6); TOUR Championship (8)
Henrik Stenson … Open Championship (6); Wyndham (8); TOUR Championship (7)
Justin Thomas … TOUR Championship (3)
Bubba Watson … Travelers (2; defending); TOUR Championship (8)
Tiger Woods … U.S. Open (6); THE NORTHERN TRUST (8); TOUR Championship (5; defending)