U.S. Open: Picks, dark horses, and storylines

The 118th U.S. Open tees off Thursday at Shinnecock Hills in New York. Here’s your complete rundown of tee times, TV coverage, and storylines. But you’ve got bigger questions, right? And we’ve got the right answers, courtesy of Yahoo Sports’ top writers and fantasy sports experts.

Who will win?

Jay Busbee: Everybody’s going to be throwing their money at Dustin Johnson, and with good reason. The guy’s the World No. 1, a major champion, and coming off a walkoff eagle in Memphis. But I’m looking to another U.S. Open champ, Justin Rose. He’s first on the tour in birdie average, second on the Tour in scoring average, and 10th in shots gained on the green. Every phase of his game is in sync at exactly the right time. Rose is going to roll.

Kevin Kaduk: It seems like it’s been awhile since I’ve tabbed Jason Day in a majors prediction post and it’s probably for good reason. The 30-year-old Aussie has struggled with various ailments since nabbing the 2015 PGA Championship, which is still the only major on an otherwise loaded resume. Day says he’s healthy headed into Shinnecock and he has all the tools to succeed on a USGA track. He’s finished in the top 10 in five of his seven U.S. Open appearances, taking second place in both 2011 and 2013. At 16-1, there’s plenty of value to be had if you’re the betting type.

Scott Pianowski: I really wanted to pick Rory McIlroy, who’s in perfect form leading up to this event. But McIlroy’s capable of losing his way off the tee, and even with a U.S. Open in his back pocket, this is the major he’s most likely to trunk slam. So give me an elite player with a resume and a reliable driver (long enough, straight enough). That’s Justin Rose.

Evan Doherty: Three things that can help your chances in a major championship: experience, the draw and…happiness at home?

Rickie Fowler hasn’t won a major, but he’s got three top 5s in his last four. According to Shinnecock’s head pro, Fowler has been one of the more frequent visitors to the course in the weeks leading up to the tournament. With an emphasis on wind, getting the early Thursday/late Friday draw – which Fowler has – could play to his advantage. Finally, the man just got engaged! (And according to buddy Justin Thomas, outkicked his coverage in the process.) So you know Rickie’s walking with some confidence.

Nine of the last ten major winners have been first-time major champions (the exception being Jordan Spieth at last year’s Open Championship). I think that trend continues, with Fowler hoisting the trophy on Sunday.

Pat Forde: Dustin Johnson.

Jay Hart: Phil Mickelson. Let’s be honest, picking the winner of a golf tournament is a total crapshoot, so I would be comfortable going anywhere from Dustin Johnnson (No. 1 in the world) to Xander Schauffele (No. 26) to Tiger Woods (No. 80). I’m taking Lefty for three reasons: he’s motivated (is this his last best shot at the career Grand Slam?), he’s playing well (a couple 66s and a 65 in his last few tournaments) and he’s making short putts. I’ll take that one stat as a sign that he’s primed to handle the ultra-slick greens that will test the field at Shinnecock.

How will Tiger Woods do?

Pianowski: Tiger’s iceman nerves have come back, and he’s always been one of the smartest players on Tour. But he doesn’t have knockout stuff anymore, and established players don’t fear him any longer. I say he sneaks into the Top 30 and maybe even the Top 20 on guts and guile alone, but he’s not working with the same toolbox as before. You want an exact number? Call it T24. (And yes, I’ll probably dial him up in Yahoo Golf DFS — the price is right.)

Forde: Will make the cut but never threaten to win, then talk about “traj” and “seeing his putting lines” and declare that he’s “getting close.”

Hart: If he gets through Round 1 in decent shape he will contend. Barring that, he’ll make the cut, provide a little tease on the weekend and … not much else.

Kaduk: As we saw with Brooks Koepka’s win at Erin Hills last summer, the U.S. Open is a young man’s game. It takes too much power and too much stamina to get through all 72 holes. Tiger and Phil might be able to hang for a round or two, but any additional majors they’re able to grab before hanging them up for good won’t come on a USGA layout.

Doherty: Tiger’s results this year in Florida: 12th, T-2nd, T-5th, T-11th. Outside of the Sunshine State: T-23, MC, T-32, T-55, T-23. Woods has given us glimpses of greatness so far this year, but nothing steady over four days. I think he survives the cut and generates some roars on the weekend, but a top-20 finish is a win in my book.

Busbee: He could finish in the top 10 and I wouldn’t be surprised, he could miss the cut by five shots and I wouldn’t be surprised. Woods tees off at 1:47 on Thursday. By 5:00 we ought to have a good idea where his week is headed; he tends to put himself in trouble early when he’s not feeling it. He’ll need to putt well to stay in contention, and putting has not been his strong suit in recent weeks. I’m not saying I’ll eat a golf ball or anything if he wins, but there are just too many holes in Woods’ game — and, more to the point, too many really strong players — to let Woods within sight of a high finish. I predict he’ll do a Rory McIlroy End-Around, playing just well enough to make the cut and then throwing some low numbers up on Sunday to artificially inflate his finishing spot.

How will Phil Mickelson do?

Pianowski: For all of Lefty’s ballyhooed near-misses in this event, that story has been on ice for a while. He’s contended in just one of his last six U.S. Opens, and of course he, nobly, skipped last year for family reasons. A payback from the Golf Gods would be one helluva story, but the Tour is too deep, too powerful, too young now. Phil plays all four days but has at least one sideways round, finishing T37.

Forde: Will hit it all over the planet but still stay in the neighborhood of even par until a triple on Sunday because he tried something crazy.

Hart: See above.

Busbee: Phil placed second in 2004 and tied for fourth in 1995, so he clearly likes Shinnecock Hills. The course sets up very well for his skills; the question for Phil will be how well he can handle the putter on the firm, fast greens. He’ll put himself in position to convert some birdies and eagles, but it’s going to require a lot more touch with the flat stick to become the oldest winner ever of the U.S. Open. I’m not saying he can’t do it, but everything will have to break exactly right for a guy who’s seen so many things break wrong.

Doherty: Can you imagine trying something 27 times and failing each…and every…single…time? (I’m looking at you, Houston Rockets.) Phil Mickelson’s teeing up in his 27th U.S. Open this week – and we all know about the heartbreak (six 2nd-place finishes, two of them coming at Shinnecock Hills). Earlier this season, he was great on the California swing, plus a win in Mexico. Since then, he has just one top-ten finish.

New York loves Lefty — and they’ll let him know it all week — but the USGA is certainly in his head. I think he struggles to runner-up finish #7 in the national open.

The U.S. Open begins Thursday morning. Stay tuned to Yahoo Sports for all the latest news and updates.

Who will win the 118th U.S. Open? (Getty)
Who will win the 118th U.S. Open? (Getty)

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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