by Evan Scheiber, Golf editor
#1: Phil Mickelson: Can Lefty Complete the Grand Slam?
Fresh off one of golf’s most compelling wins since Tiger’s incredible 2019 Master’s win, Mickelson is hot on the trail to complete his career grand slam. The 50-year-old would again drive up the age of the oldest winning major champion with a win at the notorious Torrey Pines in San Diego.
Without the win at the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah, the six-time major winner would have needed a PGA exemption to even make the field for the US Open, so the question remains was the win at the brutal Ocean Course the cornerstone to the monument that is Phil’s career… or can he cast an even wider shadow over golf’s newest generation of long ball enthusiasts?
For all of the talk of Bryson DeChambeau’s long drive prowess, Phil still popped off the longest drive at The PGA Championship with a crack at 366 yards. Could we be witnessing the renaissance of the more traditional style of golf making a return to the winner’s circle? He’s even in the hunt to make the illustrious USA Ryder Cup team. Which is keeping Phil fired up to complete for the remainder of the season.
Is 2021 the year of Phil?
#2: Will Zalatoris: Emergence of A New Superstar?
The U.S. Open could be Zalatoris’ first major trophy. He has been on a heater in the past 16 months and is extremely focused since he found himself playing mini-tour events back in the winter of 2018-2019. W
ith a meteoric rise starting with a few consecutive wins on the mini-tour he picked up a Korn Ferry card in the middle of 2019. Following a sponsor exemption to remain on the Korn Ferry — the PGA’s version of the minor leagues –Will strung together a few wins which qualified him for the 2020 US Open.
And golf fans will remember in last year’s edition of the US Open, without any fans in attendance, Zalatoris burst onto the PGA scene where he finished sixth overall. The 24-year-old Wake Forest alum is part of the next generation of golfers who are utilizing data over feel, folklore, and favor consistency over artistry. He took on the DECADE scoring system before Bryson DeChambeau with coach Fawcett.
He’s a young player on the rise who has five top twenty finishes in his last ten tournaments. Plus, a top ten finish in the past two majors in 2021. And he finished seventh at the Farmer’s Insurance Open earlier in 2021 which was also held at the same course at the upcoming US Open, at Torrey Pines.
His consistent Greens-In-Regulation is currently the best on the tour with a stat line of a little less than 70% of greens in reg. This translates to him sitting at third overall in birdie percentage amongst his peers.
All that combines to make him fun to watch — and means he will be around the tour for a long time to come. Could this coming weekend kick start another promising career on the PGA? Watch this space.
#3: Bryson DeChambeau: Will the Science Experiment Come to An End?
Bryson’s bulking up in 2019 helped him to pick up his first major tournament win at Winged Foot back in 2020.
Many of the mainstream golf outlets talked up how he wouldn’t be able to hit enough fairways on such a tight and technical course. But he proved everyone wrong and won with six strokes over Matthew Wolff by the end of the tournament and contending as the only player under par.
While he clearly has improved the accuracy of his long drives in the past six months — which has led to six top twenty finishes in 2021 — the notoriously thick rough combined with narrow fairways will present a major challenge to DeChambeau’s aggressive off the tee style.
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Unlike Bermuda grass, Kikuyu grass like at Torrey Pines does not die off in the winter so springtime play at courses with this type of grass play very thick. Making recovery shots from even short irons a tall order on a windy cliffside course that embodies the classical links style of design.
If he can control his tee shots and remain in the fairway at distances of over 350 yards — which he has done consistently in the past — we could easily see a consecutive US Open title from the emerging superstar.
#4: Rory McIlroy: Can the Artist Leave Another Major Mark
One of the biggest demands at Torrey Pines is great low iron play with a creative approach. It will help golfers to battle those perfectly placed bunkers.
Rory is one of the best in the world at crafting a shot with his low irons on to a green. A great example was when he finished six under par at the 2021 Farmer’s Insurance Open at… Torrey Pines earlier this season. He was only eight strokes off the lead by Sunday. Another example was his eighth-place finish at Winged Foot last season.
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When Rory’s irons are on, he’s a force to reckoned with. Rory plays the game the way it was intended: With the course, not against it. That is typically the type of play that is favored at US Open events in the past.
If he makes the cut on Saturday, keep an eye on the Northern Irishman.
Evan Scheiber is The Horn News’ Golf editor and enthusiast.