2022 US Open predictions, picks, favorites: Ranking the field from 1-22 at The Country Club at Brookline

2022 US Open predictions, picks, favorites: Ranking the field from 1-22 at The Country Club at Brookline

There’s myriad storylines entering the 2022 US Open, and among those is a reunion of the best players in the world. Even though LIV Golf has only been cranking for a week, it does feel like the tectonic plates of the sport are shifting with the major championships providing the opportunity for everyone to congregate for the sake of putting on one of the most competitive tournaments in the world .

Because of this reality — and hopefully it always remains a reality — all the best are gathered near Boston this week at The Country Cluband it’s time to sort out how well they’re playing into the week and who has the best chance of taking home the third major of the year.

This is always a difficult exercise. Should you take players who have played well at past US Opens or players whose games are smoking coming in? If you can find golfer who fits both categories, I suppose that’s ideal, which is why we start with Rory McIlroy at the top.

It was interesting to thumb through this field as it’s been easy to lose sight of how Viktor Hovland and Brooks Koepka have fallen off while Davis Riley and Sungjae Im have risen up.

This list is an attempt to sort out who has the best chance of capitalizing on momentum (or turning it around) as we look at who’s best positioned to win the 122nd US Open. Don’t forget to check out our full slate of US Open expert picks and predictions as well.

2022 US Open field, ranked

1. Rory McIlroy (Won in 2011): McIlroy enters No. 1 in the Data Golf rankings, which are probably a more accurate representation of who’s currently playing the best golf in the world than the conventional Official World Golf Rankings. All the ingredients are there for a Rory romp, but whether it happens is a completely different story. After three straight missed cuts at this tournament from 2016-18 — his longest sustained run of failure at any major — he’s backed that up with three straight top 10s at Pebble Beach, Winged Foot and Torrey Pines. Interestingly, the US Open is the one place he’s started fairly strong at majors over the last few years. The problem has been one blow-up round later in the week. If he can avoid that mine at Brookline, it could be major No. 5 for somebody who’s been hunting it for nearly a decade.

2. Scottie Scheffler (T7 in 2021): The list of golfers since World War II who have won the Masters and US Open in the same year is outrageous: Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth. That’s the company Scheffler is trying to join, and while he’s cooled a bit from his insane March and April, he still has four top 20s in his last five events and his ball-striking has been just as good. The only thing that’s changed from those first four months to now is that his putter has faded just a bit, which is not unexpected given the level at which he was operating. If he can rekindle it for one week in Boston, we could be talking about him among that revered group of five who have won the two most important American events in the same year.

3. Justin Thomas (T8 in 2020): Thomas has had his moments at this championship — specifically a thunderous 63 at Erin Hills in 2017 — but he’s never really been in it at the very end of a US Open. Somehow, he’s elevated his game in 2022 even beyond what we’ve seen from him before. JT is currently gaining 2.4 strokes per round, which is better even than his five-win season in 2017. The putter has been smoking — five positive strokes gained tournaments in his last six — and if Brookline indeed demands all the shots like Southern Hills, JT could be the first to win consecutive majors since Spieth did it in 2015.

4. Jon Rahm (Won in 2021): Can a top five player in the world, who is also last year’s champion, possibly come in under the radar? Rahm has been driving it out of his mind so far this year — 37 of 41 measured rounds have been positive strokes gained off the tee — but he hasn’t been sharp enough with his iron play to capitalize. He’s been a strange non-factor at the first two majors of the year after the first two months of 2022 made me think he was going to win five times this season.

5. Collin Morikawa (T4 in 2021): Morikawa has scuffled a bit of late (for him), but this nugget from Justin Ray is good foreshadowing for Morikawa’s future US Open career, especially at golf courses like The Country Club that might not be as susceptible to bombing and gouging as other US Open venues.

Precision iron play is paramount virtually every week, but it’s especially significant at the game’s toughest tests. Over the last five years, nearly 45 percent of the strokes gained against the field by US Open champions have come on approach shots. Each of the last five champions ranked 6th or better for the week in Strokes Gained: Approach. In that same time span, the average field ranking for winners on the PGA Tour in that statistic is right around 12th.

6. Jordan Spieth (Won in 2015): I’m dubious about Spieth at US Opens in general, but it’s also easy to envision Brookline as an Open Championship facsimile, That’s the place where Spieth has thrived the most over the course of his career, and he’s taking a terrific strokes-gained number into this US Open (seventh in the world over his last 20 rounds). The putter will undoubtedly be shaky (and unnecessarily dramatic), but I think Spieth is going to contend throughout this week.

7. Xander Schauffele (T3 in 2019): His run of five consecutive top 10s is nearly unprecedented, but as my colleague Patrick McDonald points out, few of those were through the front door. Schauffele might be more of a play as a top-10 or top-20 lock than somebody I’m leaning on to win.

8. Brooks Koepka (Won in 2017 and 2018): I don’t love his form coming in — Scheffler has won four times since Koepka last had a top 10 at a stroke play event — but it’s difficult to ignore his US Open credentials. In his last four US Opens, Koepka has two victories and has been defeated by a total of four golfers. That should be terrifying for the field. This from Justin Ray, by the way, is an insane stat as well: Since the beginning of 2016, Koepka is a combined 71 under par in majors, 50 strokes ahead of his nearest competitor in that span.

9. Sam Burns (T41 in 2018): Burns has yet to top 10 at a major, but he’s playing the best golf of his life. He and JT are the only guys who can give Scheffler a run at PGA Tour Player of the Year, but it might take a win at both of the last two majors to do it.

10. Will Zalatoris (T6 in 2020): Zalatoris did not play well in last year’s US Open, but he has five top-eight finishes in his six other major starts as a pro (one was a WD with an injury), and his numbers at majors have been a joke.

11. Cameron Smith (T4 in 2015): That left hook he showed off a few times at TPC Sawgrass when he won The Players earlier this year terrifies me. Everything else is rosy, though. He has the best approach numbers of anyone in the field, and we know his short game is nasty. This year’s US Open setup should be better than most others for him. He’s not really a brawler, but he’ll hit some golf shots that take your breath away. Brookline has more of that fell then, say, Torrey Pines or Erin Hills.

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12. Shane Lowry (T2 in 2016): After what happened to Europe in 1999 at the Ryder Cup, perhaps this would feel like a bit of redemption 23 years later. Lowry has played the best golf of all the winless players in the world in 2022 (and better than most of the players who have won). Only Thomas, McIlroy and Scheffler have been better this year.

13. Tony Finau (5th in 2018): Big Tone has emerged from his early-year slump and now has consecutive top-five finishes to take into this US Open. He’s near the Spieth-Thomas class in strokes gained over his last 20 rounds, and I’ve been encouraged by a hot short game recently that has been a buoy.

14. Hideki Matsuyama (T2 in 2017): Matsuyama is too often forgotten at major championships where iron play is often more important (especially at the US Opens) than it is at regular events. He’s gained strokes with his approach shots in 12 of 13 events so far this PGA Tour season, which is not normal and foreshadows nicely at Brookline with its minuscule greens. No Asian golfer has ever won the US Open.

15. Joaquin Niemann (T23 in 2020): He’s played some of his best golf of the year at the toughest courses the PGA Tour goes to (win at Riviera and T3 at Muirfield Village). In both of those, his iron play was as tremendous as you would expect. That’s the category that will determine whether he thrives at Brookline, but he certainly has the game and the array of shots needed to win a major championship. At 23, he would join Spieth and McIlroy as the youngest winners of the championship this century.

16. Max Homa (MC in 2021): Throw him in the Scheffler-Thomas-Burns group of currently playing the best golf of his life. He implied after the PGA Championship, where he finished a career-best T13 at a major, that he’s learning how to play majors better even without his best stuff. His approach play is underrated (top 10 in strokes gained approach in his last 50 rounds), and when you combine the best golf he’s ever played with a mental approach that’s allowing him to play his way into (instead of out of) majors, it’s not difficult to see him being competitive this week.

17. Davis Riley (MC in 2020): His ball-striking in his last 20 rounds is better than Conners, Schauffele, Finau, Homa, Matsuyama, Burns, Rahm, Lowry, Niemann, Thomas, Hovland and Patrick Cantlay. Six consecutive top 20s on the PGA Tour. He’s the real deal, and even though most folks haven’t heard of him, it would not be surprising at all to see him contending this week.

18. Matt Fitzpatrick (T12 in 2019): The easiest storyline of the week is that he won the US Amateur here in 2013. The more interesting one is that he’s seventh in the world in strokes gained in 2022 and one of just three in the top 15 (Lowry and Zalatoris) without a victory .

19. Viktor Hovland (T12 in 2019): The talent hasn’t gone anywhere, but Hovland doesn’t have a top 10 since The Players in March. His short game, which he’s noted over and over is dubious, has gotten even worse which would imply a loss of confidence around the greens. Given how many greens players are going to miss this week, that doesn’t necessarily bode well for one of the best young talents in the world.

20. Corey Conners (MC in 2021): His swing has “US Open champion” written all over it, though he’s not made the weekend in either of his previous two starts. He’s been absolutely flushing it of late and drags two top 15s in a row into this week.

21. Cameron Young (MC in 2021): He has a number of things going for him here. His birdie percentage is extremely high (No. 5 on the PGA Tour). As Justin Ray pointed out here, that has been a recent indicator of US Open success. He also hits a really high ball, which should help at Brookline’s small, hard green complexes. Young had three consecutive top-three finishes (including the PGA Championship) and seemed poised to fight for a fourth before shooting 84 (!) on Sunday at the Memorial in his last round before this event. That’s not enough to scare me away, but it certainly dropped him a few spots on this list.

22. Mito Pereira (MC in 2019): The best redemption story at Brookline would not be Phil Mickelson returning to the only major championship that has eluded him but rather Pereira winning his first major after collapsing late at Southern Hills. Only Rory has been a better ball-striker over his last 20 rounds.

[BONUS] 23. Sungjae Im (22nd in 2020): I haven’t thought a lot about Im over the last few months, but he’s been putting away good finishes. Three top 15s in his last four starts, including the Masters and Memorial. Only Scheffler, Morikawa, McIlroy and Pereira have hit the ball better over their last 20 rounds.

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