10:26 PM EDT, June 12, 2013
— Mackenzie Hughes, an Ontario resident one year removed from a college career at Kent State, birdied his final three holes in last month's U.S. Open local qualifying in Spartanburg, S.C., just to be an alternate for sectionals.
Jay Haas, who has nine PGA Tour wins and more than $14 million in career earnings, withdrew from the St. Louis sectional. That opened the door for Hughes, who borrowed money to get there, played without a caddie and eventually won in a playoff.
Hughes is one of 156 players teeing it up this week at the U.S. Open at tradition-rich Merion Golf Club.
"Where do you get that storybook, dream-come-true ending?" USGA championship committee Chairman Tom O'Toole Jr. asked Wednesday. "Only at the U.S. Open."
Great story, but Hughes also is one of dozens who have a minuscule chance of being a factor this weekend.
Ten amateurs will play at least two rounds at the USGA's most utilized host site. Cross them off the list. Johnny Goodman was the last amateur to win a U.S. Open, back in 1933. Jim Simons was the last amateur to finish in the top 10. He tied for fifth in 1971.
Eight of the 43 European Tour players here have never played in a U.S. Open. Four of them haven't felt the pressure of a major tournament, so eliminate them.
In fact, count out all first-time U.S. Open competitors (43). Francis Ouimet was the last first-timer to win the title. He did so 100 years ago.
Merion is short by today's standards (6,996 yards), but demands accuracy off all 18 tees, so get rid of any PGA Tour player not in the top 50 in total driving, which combines accuracy and distance.
Who does that leave? Not many.
There is one obvious favorite: Tiger Woods. He has won four of eight starts this season. That's taking top prize money every other time out. The world's No. 1-ranked golfer was tied for 65th in his last event (the Memorial), so ….
If not Woods, then who?
Bombers Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson are among the PGA Tour's worst this season in driving accuracy. That won't work here.
Boo Weekley and previous U.S. Open winners Lucas Glover and Geoff Ogilvy are in the bottom 15 in total putting. See ya.
Here is my list of contenders:
Adam Scott: The 2013 Masters champion has top 10 finishes in six of his last 15 majors, tops in the field. He has a pair of top 20s in his only starts since winning in April at Augusta.
Jim Furyk: The West Chester native has one win among his six top five finishes in 18 previous U.S. Opens. He is fourth in driving accuracy and has a pair of top 10s this season.
Graeme McDowell: He has one win (2010) and a runner-up finish (2012) among his four top 10 finishes in the last 15 majors.
Sergio Garcia: Just kidding.
Lee Westwood: A pair of third-place finishes among his previous 13 starts. He also has four top 10s in his last 15 majors.
Steve Stricker: A wild-card pick, for sure. Family time has limited him to just six events this year. He had a pair of second-place finishes early, but hasn't been better than 20th in previous three starts. Still, he has the makeup and game to contend on a course like this.
Justin Rose: The Englishman is quietly having a solid season. He is second to Woods in all-around ranking, seventh in greens in regulation and first in total driving and sand save percentage. His best U.S. Open finish is a tie for fifth in seven starts.
Phil Mickelson: Lefty, who has five runner-up finishes in 22 previous starts, could shoot a course-record 63 or a couple of 78s and be on a private jet early Friday evening.
Rory McIlroy: He tore up soft Congressional two years ago en route to winning a U.S. Open. With Thursday's projected rain ensuring a soft Merion all week, he could put up another impressive four-round total.
K.J. Choi: Another wild-card pick, the South Korean is a real grinder who won't be unnerved by anything going on around him. He is due to break through in a major.
Jason Day: Australian has three top six finishes this season, including a third at the Masters. Has the skills and the nerves to win a major.
However, how do you bet against Woods breaking the tie on his resume of three U.S. Open titles, three U.S. Amateurs and three U.S. Junior Amateurs?
You don't. Well, at least I can't.
Twitter: For live updates this week from the U.S. Open, follow @TomHousenick
ATTENTION TO DETAILS
Here are some tidbits to digest leading up to the 113th U.S. Open, which is today through Sunday at Merion Golf Club.
•Field: 156 players, including 10 amateurs, 10 past champions and 43 first-time Open players
Course details: par 70, 6,996 yards, which is 451 yards longer than the 1971 and 1981 Opens here
Rough: Height cut to 5 inches on shorter holes, 4 inches on longer holes
Playoff format: 18 holes starting at noon Monday
TV: More than 35 hours of combined live coverage from ESPN and NBC
Trivia: When Merion last hosted a U.S. Open at Merion, there were four European Tour players in the field. Name them.
Trivia, part II: There are 43 European Tour players competing this week, including five previous U.S. Open champions. Name those five previous winners. Answers below.
Today's marquee tee time: 1:14 p.m., No. 1 tee, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott
Today's forecast: According to weather.com — rain, possibly heavy at times in the afternoon, with potential for damaging winds and hail. Chance of precipitation is 60 percent.
Trivia, part I: Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Mark McNulty, Greg Norman.
Trivia, part II: Ernie Els, Michael Campbell, Angel Cabrera, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy.
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