Six contenders for the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst

James Tompkinson selects a group of very different candidates to win at Pinehurst...

The Favourite – Rory McIlroy
Age: 24
Majors won: US Open (2011), PGA (2012)
US Open record: Won his first Major after demolishing Congressional three years ago. He has two missed two cuts though (2010, ‘12). 
2014 form: Somewhere close to his best. Just missed out at the Honda Classic won at Wentworth and has eight top 10s to his name – yet to miss a cut in 2014.

NCG Verdict
McIlroy is swinging well and comes off the back of a superb win at the BMW PGA Championship. When that happens he is highly dangerous. He is the kind of player who can blow away even elite fields if he gets into contention after two rounds.

The Nearly Man – Phil Mickelson
Age: 43
Majors won: Masters (2004, 06, 10), Open (2013), PGA (2005)
US Open record: So often the US Open nearly man, with six seconds, including behind Justin Rose last year having held the 54-hole lead at Merion. Has only ever missed two US Open cuts, in 1992 and ‘07.
2014 form: Endured a first missed cut at the Masters since 1997 but is otherwise in decent nick with four top-20 finishes on tour.

NCG Verdict
It is now the only title between him and securing a grand slam of Majors. His form and history in the event makes it impossible to rule him out. With no Tiger in the field and a course with an onus on scrambling that will suit his game, this could be Mickelson’s year. But the pressure is huge…

The Veteran – Ernie Els
Age: 44
Majors won: US Open (1994, 97), Open (2002, 12)
US Open record: His first two Majors were US Opens and he has a fine recent record too. He was tied 4th in 2013 and recorded top 10s in 2010 and 2012, two of 10 in his career – with only three missed cuts.
2014 form: Els has shown some solid, yet unspectacular form this year, with a fourth place finish at the Accenture World Matchplay his best result so far.

NCG Verdict
There are few golfers that can boast a longevity of career that Els has displayed in his career. As his record above suggests, he is an extremely consistent performer in the US Open –  and what’s more, he wasn’t an obvious candidate prior to Lytham 2012, and look what happened…

The Rookie – Patrick Reed
Age: 23
Majors won: None
US Open record: Reed will make his debut in this year’s US Open. 
2014 form: Reed has exploded onto the scene this year with two victories on the PGA Tour at the Humana Challenge and WGC Cadillac Championship along with four other top-20 finishes. It is fair to say he sees himself as in good form too, following his “I’m in the world top 5” comment after winning his WGC at Doral. 

NCG Verdict
Had a disappointing first Major outing at Augusta, but his game should suit the US Open. Few can rival his early-season form and he also made the semi-finals of the 2008 US Amateur at Pinehurst, so has shown solid form on a course and a set-up that will definitely not suit everyone.
The winner at Pinehurst this year will be someone who chips and putts well The Ex-Champion – Graeme McDowell
Age: 34
Majors won: US Open (2010)
US Open record: McDowell won at Pebble Beach in 2010 and was one shot behind Webb Simpson two years later.  He has four top-20 finishes in his last five US Opens.
2014 form: Has had a strong start, recording five top-10s on the PGA Tour. However, he missed the cut in the Masters, although it is an event he has often struggled in.

NCG Verdict
McDowell knows how to handle pressure and has excellent past form in the US Open. The winner at Pinehurst this year will be someone who chips and putts well as the greens are among the hardest in the game, and ice-cool McDowell has been one of the best putters on the PGA Tour this year.

The Euro Hopeful – Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano
Age: 33
Majors won: None
US Open record: Fernandez-Castano missed the cut on his first two US Open appearances, but recorded a 10th place finish at Merion last year – it remains his best finish at a Major. 
2014 form: Now playing mainly on the PGA Tour, the Spaniard has produced some strong performances and has only missed two cuts this year.

NCG Verdict
The 2013 BMW Masters champion has good consistency on the PGA Tour in 2014 so he is capable of mixing with the very best. Yet to burst into life at a Major but he is a proper ball-striker and his US Open effort last year could easily be a marker ahead of even better things.

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