ARDMORE, Pa. -- Serious golf fans already have their favorite golfers: established stars, up-and-comers, role models, antiheroes, guys who make it look easy, guys who remind weekend duffers of themselves. But the U.S. Open is not just for serious golf fans. It's for everyone, with a 156-player field filled with legends and teenagers, professionals and amateurs. It is golf for the masses, by the masses. But the casual fan may be confused about just who to root for in such a crowded field.
This article will help the casual fan pick the best golfer or golfers to root for at the Merion Golf Club on Thursday through Sunday. Just select the type of team or player you like to root for in other sports, and then match your choice to the appropriate golfer. It's easy, it's fun, and you might just become a fan for life!
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Who You Like Rooting For: The Miami Heat. The New England Patriots. The subjects of one-hour Oprah Winfrey exclusives.
Who You Should Root For: Tiger Woods. You love him, you hate him, you love to hate him, hate to love him, hate to love to hate him, or love to hate to love him. But you cannot deny that Tiger is, once again, everywhere. He is winning, despite a brutal showing at the Memorial. He is earning, with Forbes putting him back atop the list of the world's richest athletes, well above slackers like Roger Federer, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. He is loving, with Lindsey Vonn dishing on the red carpet about her famous beau. Woods is the favorite, America loves favorites, and if both Vonn and Nike can stop worrying and learn to love him, maybe we can put the hate on hold. Until the next controversy, anyway.
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Who You Like Rooting For: The same things everyone else is rooting for.
Who You Should Root For: Phil Mickelson. Lefty has had an expect-the-unexpected year so far. He won the Phoenix Open but had a miserable Masters, finished in the top three several times but missed two cuts. Mickelson chose to skip the Memorial and played the St. Jude Classic instead last week. "I like playing the week before," he said. "I know that for me to be sharp mentally, especially into a tournament where the penalty for missing is so great, like the U.S. Open, it's important that I'm sharp and I'm ready to play."
Lefty sharpened as St. Jude went on. He wrapped two bogeys around a double bogey in the 15th to 17th holes in first-round play, the double bogey a nasty bunker-to-rough-to-bunker misadventure on a par-5 hole. By Sunday, he was on fire, ending with a birdie on the 18th hole after an amazing approach shot to finish in second place. Mickelson's drive has lacked accuracy this year and he is in a putting slump; everything in between remains cherry. If the final three rounds of St. Jude are any indication, he is peaking at the right time.
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Who You Like Rooting For: Back-from-the-brink stories; career re-inventors; Where Are They Now? types.
Who You Should Root For: Matt Kuchar. The amateur superstar of the late 1990s, off the main tour and all but forgotten by 2009, Kuchar continued his thundering comeback with a win at the Memorial. Kuchar has changed everything from his swing to his putting style since 2010. His arm-lock putting technique is gaining imitators (and will gain more, with the anchored-putting ban) and has made him dangerous on the green. His wedge game has also shone this year, and Merion favors good short games. Kuchar has never won a major, but he finished third at the Masters in 2012. After wins at the Memorial and the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, he's through knocking and ready to kick down the door.
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Who You Like Rooting For: Whoever's hot; rebels against the establishment; the opening act that's waaaaay cooler than the headliners.
Who You Should Root For: Adam Scott. This year's Masters champion finds himself at the center of the anchored putting controversy. The USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Association will ban the act of jamming a putter into your sternum for extra precision as of 2016, and Scott is leading a group of golfers taking legal steps to overturn the ban. (The PGA has not yet officially ruled on the matter and appears sympathetic to the rebels.) "Lawyering Up" has earned Scott some international critics, but the Australian is golf's greatest ambassador Down Under, and his persistent Masters performance in April -- he battled for par after par in the final round, hanging in contention long enough to get hot and finally overtake Angel Cabrera in extra holes -- earned him some admirers stateside.
Scott has hung near the top of the rankings for a decade, and he is grouped with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy for the opening rounds. Scott has been part of Tiger Trios in the past and knows his role. "I'm probably also the third wheel this week, as well. That's why I'm No. 3 in the world, otherwise I wouldn't be the third wheel, I guess." Follow the Masters with a U.S. Open, and he will go from third wheel to co-headliner.
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Who You Like Rooting For: The Next Big Thing
Who You Should Root For: Jordan Spieth. Spieth finished tied for 21st and was low amateur after making the U.S. Open field as an alternate in 2012. This year, the former University of Texas superstar is a pro, and he arrives at Merion red hot after shooting 8-under at sectional qualifying in Dallas last week. Spieth is just 19 years old, but he is powerful off the tee, not to mention consistent and gutty well beyond his years. A two-time Junior Amateur champion and NCAA champion, Spieth is ready to shed the "next Tiger Woods" designation and make his own name.
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Who You Like Rooting For: The last "Next Big Thing."
Who You Should Root For: Rory McIlroy. The 2011 U.S. Open winner has been in a brutal slump this year. Leaving the Honda Classic with a toothache halfway through the second round (after a barrage of double bogeys and water shots) was just part of the problem. Off the links, he is in hot water with former sponsors and is in the process of leaving his management firm to become his own boss. On the course, he has been all over the place: big misses off the tee, inconsistent approaches, errant putts. McIlroy may be his own worst enemy right now, but Mother Nature could be an ally: The Philadelphia area has been pummeled by rain in recent days, and a soft course can be forgiving for a player in need of some forgiveness.
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Who You Like Rooting For: The next "Next Big Thing;" NCAA rebels with a cause.
Who You Should Root For: Grayson Murray. Murray made the kind of transfer news college basketball players typically make this time of year. He started his college career at Wake Forest, did not like the fit, transferred to East Carolina, butted heads with his coach, then transferred to UNC-Greensboro. The NCAA punishment for such undergraduate indecision is decapitati … oops, sorry, just a lost year of competition and eligibility. Murray will bide his time at Merion, having qualified with an eagle on a par-5 and an 18th-hole birdie at a qualifier. The 19-year-old left high school as one of the top ranked junior players in the nation, but so far has made more news with his transfers than his results. That could change with a strong showing this week.
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Who You Like Rooting For: Distinguished veterans; champions of yesteryear.
Who You Should Root For: Ernie Els. Philadelphia is the home of Big 5 basketball, so why not root for one of golf's Big Five from the last decade? And if Tiger and Lefty aren't your bag, there's always Els, playing in his 21st U.S. Open and in the middle of a slow, stately comeback. The switch to anchored putting helped Els win the Open Championship last year, but now he is starting the switch back to short putters while trying to bring other elements of his game back to Big Five levels. "My ball‑striking for some reason this year hasn't been as sharp, so I've put a bit more work in on that front the last week," Els said on Monday.
Els has more Merion experience than most players in the field, and the two-time winner has more U.S. Open experience than just about anyone. He's the kind of player who can shrug off rainy practice rounds and soupy conditions, and focus on the goal. "All aspects start clicking, then you can start thinking about winning," he said. "And I feel that time is coming right now."
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Who You Like Rooting For: Old-school grinders who do things the hard way.
Who You Should Root For: Steve Stricker. The 19-year PGA Tour veteran has played the toughest schedule of the PGA Tour so far, according to Golf Week. Sticker finished second to Dustin Johnson in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, then second to Tiger in the WGC Cadillac Championship and made a quarterfinals appearance at the Match Play Championship. He also made middle-of-the pack showings at the Houston Open, the Masters and the Players Championship, where he was part of a fun-to-watch Stricker-Scott-McIlroy grouping. All this while battling a herniated disc in his back, and after claiming at the start of the season that he planned to curtail his workload. Stricker lacks power but has one of the best wedge games on the tour; some of Merion's shorter fairways and tricky approaches will play to his strengths.
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Who You Like Rooting For: Tim Tebow, Justin Bieber
Who You Should Root For: Bubba Watson. The similarities to Tebow are endless. Both are left-handed. Both are outspoken about their faith. Both are powerful but incredibly erratic, with messy fundamentals. Watson is a monster off the tee but has inconsistent accuracy and putts poorly. Watson's best games, most notably his Masters victory in 2012, are shaky, emotional comebacks full of unlikely recoveries. Sound familiar? Like Tebow, Watson became an overnight sensation but quickly stumbled: His style of play makes him more likely to miss a cut than win a major. But unlike that other guy, Watson is in the process of bouncing back, following a 15th place finish at April's Zurich Classic with decent performances at the Players Championship and the Memorial.
As for Bieber, Bubba and the Beeb are tight, they appear to share the same barber and Watson recorded a boy band song with some other golfers. Well, of course he did. Actually, it's pretty awesome.
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Who You Like Rooting For: Blue-collar, hometown Philadelphia heroes; last chance veterans; Rocky Balboa in those last two movies.
Who You Should Root For: Geoffrey Sisk. The 48-year old Sisk, a Temple University graduate, is making his seventh U.S. Open appearance but his first since losing his tour status in 2011. Sisk took most of last season off to decide the fate of a career that appeared to be over. "Part of the issue I had back in 2011 was the enjoyment was out of the game again, because of the stress I caused myself of losing that status," he said on Monday. Sisk qualified by playing local tournaments near his New England home. He was so far off the tour radar that travel expenses were becoming a burden. The local path was a familiar road for Sisk, who reached the Open through local qualifiers six other times. "I go into these qualifiers with very little expectations," he said. "All I can do is just do the best I can."
Sisk lacks a power game, but Merion's distances are forgiving. He also lacks a home-course advantage: He has played only two rounds at Merion, decades ago. Like Rocky, Sisk does not have to win to be a winner. A competitive showing can get him back on the PGA or Web.com tours, in position to qualify for the Champions Tour in a few years, and back on track to pursue his dream.
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Who You Like Rooting For: Fenway Park, Soldier Field, the old theatre downtown they keep threatening to replace with a parking lot.
Who You Should Root For: Merion Golf Club. It's OK to root for the course itself, especially when it is a historic course like Merion. The U.S. Open has been moving away from old-fashioned courses like this one, and if short fairways and soft surfaces produce bunches of under-par results, the PGA may continue its quest for bigger, badder venues. Els predicts some gaudy scores this week, which will not help Merion's reputation as a majors-worthy course. "I think it's not going to bare its teeth the way it should," Ernie Els said on Monday of the course. Easy course or not, the U.S. Open brings pressure, and Merion brings history. "Hopefully we can come back, because I really love these old style, traditional‑styled golf courses," Els said.
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Who You Like Rooting For: The wicked stepmother. Clubber Lang. The hungry orca in the penguin documentary.
Who You Should Root For: Sergio Garcia.