With all due respect to the top 40 players in the world, each one of whom can make a claim this week, no player has been better the past 18 months than Justin Thomas.
Thomas has every shot in the bag, and it’s necessary for winning at Shinnecock. This is a true U.S. Open test, and if any part of the game is lacking, players will suffer.
Heavy, thick rough? Yes, you must hit fairways. Long is always better than short, but finding short grass off the tee is essential.
Second-shot course? Absolutely. Strokes-gained approach is huge.
Wedge game? Check. Must be able to save some bogeys that otherwise look like doubles and triples.
Putting? Always. Goes without saying.
“If I had to pick one thing, I’d say you have to hit great iron shots this week,” Dustin Johnson said Tuesday. “You don’t get many wedge shots in. There’s a lot of long irons in.
“You can hit driver a lot and you have to hit fairways. If you don’t … ”
No need to finish that statement.
This is a true U.S. Open, unlike Chambers Bay and Erin Hills, which were incredibly entertaining venues but something less than a proper American championship test.
Bombing and missing fairways was not as punishing as it will be this week, as it was at Oakmont where Johnson won two years ago.
Being the hardest test in golf, the belief here is 4-under par should win the national championship, and if the USGA has its way that number could get it done this week.
It sounds brutal, and it should be.
This course will insist on patience and the ability to think your way around, and that brings players such as Marc Leishman, Kevin Kisner, Paul Casey, Webb Simpson and Brian Harman into the conversation.
If Jordan Spieth straightens out his putting, you’d have to take him seriously, but it’s been a problem all season.
If Rory McIlroy can play on Sunday, you’d have to look at him, but that hasn’t happened in 2018.
If Jon Rahm doesn’t force it, he’s as physically talented as anyone in the game not named Johnson, who is understandably the odds-on favorite.
The 23-year-old Rahm has it all and he’s going to win multiple majors. If he can dial it back a bit and not force it, he will stay in contention.
Johnson has every reason to believe he will win for the second time in three years. Good luck betting against him.
Gary Woodland has already won this year and could be the Brooks Koepka of 2018.
There’s a host of Euros capable of winning the U.S. title, such as Tommy Fleetwood, Thomas Pieters, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Alex Noren.
Justin Rose has probably never played better and he’s already a U.S. Open champ.
But Thomas has no flaws and he’s the reigning PGA champ, looking to join only Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods (twice) to pick up a U.S. Open the following year.
It’s only a matter of time for Fleetwood and Rahm, Woodland has the ability, Leishman is fearless and Casey, Harman and Kisner can work their way around the course with the best of the shorter hitters.
This is the Tiger Woods Wave, the era of players who grew up watching him and got into the game because of him, and that has created parity and a depth of talent perhaps surpassing any time in the game’s history.
Gone are the days when you could point to a single player heading into a major championship.
But the case for Justin Thomas is awfully good.
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