By Ann Liguori
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OAKMONT, Pa. (CBSNewYork) — It seems nearly impossible to predict who will be holding the U.S. Open trophy at the ultra-challenging Oakmont Country Club. The player who makes the least amount of mistakes will win. Seems like simple logic, but on this most difficult layout, playing brilliant, sometimes magical, golf takes on new meaning.
World No. 1 Jason Day and defending champ Jordan Spieth could take the title. Can Rory McIlroy be consistent and sharp enough to win his second U.S. Open? Will Dustin Johnson’s mental game be tough enough to close out a major? How about a U.S. Open win for Phil Mickelson? Will a player from overseas shine again? Martin Kaymer and Louis Oosthuizen have the games to win here. Eight of the past 12 winners have come from over the pond.
Gaining the edge at the 116th U.S. Open will require brilliant, blunder-free rounds. I mean, razor-sharp play and the ability to muster up the magic at any given time. Let’s face it, no player will be even close to the perfection it will take to breeze around the tight fairways, stay out of the 4½-inch thick rough and sink every kind of putt on the tricky, tilted greens.
The two players this week who, I feel, have the best chance of tackling the toughness of the course and the mindset that will require a win here areDay and Spieth. And of those two players, I give the edge to Day.
Day is my pick to win his first U.S. Open and second major championship. The 28-year-old has a more than impressive all-around game and the mental toughness to win here.
When I asked him Tuesday what he thinks separates himself from all the other great players at the Open, Day replied: “I want it right now. I want it more than anyone in the world. I’m not saying that all the other players don’t want it just as much as me, but all I’m doing right now is focusing on trying to win golf tournaments, and I understand that the only way to do that is to get the process right. … Some guys prepare differently and some guys want it more than, you know, than others, and priorities change over time. But right now, my priority, as long as my family is happy and healthy, my priority right now is to win as much as I can, and that’s just on me.
“Sooner or later, over time, my priority will change, and unfortunately it just happens that way. But right now, I’m driven to win tournaments just because 10 tournaments that I’ve won is not enough. I need to win more.”
And that is why Day will continue to win more championships. His drive and focus is second to none, with the exception of Spieth.
Spieth is as driven to win as Day. The difference I see with the two in this area is that Spieth gets amped up a bit more and may let his emotions — his anger or frustration — get the best of him at times, which ultimately affects his play.
We’ve all seen Spieth have words with himself and with his caddie, Michael Greller, at times when things don’t go right. The two-time major champion expects a lot from himself — and rightly so. As impressive as he is on and off the course, his meltdown at the Masters in April shared a rare but insightful side of him. He has amazing game, but hopefully he’s learned from that experience to quickly forget his frustrations and stay focused in the moment.
Spieth wants to win as badly as Day. I feel that Day knows how to control his mindset better at this stage. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s six years older than Spieth. Maybe it’s the tough childhood Day has had to overcome, which teaches incomparable life lessons and adds all kinds of age-old wisdom to a young man.
Whatever those intangibles are, Day has it all. And that is why I see the Aussie winning here and many more championships in the future.
You can’t go wrong picking either Day or Spieth here or at any championship. And if their games are off and they can’t muster up the magic required to win here, the depth of talent in the field on a most difficult course will make it a most exciting U.S. Open.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori