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US OPEN '14: Capsules of 10 top contenders at Pinehurst No. 2

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PINEHURST, N.C. - A capsule look at 10 top players expected to contend at the 114th U.S. Open golf championship at Pinehurst No. 2:


Age: 38.

Country: Sweden.

World ranking: 2.

Worldwide wins: 13.

Majors: None.

US Open memory: Wanting to see Torrey Pines for the first time ahead of the 2008 U.S. Open, he went online to book a tee time and was sent out with two paying customers from Orange County. One of them was woman named Pamela Anderson. Just not the actress.

Backspin: He was arguably the best player in golf for the second half of last season, and while this has been a slow start to the new year, his game is rounding into form at the right time. His driving (great length even with a 3-wood) is critical, as is the iron play. He could go to No. 1 in the world with a victory, and become the first Swedish male to win a major. This will be his first time playing Pinehurst.



Age: 43

Country: United States.

World ranking: 11

Worldwide wins: 45.

Majors: Masters (2004, 2006, 2010), British Open (2013), PGA Championship (2005).

US Open memory: Six silver medals, the most runner-up finishes of any players in a single major without winning it.

Backspin: This is the deepest he has gone into a year without winning since 2003, which doesn't bode well. And while he was runner-up in Pinehurst in 1999, he tied for 33rd in 2005. It's a small sample size. But he plays the U.S. Open better and more consistently well than any major except for the Masters. The insider trading investigation would seem to be a major distraction. But this is Mickelson, who never ceases to surprise.



Age: 24.

Country: Northern Ireland.

World ranking: 6.

Worldwide wins: 11.

Majors: US Open (2011), PGA Championship (2012).

US Open memory: Setting the U.S. Open scoring record of 268 when he won at Congressional.

Backspin: There are times when McIlroy looks like the best player in the world. There are times — especially the second round, when he has had five 9-hole scores of 40 or higher — when he does not. The knock on his record U.S. Open win at Congressional was the rain-softened course. His odds at Pinehurst No. 2 will depend on how well he can minimize his mistakes. And how many putts he can make.



Age: 34.

Country: Spain.

World ranking: 8.

Worldwide wins: 24.

Majors: None.

US Open memory: The verbal abuse from the New York gallery in Bethpage Black in 2002, much of which Garcia brought on himself with his endless waggles and his complaints that Tiger Woods was getting special treatment.

Backspin: The U.S. Open would seem to be the major best suited for Garcia, a brilliant driver and iron players. But he has only had one reasonable chance, and that was 12 years ago at Bethpage. He tied for third at Pinehurst in 2005, though he was eight shots behind going into Sunday and finished five shots behind the leader. He would get most everyone's vote as the most talented player without a major.



Age: 33.

Country: Australia.

World ranking: 1.

Worldwide wins: 24.

Majors: Masters (2013).

US Open memory: Joining Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as the third wheel at Torrey Pines in 2008, the first time the U.S. Open went to a 1-2-3 grouping based on the world ranking. Scott was No. 3. Not many imagined that he would ever get to No. 1.

Backspin: Ever since he missed the cut in the U.S. Open at Congressional, Scott has been one of the most consistent performers in the majors. That said, the U.S. Open is the one major where he has never been in the hunt on Sunday. He's never even had a top 10. His chances will be determined by chipping and putting, particularly the latter.



Age: 20.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 10.

Worldwide wins: 1.

Majors: None.

US Open memory: His 69-70 weekend at Olympic Club in 2012 when he was 18 to be low amateur.

Backspin: Spieth has shared the 54-hole lead in the two biggest tournaments so far this year, the Masters and The Players Championship. He made a few mistakes, but largely was outplayed by the winner. For a 20-year-old who has been a pro for only 18 months, he already is getting attention for his poor final rounds. His lone win is the John Deere Classic. More notable is the number of chances he gives himself to win. He figures to cash in at some point.



Age: 22.

Country: Japan.

World ranking: 13.

Worldwide wins: 6.

Majors: None.

US Open memory: Matching the low score of the final round (67) at Merion last year to tie for 10th in his U.S. Open debut.

Backspin: His win at Memorial not only validated his status as a rising star, it allowed for more credibility in how he has played the other majors. He tied for 10th at the U.S. Open last year and tied for sixth in the British Open. And he closed with a 66 at Oak Hill in the PGA Championship last year. Of the four Japanese players to win in America, Matsuyama is the most athletic. His putting, however, would not be considered a strength.



Age: 35.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 3.

Worldwide wins: 6.

Majors: Masters (2012, 2014).

US Open memory: A tie for fifth in the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, reputed to be the toughest of the U.S. courses.

Backspin: No one is talking about a Grand Slam for the Masters champion — no one really every talks about that unless Tiger Woods wins the Masters — though Watson deserves a little more credit. He is a dangerous player when he's not taking himself too seriously. And while he struggles with concentration, that also was a problem for Payne Stewart. The more concentration required (Pinehurst and its domed greens), the better he played.



Age: 35.

Country: United States.

World ranking: 5.

Worldwide wins: 7.

Majors: None.

US Open memory: He tied for 14th at the Olympic Club in 1998 when he was a 19-year-old amateur and smiled even more than he does now. Which is a lot.

Backspin: Kuchar has become one of the safest bets in golf, though he doesn't have a great conversion rate. He keeps the ball in play. He rarely posts a big number. He putts well. And he always seems to be in the top 10. One of these majors, it simply will be his week. Perhaps this one of them.



Age: 33.

Country: England.

World ranking: 9.

Worldwide wins: 11.

Majors: US Open (2013).

US Open memory: The 4-iron he hit onto the 18th green from just in front of the Ben Hogan plaque at Merion.

Backspin: There's a reason Curtis Strange is the only player to win back-to-back in the U.S. Open for the last 60 years. Winning the U.S. Open is hard anywhere, and it moves around. So history is against him. In fact, Tiger Woods is the only defending champion since Strange to even finish in the top 10 the following year dating to 1990. Rose also has been inconsistent this year, coping with a shoulder injury early in the season. He is the defending champion, and that most likely ends on June 15.

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