Commentary

Extrapolating a U.S. Open winner

Originally Published: June 15, 2009
By Matt Willis | ESPN.com

With 156 players in the field to start the 2009 U.S. Open, it doesn't take a genius to tell you that only one can win. It also doesn't take a degree in mathematics to figure out that 155 of those players will not win the Open.

Many people are picking winners, but I'm going ignore the degree of difficulty and pick 155 losers.

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What does it take to win the U.S. Open?

Well, you've got to have heart, but that doesn't mean Dudley Hart's will win it (especially after he WD'd). You've got to go low, but I won't take Cortland Lowe. Pars win the Open, but it won't be Andrew Parr. Maybe you have to be batty to attack Bethpage Black, but Douglas Batty won't win it, either.

With help from fellow researchers Jon Kramer and Dave Bearman, I've done the work and come up with a simple (okay, maybe not so simple) method of figuring out just who will capture the U.S. Open.

First of all, no amateur has won the U.S. Open since John Goodman in 1933 (I loved him in "The Flintstones"). So we'll take out the 16 amateurs in this year's field.

(Sixteen eliminated: Tyson Alexander, Josh Brock, Bronson Burgoon, David Erdy, Rickie Fowler, Drew Kittleson, Clark Klaasen, Scott Lewis, Ben Martin, Matt Nagy, Kyle Peterman, Vaughn Snyder, Kyle Stanley, Nick Taylor, Cameron Tringale, Drew Weaver.)

Next, nobody has come through the local qualifying round and gone on to win the U.S. Open since Orville Moody in 1969. That eliminates another 18 from contention.

(Eighteen eliminated: Douglas Batty, Colby Beckstrom, Charlie Beljan, Ryan Blaum, Craig Bowden, Steven Conway, Sean Farren, J.P. Hayes, Clinton Jensen, Cortland Lowe, Josh McCumber, Michael Miles, Trevor Murphy, Kevin Silva, Ryan Spears, Shawn Stefani, Michael Welch, Cameron Yancey.)

Look at some past U.S. Open results when picking your winner. The last golfer to win a U.S. Open after never previously making a U.S. Open cut was Lee Janzen in 1993. Thirty-five more eliminations trims the field to a more-manageable 87.

(Thirty-five eliminated: Sang-Moon Bae, Cameron Beckman, Matt Bettencourt, Richard Bland, Simon Dyson, Johan Edfors, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Ross Fisher, Brian Gay, Lucas Glover, Scott Gutschewski, David Horsey, Raphael Jacquelin, Matthew Jones, Shintaro Kai, Simon Khan, Jason Kamte, Martin Laird, Jose Manuel Lara, Jean-Francois Lucquin, Rory McIlroy, Andrew McLardy, Francesco Molinari, James Nitties, Andrew Parr, Angelo Que, Alvaro Quiros, Michael Sim, David Smail, Chris Stroud, Peter Tomasulo, Nathan Tyler, Charlie Wi, Gary Woodland, Azuma Yano.)

Now let's flash back to 1970. That's because it's the last time a European has won the U.S. Open, courtesy of Tony Jacklin. We take out the Hansens, Hansons and Harringtons of the world, eliminating another 18 total.

(Seventeen eliminated: Paul Casey, Darren Clarke, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Soren Hansen, Peter Hanson, Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Martin Kaymer, Soren Kjeldsen, Thomas Levet, Graeme McDowell, Carl Pettersson, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Oliver Wilson.)

Not in this millennium have we seen a U.S. Open winner over the age of 40. The last U.S. Open winner that old was Payne Stewart, who was 42 when he won in 1999. With the 17 elder statesmen in the field gone, now we have 53 left.

(Seventeen eliminated: Stephen Ames, Jeff Brehaut, Michael Campbell, Ken Duke, Fred Funk, Retief Goosen, Todd Hamilton, Greg Kraft, Tom Lehman, Billy Mayfair, Rocco Mediate, Kenny Perry, Eduardo Romero, Vijay Singh, Steve Stricker, Kevin Sutherland, David Toms.)

You can't come out of absolutely nowhere to win the U.S. Open. Since 1980, all but three U.S. Open winners had a top-10 finish earlier that season on the PGA Tour. One of the three who hadn't was Michael Campbell in 2005, whose first tour start of the season was in the U.S. Open. That trims another 13 off the list.

(Thirteen eliminated: Steve Allan, Eric Axley, Ricky Barnes, Ben Curtis, David Duval, Ryuji Imada, Chris Kirk, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Darron Stiles, Andrew Svoboda, Casey Wittenberg, Kaname Yokoo.)

Although it's on a different course, last year's U.S. Open does play a role. The high rough and fast greens tend to favor certain players. Each of the past three and 10 of the past 12 U.S. Open winners made the cut in the previous year's U.S. Open. Once again, we eliminate 12, such as Zach Johnson and Sean O'Hair.

(Twelve eliminated: Briny Baird, Angel Cabrera, K.J. Choi, J.J. Henry, J.B. Holmes, Zach Johnson, George McNeill, Ryan Moore, Sean O'Hair, Jeev Milkha Singh, Bo Van Pelt, Bubba Watson.)

Let's briefly flash back to the first major of the year. Seven of the past eight U.S. Open winners finished 37th or better in that same season's Masters. The remaining field of 28 golfers is cut in half, leaving us with a mere 14.

(Fourteen eliminated: Robert Allenby, Stewart Cink, Ben Crane, Ernie Els, Matt Kuchar, Justin Leonard, John Mallinger, Rod Pampling, Andres Romero, Adam Scott, Heath Slocum, D.J. Trahan, Boo Weekley, Mike Weir.)

Let's hit up another major that tests golfers' skills. The past five U.S. Open winners finished in the top 20 in the previous year's British Open. Many big names fall off the chart. Tiger couldn't play last year, but that's his problem, not mine. Geoff Ogilvy, Nick Watney and Camilo Villegas also fall by the wayside. We have just a trio of golfers left.

(Eleven eliminated: Stuart Appleby, Chad Campbell, Tim Clark, Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan, John Merrick, Geoff Ogilvy, Rory Sabbatini, Camilo Villegas, Nick Watney, Tiger Woods.)

Finally, since the turn of the century, each U.S. Open winner in odd-numbered years won the event for his first career major. Retief Goosen (2001), Jim Furyk (2003), Michael Campbell (2005) and Angel Cabrera (2007) all pulled it off. Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk have already had their moment in the sun, so they're gone.

(Two eliminated: Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson.)

That means just one golfer is left. That man is Anthony Kim. Look for AK to take it all on Sunday.

Matt Willis has been a production researcher with the ESPN Stats & Information Group since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. You can reach Matt at ESPNMattWillis@yahoo.com.

Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.