- Matt Willis, NASCAR
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It's almost that time of year. I can almost feel the cool breeze coming off the Pacific. Except that I'm here in Bristol, Conn., so that's just the breeze coming off Waterbury.
In any case, it's time for the U.S. Open, and that means you're going to hear a lot of chatter from pundits and gurus telling you who they think is going to win. You'll also hear it from your friends, family and mail carriers.
Some will put a bit of thought into their picks, looking at who's hot and who plays well at Pebble Beach. Others will just play a hunch or settle on the name they first recognize from the entry list. Many will just pick Tiger Woods.
But in order to make a truly accurate pick and separate myself from the pack, I do things a little differently. I'll analyze the statistics of past U.S. Open winners and come up with a formula. Not one that determines who will win, but rather one that identifies the 155 golfers who can't triumph. The one left standing in the end will win the U.S. Open trophy. I call it The Eliminator.
And if you're a regular visitor to ESPN.com, you might remember that I gave you Lee Westwood at The Masters (amid the scoffs of many). Westwood finished second behind Phil Mickelson, after leading much of the tournament -- but that's not good enough! I'm here to pick winners, and a winner I will give you.
First off, you have to go all the way back to 1933 to find the last amateur who won the U.S. Open: John Goodman. ("Mark it zero!") I'm as excited about a Cinderella story as anyone, but we're going to go ahead and rule out the 11 amateurs in the field.
Cinderella elimination, Part 2: Literally everyone has a shot to qualify for the U.S. Open by going through local qualifying rounds. However, no golfer has won the U.S. Open after making the field out of local qualifying since Orville Moody in 1969. That removes another 16 golfers from the equation.
U.S. Open conditions are notoriously tough, making the tournament a battle to stay under par. That said, you want to side with youth this weekend. Since the turn of the millennium, the U.S. Open hasn't yielded a winner over the age of 40 (the last one was Payne Stewart in 1999). Now we start getting serious, taking out another 31 from the field, including favorites such as Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
Let's keep taking guys out in chunks, because that's where the fun is. This time, we're ruling out an entire continent. That's because no European has won the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin back in 1970. That allows us to take out 34 golfers (or about 50 countries) in this year's field, including guys such as Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Padraig Harrington.
Suddenly we're down to just 64 from the original field of 156, and another 23 will be gone after this: Each of the past 15 U.S. Open winners had played in at least two other U.S. Open events before his win. Experience matters here, so we're down to 41.
Next step: Look for golfers who have had at least a sniff of the leaderboard this year. That's because going back to 1969, 38 of the 40 U.S. Open winners had at least one top-10 finish on tour that season. That leaves another nine golfers by the wayside, whittling the number to 32.
It sounds redundant, but previous U.S. Open success has been a virtual requirement for future U.S. Open success. Fourteen of the past 16 U.S. Open winners had a previous top-12 finish at the U.S. Open. Another 18 golfers fall off the list.
And with this, we can wipe out 12 of the remaining 14 candidates: Five of the past six U.S. Open winners had a top-20 finish at the previous year's British Open. Among the dozen we can write off: Tiger Woods, Ricky Barnes and Hunter Mahan. Suddenly only two remain.
As I mentioned, a golfer who wants to win the U.S. Open has to have some success in the British Open the previous year -- but not too much. No defending British Open champion has won the U.S. Open since Jack Nicklaus in 1967. Stewart Cink is pretty good, but he's not Nicklaus. He's out, and that leaves us with our winner.
This weekend at Pebble Beach, I expect Camilo Villegas to earn his first career major win. Remember, the numbers don't lie.
U.S. Open Eliminator: Step-by-step
1. No amateur has won the U.S. Open since 1933.
(11 eliminated, 145 remaining)
2. No golfer has made the field through local qualifying to win the U.S. Open since 1969.
(16 eliminated, 129 remaining)
3. No golfer over the age of 40 has won the U.S. Open since 1999.
(31 eliminated, 98 remaining)
Miguel Angel Jimenez
Davis Love III
4. No European has won the U.S. Open since 1970.
(34 eliminated, 64 remaining)
5. The last 15 U.S. Open winners had previously played in at least two other U.S. Open events.
(23 eliminated, 41 remaining)
Brendon De Jonge
Seung Yul Noh
6. Since 1969, 38 of 40 U.S. Open winners had a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour that season.
(9 eliminated, 32 remaining)
7. Fourteen of the last 16 U.S. Open winners had a top-12 finish at a previous U.S. Open.
(18 eliminated, 14 remaining)
Bo Van Pelt
8. Five of the last six U.S. Open winners finished in the top 20 at the British Open the year before.
(12 eliminated, 2 remaining)
9. No defending British Open champion has won the U.S. Open since Jack Nicklaus in 1967.
(1 eliminated, 1 remaining)
Your winner: Camilo Villegas
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.
It all seems so simple when you trust the numbers: Camilo Villegas is the clear favorite to win the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, writes ESPN.com's Matt Willis.