Commentary

Villegas is The Eliminator's Open pick

Originally Published: June 14, 2010
By Matt Willis | ESPN.com

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.

[+] EnlargeCamilo Villegas
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCamilo Villegas was the last man standing when The Eliminator crunched the numbers heading into this week's U.S. Open.

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)

Golfers eliminated:
Byeong-Hun An
Bennett Blakeman
Joseph Bramlett
Russell Henley
Morgan Hoffman
Scott Langley
Alex Martin
Ben Martin
Kevin Phelan
Andrew Putnam
Hudson Swafford

2. No golfer has made the field through local qualifying to win the U.S. Open since 1969.
(16 eliminated, 129 remaining)

Golfers eliminated:
Jason Allred
Erik Compton
Jon Curran
Kent Eger
Travis Hampshire
Erick Justesen
Kenny Kim
Hugo Leon
Dan McCarthy
Blaine Peffley
Jason Preeo
Matthew Richardson
Mark Silvers
Jerry Smith
Daniel Summerhays
Ty Tryon


3. No golfer over the age of 40 has won the U.S. Open since 1999.
(31 eliminated, 98 remaining)

Golfers eliminated:
Stephen Ames
Angel Cabrera
Michael Campbell
Ernie Els
Bob Estes
David Frost
Hiroyuki Fujita
Fred Funk
Jim Furyk
Retief Goosen
Paul Goydos
Mathias Gronberg
Thongchai Jaidee
Miguel Angel Jimenez
Kent Jones
Robert Karlsson
Jerry Kelly
Tom Lehman
Davis Love III
Rocco Mediate
Shaun Micheel
Phil Mickelson
Deane Pappas
Kenny Perry
Vijay Singh
Steve Stricker
Toru Taniguchi
David Toms
Scott Verplank
Tom Watson
Mike Weir

4. No European has won the U.S. Open since 1970.
(34 eliminated, 64 remaining)

Golfers eliminated:
Gary Boyd
Rafael Cabrera-Bello
Paul Casey
Alex Cejka
Rhys Davies
Brian Davis
Luke Donald
Simon Dyson
Ross Fisher
Sergio Garcia
Soren Hansen
Peter Hanson
Padraig Harrington
Gregory Havret
Mikko Ilonen
Rikard Karlberg
Martin Kaymer
Simon Khan
Soren Kjeldsen
Jean-Francois Lucquin
Pablo Martin
Gareth Maybin
Graeme McDowell
Ross McGowan
Rory McIlroy
Edoardo Molinari
Francesco Molinari
James Morrison
Ian Poulter
Alvaro Quiros
Michael Sim
Henrik Stenson
Lee Westwood
Oliver Wilson

5. The last 15 U.S. Open winners had previously played in at least two other U.S. Open events.
(23 eliminated, 41 remaining)

Golfers eliminated:
Arjun Atwal
Rich Barcelo
Matt Bettencourt
Brendon De Jonge
Rafa Echenique
Bobby Gates
Jim Herman
Yuta Ikeda
Ryo Ishikawa
Derek Lamely
Marc Leishman
Steve Marino
Kevin Na
Seung Yul Noh
Louis Oosthuizen
Terry Pilkadaris
John Senden
Paul Sheehan
Charles Warren
Steve Wheatcroft
Gary Woodland
Y.E. Yang
Azuma Yano


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)

Golfers eliminated:
Steve Allan
Eric Axley
Craig Barlow
Harrison Frazar
Jason Gore
Trevor Immelman
Justin Leonard
John Mallinger
Kaname Yokoo


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)

Golfers eliminated:
Aaron Baddeley
K.J. Choi
Ben Crane
Ben Curtis
Jason Dufner
Brian Gay
J.J. Henry
Dustin Johnson
Zach Johnson
Matt Kuchar
Sean O'Hair
John Rollins
Rory Sabbatini
Charl Schwartzel
Adam Scott
Chris Stroud
Bo Van Pelt
Nick Watney

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)

Golfers eliminated:
Robert Allenby
Stuart Appleby
Ricky Barnes
Tim Clark
David Duval
Lucas Glover
Hunter Mahan
Ryan Moore
Geoff Ogilvy
Heath Slocum
Brandt Snedeker
Tiger Woods

9. No defending British Open champion has won the U.S. Open since Jack Nicklaus in 1967.
(1 eliminated, 1 remaining)

Golfers eliminated:
Stewart Cink

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.

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.