- Matt Willis, NASCAR
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Coming off a Masters tournament that saw a thrilling Sunday, complete with a sure-fire winner shooting a final-round 80, a mix of new and familiar names sharing spots atop the leaderboard and even a hard-charging Tiger Woods, we wonder what could be next for the season's second major, the U.S. Open.
It's golf's truest test of skill, challenging golfers in every aspect of the game. It would also be the place where I'd shoot a 140 and possibly have to go into months of counseling.
So who can thrive, or simply survive, through four rounds this week at Congressional? A lot of experts, pundits and gurus will tell you who they think will win, as will your family, friends and grocery-store clerks.
Some will put a lot of thought and analysis into their picks; others will pick a name out of a hat or go on a hunch. Many will still pick Tiger Woods, despite him not being in the field.
But here in the ESPN Stats & Information Group, we do things a little differently. We love numbers, and using them to best illustrate what's going on in the world of sports. So what I'm going to do is pick a winner based solely on statistics, trends and streaks. But it's not quite that easy.
What I do is give you reasons golfers cannot win, taking them out in groups at a time. I'll keep going until there is only one golfer remaining, and by process of elimination, he must be the man who'll be hoisting the trophy. I call this little trick The Eliminator.
Let's start by ruling out some Cinderella stories. First of all, no amateur has won the U.S. Open since John Goodman (loved him in "The Flintstones") in 1933. That takes out 12. Likewise, no golfer has come through local qualifying to win since Orville Moody (loved his popcorn) in 1969, that takes out another 22.
It might be an unpopular stat, but a true one, that no golfer over 40 has won the U.S. Open since Payne Stewart in 1999. That takes out 22 greybeards, including Phil Mickelson, David Toms and Jim Furyk.
You can't just waltz into the U.S. Open and expect to compete. It takes some experience. Each of the past 16 U.S. Open winners had at least two previous U.S. Open starts. A whopping 39 golfers go by the wayside, and suddenly we're down to 61.
I want somebody who's been playing at least somewhat well. Thirty-nine of the past 41 U.S. Open winners had a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour that season. It's not asking much, but it takes out another 15.
Now, there's a level of success in the previous majors that must be met. The past seven U.S. Open winners made the cut at the previous British Open (25 more gone), and 14 of the last 17 had a previous top-12 finish at the U.S. Open (another eight gone).
The trend lately at the U.S. Open has been unlikely winners. Five of the past six winners entered the weekend with two or fewer career PGA Tour wins. We'll take out nine experienced winners; suddenly we're down to four.
Let's go back to analyzing previous majors. Four of the past five U.S. Open winners both had a top-10 in the previous year's PGA Championship and made the cut in that year's Masters. With those two criteria, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter are gone, leaving us with one.
So, remember Sunday at the Masters, and the heartbreak for Rory McIlroy? Don't count on that again this weekend, because The Eliminator is taking McIlroy to win his first major championship. Remember, the numbers don't lie.
The Eliminator: Step-by-Step
1. No amateur has won the U.S. Open since John Goodman in 1933. (12 eliminated, 144 remaining)
2. No golfers has come through local qualifying to win since Orville Moody in 1969. (22 eliminated, 122 remaining)
Michael Tobiason Jr.
3. No golfer over 40 has won the U.S. Open since Payne Stewart in 1999. (22 eliminated, 100 remaining)
Miguel Angel Jimenez
David Love III
4. The past 16 U.S. Open winners had made at least two previous U.S. Open starts. (39 eliminated, 61 remaining)
Seung Yul Noh
5. Thirty-nine of the last 41 U.S. Open winners had a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour that year. (15 eliminated, 46 remaining)
6. The past seven U.S. Open winners made the cut in the previous year's British Open. (25 eliminated, 21 remaining)
7. Fourteen of the past 17 U.S. Open winners had a previous top-12 U.S. Open finish. (8 eliminated, 13 remaining)
8. Five of the past 6 U.S. Open winners entered with two or fewer PGA Tour wins. (9 eliminated, 4 remaining)
9. Four of the past five U.S. Open winners made the cut at that year's Masters and had a top-10 finish in the previous year's PGA Championship. (3 eliminated, 1 remaining)
Your winner: Rory McIlroy
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.
Rory McIlroy is The Eliminator's Open pick