The U.S. Open is annually one of the, if not the, greatest tests in golf. It's enough to give a duffer like me nightmares, waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking of my ball in tangled grass or rolling off an ice-slick green.
Luckily, I don't have to play at Merion. But 156 of the world's finest golfers will tee it up Thursday, all asking themselves what it'll take to win.
Likewise, many fans and pundits will be giving their take on what it will take to win, and they'll be making their picks. Some will use statistics to make an educated guess. Others will play a hunch or trust their gut. Many will simply pick Tiger Woods.
My methods for picking aren't nearly that simple. In fact, I won't even pick a winner. I'll use a mix of statistics, history and trends to pick 155 losers and, by process of elimination, a winner. I call it The Eliminator.
First off, let's start wiping out guys in a hurry. No player has won the U.S. Open in his first attempt at it since Francis Ouimet back in 1913. He's not playing this year, so let's take out the 45 players who will be making their first U.S. Open start this year.
Let's continue to knock them off left and right. Each of the past nine U.S. Open champions made the cut at the previous year's British Open. Sounds simple enough, but 70 of the remaining 111 didn't play the weekend last year across the pond. So they're gone. My apologies to players like Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey.
The U.S. Open is a true test of golf, and lately, it's been a young man's game. Each of the past four U.S. Open champions was 30 or younger. Sorry to all of those who have celebrated too many birthdays. Among the 30 players to hit the wayside are Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Ernie Els, Luke Donald, Jim Furyk and, yes, even you, Tiger Woods.
Let's look back to the Masters, because each of the past five major championship winners made the cut in the last major played. Six more are eliminated, which gives us just five left.
Not only must you have played in a previous U.S. Open, but you had to see some time in contention. Each of the past three U.S. Open champions had previously finished 18th or better in a U.S. Open. That takes out Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler and Branden Grace to leave the final two.
We're on a stretch of variety in majors that I'm looking to continue. Each of the past four U.S. Open winners, as well as seven of the past eight, picked up his first major victory.
Furthermore, 10 of the past 12 major winners hadn't won a previous major. That's enough to eliminate McIlroy to leave us with just one.
This week, look for Dustin Johnson to make up for his past major championship disappointment and finally break through. Remember, the numbers don't lie.
The Eliminator: Step-by-Step
1. No player has won the U.S. Open in his first start since Francis Ouimet in 1913.
45 elminated, 111 remaining
Morten Orum Madsen
Ted Potter Jr.
Jaco Van Zyl
Harold Varner III
2. The past nine U.S. Open winners made the cut at the previous year's British Open.
70 eliminated, 41 left
Jay Don Blake
Doug LaBelle II
Jose Maria Olazabal
Cheng Tsung Pan
Bo Van Pelt
3. The past four U.S. Open winners were 30 or younger.
30 eliminated, 11 remaining
4. The past five major winners all made the cut in the previous major.
6 eliminated, 5 remaining
5. The past three and five of the past six U.S. Open winners had a previous finish of 18th or better at a U.S. Open.
3 eliminated, 2 remaining
6. The past four and seven of the past eight U.S. Open winners hadn't previously won a major.
1 eliminated, 1 remaining
That leaves ...
Your winner: Dustin Johnson