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U.S. Open 2017: Players to watch & tee-times

The second major of the year is just about to get under way as the 117th U.S. Open takes centre stage this week in Erin Hills, Wisconsin.

Will we get another maiden major winner? Can any of the previous U.S. Open champions halt the sequence of eight straight first time winners of the prestigious tournament? At this stage, we are as much in the dark as everyone else.

Let’s speculate though, and take a look at noteworthy players and those who seem to fit the bill in the race to become 2017 U.S. Open champion – with their relevant tee-times thrown in for good measure.

Dustin Johnson

Tee times: Thurs 9.35 a.m. & Fri 3.20 p.m. (w/ Kaymer & Spieth)

The reigning U.S. Open Champion is the obvious pick for most of us and, if he’s on his game, the current world number one will be extremely difficult to beat.

A player who will benefit from the length and wide fairways on offer at Erin Hills, Johnson’s destiny is likely to be sealed by his performance around the greens which – while much improved on a few years ago – has stalled a bit recent months.

A deserving champion last year, he’s in with a great shout of becoming the first golfer since Curtis Strange in 1988-89 to go back-to-back at the U.S. Open.

Watch DJ close out his victory at Oakmont last year:

Rickie Fowler

Tee times: Thurs 8.51 a.m.& Fri 2.36 p.m. (w/ Mastuyama & Rahm)

Erin Hills seems a course which will suit the eye of Fowler and he comes into the second major championship of 2017 as one of the men to watch.

After somewhat of a lean spell stretching back to September 2015, the Californian managed to get back to winning ways at February’s Honda Classic in Florida. More recently he finished three shots behind Jason Dufner at the Memorial Tournament within the last fortnight.

There would be few more popular winners than Rickie.

Jordan Spieth

Tee times: Thurs 9.35 a.m. & Fri 3.20 p.m. (w/ Kaymer & D. Johnson)

U.S. Open champion back in 2015, Jordan Spieth arrives at the 2017 U.S. Open well and truly in the mix once again. With all that the young Texan has accomplished in the game to date, it’s amazing when we remind ourselves that he’s still only 23.

There were signs that he could be getting back to playing some of his best golf after a T-2 at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational and having just missed the top-10 at the Memorial Tournament last time out.

Count him out at your peril – especially If he manages to get his putting back to anywhere close to 2015 standards.

Jon Rahm

Tee times: Thurs 8.51 a.m. & Fri 2.36 p.m. (w/ Fowler & Matsuyama)

Ask anyone in and around the game of golf about Jon Rahm and you’re pretty much guaranteed to hear that the young Spaniard has everything to become the next global superstar of the men’s game.

The length of the course will suit, while his youthful exuberance is a joy to behold. With that said, you could argue that it might be a little too soon for Rahm, but if he can hold his emotions together a little better than he did during the Masters then he most certainly has the game to come out on top.

Sergio Garcia’s win back in April has Spanish golf riding on the crest of a wave. A win for Rahm this Sunday at Erin Hills would likely create a veritable tsunami of emotion from the former amateur world number one.

An incredible final hole eagle, like the one he holed at the Farmers, may help get the job done:

Justin Thomas

Tee times: Thurs 1.58 p.m. & Fri 8.13 a.m. (w/ Walker & Casey)

When considering possible major champions in waiting, it’s very easy to be blinded by blistering form of Jon Rahm.

Let’s remember though, there are few players in the current golfing landscape who possess a more lethal combination of length off the tee and pinpoint approach shots than the American Justin Thomas.

With four wins already on the PGA Tour – including the SBS Tournament of Champions in January past – it seems only a matter of time before he takes the next step to becoming a major champion.

Erin Hills could suit his eye.

Paul Casey

Tee times: Thurs 1.58 p.m. & Fri 8.13 a.m. (w/ Walker & Thomas)

With only one missed cut in 2017 (Sony Open in Hawaii – Jan 12), and coming off the back of a sixth place finish at Augusta National, Casey has played solid golf all year.

He hasn’t had a great time of it in bygone U.S. Opens, and is without a win of any kind since the KLM Open in 2014. With all that said, we sense a renewed calmness in the Englishman’s play and he could easily go well.

Alex Noren

Tee times: Thurs 7.40 a.m. & Fri 1.25 p.m. (w/ Snedeker & Hatton)

While we’re on the point of renewed calmness, Alex Noren recently stated that his meteoric rise into the Top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings came as a result of his reassessment of the importance of golf in his life.

This realignment of the Swede’s priorities led to a streak of four wins on last year’s European Tour and he can count himself unlucky to have not secured a place on Darren Clarke’s Ryder Cup team.

He did miss the cut at this year’s Masters but managed to capture the BMW PGA Championship just last month. Few players are more solid than Noren and it’s difficult to see him as anything other than a major champion in waiting.

Watch highlights of Noren's recent win at Wentworth below:

Branden Grace

Tee times: Thurs 8.24 a.m. & Fri 2.09 p.m. (w/ Horschel & Kisner)

With much focus centred on the usual suspects this week, Branden Grace could easily fly under the radar a bit at Erin Hills. Given that he has finished fourth and fifth in his last two U.S. Opens, in our opinion, he should be on everyone’s shortlist.

Last time out he was widely criticised after taking questionable relief when in one of the sand-traps during the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. The South African will be keen to put the furore behind him and focus on a more positive outcome in Wisconsin this week.

Who do you see becoming the U.S. Open champion this week? Who out of the other obvious contenders has the strongest chance? Have you any outside tips? Let us know in the comments below.