Who we’re watching in the U.S. Open’s afternoon group: Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele

In what has been an unconventional year in sports, Winged Foot Golf Club might provide a sliver of normalcy for the U.S. Open.

An unfamiliar spot on the calendar? Sure. But the venue promises a familiar, firm and unflinching test for the world’s best players.

The 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot’s West Course yielded a field scoring average of nearly 5 over par per round – the toughest venue on the PGA Tour schedule that season by almost three full strokes. There were only 12 rounds in the 60s for the week, and just eight when the Open was held there in 1974. The minuscule birdie average per round of 1.76 at Winged Foot in ’06 has been eclipsed only by two majors since then – the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst (1.63 birdies per round) and the 2008 British Open at Royal Birkdale (1.74).

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It’s been more than a century since the last U.S. Open contested in September. In 1913, young amateur Francis Ouimet pulled off one of the greatest upsets in golf history, defeating British stars Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff. The performance was immortalized in the 2005 film, “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

Fans will not be on the grounds at Winged Foot, but as we saw at last month’s PGA Championship, tension is still palpable in the cauldron of major-championship golf, even without crowds. Maybe this U.S. Open, too, will create drama worthy of the silver screen.

Jon Rahm hits his approach to the 2nd green during the final round of The Northern Trust golf tournament at TPC of Boston. Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Rahm (Thu., 1:27 p.m. ET, 1st tee)

No Spaniard has ever won the U.S. Open, but after briefly reaching the world’s No. 1 ranking this summer, Rahm is poised to break through with his first major championship win. Why not at Winged Foot?

Driving force

Five of the past seven U.S. Open winners ranked either first or second that week in total driving, and 13 of the last 20 ranked in the top 10 in driving distance. Rahm has been among the Tour leaders in strokes gained off the tee since turning pro in 2016.

Trending upward

Through six career major championship starts, Rahm has a scoring average of 72.5 and zero top-10 finishes. His recent form in the majors is a different story: 20 of his last 22 rounds have been par or better. He finished T-13 at the PGA in August. 

Improved short game

With maturity has come a more well-rounded Rahm. In 2020 he is on pace for his best year yet in both strokes gained around the green and putting. He’ll need it – Rahm ranked a paltry 47th in the field in strokes gained putting while finishing in a tie for third in the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

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By: Justin Ray
Title: Who we’re watching in the U.S. Open’s afternoon group: Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele
Sourced From: golfweek.usatoday.com/2020/09/17/us-open-jon-rahm-xander-schauffele-thursday-afternoon/
Published Date: Thu, 17 Sep 2020 14:00:32 +0000

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