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Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Rory McIlroy -- Eliminator's Open pick

By Matt Willis
ESPN.com

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)

Golfers eliminated
Michael Barbosa
Brad Benjamin
Patrick Cantlay
David Chung
Russell Henley
Beau Hossler
Steven Irwin
Cheng-Tsung Pan
Brett Patterson
Scott Pinckney
Peter Uihlein
Chris Williams

2. No golfers has come through local qualifying to win since Orville Moody in 1969. (22 eliminated, 122 remaining)

Golfers eliminated
Brad Adamonis
Bennett Blakeman
Zack Byrd
Christopher Deforest
Bubba Dickerson
Matthew Edwards
Elliot Gealy
Andres Gonzales
Christo Greyling
Wes Heffernan
Jesse Hutchins
Joey Lamielle
Brian Locke
Adam Long
David May
Ryan Nelson
Alexandre Rocha
Sam Saunders
Michael Smith
Michael Tobiason Jr.
Michael Whitehead
Chris Wilson

3. No golfer over 40 has won the U.S. Open since Payne Stewart in 1999. (22 eliminated, 100 remaining)

Golfers eliminated
Angel Cabrera
Michael Campbell
Alex Cejka
K.J. Choi
Ernie Els
Hiroyuki Fujita
Fred Funk
Jim Furyk
Retief Goosen
Todd Hamilton
Miguel Angel Jimenez
Brandt Jobe
Robert Karlsson
Thomas Levet
David Love III
Phil Mickelson
Tim Petrovic
John Senden
Geoffrey Sisk
Steve Stricker
David Toms
Kirk Triplett

4. The past 16 U.S. Open winners had made at least two previous U.S. Open starts. (39 eliminated, 61 remaining)

Golfers eliminated
Sang-moon Bae
Scott Barr
Bud Cauley
Greg Chalmers
Kevin Chappell
Nicolas Colsaerts
Jason Day
Robert Dinwiddie
John Ellis
Stephen Gallacher
Adam Hadwin
Andreas Harto
Gregory Havret
Charley Hoffman
Ryo Ishikawa
Sunghoon Kang
Dae-Hyun Kim
Dohoon Kim
Kyung-Tae Kim
Kenichi Kuboya
Marc Leishman
Shane Lowry
Matteo Manassero
Kevin Na
Seung Yul Noh
Alexander Noren
Louis Oosthuizen
Jeff Overton
Scott Piercy
D.A. Points
Matt Richardson
Robert Rock
Marcel Siem
Webb Simpson
Kevin Streelman
Ty Tryon
Marc Turnesa
Will Wilcox
Mark Wilson

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)

Golfers eliminated
Chad Campbell
Paul Casey
Johan Edfors
Peter Hanson
Scott Hend
Justin Hicks
David Howell
Trevor Immelman
Maarten Lafeber
Jon Mills
Edoardo Molinari
Michael Putnam
Heath Slocum
Henrik Stenson
Lee Westwood

6. The past seven U.S. Open winners made the cut in the previous year's British Open. (25 eliminated, 21 remaining)

Golfers eliminated
Aaron Baddeley
Briny Baird
Jonathan Byrd
Ben Crane
Jason Dufner
Harrison Frazar
Robert Garrigus
Brian Gay
Bill Haas
Padraig Harrington
J.J. Henry
Fredrik Jacobson
Anthony Kim
Martin Laird
Francesco Molinari
Ryan Moore
Geoff Ogilvy
Nick O'Hern
Ryan Palmer
Chez Reavie
Justin Rose
Rory Sabbatini
Brandt Snedeker
Bubba Watson
Gary Woodland

7. Fourteen of the past 17 U.S. Open winners had a previous top-12 U.S. Open finish. (8 eliminated, 13 remaining)

Golfers eliminated
Rickie Fowler
Zach Johnson
Alvaro Quiros
Charl Schwartzel
Adam Scott
Bo Van Pelt
Nick Watney
Y.E. Yang

8. Five of the past 6 U.S. Open winners entered with two or fewer PGA Tour wins. (9 eliminated, 4 remaining)

Golfers eliminated
Robert Allenby
Stewart Cink
Luke Donald
Sergio Garcia
Lucas Glover
Dustin Johnson
Matt Kuchar
Hunter Mahan
Camilo Villegas

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)

Golfers eliminated
Martin Kaymer
Graeme McDowell
Ian Poulter

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.