UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. -- "And so ... the time is near. I traveled each and every highway ..."
That's exactly how I feel every time I sit down to write the top 25 list. This year's no different. The U.S. Open is being played on a "unique" style golf course (that's the term I'm hearing from most of the players and caddies), which to me translates to "plays more like an Open Championship than a U.S. Open." There is always an advantage for being a long hitter, but around this place creativity around the greens will also be at a premium. The course reminds me of a combo of Pinehurst No. 2 and Muirfield in 2013, when it was really dry, so my list reflects that. Attitude will be everything this week.
You'll forgive Fowler for not finishing as high at the Masters this year as he did in 2014. He certainly made up for it with his win at the Players Championship, but that honeymoon is over and he's focused on putting his first major in his back pocket. This course will showcase everything Fowler is, from fit to smart to long off the tee to creative around the greens.
2. Jimmy Walker
So close to going to the next level. After five wins in the past two seasons, Walker is ready to take the leap to the next category, from regular PGA Tour champion to major champion. He has the two things that this golf course calls for: length off the tee and patience around the greens. What he still lacks is a putter that always shows up at crunch time.
An illness may have forced Johnson to withdraw from Memphis but it won't stop him from a great week here in the state of Washington. Just remember, if anyone offers you a brownie (you know, to settle your stomach), say no and run in the other direction!
Most people forget he finished fourth at last year's U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. He may be one of the best sleeper picks in the field this week, a thought shared by SportsCenter anchor Matt Barrie. Yes, he's long off the tee but he also ranks eighth in strokes gained putting this season.
5. Justin Rose
As a U.S. Open champion, Rose is one of the favorites of many golf insiders, and rightly so. Even though he lost in a playoff at the Memorial a couple of weeks ago, his play there indicated his game was peaking at the right time to try for his second U.S. Open title.
Expect the man from Japan to have his highest finish at a U.S. Open, his third. A fifth-place finish at the Masters earlier this year shows you he's getting very comfortable on the big stage. His fifth-place finish at the Memorial means his game is still in shape. Wind may be the only thing that would give him a problem, but it's not in the forecast.
The Masters champion comes to the second major of the year with some lofty expectations on his shoulders. Not just because he's No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings but more because he's played here before and his caddie has a history at this course. Emotions will be the toughest thing this week for Spieth, who can run both hot and cold.
This could be by far his best finish in the U.S. Open in six starts -- his best was 23rd last year. That can be directly attributed to how different this course will play. The Italian's best finish in any previous major was a T-9 in the Open Championship in 2013. Coincidentally, this course is going to play similar to the way Muirfield did that year.
9. Zach Johnson
Who's the most patient of all the grinders on tour? The man who can have what caddies used to call a "Zach Attack" on the Web.com Tour. Johnson won't do anything spectacular, including making mistakes. Because by the end of the week, he'll likely be sitting inside the top 10.
10. Ryan Palmer
Palmer has missed four cuts in five tries in our nation's golf championship, so why in the world would I think he could improve this much on a 21st-place finish in 2011? Scoring average. He ranks third in that category this season on tour at 69.697. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but it means he gives himself opportunities every day, and that's what he'll do this week.
11. Sergio Garcia
We haven't seen Garcia since the playoff loss at the Players Championship, where he was heckled by the crowd. Now he comes to the great state of Washington, where because of new state laws, crowds should be much more "mellow." Garcia did not play well at the Irish Open but conditions here at Chambers Bay will be a day at the beach comparatively.
12. Gary Woodland
The previous time Woodland was on the West Coast, he was exhaustively battling Rory McIlroy in the Match Play final. He was not victorious. That experience is what he'll draw on even though the courses are nothing alike. This is where the work he has done with Butch Harmon will pay off.
13. Jason Day
Injuries and lack of wins make it easy to view the Australian as a bit of a disappointment who hasn't lived up to his full potential. Then you realize he doesn't turn 30 for another two years. Many will see a finish outside the top 10 for Day at this event as a disappointment, but I see it as a solid finish, bettering his Masters performance this year.
14. Brandt Snedeker
Whether talking about a tour event or a major, golf truly is "drive for show, putt for dough." And Sneds makes a lot of dough because of that putter. It will again serve its purpose this week on the fescue greens that some may struggle with. I think if they played an event in a parking lot, Snedeker would be near the top of the field in putting.
15. Lee Westwood
Mac and cheese, that's how I'd describe Westwood. It's at every family cookout, BBQ or work potluck. It'll never win any award, never get any crazed compliments (unless there's lobster in it) or complaints. But everyone will have a little bit every time just in case there's something different about it. There never is. Westwood may never win the U.S. Open, but he also won't finish outside the top 20.
16. Keegan Bradley
The light bulb moment happened the second round of the Players, when Bradley shot 68. He still missed the cut, but the frustrations of Match Play, along with a dustup with Miguel Jimenez, were gone. A tie for 22nd at the Byron Nelson, followed by a T-8 at the Memorial, and all seems right in Bradley's world again.
17. Hunter Mahan
Although his streak of top 10s at majors will be stopped at two this week, a top-20 finish ain't bad for a guy whose game since the Match Play has been less than spectacular. That being said, Mahan does not have a great short game, but it's good enough to keep him in the conversation of "who will have a chance" going into the weekend.
18. Adam Scott
Sing it with me: "Back in the saddle again. We'll be back in . . . " The reunion of Scott and Steve Williams will make those who say a caddie isn't an integral part of the game look for a place to hide from the reality slap. Scott knew that in order to get back to the place he has been, he needs Williams. Williams also knew he wasn't ready to bib away for good.
19. Jason Dufner
Dufner's divorce and his ensuing media boycott hasn't helped him on the course. He has one top-10 finish this calendar year, but the good news is it came at the Byron Nelson less than a month ago. The bad news: The better he plays, the more pressure there will be on him to step into the interview room, which may be unavoidable at some point this week.
20. Phil Mickelson
Aw, poor Lefty. This championship will be "the one that got away." This year, however, it won't be nearly as heartbreaking as it has been in years past. For his biggest fans, he did the worst thing possible by shooting 65 last week in Memphis -- he gave them hope. And like the Philadelphia Eagles do to their fans (like me) on a yearly basis, having hope with Mickelson and the U.S. Open only leads to disappointment.
21. Billy Horschel
This will be only his third U.S. Open as a pro (he played in 2006 as an amateur). Horschel is definitely not known for being calm and patient, going against every grain you've heard about what it takes to compete at this venue. Horschel is stubborn enough to use that as motivation to get a top-25 finish.
22. Ryan Moore
Home games are hard, and Moore was born in Tacoma. The demand for tickets from family members you didn't even know you had can be overwhelming for some. Moore has the attitude that suits the golf course and that demand perfectly. His season hasn't been amazing, but he has missed only one cut. A top-25 finish shouldn't be overstating expectations, even if it's a home game.
23. Danny Willett
Who? Remember that picture of McIlroy watching the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight? That was Willett and his wife sitting behind Rory. Willett may not be a household name here in the U.S., but he's second on the European Tour's Race to Dubai. He is coming off a T-6 at the Irish Open that was played in horrific conditions.
24. Rory McIlroy
I can hear it now ... "You have the world's No. 1 golfer just barely inside the top 25? Guess ESPN isn't planning on you working for them very much longer." Except for his missed cut at the Honda, every start on U.S. soil this year has produced a finish of 11th or better, including two wins. But this course is more Europe than United States, and his previous two starts in Europe produced two missed cuts. Watch what happens after he hits two drives into the fescue. Finishing inside the top 25 will be like a win for McIlroy.
25. Tony Finau
Not a bad finish for your first major ever. Like I said in the very first paragraph, length and attitude will go a long way this week. Finau has both, even as a rookie still finding his feet on the PGA Tour. He doesn't quite have the game to contend, but if he uses the golf "street smarts" he has learned on his journey to the PGA Tour, this will be a very successful week.