The easiest golfer to root for at U.S. Opens for the last two decades (and especially recently) has been Phil Mickelson. Lefty has finished runner up a record six times at this tournament and has eight (!) top-five finishes here in his career. But Mickelson is not playing this week because of his daughter's high school graduation in California. 

So who should take his place on the root-ability list? I have some names. I suppose rooting for one of the 14 amateurs in the field is the way to go if you're looking for immense storylines, but I'm trying to keep things realistic. This is a guide to nine golfers who could legitimately win the tournament and why they would make for outstanding stories. 

1. Rickie Fowler: One of the nicest guys in golf, Fowler is still looking for major win No. 1. He has two top 10s at this tournament in the last five years, so he's getting close to cracking the code, but he still hasn't hit paydirt. Fowler was built for Opens (both U.S. and British), though, so I think his time is coming soon. Joining peers like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day would both enhance their competitive rivalries and fully legitimatize him as one of the top golfers on the planet.

2. Sergio Garcia: Yeah, I said it. Garcia winning two straight majors to start 2017 after 20 years of futility would be incredible. Can you imagine the drama going to Royal Birkdale with the slam on the line in July where he narrowly lost to Padraig Harrington in a playoff a decade ago? Woooo boy, I'm pulling for that.

3. Dustin Johnson: Not since Curtis Strange did it in 1988-89 has a U.S. Open champion successfully defended his crown. D.J. has clearly been the best player in the world over the last six months, and him vying to become potentially the best in this current era would be terrific for the sport (especially with the next few guys on his tail at the moment).

4. Rory McIlroy: Everyone says they hate what the Golden State Warriors are doing to basketball, but everyone continues to tune in to watch them night after night. We love history and dominion, and no golfer in the field offers more of either than McIlroy. He's going for major championship No. 5 and has won a higher percentage of tournaments (by a wide margin) than anyone else in this field. McIlroy, who just turned 28, has a chance to join Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods as the only golfers in history to win five or more majors before turning age 30. And he'll have seven more swings at that after this one.

5. Jason Day: It's been a weird, trying year so far for Day after dealing with his mom's cancer and not being able to 100 percent find his game. He's been probably the best overall golfer at U.S. Opens over the last five years, and him getting his first win in over a year at this tournament on this week would be pretty special.

6. Jordan Spieth: If you're looking for pure U.S. dominance in our country's national championship, Kid America is probably what you're trying to find. After a preposterous 2015, he holds two major championships at the age of 23, and I think he'll win more U.S. Opens into the future. He's demonstrative, elite and fun as hell to watch when everything is clicking. Three majors before age 24 would be historically good, and Spieth has a real chance to do that at Erin Hills.

7. Jon Rahm: Speaking of dominance, let me introduce you to a future No. 1 golfer in the world. He still only has one win, but his wild array of big boy shots has galvanized a golf world never short on Spaniards with outrageous talent. "Can Jon Rahm win the U.S. Open?" is a question that has been circulating since he won Torrey Pines earlier this season. The answer is "yes," of course, and he can do it as soon as this year.

8. Adam Scott: There never seems to be an immense reason to root for Scott. He is stunningly handsome, speaks with eloquence normally reserved for heads of state and possesses one of the great golf swings of all time. Who roots for the house in Vegas? But Scott is also exceedingly likable, and he became even more so recently when he called out the USGA to put together a fair, not outrageous test this year. If he goes down in history as a one-time major winner, he might be the best of that variety ... ever.

9. Matt Kuchar: Always a fan favorite, Kuchar is still looking for his first major win. He's finished in the top nine in all four majors, but he still has not gotten over the hump for his first big one. He'll turn 39 the week after this year's U.S. Open and would love to drink from the trophy as his birthday present. I know Kuchar is not lovable in the same way as Rory or D.J., but it would be cool to finally see him get a non-zero number in the win column at majors.