June 11, 2012
Parity time at the U.S. Open
By Ian Hutchinson, Special to QMI Agency
Here are five reasons golf is in the same uncertain state today as horse racing was on Saturday before the Belmont after it was announced I’ll Have Another wouldn’t race again, ending any hope for a Triple Crown and opening all kinds of possibilities.
Just like the Belmont, successfully picking a winner of this week’s U.S. Open requires more luck than skill.
The PGA Tour Parity Party
Not one of golf’s thoroughbreds has established a roll into the Open the way I’ll Have Another did prior to the Belmont.
There are more questions than reasons to pick any individual, whether it’s Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or that Clydesdale Jason Dufner.
Sure, Tiger won the Memorial, but he also won just before the Masters and we know what happened there. Mickelson shot a nasty 79, then had a sucky fit, packed up and left the Memorial and Dufner fell apart in the final round of his last tournament.
How about Rory McIlroy? After missing three consecutive cuts, he looked strong once again in Memphis on the weekend, but had a couple of bogeys and a double on 18 and missed a chance to win before he defends his U.S. Open title
Only Woods, Dufner and Hunter Mahan have managed to win twice this year, but none have clearly established themselves as favourites.
The First Time Factor
As has been the case in the last eight, a first-time major champion may very well emerge again. Who would be your pick in that category?
Lee Westwood got his 22nd victory on the European Tour on Saturday, when he won the Nordea Masters by five shots in Sweden. That came just two weeks after world No. 1 Luke Donald won by four shots at the BMW PGA Championship.
Both are no strangers near the top of the leaderboard at majors, but neither has been able to push it over the top, so will they wind up like that congenial Scot Colin Montgomerie, with loads of talent and honours, but no major?
Here are a few other names to consider as first-time major champions: Dufner, Mahan, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia, unless he’s convinced himself he can’t win one after his Mickelson-like pout at Augusta.
One guy who stepped up in Memphis was champion Dustin Johnson after spending the past few months on the sidelines with a back injury.
The Six-Pack From Hell
Whoever does emerge as champion will have to survive a tough test from the get-go as the 7,170-yard, par-70 Olympic Club threatens to break spirits on the first six holes.
The 520-yard first hole, with its narrow landing area, will be played as a par-4 instead of a par-5 as in previous Opens and the par-3 third is 247 yards, with bunkers protecting a green that slopes front to back.
The fourth and fifth holes of this tree-lined course are said to slope in favour of an uncomfortable lie or difficult follow-up shot, which is pretty much the tale for the rest of the course.
“This absolutely is going to be the hardest start for any U.S. Open I can think of,” said United States Golf Association executive director Mike Davis earlier this year.
“The first six holes, in particular, if you can get through those one or two over par, I can promise you you’re going to be beating most of the rest of the field,” he said.
The Stretch Run
Back-to-back par-5 at 16 and 17 may ultimately decide who wins, with the 522-yard 17th converted from a long par four into a short par-5 that offers a risk/reward challenge.
The scouting report on Olympic says the key is keeping it in the fairway, but will the temptation to go long tempt players into trouble on the closing holes?
Keep Your Eyes On The Skies
The other wild card is the unpredictable weather that can change instantly in San Francisco, which could very well have players changing their game plans and fans changing their minds about the winner.
NOT THIS TIME
Have no doubt about it, the USGA definitely wants no part of another 16-under score winning this year’s Open, as was the case last year in McIlroy’s win, even if rain and humidity played a big part in softening Congressional. Oh yeah, the Olympic Club will be tough ... Some of the biggest names have come close, only to be beaten at the Olympic Club. Jack Fleck defeated Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff to win in 1955, while Billy Casper defeated Arnold Palmer in a playoff in 1966. In 1987. Scott Simpson won by a shot over Tom Watson. Lee Janzen won the last Open at the Olympic Club in 1998 at even par ... One of the players in the 1998 Open was Casey Martin, who will be at the Olympic Club again this year. Just before he played in 1998, when he tied for 23rd, Martin won a court case against the tour that would allow him to use a golf cart due to a condition that makes it difficult to walk long distances. He’s now a university coach at Oregon, which tied for third at the recent NCAAs with Vancouver’s Eugene Wong in the lineup.