The default favourite is in place, the old standby of the past 15 years. Choosing Tiger Woods to win this week’s U.S. Open isn’t a bad move — just a predictable and unimaginative one.
Picking Tiger is like buying gold when the economy is uncertain. It’s a relatively safe haven, but nothing is guaranteed, especially in the four years since he last won a major championship. The reality is that he’s just one of many who might win this week.
A more interesting bet is what the winning score will be and the consensus is that about even par should do it, so don’t be disappointed if the guy you picked comes in around 70 each day.
Let’s dispense with this “Graveyard of Champions” nonsense that’s been going around in the pre-tournament hyperbole because Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson lost here. San Francisco’s Olympic Club will chew up a no-name as quickly as a marquee player.
It will be interesting to see if the United States Golf Association went overboard in setting up Olympic to soothe its ego after Rory McIlroy waltzed to last year’s championship at 16-under.
For now, however, it’s cool to write about how Olympic might rock players in similar fashion to the San Andreas Fault, which runs directly underneath it.
As a result, if the earth moves for a player, it probably won’t be because he’s getting way too much pleasure out of a good shot.
Will good shots be rewarded or penalized? That’s the fear when the U.S. Open test crosses a line from stern to stupid. We’ll see what happens.
At 7,170 yards, Olympic is about 400 yards longer than it was in 1998, the last time it hosted an Open, but length isn’t the major factor this week.
You’ll hear about reverse cambers, meaning that Olympic will feed the ball away from the direction in which you’re headed on any particular hole if your shot isn’t precise. Keeping it in the fairway looks to be the key, which will affect the power games of the tour’s big hitters.
Olympic has just one fairway bunker, no water hazards and a lot of trees. While its well-publicized first six holes may break the spirits of many wannabe contenders, the Open could be won or lost on the 16th, the first of consecutive par fives.
The 16th will stretch to 670 yards, the longest par five in U.S. Open history and the longest on the PGA Tour this year. Players will be happy to hit the green in three, but when it comes down to Sunday when nerves are rattled, there could be fireworks there.
So let the games begin at Olympic. Go with your traditional picks, but there are too many pitfalls out there to accurately predict who will be on the podium on Sunday.
LUCKY LUKE AT OLYMPIC?
If you’re wondering about the chances of world No. 1 Luke Donald this week, his game may be well-suited for nasty old Olympic. While not impressive in distance off the tee, he currently stands eighth in driving accuracy percentage on tour ... Another name that won’t go away in my mind is Hunter Mahan, who has dropped off the radar, but has the game ... One aspect of the U.S. Open you have to love is the emergence of longshots such as Dennis Miller, who will not win this week. The Ohio pro was merely an alternate at qualifying in Columbus, Ohio.
Miller eventually made it into a playoff for a U.S. Open spot and has become a sensation with his reaction to a putt that would have clinched a trip to San Francisco, but hung on the lip. In disgust, he turned away from it and only reacted when he heard the crowd cheer as it finally fell without Miller seeing it.
If you haven’t seen the clip, it’s a great moment in golf that will soon be forgotten, but it’s worth checking out on the Internet.
It’s a classic.
BACK TO BACK FOR DJ?
Dustin Johnson has had his fair share of flirtations with major championships, most notably the three-shot lead he had going into the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, only to shoot an 82 and tie for eighth.
Later that year, he held the lead on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship when he grounded his club in what nobody thought was a bunker, later took a two-shot penalty and tied for fifth at Whistling Straits.
At this week’s Open, he can make history as the only guy to win the week before, as he did in Memphis, and then win his national championship ... It’s the 50th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus winning his first of 18 majors, still the standard today. The Bear’s first major came at the 1962 U.S. Open, where he defeated Arnold Palmer in a playoff at Oakmont ... If Rory McIlroy wants to think about the challenge ahead, the last person to successfully defend a U.S. Open title was Curtis Strange in 1989, the year McIlroy was born ... While the PGA Tour has allowed cellphones at its events, the United States Golf Association will not allow them at the U.S. Open. Cellphones were allegedly the reason for Phil Mickelson pulling out of the Memorial. Sure, the 79 he shot had nothing to do with it. Just saying.