U.S. Open Preview
(Editor’s note: The US Open gets underway tomorrow at Bethpage Black on Long Island, New York. Resident Rookies golf nerds 310ToJoba and Chilltown, both avid players, took it upon themselves to preview the Open for you, the reader)
The Dark Horse
310ToJoba - Dustin Johnson. While Anthony Kim may have gotten all the attention for making 11 birdies in the second round of The Masters this year, it is important to note that the “other” Johnson put together quite a nice tournament himself. Consider that Johnson made nine less birdies than Kim but still finished only a stroke behind him on the final leader board. Even more striking is the fact that Johnson made 3 less bogeys and the same number of double bogeys as his counterpart. In short, he can be his own sort of scoring machine, as is evidenced by his four eagles in this year’s first major. Granted, the difference between Bethpage and Augusta is quite noticeable, but Johnson’s prodigious length (average driver distance: 307.9; 3rd highest on tour) will afford him many scoring chances on the 7400+ yard Tillinghast design. Of worry is his inability to drive fairways with any sort of regularity (161st overall on tour), but he’s shown he can handle playing in major events and can get on birdie streaks that could see him rise up the leader board before the weekend is done. Oh, and he’s a bit of a drinker, which never hurt anybody!
Chilltown- David Toms. When people think Bethpage Black, what comes to mind? Perhaps the legendary sign on the first tee, or perhaps the fact that it is a public course. But what defines Bethpage are Tillinghast’s long, brawny par 4s- a wopping 4 of which will play over 500 yards. Thus, my sleeper should probably be, like Joba’s, a big hitter. Instead, its David Toms. Toms is exactly average in driving distance. However, where he is above average, is in hitting fairways and greens. Toms hits the most fairways (74.5%) and 10th most greens in regulation on the PGA Tour. Both of these stats are key to winning the Open, where the fairways are narrow and the rough around the greens is treacherous. After fighting injuries in 2008, Toms has returned with a vengeance in 2009, finishing 2nd twice, including last week in Memphis. Don’t be surprised to see David Toms in contention on Sunday.
Big name to miss the cut
Chilltown- Sergio Garcia. Sergio’s last trip to Bethpage didn’t go smoothly, and I don’t expect this one to, either. In 2002, Garcia got on the wrong side of the New York fans by constantly waggling and regripping his club before shots. While he played well (finishing 4th), the indelible image of his tournament was Sergio flipping off his hecklers. This time, Sergio doesn’t even have good play to fall back on. He hasn’t finished in the Top 10 in any tournaments in 2009; his ballstriking has gone downhill, leaving nothing to hide his woeful putting. All of this adds up to a trunkslammer for a player who was number 2 in the world as recently as this February.
310ToJoba – Angel Cabrera. The man with the 2009 Green Jacket and a US Open win already under his belt has never really been a household name despite seemingly always lurking around big-name tournaments. That will not be the case this year as Cabrera’s chance to lock up his second major of the year will have to wait until The British. Why is the pudgy Argentine going to throw a big MC on the board? Consider that his driving accuracy is actually worse than the aforementioned Dustin Johnson (only 47.62% of fairways) and his putter is consistently regarded as something between treacherous and woeful. These two qualities do not bode well for US Open play which dictates that players must keep the ball in the fairways and be ready for lightning fast greens. But more importantly, nobody wants to see Angel Cabrera win another major. Right? Right! There’s no real satisfaction for an audience when a player like him wins it. If he’s atop the leader board when all is said and done, you can expect ratings to have tanked.
Amateur To Watch
310ToJoba – Rickie Fowler. The gentleman from California with a surfer look to boot. He is one of the only amateurs in the field with prior Open experience as he finished T-60 at Torrey Pines just a year ago. This could prove to be invaluable for his chances as he actually fired a first round 70 in 2008 to sneak into the top 10. Nobody expects an amateur to win the Open again anytime soon, but Fowler could be around a lot longer than people think.
Chilltown- Bronson Burgoon. Don’t be fooled, although Burgoon sounds like he should be starring in pirate movies, he can flat out play. The senior from Texas A&M recently clinched the National Championship by hitting a gap wedge to 3 inches on the 18th hole in the deciding match (ala Sean Micheel at Oak Hill). Clearly, Burgoon can deal with the pressure of a US Open–something few amateurs in the field can say. While Burgoon probably won’t win (if any amateur wins, it will be 1,000 times bigger than Tiger last year), being the low amateur and making the cut is not out of reach.
Tiger vs. The Field
310ToJoba – The Field. Sorry, Tiger. Beyond just gambling common sense, one must consider Tiger’s season as a whole. His doubters, who had been clamoring that his surgery had damaged his game beyond repair, have now been beaten back twice as the world’s undoubted best player roared back from behind to capture two tournaments (his only two wins) in dramatic fashion. While I would be the last person to call him washed up, his game has changed a lot since he first came up. You see a lot more missed fairways now than before. Can even the best player in the world continuously hit it into US Open rough and expect to score well? If Tiger’s play off the tee is as erratic as it has been thus far in the year, he could shoot himself out of the tournament to the point where his famous late charges are going to leave him empty handed. This was partly the case in The Masters, wherein Tiger never really had a chance to climb all the way to the top, a climb that was made even harder by a few fourth round blunders. Augusta and Bethpage are two different beasts. While Tiger may have shown he could handle the course in 2002, can he possibly afford to put himself in a position where he is playing from behind again? If Tiger isn’t leading by the end of the third round, someone else will probably walk off with the title this year.
Chilltown- Tiger. Look, I could make a long argument about how comfortable Tiger is with the course, or about how the odds here are actually much more in Tiger’s favor (the percentage of the field that can actually complete four rounds at Bethpage close to even par is very small), but in reality, this comes down to 2 clubs in Tiger’s bag: his driver and 3 wood. When Tiger hits fairways, he wins. Its very simple; see the final round of the Memorial (14 for 14 fairways and thanks for the trophy). I happen to believe that Tiger will build on that round and continue to hit fairways, and therefore that he will win the 2009 US Open.
Chilltown- From 2003 until 2007, the US Open was synonymous with suffering. The USGA seemed to enjoy humbling the best players in the world. In 2008, however, Mike Davis, the USGA’s head set-up honcho, set up Torrey Pines differently, judiciously using shorter tees to create interesting birdie opportunities, and ultimately, a more interesting tournament. Of course, its not like the pros torched Torrey; only Tiger and Rocco Mediate finished under par. The USGA will most likely follow its 2008 course at Bethpage Black, and for that reason alone we shouldn’t expect to see another Massacre at Winged Foot or the mockery that was Shinnecock in 2004. I will predict a winning score of 2 under par. However, this could change if Mother Nature refuses to cooperate, as this forecast warns. A soggy, already stretched out Bethpage could push the winning score over par.
310ToJoba – Bethpage marks the second consecutive year where the US Open will be held at a “scoring” course instead of what I like to refer to as a “punishing course.” The difference is easily noticeable. Consider Oakmont, where even par was nothing short of remarkable as the course made professionals look like 18 handicaps with relative ease. On the other hand there’s a course like Torrey Pines where opportunities to go under par exist and must be seized at all costs. Bethpage is more like the latter, though one shouldn’t expect a runaway victory at double digits under par to be the end result. However, 5-under is my prediction to bring the trophy home this year.