The U.S. Open returns to Congressional Country Club June 16-19, and with a little more than a month before the most difficult test in golf kicks off, it’s time to take an early look at what to expect.
I must admit, the U.S. Open is my favorite golf tournament of the year. Bogeys will outnumber birdies (by a lot), nerves will be frayed to the point of no return and every player will be tested under the most extreme conditions golf has to offer.
What follows are 10 bold predictions for this year’s championship. Where will Tiger and Phil finish? Will someone come from under-the-radar to win on Sunday? Will anyone break par?
Let’s take a look:
Last year’s U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell said it plain on Twitter recently:
“Congressional 7574 yards Par 71 U.S. Open set up. No one will break par. #simple.”
You know it’s bad when the USGA goes on record saying they are giving the players a break by playing the 555-yard sixth hole as a par-5 instead of a par-4. That’s their idea of a gift to the field.
All 18 greens have been rebuilt with a grass that better resists the humidity common in June on the Eastern seaboard.
The result will be faster greens that won’t be as bumpy as the championship wears on. When you combine absurd course length, deep rough and fast greens the result is usually a lot of bogeys.
Just the way the USGA likes it.
The 11th hole at Congressional Country Club is a 494-yard par four that plays uphill, into the prevailing wind.
Graeme McDowell, after getting an early look at the course this week, said of the fourth hole, “I can’t really see much positive to say about that golf hole. If you’re selling four 4s, I think I’m buying.”
You will see a lot of hybrids and fairway woods hit into the 11th green, and few will have a good birdie opportunity.
McDowell’s thoughts on No. 11 are likely to be right on, but unfortunately for him (and the rest of the field), no one is selling four pars.
At some point, Mickelson’s poor driving will catch up with him.
I believe his day of reckoning will come at Congressional.
Mickelson currently ranks 175th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy (52.35 percent of fairways hit). That is not a good stat to bring into the U.S. Open.
U.S. Open fairways are notoriously narrow and are surrounded by thick rough just waiting to swallow errant tee shots.
There is no doubt that Mickelson has the ability to win a U.S. Open in the future, but until he figures out how to keep it in the fairway, he will continue to be disappointed.
The only difference is that this year his disappointment will come on Friday instead of Sunday.
For the second consecutive year, Dallas Cowboy's quarterback Tony Romo will attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open. This year he will. (I told you this was a list of bold predictions)
Romo made waves during last year’s U.S. Open qualifying when he advanced through the local round by shooting a 69 and surviving a playoff.
In the sectional round, he posted a 71 in the first round of the 36-hole tournament, but had to withdraw when a weather delay forced a conflict with a Cowboy’s team activity.
Romo hails from the same hometown as me, and I had the chance to play with him a few times during my college golf years.
He can really play.
He hits the ball a country mile, and has soft touch around the green.
His coach Hank Haney agrees, and tweeted recently that he thought Romo had a good chance to qualify.
Don't be surprised to see him teeing it up on Thursday with the big boys.
Gary Woodland will have his coming out party at this year’s U.S. Open.
Already a winner this year on tour (Transitions Championship), Woodland has impressed me every time I’ve seen him play. Woodland currently ranks in the top-10 on the PGA Tour in driving distance, greens in regulation, birdie average, scoring average and all-around ranking.
That’s pretty solid for a guy who played on the Nationwide Tour for most of last year.
Woodland has the kind of ability that almost every other player on tour would kill for, and has already shown the ability to finish. I don’t think he’s quite ready to win a major, but after this year’s U.S. Open, the question won’t be if, but when.
Dustin Johnson at the 2010 U.S. Open
This may not be a very bold prediction after all.
Last year at Pebble Beach, rounds in the 80s outnumbered those in the 60s by a more than two-to-one margin (39 to 18).
This year might be even worse.
Congressional will play over 500 yards longer than Pebble Beach last year, while still carrying the same par of 71.
In addition, Congressional is a relatively unknown course to many on the PGA Tour. Aside from the AT&T National between 2007-2009, it hasn’t hosted a tournament since the 1997 U.S. Open.
It has been significantly altered since 2009, and will play like an entirely new course when the players see it next month.
Add all that up, and any score within a couple shots of par will be seen as a victory for the field.
I am already on record as saying I don’t think Martin Kaymer is close to the best player in the world. Since I wrote that, he lost the No. 1 ranking to Lee Westwood.
I don’t think he’ll be getting it back anytime soon.
Kaymer has showed the ability to be in the hunt at U.S. Opens (T-8, 2010), but I think this year’s Open will look a lot more like this year’s Masters (MC).
Kaymer has only one top-10 finish since February (9th at the European Tour’s Malaysian Open), and his game seems to be going in the wrong direction.
His scoring average is up this season (70.45 on the European Tour), and he is hitting barely 60% of his fairways.
You have to striking the ball perfectly to make the front page of the leaderboard in the U.S. Open, and Kaymer’s inability to do that will force him to join Phil Mickelson in watching the weekend on television.
With Lee Westwood, there is good news and bad news.
The good news is that he is playing great and is once again the No. 1 player in the world.
The bad news is that he is now forced to carry the unfortunate moniker of “best player never to win a major.”
It seems like he is always in the hunt, but never can close the way the No. 1 player in the world should.
At the 2010 Masters, Westwood held the lead entering the final round. Playing alongside eventual champion Phil Mickelson, Westwood never looked comfortable. When Mickelson hit his now famous shot through the trees on No. 13, you could see that Westwood was done.
That look, the look of defeat, is often a dangerous omen of things to come. It takes not only great play, but also incredible nerves and resilience to win the U.S. Open. Some have it (think Tiger Woods), some don’t (Tom Lehman, Colin Montgomerie et al).
I would love to be wrong but with each passing major the resemblance between Westwood and Montgomerie gets stronger and stronger.
This year’s U.S. Open won’t do anything to help that comparison.
Not that long ago, it would have been ridiculous to include this among a list of bold predictions.
How the times have changed.
Tiger showed flashes of his game returning at the Masters, and will bring a modicum of momentum with him to Congressional next month.
That is, if he plays.
Tiger’s knee and achilles injuries leave raised questions about his ability to play next month, but I think he is benching himself now specifically so he can play next month.
When he does, I think he’ll be ready to contend.
Tiger always seems to show up at majors, and after his close call at Augusta, will be ready to get back to the top.
Unfortunately for Mr. Woods, the player on the next slide will be standing in his way.
Call me a homer if you like, but I think this is Stricker’s year.
He has finished in the top-25 seven times in the U.S. Open, including three times in the last five years.
His game is perfectly tailored to the demands of the U.S. Open, and if he can keep the ball in the fairway he will be tough to beat on Sunday.
Congressional is a course that, while demanding off the tee, is even more difficult from the fairway. That fits Stricker’s game perfectly.
He is one of the best iron players in the world, and will be one of the few on the course that can take advantage of its lightning fast greens.
He has shown the ability to win big tournaments (two FedEx Cup playoff events, one World Golf Championship), and will not wilt in the face of Sunday pressure.
Stricker is one of the best players in the world never to win a major.
That streak will end on June 19th.