U.S. Open 2011: 15 Bold Predictions for the Upcoming Tournament at Congressional
For the first time in 14 years, the U.S. Open Championship returns to the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club outside of our nation's capital, Washington, D.C.
An impressive field of 156 of the world's best golfers—professional and amateur alike—will face the most difficult of tests. Congressional will have the usual U.S. Open amenities—narrow fairways, deep rough and plenty of distance.
In fact, at 7,574 yards, it's the second longest track in the history of the golf tournament.
Here are 15 bold predictions, including my pick of the champion, for the 111th playing of the U.S. Open.
Defending Champion Graeme McDowell Will Struggle
Last year's U.S. Open winner, Graeme McDowell, is going to struggle this week.
I won't take it so far as to say he'll miss the cut like he did at The Masters Tournament a couple months ago. But he has missed three cuts recently and hasn't been on top of his game for one reason or another.
Call it too many distractions. Call it a slump.
But a U.S. Open course will take any weakness and expose it. Congressional is certainly no exception.
McDowell is in for a rough week. Or a week in the rough.
Either way, the defending champion won't repeat his 2010 performance at this tournament.
Ernie Els Reloaded
Ernie Els knows the U.S. Open. He won two of them.
He also knows Congressional. Els won the Open on this golf course—albeit a shorter version—back in 1997.
The wily vet will find a way to get himself into contention again and make this tournament a memorable one.
Outside of a strong greens in regulation percentage, Els isn't doing anything particularly well statistically heading into this year's Open Championship. He'll need to hit a lot of GIR, and in the right places, if he's going to make magic happen.
Wouldn't it be great to see 40-somethings Phil Mickelson and "The Big Easy" battling it out on Sunday?
Count on it.
Japan's teenage superstar Ryo Ishikawa was exempt from U.S. Open qualifying. So he's eeking into the tournament on the strength of his Official World Golf Ranking top-50 status.
He's in 49th place.
Fair enough. But, Ishikawa hasn't finished better than T20 in a major (this year's Masters Tournament).
Granted, his lack of experience means he hasn't had a lot of opportunities to compete in majors, but his entire life will flash before his eyes at Congressional.
Good thing he's only 19 because it will be a rude awakening.
I love Ishikawa's game and his very bright future—just not this week.
Weekend Leaderboard Favorite: Dustin Johnson
It would seem obvious that a player who hits the ball an average of 307 yards off the tee will have an advantage at colossally long Congressional. There should be a certain amount of truth to that.
But Dustin Johnson will have to keep the ball out of trouble, including the treacherous rough, if he's going to give himself a chance to place his approach shots where they need to be.
After last year's major disappointments in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, I wonder if DJ has the game to get the job done?
I think not. His putting will fail him at some point and he'll finish outside the top-10.
Weekend Leaderboard Favorite: Bubba Watson
It would seem obvious that a player who hits the ball an average of 311 yards off the tee will have an advantage at colossally long Congressional. (Didn't I just say the same thing about Dustin Johnson?)
Yes, there is a certain amount of truth to that.
But Bubba Watson, like Johnson, will have to keep the ball out of trouble, including the rough, if he's going to give himself a chance to place his approach shots where they need to be.
Watson is first on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation percentage, so—advantage Watson.
After last year's major disappointment at the PGA Championship, I wonder if he has the game to get the job done?
It's elementary. Watson will claim a top-10 finish in this U.S. Open.
Weekend Leaderboard Favorite: K.J. Choi
K.J. Choi enters the U.S. Open as one of the hottest players in the field.
Coming off an impressive playoff victory at the Players Championship a few weeks ago, Choi also has five top-10s this year and he's second on the PGA Tour money list. Add to that his success at Congressional (he won the AT&T National here four years ago) and you have all the makings of a U.S. Open favorite.
Choi is 111th in driving distance, so he won't impress with lengthy tee shots. But he does have the mental makeup to survive the test that is the 111th U.S. Open.
Choi will post his best finish ever in this championship.
Weekend Leaderboard Favorite: Sergio Garcia
For the first time since he turned pro in 1999, Sergio Garcia did not qualify for the U.S. Open.
His string of 47 consecutive majors was about to come to an end until he swallowed his pride and decided attempting to qualify made sense.
He did so successfully in a playoff after shooting rounds of 68-67 at Tunica National in Mississippi.
It might have been the the long road to Congressional, but he'll be better for it.
Garcia has been playing better lately and even though he's still only ranked No. 75 in the world, he'll get himself into contention at some point this weekend.
Weekend Leaderboard Favorite: Lee Westwood
As the No. 2 player in the world, Lee Westwood has all the tools to make a U.S. Open run.
Including a playoff loss to world No. 1 Luke Donald at the BMW PGA Championship a few weeks ago, it's been a great year for Westwood with wins on the Asian Tour's Indonesian Masters in April and the Ballantine's Championship a week later.
He's currently third in scoring average on the PGA Tour and he has the patience and discipline to withstand the abuse a U.S. Open course can dish out.
Westwood could very well make a run at this championship, but I'll stop with a top-five prediction.
Weekend Leaderboard Favorite: Steve Stricker
Steve Stricker is a model of consistency. And that trait will serve him well as he prepares to do battle against Congressional this week.
Stricker's boasting a lot of top-ten stats on the PGA Tour these days—scoring average, birdie average, all-around ranking, and strokes gained putting. Plus he has eight top-25 finishes in 10 starts, including a win at the Memorial Tournament a couple weeks ago.
It wouldn't be a bold prediction to say Stricker will finish in the top-10 here. You can count on that.
I think he'll finish second.
Weekend Leaderboard Favorite: Luke Donald
I wouldn't say Luke Donald's game is perfectly suited for Congressional. He's not a long-hitter. In fact, he's 148th in driving distance on the PGA Tour. That doesn't seem to bode well for the obscene distances he'll face on Congressional's Blue Course.
But his game might be perfectly suited for the U.S. Open.
In a tournament where patience, avoiding mistakes and having the ability to weather any storm are typically desirable qualities to possess, Donald will be the poster child for success.
He's the No. 1 player in the world. He'll have a game plan for getting around. And he'll finish in the top-five.
Missing Tiger Woods
The U.S. Open won't be the same without Tiger Woods.
Does that mean television ratings will be down? Well, let's just say TV numbers won't be as good as if Tiger were playing.
Despite all the trouble Woods has experienced over the past several years of his life—and the overall decline of his game and health—he's still the most popular golfer in the world.
His absence will be felt near and far.
Michael Whitehead Will Miss the Cut
Michael Whitehead has become famous as the guy who replaced Tiger Woods in the U.S. Open.
When Woods announced he was withdrawing from the tournament last week, Whitehead enthusiastically accepted the offer as his replacement.
But this is the big time and Congressional is next-level difficult.
Whitehead played in the U.S. Amateur last summer, failing to qualify for match play. He'll fail to qualify for the weekend here.
Black Numbers—Lots of Them
USGA executive director Mike Davis said he wanted the U.S. Open to be a rigorous test.
At 7,574 yards, the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club is the second longest track in tournament history. It's 350 yards longer than when Ernie Els won here back in 1997.
Then there's the infamous U.S. Open rough.
According to MajorChampionships.com, the first cut averages 18 to 20 feet wide and 3 3/4 to 4 inches tall, depending on the hole. The second cut of rough goes 18-20 feet further from the fairway and is 4-5 inches high.
In other words, hit the ball wide of the fairway and good luck breaking par, guys.
The Make or Break 18th
Congressional's 18th hole is going to make or break the winner of the 2011 U.S. Open. Isn't that the way it should be?
The championship will be decided on the final hole.
At 523 yards, No. 18 is the longest par-four on the golf course. And it's full of trouble.
First of all, you must hit your tee shot through a long, narrow opening of trees to the fairway. Miss the short grass and you're dead. Miss the green—which is nearly surrounded by water—and it's almost certainly a bogey or worse.
Phil Mickelson Will Win the 2011 U.S. Open
I picked Phil Mickelson to win the year's first major—The Masters Tournament—and that didn't work out very well. "Lefty" finished a disappointing 13 shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel. But, I'm going to keep picking Mickelson until he wins his fifth major.
And that week will be this week.
Mickelson's U.S. Open history is legendary. He finished second a record five times. And he has nine top-10 finishes.
If he can overcome the demons of his past in this golf tournament and avoid a late collapse, he'll walk away with his first U.S. Open championship.