Many golf fans are wondering whether this is the year that World No. 2 Lee Westwood finally breaks through and gets his major victory.
The Englishman has been red hot this year and has been on the verge of winning a major title for many years before that.
Vegas has him at 11-1 odds, currently the favorite in this field. I'm giving you five reasons why he could be the guy for all you gamblers out there.
A familiar look for Westwood in 2002
Westwood has had an extremely successful career, amassing 35 professional victories since his debut in 1993.
After a steady rise up the world rankings throughout the 1990's, Westwood emerged as a true player on the world stage when he had a seven win season in 2000. He rose up to fourth in the World Golf Rankings.
At that point many thought Westwood would easily break through in a major championship, but life got in the way.
After the birth of his son in 2001, Westwood took some time off from the game. When he did so and tried to return, it wasn't pretty.
He struggled all throughout 2001-2002, falling in astonishing fashion to 250th in the world. Westwood admitted he couldn't putt, and everyone wondered what had happened to one of the game's greatest players.
After experiencing a bit of a resurgence at the 2002 Ryder Cup, Westwood started a slow climb back up into the forefront of the golf world.
While overhauling his swing, Westwood broke back through with two wins in 2003.
But he's really found his form since 2007. With eight international wins and five top three finishes in the major championships, Westwood has regained the form that eluded him for a few years.
Now that he's back on his game it's easier for him to appreciate what he is accomplishing, knowing that he worked so hard to get back on track from a career that seemed to be ending before it realized its full potential.
Think a person needs to drive the golf ball a long way at Congressional?
Let me present the following evidence:
1. Par-5 distances: 555, 636, and 579 yards. Not exactly any reachable par-5's.
2. Par-4's: Only one is shorter than 400 yards.
3. The closing stretch: 467 yard par-4, 490 yard par-4, 579 yard par-5, 437 yard par-4, and an unfathomably long 523 yard par-4 to finish. Yikes.
The total distance of Congressional? A beastly long 7,250 yard par-71 course.
So length off the tee is going to be a premium concern for these guys.
Luckily, Westwood is 26th on the PGA Tour in driving distance this year with a 296.8 yard average. He hits the ball quite a long ways.
Another matter is whether he is going to be able to keep it in the fairway. We all know how the rough at Congressional is the toughest the pros see all year. Westwood's success hinges on his ability to find the tee ball with his length.
He ranks 104th on Tour this year in driving accuracy, which isn't great. However, he ranks first on Tour in a stat called "fairway proximity," representing the closeness with which tee balls end up near the fairway. This suggests Westwood isn't missing by much, which is good considering the graduated rough surrounding the fairway which penalizes shots that are more off target.
If Westwood can keep his ball on or near the fairway, he'll be just fine.
The knock on Westwood is that he's never won the big tournament. But the truth is that while he hasn't won, he has been right on the cusp.
Look at his record in the big tournaments, and these are just since 2008:
2008: 3rd, U.S. Open; T-2, Bridgestone Invitational.
2009: T-3, PGA Championship; T-3, British Open; 9th, Bridgestone Invitational; T-8, HSBC Champions.
2010: 2nd, Masters; 2nd, British Open; 2nd, HSBC Champions.
Besides, its not like he hasn't won any big tournaments. I present the following tournaments, which are substantial victories on the European tour:
Volvo Scandinavian Masters (twice), the Dunhill Links Championship at St. Andrews, the Dubai World Championship, the BMW International Open, and the Cisco World Match Play Championship.
Additionally, it doesn't seem that Westwood chokes. He's risen to the occasion in many Ryder Cups, and if he's in the lead come Sunday I don't think he'll blow it.
He's No. 1 on Tour this year in Sunday scoring average. By a long shot.
Westwood is known as one of the best ball strikers in the world with his irons, especially the longer irons.
At a U.S. Open, the key is to get on greens. If you don't, you may as well be left for dead.
The last three years, here are the winners greens in regulation statistics:
2010: Graeme McDowell - T-11, 58.33% (Dustin Johnson led the field, and was hitting over 70% of the greens in regulation before his Sunday meltdown)
2009: Lucas Glover - 4th - 72.2%
2008: Tiger Woods - T-14 - 63.89%
Westwood's statistics this year on the PGA Tour?
68.33%. Good enough for 18th place. And he ONLY plays the top events on Tour; he's not playing the John Deere Classics and the Turning Stone Championships which yield high GIR percentages. (*Before you get on me about him playing in Memphis last week, he was defending his title)
Also, Westwood leads the Tour in distance from the pin from shots from 125-150 yards as well as shots from 200-225 yards. Those are both distances that are going to be key this week.
Starting at the Masters, Westwood's played six events leading up to the U.S. Open with the following results:
Masters - T11; Indonesian Masters - Win; Ballantine's Championsip - Win; Volvo World Match Play - Lost in the Quarterfinals to eventual champion Ian Poulter; BMW Championship - 2nd, losing in a playoff; FedEx St. Jude Classic - T11 with a final round 66.
That's a pretty good track record if you ask me.
Also, on the PGA Tour this season, he's been dropping a lot of putts from 15-25 feet (27.08%, 2nd on Tour).
That's a key distance if you want to be successful in the U.S. Open, as many rare birdie opportunities and par saves will be had over the course of 72 holes (or more) this week.
Look for Westwood to be in contention this week as the course suits his game.