As the year’s second major, the U.S. Open, arrives, storylines abound that, refreshingly, don’t involve Tiger Woods.
Unlike the Masters, Woods’ absence at Pinehurst has been barely a blip on the media radar this week. Instead, players who are actually playing in the tournament have been the storyline and, of course, the course itself.
According to my golf-centric Twitter feed, these are the lead stories going into the tournament.
- Can Phil Mickelson complete his career Grand Slam?
After his win at the British Open last year, Mickelson has now won them all, save for the Open, at which he’s finish second an incredible six times, including at Pinehurst 15 years ago. Despite his clout of having won five majors, a Mickelson victory seems a bit unlikely when you consider his atypically quiet year on Tour. And he’s tinkering with his putting grip (going to the claw), which is already drawing doubters. As one columnist wrote, “There goes Mickelson, out-thinking himself again.”
But a Mickelson victory would certain give the Tour season a shot in the arm. As would …
2. Will Jordan Spieth Finally Break Through?
The Next Big Thing in golf would erase the “Next” with a major championship. To do it, he’ll have to learn to close, something he’s been unable to do thus far this season. But after finishing second to Bubba Watson at the Masters, a breakthrough at the U.S. Open would announce an arrival that seems inevitable. But as Jack Nicklaus says of Tiger Woods’ major chase: You haven’t done it until you’ve done it.
3. A Classic Venue Restored
Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore oversaw a $2.5 million renovation of the No. 2 course to restore it to the original Donald Ross design and a more natural state. Among other things, that meant removing turf and restoring bunkers and waste areas. As a result, this Open isn’t expected to play like an Open in that it won’t have ankle-high rough. However, in the practice rounds the pros have reported that the greens have been tough to hit, thus the winner’s chance possible riding on a strong short game, which (back to No. 1) … hello, Lefty.
But the course setup has some forecasting controversy …
4. Could We See A Rules Controversy Like the 2010 PGA?
The 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits is where a rules controversy erased Dustin Johnson’s best chance at a major victory. He grounded his club in what he believed to be a waste area instead of a bunker. He thus invoked a two-stroke penalty that cost him the championship.
Similar course conditions at Pinehurst abound, meaning the rules official is certain to get a workout this week. Something to watch for, but here’s hoping we don’t have another major overshadowed by a rules controversy.
There’s also the chance for Bubba Watson to notch a second major and really put some sizzle into the Tour season. But none of our JC pros chose him. Their picks are listed below.
Erik Johnson, General Manager, Encinitas Ranch
Rory McIlroy – I think he has momentum on his side and his game 9and mind) are now sharp enough to return to top form
Adam Scott – He has become one of the most consistent players on the planet (hence his No. 1 world ranking), he is one of the best ball-strikers in the game, so if the putter is working he should be a favorite
Long Shot…..Webb Simpson – Wait a second, a former champion as a long-shot? After the 2012 championship, his game has fallen off, but he is getting hot at the right time and has the experience to prevail.
Jay Navarro, Tournament Director, Temecula Creek Inn –
Webb Simpson – Played well in the FedEx.
Troy Ferguson, Head Golf Professional, Twin Oaks –
Graham DeLaet. Miguel Angel Jimenez.
Blake Dodson, Director of Golf, Rancho Bernardo Inn
Jordan Spieth – Too young to be scared of the U.S. Open.
Lloyd Porter, Head Professional, Reidy Creek and Oaks North
Sergio Garcia – My wife’s favorite.