PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – I’m not sure who is going to win the U.S. Open, but I have a strong feeling about who won’t: Someone without pedigree.
Five major championships have been held at Pebble Beach, and all have been won by players with Hall of Fame credentials. The enshrined Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tom Kite and future Hall of Famer Tiger Woods have won the four Opens here, and 2009 inductee Lanny Wadkins won the 1977 PGA Championship at Pebble.
There’s a reason for that. A major setup here demands a complete game. I see no reason another prime-time player won’t add his name to the impressive list.
• As everyone knows, Woods has been motivated for years by Nicklaus’ record 18 major championships. At 34, Woods is four behind.
He has been derailed, at least temporarily, by a sex scandal at an age when many top players have started to decline. That and karma considered, I think Woods will pass Nicklaus and win majors into his 40s because he remains ultra-driven.
On Tuesday here, I asked him how long he thinks his competitive candle will burn. He didn’t sound like someone burdened by personal problems. Or someone who isn’t focused.
“I love playing,” he said. “And I love practicing. Once that starts going away, when I start not wanting to go get ready or I’m not ready to play, then I’ve got to get the hell out. Because then I’m not going to be in the right place to win golf tournaments.
“I’ve always loved to practice. And I can’t ever see that ever changing. But if it ever does, then you know me, being me, then I won’t be here.”
• One man’s 1-2-3 this week: Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk.
• Yes, no player has ever won the U.S. Open after winning the week before – and Westwood won Sunday in Memphis. But it has happened eight times in major-championship history. And nobody is playing better than Westwood – right now and in recent big stuff.
• What about Woods, the man who won here by an unthinkable 15 strokes a decade ago? Pre-Thanksgiving, no one would have thought this, but at this stage a slumping Woods might be the third choice in his own Thursday-Friday threesome.
He’s paired with Westwood and Ernie Els, a two-time winner in 2010.
• There’s no better U.S. Open site than Pebble Beach. And there’s no better five-week period in golf than when the two summer Opens are at Pebble and St. Andrews, as in 2010. Too bad we have to wait 10 years for that double. Too bad the U.S. version isn’t at Pebble every five years, matching up with the Old Course.
• Woods said Tuesday that Pebble’s greens weren’t all that fast yet. That’s not what I saw while walking a practice round Tuesday with Westwood. His putt from behind the pin at No. 11 needed this familiar advice: Just breathe on it.
Hitting it off the toe might have helped, as well.
• Jason Gore, fan favorite at the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, is back in the Open at one of his favorite places. Former winner of the California Amateur at Pebble, Gore likes this golf cathedral so much that he got married by the 18th green.
First a trophy. Then a trophy wife.
• According to one oddsmaker, the over/under on Woods’ first-round score is 68 1/2.
Again, this is new territory: Considering the number of spectators he plunked in his last start, the over looks tasty.
• Westwood practiced at Pebble, his favorite course, for a couple of days the weekend before winning in Memphis. He pulled out his iPhone and showed a tourist-like photo of himself, in shorts, posing on the seventh green next to the flagstick.
He sent that photo and similar ones to friends, back home in worse weather in England, to rub it in. Their response? Unprintable, he said.
Westwood decided to come early because he did so this year before the Masters and ended up finishing second. He’ll also make an early visit to St. Andrews.
There’s nothing that says a guy thinks he can win a major like an early scouting session.
• Because of qualifying, the Open often is full of interesting stories involving players who don’t stand much of a chance of winning. This year, there isn’t much of a better story than Erick Justesen’s.
The Canadian Tour member caddied at Pebble Beach for years. He figures he looped the famed links about 800 times. Now a college buddy is carrying his bag as he dreams of winning. He got in the field by shooting 9-under-par 133 at the Sacramento qualifier.
“Caddying taught me a lot about golf,” said Justesen, 25. “It taught me to read the greens better, and it really gave me what I wanted to do with life. I’ve been chasing it ever since.”
He said he is “ridiculously comfortable” returning to Pebble for his first Open as a player. “I’m waiting for all of this to hit me,” Justesen said.
He still has the car he bought seven years ago with money he earned as a caddie. But he could use a check this week to fix its broken air conditioner. Not that he needs the car this week. He has a courtesy car. And that still floors him.
“I was just dumbfounded. Car? What do you mean, car? Huh?” he said, referring to his thoughts when told he’d get a courtesy car. “After a second, I was like, ‘I get a car?’ Does it have air conditioning? I realized afterward the question was just absolutely stupid. Got to love the little things, you know. This is a big thing, and I’m loving all the little things in it.”
Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.