U.S. Open: Golfweek staff picks
Monday, June 15, 2009
Golfweek’s fleet of reporters is on the scene this week inside the gates at Bethpage Black. Here are their predictions:
Winner: Tiger Woods. Hey, I’m a big guy and I can’t go wandering out on too many limbs, you know. Really, you could go broke betting against this guy, and with Bethpage Black being all about power, do you know a better power play? Neither do I. And last we saw him, he was driving it straighter than a ruler. He will complete his U.S. Open foursome (Pebble, Bethpage I, Torrey Pines) and will lack only a victory at Turnberry later this summer to complete the major foursome foursome (four victories of each flavor).
Sleeper: Henrik Stenson. OK, hard to call the No. 6 guy in the world a “sleeper,” but be honest: Is he on anyone’s short list at YOUR office water cooler? Again, a long hitter who can play in a big ballpark such as Bethpage Black.
Winner: Tiger Woods. If he drives it like he did while winning the Memorial, he could win by double digits. Bethpage Black is a beast that limits the list of potential winners to a precious few. When Woods left Memorial, it seemed like he already had a three-shot lead at the Open. His brilliance at Jack’s track means the cape is back on. And other players always know when the cape is back on.
Sleeper: Padraig Harrington. Yeah, yeah, anyone who won three of six majors in 2007-08 hardly sounds like a sleeper, but he has dropped to No. 49 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. He’s my sleeper because he knows how to get it done in the big ones, hits it long enough to win at the Black and relishes competing down the stretch at a major. He just needs to play golf instead of swing.
Winner: Tiger Woods. Not only will it be his 15th major championship and not only will he become the first player in 20 years to successfully defend his U.S. Open title, but Woods will also solidify his chances to be comeback player of the year. After all, just a few weeks ago pundits suggested he was all done.
Sleeper: Ryuji Imada. OK, so a good gust of wind seemingly could blow him away, but consider me intrigued that he’s finished inside the top 20 in three of the last four U.S. Opens.
Winner: David Toms. I have listened to the tom-toms banging in the distance, and they say David Toms will win the U.S. Open. He is desperate – OK, make that anxious – to once again prove he belongs among golf’s elite. Winning one major is nice, but winning two different majors is a validation of greatness. Tied for second at Memphis heading into the U.S. Open. No. 1 in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour.
Sleeper: Andres Romero. A real tough guy for a tough golf course. Plays well on brutally difficult golf courses. Vastly underrated with a terrific all-around golf game. Following Angel Cabrera at the Masters, he would love to continue the Argentine Slam.
Winner: Sean O’Hair. He’s having a breakthrough season, including winning on a U.S. Open-style course at Quail Hollow in May. O’Hair is long, accurate, and the most talented American twentysomething. When he won in Charlotte, O’Hair didn’t make a putt longer than 10 feet all week so the question is will the putter cooperate this time? I think so.
Sleeper: Stewart Cink. It’s about tweeting time he wins a major. His game is tailor made for the U.S. Open. He almost won the title in 2001, missing a gimmee that cost him a berth in a playoff. This time Cink gets redemption and his 325,000+ followers on Twitter rejoice.
Winner: Hunter Mahan. Obviously, Tiger Woods is the favorite at Bethpage. But you don’t want to listen to reasons No. 999 and 1,000 as to why he’ll win. So, I’ll give you another name to look out for – Hunter Mahan. Mahan, No. 11 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, has made all 14 cuts this year (including eight top 25s), and is coming off a tie for 14th in his last start at the Memorial. Mahan also has top 25s in the past two U.S. Opens, finishing 18th last year and 13th in ‘07.
“I think Bethpage can suit him because you’re going to have to hit it straight and long off the tee, and he does that real well,” said Sean Foley, his swing coach. Mahan is 13th on Tour in total driving this season. “Plus he’s a real good mid- to long-iron player.”
Sleeper: Michael Sim. Yes, he’s on the Nationwide Tour, but he’s also one of the hottest players in golf. Sim, No. 52 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, has two victories this year, and leads the money list by more than $100,000. He has five top-4 finishes in eight starts this year (two victories, a playoff loss, a third and T-4). Sim’s stats are equally impressive – he’s first on the Nationwide Tour in total driving and putting average, fourth in driving accuracy and fifth in greens in regulation. Those seem to make him a good pick for this week, even if it is his first major.
Winner: David Toms. He’s the best at hitting fairways on Tour this year and ranked No. 10 overall in combined distance and accuracy off the tee. He has six top-10 finishes in 2009, is long overdue to win again and is fresh off a T-2 at the St. Jude Classic. Bethpage Black rewards his modest, efficient style, and he’s unlikely to get jangled on the weekend, even if paired with Tiger Woods.
Sleeper: Rory McIlroy. He might not be considered “a sleeper” since the Northen Irishman is ranked among the top-20 in the world and has already won on the European Tour this year. But he’s uninitiated in U.S. Open competition. At only 20, he’s also brash enough to be unfazed, and with average drives of 303.5 yards (on the European PGA Tour) he’s long enough to reach Bethpage’s par 5s in two and to take advantage of the strategic angles off the tees that are available only to golfers who can carry the ball 285 yards in the air.