Hate to be Rude: Cutting Pebble down to size

Phil Mickelson walks down the 18th fairway during the third round of the 2010 U.S. Open.

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Some happenings at the last two U.S. Opens don’t seem quite right.

Last year’s winner, Lucas Glover, hit 6-iron and 9-iron on the last hole in clinching. This year, players hit two iron shots to reach Pebble Beach’s par-5 sixth. They hit 3-iron and fairway woods onto the green at the par-4 fourth. Phil Mickelson hit 5-iron and wedge on the rugged eighth. Dustin Johnson reached the par-5 18th with a 6-iron from the rough. Johnson also hit 7-iron one day on the 208-yard 17th.

Does all that seem right to you? I’m fairly certain that’s not what the men who drew up those holes – and other great courses – had in mind.

Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus are no longer winning Opens with great 1-iron shots.

Advances in golf equipment have made the game more enjoyable for the recreational player. But when it comes to elite professionals, the powers-that-be took their eye off the ball. And the club.

Two trends butted heads at Pebble Beach. Hall of Famers won the previous five majors there. But Graeme McDowell’s success was a victory for the other trend. Don’t look now, but protagonists in the last six U.S. Opens have been far from pre-tournament favorites: Winners Michael Campbell (2005), Geoff Ogilvy (’06), Angel Cabrera (’07), Glover (’09) and McDowell and 2008 playoff loser Rocco Mediate.

What’s going on? Tiger Woods had a good answer after finishing Sunday.

Course setups by Mike Davis, the USGA’s chief of rules and competitions, have “given more guys the chance to win the golf tournament,” Woods said. “It’s more open now. With the graduated rough, (the course) being firm and fast like this, it brings a lot more players into play who have a chance to win.”

That’s not a bad thing. Unless you’re one of the favorites.

Woods has finished fourth in the two majors played this year, and people wonder what’s wrong with him. The answer is, he is a bit off because he has gone through a self-induced ringer.

If, say, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler or Ryo Ishikawa had finished fourth in the first two majors, he would have been coronated, hailed and sent halfway to the Hall of Fame.

But then perspective has long been out of whack when it comes to Woods’ performance.

Woods kicked himself afterward at Pebble for three mental errors in the final round, involving club selection or aim point on Nos. 6, 10 and 12. Clearly frustrated after finishing three shots back, he said he went against his better judgment and mentioned caddie Steve Williams’ influence. It’s not the first time Woods has, as the saying goes, thrown Williams under the bus.

Yes, the bus thing isn’t becoming. But applaud Woods for his candor in the hot aftermath of defeat; we don’t often get that. And Williams is compensated well enough to take criticism now and then.

But the bottom line is this: Final decisions fall on the player.

That said, a caddie’s role and value is never more important than under the gun on Sunday at a major. Split-second decisions and adjustments are made under high pressure. Sometimes caddies need to be more assertive on major Sundays. With so much at stake, it’s no time to be a yes man. Jean Van de Velde’s bag man at Carnoustie in 1999 comes to mind.

On Sunday, Dustin Johnson would have been well advised to hit an iron to the safe, fat part of the fairway on No. 3 after losing his cool and falling back into a tie for the lead when triple bogeying the second.

It seemed like a good time to adjust the game plan, play safely, regain composure, right the ship and try to make birdie from the fairway rather than squeeze a drive in there and risk more problems. As it happened, Johnson hooked his drive at three, lost his ball, made double bogey and lost his lead for good.

As Jackie Burke said of fellow legend Ben Hogan, the Hawk’s secret is that he made adjustments 24/7.

Ominous cloud over St. Andrews: “I feel I can play now,” Woods said. “I got a feel for my game, my shape of my shots.”

Despite the fact he bogeyed six of the first 12 holes Sunday, I can see where he’s coming from. He shot 66 Saturday, played the last six holes in 1 under Sunday and things would have been different if those three mental errors hadn’t led to bogeys.

Davis Love III double-bogeyed the par-3 17th in the first and last rounds and finished four strokes behind McDowell. But he’s not kicking himself as much as Ernie Els. The Big Easy, who finished two shots back, doubled 17 the first day and bogeyed it the last three. What’s more, Els went two over on the last five holes.

McDowell said he’ll probably sober up by the Ryder Cup. But that wasn’t his best quote post-victory. This honest one was:

“No disrespect to Gregory (Havret); he’s a great player. But when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els are there about you, nobody’s expecting Gregory Havret to be the guy you have to fend off.”

Sunday morning, I thought Johnson would win, even though I remembered when Retief Goosen was prematurely crowned in some corners before the 2005 final round at Pinehurst.

As it happened, Johnson made history. Just the wrong kind. His 82 was the worst final round by an Open leader since Fred McLeod’s 83 in 1911 at Chicago Golf Club.

Bottom line: Easy on the early coronation at a U.S. Open.

Yes, smart golf is all about making aggressive swings to safe spots. But Woods made this keen observation about Pebble afterward: “The course baited you into being aggressive.”

How do you win a U.S. Open? Don’t make a double bogey.

It worked for McDowell.

Tough Sunday for France. All hell breaks loose with its fractured World Cup kickball team, and underdog Havret misses the putt of his life, an 8-footer for birdie to tie for the lead on the last hole, after playing so beautifully.

It’s enough to make one drink some wine, eat some cheese, have a smoke and forget about it all.

Yeah, yeah, I know: Kickball is really called soccer or futbol or football.

I also know this: If 8-year-olds could drive, soccer would be the most popular sport in America.


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.

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