10 things to help a Tiger-less U.S. Open

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BETHESDA, Md. – You probably weren’t waiting for me to tell you that Tiger Woods won’t be in the field at this week’s U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. (In case you were, that knowledge should explain the loud, collective groan you heard coming from NBC headquarters last week.)

The die-hard golf fans will be tuning in this week regardless of who happens to be in the lead, but here are 10 storylines that just might draw in golf’s casual viewers and give the regulars something to talk about.

10. “Easy” does it. . . again: The U.S. Open last came to Congressional in 1997, when Ernie Els turned in a pair of weekend 69s to win by one over Colin Montgomerie.

To see Els, always a fan favorite, win another Open on this course would be an excellent story to get people talking.

Unfortunately, The Big Easy hasn’t been in the best of form lately, finishing inside the top 15 just once this year, a tie for 15th at Doral.


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9. Orange crush: It is not only the TV commentators who are waiting for Rickie Fowler to pick up his first victory on Tour; his fans can be seen week-to-week throughout the galleries wearing can't-miss colors and flat-brimmed Puma hats.

Fowler’s performance at the Ryder Cup and the WGC-Match Play showed how exciting his game can be, but his final-round scoring average (71.6, ranking 104th on Tour) and the fact that he hasn’t scared a Sunday lead this year shows that it’s not there yet.

Whether he wins or not, having Fowler in the hunt on Sunday is sure to draw some youthful eyes to the telecast.

8. Bubbalicious: Think about the emotion that we saw from Bubba Watson during his three Tour wins and his attitude toward and during the Ryder Cup.

Watson’s transparency and theatrics on the course make for great television, and the opportunity to watch him earn his first major title would be a gift that not even Bubba Claus himself could come up with.

7. Slim-chance Slam: If someone told you in January that Charl Schwartzel would be the only player with a statistical chance to win the Grand Slam, you might have kindly said that you were not a tennis fan and moved on.

Is Schwartzel going to win the Grand Slam? Very likely not. However, it would be fun to at least talk about over the next month, and in order to do that, he needs a win this week.

6. Amateur hour: Perhaps it’s the smell of the Walker Cup in the air, but something about the idea of an amateur in contention at a major is enough to get the imagination going.

Last year, Georgia’s Russell Henley and Illinois’ Scott Langley tied for 16th to share low-amateur honors. Henley, who recently won the Nationwide Tour’s Stadion Classic at UGA, is in the field again this year after topping Jason Dufner in a playoff at sectional qualifying.

Joining Henley are two other college stars capable of holding their own: U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein and undisputed freshman of the year Patrick Cantlay of UCLA.

5. More McDowell magic: After the year he put together in 2010, defending champion Graeme McDowell has been disappointing this season.

Granted, it is nearly impossible to back up the resume he put together last year – major champ, Tiger slayer, Ryder Cup hero, etc. – but McDowell is a player who gained gobs of worldwide fans overnight last year at Pebble Beach, and if he’s in the hunt here Sunday, there will be plenty of fans there to cheer him across the finish line.


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4. Great Scott: Adam Scott’s is a story that already leaves you scratching your head. Despite his seven PGA Tour wins, the 30-year-old Australian had never been in a major discussion before his close call at this year’s Masters.

With Tiger’s caddie on the bag, what better time to break through?

(On a side note: I can think of no better storyline to help the female viewership of this event.)

3. Staking their claims: Lee Westwood is the current owner of the backhanded-complimenting title “Best Player Without a Major.”

With all of his close calls at the recent majors (runner-up at last year’s Masters and British Open), it would be nice to see Westwood finally close the door on his most haunting goal.

In related news, no player has been more solid in 2011 than Luke Donald. With his wins at the WGC-Match Play and the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship, Donald has risen to No. 1 in the world.

As Woods continues to struggle and the golf world continues its search for his replacement, a major title from either of these Englishmen would make them the front-runner for the job.

2. Lovable Lefty: People love to watch Phil Mickelson play golf. It’s really as simple as that.

1. Heartbreak Kids: Who could forget Dustin Johnson’s final round at last year’s U.S. Open . . . or Nick Watney’s 81 at the PGA Championship . . . or Rory McIlroy’s 80 at this year’s Masters?

If there’s one thing that TV loves, it’s the comeback story. Odds are, plenty of them will be relevant on Sunday afternoon.



2011 U.S. Open: Monday coverage

U.S. Open notebook: Brad Adamonis' father is smiling from above after his son earns a spot in the 2011 U.S. Open. Notes.

On the Town in Bethesda: How much do you really know about Congressional Country Club? Video.

Weather will be a factor: Players hit the range early to take advantage of good weather, which might become a problem later in the week. Story.

•••

2011 U.S. Open: Tournament preview

The full field: Players who have qualified for the 111th U.S. Open, to be played June 16-19 at Congressional Country Club. List.

Tee times and early-round pairings: The USGA announced its early-round pairings late Friday, and the world's top three players - Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer - are in the same group. To top it off, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson will play together. The full listings . . .

Contender capsules: A capsule look at 20 notable players in the U.S. Open, to be played June 16-19 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Capsules.

2011 U.S. Open preview: After playing in the final twosome for four straight years in the 1990s, Tom Lehman's open wounds have healed with time. Story.

Epic battle of 1931: Five days. Four regulation rounds. Two 36-hole playoffs. 144 holes. 1,179 strokes. George Von Elm and Billy Burke changed the face of the U.S. Open with their epic showdown in 1931.Story.

Defining victory: 2011 U.S. Open preview: Ken Venturi was nearly broke, his first marriage was collapsing and he was written off by the golf world, but a victory in the 1964 U.S. Open changed all of that. Story.

Celebrating anniversaries: A look at some of the anniversaries of this year's 111th U.S. Open, to be played June 16-19 at Congressional. Story.

•••

2011 U.S. Open: About Congressional

Congressional's makeover: After its third closure for reconstructive surgery in the past 21 years, Congressional Country Club’s Blue Course sports a thematically unified parkland look that should hold up well in the face of the capital’s stifling summer heat, just in time for next week’s U.S. Open. Story

Inside Congressional: 2011 U.S. Open preview: From photos of Congressional's first five honorary presidents to the 36 holes of championship golf, Congressional is packed with something for everyone.Story.

Congressional, hole-by-hole: A hole-by-hole look at the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club, site of the 111th U.S. Open. The layout.

Quick facts: Quick facts about the course, the history and the players at the 111th U.S. Open golf championship set to begin on June 16 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Story.

Photos: A look at Congressional, in pictures. Photos.

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