Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My U.S. Open Picks

Well, it's time to post my guesses at who might subdue Congressional and walk away with the U.S. Open trophy. Since there are no clear-cut favorites this time out, and I could easily come up with a list of 15 or 20 realistic contenders, I've put together this list of 5 possibles I think could surprise everybody.
  1. Since I've been on Luke Donald's bandwagon all year, it's probably no surprise that he's my favorite to win it all. No one has played more consistently than Luke, what with 2 wins and an average of at least one Top 5 every month for the 12 months. In addition, I heard the guys at Congressional talking earlier today and they said the heat had made it difficult to get the rough the way they want it. That certainly should play into the occasionally wayward Donald's hands.
  2. My 2nd choice will probably surprise you, but I think Fred Funk is primed for a really good performance. He's finally getting over the physical problems that have plagued him for the last year or so. He made it through the Open qualifier last week, then played really well at the Greater Hickory Classic this past weekend where the weather was hot and the course was dry -- very much like conditions this week. He shot a 10-under 62 on Sunday, vaulting to the top of the leaderboard and barely missing out on the playoff. Plus I like the fact that he only had to play 3 days of competitive golf rather than 4 last week. Don't be surprised if the Funkster winds up in the hunt.
  3. Of course I have to include Phil Mickelson in the mix. No matter how he's playing, Phil always seems to get up for the majors, and he has 5 runner-up finishes at the Open. Given how well his experiment with the 2-iron went at Memorial, I think he can hit enough fairways to make a game of it.
  4. Although he's never won a major, Steve Stricker certainly seems ready to win an Open. His erratic driving caused me some concern earlier in the year, but he seems to have gotten things back under control. And now, coming off his biggest win ever at Jack's place, I think this may be his best-ever chance to pick up his first major. He's certainly proved he can play under this kind of pressure.
  5. Finally, my dark horse. This was tough. I have a feeling that Sergio will surprise everybody with a good showing, but I don't think he's back in winning form yet. And I really wanted to choose Matteo Manassero. His game is perfectly suited to a U.S. Open course... but unlike Stricker, he hasn't been handling final-round pressure very well lately. Instead, I'm putting my money on Manny's fellow countryman Francesco Molinari. He's played well in the big tournaments over the last few months, including that 2010 WGC win in China where he beat Westwood essentially head-to-head, and he's coming off a great showing in the BMW Italian Open this past week. He's a good driver and a good putter, both of which will stand him in good stead at Congressional.
And there they are -- my list of "most likely players to succeed at Congressional." With the exception of Mickelson, none are long hitters -- but that's a function of the shortness of the list rather than a preference for short knockers. Still, for all the talk about how long the course is, I think the hard fairways and the increased par (71 this time instead of 70) will eliminate some of the advantage the long hitters would otherwise enjoy. Even Graeme McDowell, who thought this course was a beast when he played it a month ago, has changed his tune and now says it's more enjoyable to play.

Of course, it won't be by Thursday. But that's why we all love the U.S. Open, isn't it? ;-)

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