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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My 5 to Watch at the US Open

It's time for me to choose my "5 to Watch" for this week's major. But these are the hardest picks I've made in quite a while, primarily because Pinehurst #2 -- only about 2 hours from where I live -- presents a challenge unlike anything the modern PGA Tour has seen at a US Open.

Phil Mickelson

The restoration of Pinehurst #2 by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore has set the Wayback Machine to 1943, only 5 years before architect Donald Ross died and during the peak of Pinehurst's legendary status as a Tour stop. It's no longer built for the "target golf" played on most American courses; now it's being described as an American inland links course, more like a cross between Augusta National and Carnoustie.

When you add in the possibility of bad weather -- the same front that hit Memphis last week -- it's not easy to guess how today's pros will perform on such a classic venue. Do I pick players with good records at the Open Championship? At the Masters? Or is classic Pinehurst a different animal altogether? I'm not sure...

I've eliminated Jason Day, Louis Oosthuizen, and defending champ Justin Rose because of their injuries. I'm uncertain how difficult the "rough" at Pinehurst will be, but I can see a very real chance for these players to re-injure themselves with a bad shot or two. (Yes, I know Justin says his shoulder is fine... but I've had shoulder injuries before.) And all of these players have had a tendency toward wild shots recently.

Rory's still too inconsistent for my tastes, as is Henrik Stenson. And I question Adam Scott's putting on Pinehurst's tricky greens.

I like Sergio and Jim Furyk, but despite their recent good play I just can't see either of them getting it done here. (I hope I'm wrong; I'd be really pleased if either of them won this week.) I think Zach Johnson DOES have a good chance here -- he's gotten his ball flight up a little -- but I just can't bring myself to call him a Top5 pick. However, I don't feel good about Matt Kuchar on this course at all.

So here, with some reservations, are my 5 to Watch:
  • Phil Mickelson: As usual, everything seems to be against Phil getting into the mix this week... and to be honest, I'm not so sure he will. But this is exactly the kind of drama that seems to get Phil going and we all know what he can do when that happens, so he makes my list.
  • Jordan Spieth: This isn't about Jordan being a wonderkid or anything. Rather, Jordan makes my list because NOBODY knows exactly what to expect since the course has been changed so much. I think that gives Jordan a level playing field... and he's been playing very consistently this season, with 5 Top5s and a runner-up at the Masters. Jordan's good on unfamiliar layouts.
  • Bubba Watson: Another player who I normally wouldn't pick as a US Open favorite. But Bubba is long, has a good short game, and putts well. And, with "rough" that could give him something resembling a decent lie, his ability to recover from bad shots could give him an edge.
  • Webb Simpson: Webb is a bit of a flier for me. Still, he's from the area and he's been playing better lately, with a T3 in Memphis last week. He'll put a lot of pressure on himself (everybody wants to win a US Open in their home state) but I still think he can do it.
  • Miguel Angel Jimenez: Believe it or not, the Mechanic is my favorite to win this week. It's not just that he's playing well; it's that he's playing well around the world. I think the classic Pinehurst setup is just the kind of course that he's used to. And while he's far from the longest player in this bunch, Bill Coore said something Monday night that struck me: He said that this restored Pinehurst is very friendly to shorter hitters. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a surprise winner!
Now let's see how modern players deal with classic layouts!

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