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US Open Preview and Picks

   by Matt Fargo - 06/14/2010

We have hit the second major of the season as the 110th edition of the U.S. Open tees off this week from majestic Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California. This is the first trip for the Open back to Pebble since 2000 when Tiger Woods was the runaway winner. This is the second stop there this year however as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was contested back in February and won by Dustin Johnson.

While you might think the players who played well then and in past AT&T National Pro-Am’s will play well this week, think again. The USGA will have this course tricked up to usual Open standards so the course will be far from the same. There will definitely be some advantages to having had success at Pebble in the past but there are factors that need to be weighed heavier.

Unlike most tour events, the Open changes venue every year but past history still does play an important role. While the courses are different, the setups are similar so any patterns by players need to be taken into consideration. The typical Open track will have higher and thicker rough as well as faster and harder greens making scoring much more difficult than what was seen four months ago.

Since the last Open at Pebble Beach in 2000, the course has been lengthened from 6,846 yards to 7,014 yards. That added yardage along with the change to the tiered rough since then, should make the track much tougher 10 years later. Back in 2000, Woods was the only player to finish under par and he did so by 12 shots but that was when he was playing his best golf ever.

There is one thing the players will not have to worry about and that is the weather. Pebble is known for those high winds that can cause havoc on the scoring and we only have to go back as far as last year at Bethpage when the rain forced a Monday finish. There is no rain in the forecast and winds will be quite moderate. That doesn’t mean better scoring as the dry weather will harden up the greens even more.

Of the eight players who have odds of +2500 or better, three are European (Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy). A player from across the pond has not won our championship since 1970 when Tony Jacklin won at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska. There have been some close calls along the way but these U.S. Open courses just do not set up well for their type of play.

Tiger Woods (+600) is still the favorite despite showing signs of backing up to the field. In 2000, besides shooting 12 under par, he broke Open records for largest margin of victory (15 shots), largest 36-hole lead (six shots) and largest 54-hole lead (10 shots). He finished fourth in the Masters but he has not been in contention in his other three starts this year. We could see the Tiger of old as those 2000 memories are a big plus.

Always the bridesmaid and never the bride. That is the story for Phil Mickelson (+700), who has been painfully close to winning his most coveted major but has not been able to close the deal. Mickelson has been an Open runner-up five times and he can blame himself for over half of those. He has won three times in his career at Pebble and he finished T16 in 2000 the last time the open was here.

One of those aforementioned Europeans was Lee Westwood (+800), who is coming off his first PGA Tour win in 12 years at the St. Jude last week. He is arguably now the best player never to have won a major but besides the European drought, he also has other bad history going against him. No player has ever won a PGA Tour event and then won the U.S. Open the following week.

Jim Furyk (+2500) does have a U.S. Open to his credit, back in 2003 at Olympia Fields, and he has two wins in his pocket this year so he is someone to look at. He last missed the cut in the Open in 2002 and besides that win the following year, he had consecutive T2 finishes in 2006 and 2007. One of his wins this year was in Harbour Town where the greens are even smaller than Pebble’s greens so his game fits.

Steve Stricker (+3000) seems to have the game for winning an Open but he has yet to show it. He does have three top six finishes in the Open and three more in the top 16 and he has recovered from his shoulder injury. Could this be his year? Probably not. He has not had much success in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, missing the cut three of the six times that he has teed it up.

An interesting player to watch is Dustin Johnson (+3000). He has won the last two AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am’s but this will definitely be different. Those events included rounds at Spyglass Hill and the Shore Course and he has yet to see the tricked up version of Pebble. Also, he has not cracked the top 40 in the two U.S. Opens but his wins at the course has to boost his confidence this year.

The defending champion is Lucas Glover (+8000) but he is considered a longshot this week. He obviously knows what it takes to win an Open and his best finish this year was a T3 at THE PLAYERS, the fifth major. However, there have not been back-to-back Open champions since 1988 and 1989 when Curtis Strange did it and prior to that, it was Ben Hogan in 1950 and 1951. History is not on his side.

He isn’t really a longshot but K.J. Choi (+4000) is getting very good odds. He has yet to miss a cut this year, going a perfect 13-13 and he is third on tour in scoring average. He is not long but he is solid at most everything else including 11th in ball striking and 5th in greens hit. Choi finished T21 at Pebble earlier this year and made the Open cut last year after three straight misses.

Nick Watney (+6000) is coming off a missed cut at the Memorial but when he makes a cut, he runs with it. He has four top tens this year in 11 made cuts with his best finish a solo fourth at the Transitions. He finished seventh at the Masters and he leads the tour in greens hit which is essential at Pebble. His best ever Open finish is a T60 but he has played well at the AT&T National Pro Am the last two years.

Another player lost in the odds is Tim Clark (+6000). He broke his PGA Tour maiden three starts back at THE PLAYERS so he no longer has that hanging over his shoulders. He has made 10 of 13 cuts this year including four top tens and that victory should give him confidence. He has three top 22 finishes in four starts at the AT&T National Pro Am and he has made the cut in three straight Opens.

Recommended Tournament Win Six Pack at the U.S. Open

Phil Mickelson (+700)

Jim Furyk (+2500)

Dustin Johnson (+3000)

K.J. Choi (+4000)

Nick Watney (+6000)

Tim Clark (+6000)

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