This is how Tiger rolls these days. I didn’t cherry pick this picture from after one of his knee surgeries or anything like that. This is Tiger Woods, this week. He doesn’t look like a guy who is going to be playing golf in the near future. And, it’s not like Tiger is going to take the boot off and walk right to the first tee of a PGA event. He’ll need time to get back, and that puts the entire summer schedule in doubt at this point. There was a time when the formula for any good event, US Opens included, was to have Tiger in contention. With that piece in place, everything else was complimentary. Now, we need a different place to start.
It seems like the natural place to go, especially for a the US Open, would be to focus on the golf course. The most difficult test of the year, often played at one of the country’s most historic layouts. Last year, you have Pebble Beach, which is a television show on its own. Like I said earlier in the week, there is nothing wrong with Congressional. It’s a very good golf course, but it’s not one that people will get excited about. And, in an unfortunate development, a lot of the early talk seems to be about the condition of some of the greens. They are already browning, and showing signs of poor health, and it’s early in the week. To get them to the speed the USGA will want by the weekend, they could be walking a dangerous line. To be fair, the players all seem to think Congressional will be a fair and worthy test, but will it be an exciting or dramatic one?
For that to take place, I’m not sure what has to happen. The biggest non-Tiger story line in golf right now seems to be the decline in American dominance. The emergence of foreign stars (especially those from Europe) has brought us to a golfing world where no American holds a Major Championship. The top of the World Rankings is littered with European players. In some sports this might create an Us vs. Them mentality among the fans, but the casual golf observer I don’t think cares at all about this rivalry that the media is trying to drum up. The people who do feel it, people like me, would be watching the event regardless. I might have some angst toward the likes of Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy, but a lot of people don’t have feelings either way, certainly not strong enough to create any real drama.
For this to come off as a successful event I think they’ll need the following:
1. Phil. Phil has replaced Tiger at this point as the guy who most fans will be checking on to see if he is in contention. The beauty of Phil near the lead, especially at a US Open, is that almost anything can happen. He’s just as likely to implode as he is to win, and when he goes down, it’s usually in spectacular fashion. You can also feel how badly Phil wants to win this tournament just by looking at him, and that resonates with the viewers. Other players, guys like Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler and Rory have profile, but not yet like Phil.
2. A vulnerable course. For US Open standards that is. I think if the winner ends up at 4 to 6 under par, we’re likely to see a more exciting event than if the winner is a few over par. I am a firm believer that the US Open should be the toughest test of the year, and I appreciate the grind, but I know that a lot of people do not. A birdie on Sunday at Pebble last year was too much of a rarity, even for me. Even a hard course needs a mix of birdie and bogey holes. If guys are just playing for conservative pars, because that’s the only play…well, I don’t think that’s the point. If they get some rain, or if they have to water to keep the greens alive, maybe we’ll see some birdies down the stretch for a change.
3. Tightly bunched field. Think of the Masters this year. The names at the top on the back nine might not have been the most exciting or recognizable, but the lead was changing hands, guys looked dead only to come back, guys shot up the leaderboard with eagles. It was anyone’s game until the end when maybe the least likely candidate emerged. One problem an US Open sometimes faces is that the difficulty of the course thins out the field quickly. You might have two guys at a couple under par and then four or five shots back to the rest of the field. If those two guys aren’t Phil and someone else, that isn’t going to be very fun to watch. Last year a good five guys had a look on Sunday, and they’ll need more of the same this year.
4. A Cinderella. The last thing that could save the event is some guy totally out of nowhere. An amateur, someone with a great story, but the chances of that happening are pretty slim. Any amateur in contention would create some interest, but we haven’t seen that in a while.
Ten Guys To Bet Against, My Definitive Top-10:
- Angel Cabrera
- Lee Westwood
- Phil Mickelson
- K.J. Choi
- David Toms
- Hunter Mahan
- Sergio Garcia
- Martin Laird
- Dustin Johnson
- Ian Poulter