In which we, your devoted Sand Trap staff tackle the following, and more:
Who wins? Who'll be slamming the trunk on Friday? And, most importantly, which on-air catch phrases and fixations will have you angrier than the runner up in the media trailer on Sunday?
Come inside for a look!
Winner and Score
Erik J. Barzeski
Surprise, surprise, but I'm going to pick Tiger Woods at -6 (274). I think the course will play soft which, contrary to popular opinion, will let more players in it, but Tiger's got the confidence, the swing, and the equipment from his Memorial Tournament to fall back on… as well as 14 previous majors which include two defenses: of last year's U.S. Open and the last U.S. Open at Bethpage.
Give me Tiger or the field and I'll take the field every time, but if I have to take only one player from the field, that's probably always going to be Tiger Woods.
Jim Furyk at -2 (278). Started a little slow this year, but Furyk has been solid at the Masters (top 10), CA Championship (third) and Memorial (second), showing his concentration and determination in the bigger events. He's long enough and consistent off the tee, and he's one of the best putters in the game. Plus, he has the best game face in golf aside from Tiger. I think this is his year. Again.
Since Tiger isn't missing fairways anymore, it would be very easy to pick him. And I'm probably crazy not to, but I'm going with the emotional pick: Phil Mickelson, -2 (278).
He likes Bethpage. The New York fans are going to very pro-Phil (and merciless to Sergio, I suspect). With his wife battling cancer, it would make the kind of a story that would inspire Phil to play well, if he doesn't try too hard to make it come true.
And if it's not Phil? I'll take Eldrick vs. the field.
Tiger Woods, -5 (275). Let's see, healthy… Check. Hitting fairways… Check. Best player in the game… Check. Tiger Woods will run away with this thing, it will be back to school for the PGA Tour and Professor Woods will be teaching.
Steve Stricker, -2 (278) No, I'm not picking Tiger! After a few close calls in majors, Stricker will break through and win his first. He's played solid golf for a few years now and plays his best on tough courses. He won recently at Colonial, and has 6 top tens in 09 and over $3 million in winnings in just a dozen or so events. He is one of the best putters in the world and drives the ball straight, all good qualities to have at a U.S. Open.
Tiger Woods, -5 (275). I toyed with lots of other picks like Mickelson or O'Hair but with Tiger hitting his driver better someone is going to have to at least beat his B-game on a course on which he has already won an Open.
I'm refusing to pick Tiger even though he's the almost sure thing. Given that, I'm going with Geoff Oglivy with a score -4 (276). He's second on Tour in putting and you must putt well to win.
This may be an awful gauge of course difficulty, but given the performance of the celebrities in the Golf Digest promotion, I think the winning score will be somewhere between -4 and -10. I am, of course, picking Tiger Woods at -7 (273) to win.
He Could Contend…
Jim Furyk may not have the length if the course is as wet as they say it will be. And I doubt his closing ability. But this is about contention, not winning, so Furyk gets the nod. Others in my list include Geoff Ogilvy and… okay, it's a short list. Yeah, I know, really going out on a limb aren't I? 😛
John Merrick is a pretty good under-the-radar pick for your office pool. He played well on the weekend at Torrey Pines last year to earn a top-10 and an invite to Augusta, where he finished T6 this year. He posted five rounds in the 60s in finishing second at the Bob Hope this year, so he can go low, and he's won some strong amateur and college events. That includes the 2001 SoCal Amateur, a title once held by one T. Woods.
OK, so he's the reigning Masters Champion, which makes calling him a dark horse a bit of a stretch, but there is very little talk about Angel Cabrera leading up to the Open. With his long game and the touch he's shown at Oakmont and Augusta, Cabrera could definitely get in this thing. Besides, he only wins majors.
Phil Mickelson could contend this week. Hopefully Amy's condition is the best it can be and Phil will turn his attention to golf. I am sure he only returned to the Tour at the behest of his wife and there would be no better present to give her during this time than a successful run at Bethpage.
Sergio Garcia. He's one of the best ball strikers in golf and contended here in tough conditions in 2002. He dealt with the weather and the rowdy, belligerent fans during his annoying re-grip phase to place fourth. If he can find his putting stroke and get over being dumped by Morgan Leigh Norman, he'll be there on the first page of the leaderboard Sunday afternoon.
Hunter Mahan. His mentality in the majors seems to be either miss the cut or make a run. I'm picking him to make a run.
My dark horse pick is Anthony Kim. Hard to call Kim a dark horse but he hasn't played that well this year so far but he does has the game and attitude to go head-to-head with anyone in the field. The Nike marketing department would go nuts if it came down to him and Tiger…
Henrik Stenson could do surprisingly well this week. He won the Players, which is, some would say, basically a Major in itself. If he keeps the driver in the bag and hit his customary 290 yard 3 woods and is putting well, I'd look for him in the top 10, perhaps even holding the trophy.
He'll be Packing on Friday…
I was going to pick Phil Mickelson, but I think Phil will have a so-so week. Not really in contention, but well inside the cut line. Kind of like his play last week. So, no Phil for me here.
So here are my picks for the biggest trunk slammers: Anthony Kim, Paul Casey, and Sergio Garcia.
Vijay Singh won't play the weekend. I think Veej still has a couple
minor-level Tour wins left in the tank. But he's lost a few miles off the fastball, and I don't think he sees the weekend at Bethpage.
Brian Gay, two-time winner this year, sneaks into the field with a win in Memphis and sneaks out Friday. Gay has the control and finesse to compete at a U.S. Open, but not this U.S. Open. Bethpage will be too much of a course for him.
Garcia will either win the crowd over and get in the hunt, or the New York fans and his own fragile psyche are going to have him slamming his trunk on Friday. I don't think there's an in between for him at this tournament. I tend to think it will be the latter.
Let's go with Kenny Perry. Open mouth, insert foot, go home early. I was always a fan of Kenny until his recent outburst. A Tour player complaining about what Tiger and Phil do for the game is like an actor complaining about Hollywood.
Phil Mickelson. Don't get me wrong, I know what he's going through and nobody on the course will be cheered louder than Phil, but playing in a U.S. Open requires a level of concentration and mental focus that I don't think Phil will be able to sustain long enough to make the cut. Even if he manages to block out his distractions for a few moments at a time, the New York fans will remind him constantly. It's not easy playing tournament golf with a heavy heart. I tried to play through my father's battle with cancer and just couldn't find my game.
J.M. Singh. I'm biased though because I just don't want to watch that swing for four days.
Adam Scott's game has been AWOL all year. Bethpage is not the place to get it back. His putting is suspect and now the rest of his game is as well.
Sergio Garcia… and he'll whine about it and blame someone/something other than himself.
Wouldn't it be Great if…?
… it doesn't rain all week like they've predicted. Oh, you want something serious? How about this: wouldn't it be great to have a top-tier leaderboard like the last time we were at Bethpage, with Phil and Sergio and Tiger battling it out? Yeah, that'd be great.
Phil Mickelson has a strong week, capped by an emotional Father's Day announcement that wife Amy has an excellent prognosis in her battle with breast cancer.
It comes down to a Woods-Mickelson pairing, this time for all the marbles instead of just to get close like at Augusta? How crazy would those crowds be?
Rocco played well again? I'd love to see him get a second chance. I don't really think it's likely, but it would be very cool.
It would also be great to see an amateur on the leaderboard Sunday.
Wouldn't it be great if David Duval was in contention on the weekend? I'm not just rooting for him because we share the same name and I always get asked if we are related, or because I've been mistakenly getting his fan mail for years. I would love to see David play well in a major again, but as much as I'm pulling for him to do well, I don't think he will make the cut. His game is suffering from apathy and lack of desire, and nobody can fix that but him.
Duval was in contention for longer than 15 holes on Thursday. He managed to qualify for the Open, which is no easy feat, but he just can't get over the hump of the first day. If he can I would love to see him close to the top of the leader board come Sunday.
Somebody challenges Tiger. I know Rocco did last year but I want a heavyweight fight with one of the big names on Tour. I think he'll be in the final pairing (with Geoff Oglivy, of course!). Last year's U.S. Open was great to watch and I'm hoping for the same thing this year. If Tiger has a five shot lead going into Sunday, it might get a bit boring.
It's common knowledge at this point that I don't like Phil Mickelson, but I'd still like to see him play well.
Most Overused Announcing Term/Phrase of the Week
Do you mean besides Johnny Miller talking about grain on greens that don't have any grain? Or "makeable" 35-foot putts? Or the "fall lines"? I just hope the terms we don't all get sick of this week are "rain" and "soggy" and "soft" and "storm."
I also hope - but doubt - that we won't have to hear much about the crowds. I know announcers are kind of sucking up to the crowds, but at several times in 2002 the crowd was outright obnoxious and rude. Sergio didn't do himself any favors, but the crowd took things too far as well.
Most overused phrase or term of the week: anything that has to do with how wonderful the USGA is to bring the U.S. Open to public courses. The organization is still a bunch of blue-blazer snobs who don't understand the way the game is played by 99 percent of the public. Plus, by bringing the Open to courses like Bethpage and Torrey Pines, they leave behind overly renovated courses that are less fun and more expensive to play. Gee, thanks USGA for all you do for the good of the game.
"Since they discovered that Amy has breast cancer…"
It's definitely one of the biggest stories of the year, and I hope they do a good job with it and make the occasion an opportunity to raise awareness rather than simply playing up the sentimentality. It's a fine line to walk, but if they play it right having Phil in the field could help in the fight against breast cancer. I hope so. I've lost two friends to the disease and know a number of others who are survivors.
Graduated Rough. Everytime someone hits a green from the rough we will have to hear about the graduated rough. Don't get me wrong, I think a more playable rough is a good thing. I find the grind of having to pitch out sideways every time you miss a fairway very boring.
Announcers referring to the "rowdy or loud New York fans" We saw it in 2002. In the wake of 9/11 the cheers and jeers being hurled from the crowds became a topic of discussion, and once again this will be the case, although Phil will probably not have to deal with the same kind of remarks he got in '02, like the fan who yelled "Hey Phil, are those A cups?" There is no doubt in my mind that if the weather is nice the beer will be flowing and when you combine alcohol and the trademark bluntness of the locals, the term "rowdy New York fans" will be muttered more than once…
"Three wood." I know, I'm cheating but considering the cameras are going to be following Tiger, Phil and a few of the other long hitters who could use a little added accuracy, don't be surprised if you hear the announcers say "three wood" a lot.
Besides mentioning the New York fans? Pretty much anything by Chris Berman. Oh, my overused phrase of the week is "the cable company wants how much extra for HD?"
Any pandering to the blinding glory of either the USGA or New York fans. Look for this en masse.
What Would You Shoot at Bethpage on Sunday, Given a Mulligan Per Hole?
I shot 82 at Oakmont in 2007 just after the U.S. Open (after talking all week about how wide the fairways are - they are, too, relative to the course I normally play). I played Bethpage back when I was a six and broke 90 fairly easily (but not in U.S. Open conditions, of course). So, a mulligan per hole, which I'd most likely use off the tees? I'm going to say 75. If my man Ben Roethlisberger can shoot 81 without mulligans, I can shoot 75 with 18 of 'em (some of which I may not need).
And that's not to say I'm good. Give a pro - any pro - 18 mulligans and they'll be in the low 60s pretty easily.
I've been lucky enough to play a handful of Major championship courses the day after the event in media outings. I played Winged Foot after the 1997 PGA Championship and felt lucky to break 110 (a smooth 107) when my handicap was around 15. As a 9 handicap, I played really well the day after last year's PGA Championship at Oakland Hills… and shot a 92. Sunday at a major isn't golf like we know it. There's no letup in the pin placements, no breather holes, no place to pick up a stroke and plenty of potential double bogeys. At Bethpage, with the fairways pinched, rough up and greens baked, I'd put myself down for 95, or a 77 with the generous 18 mullies.
C'mon, a mulligan a hole? That seems overly generous. I really believe that I'd shoot low to mid 90s, sans mulligans, provided I played reasonably well. That would let me play all of par fours as par fives (some of those holes are looooong) and still give me a few strokes of cushion. So if I'm getting a mulligan a hole, I think I might just break 80. I mean, any time I got to a green in regulation, I'd have a do-over on a putt should I need it. Then again, if I putted like I did two weeks ago, breaking 100, with mulligans, might be a stretch.
I shot 73 in 30-40 mph winds and won a local tournament by seven shots last month. It was one of the toughest and best rounds I have ever played. I tend to play well in tough situations, figure on a Bethpage rating of 78, the added pressure of spectators, but with a mulligan a hole I think I could get it around in close to par, lets say +1. I mean come on, a mulligan a hole is a lot of do-overs in one round.
With 18 mulligans I think I would easily break 80, I'll say 76. Bethpage Black's course rating of 76.6 and slope of 148 is comparable to a few of the really tough courses I have played. Add the longer rough and the course probably plays to a 78 rating and slope of 155 (The max allowed by the USGA). In Tequesta, FL, the Jupiter Hills Club's Hills course is rated 77.3 with a slope of 153. I played this course, set up at 7300 yards to a par of 70 in last year's Florida State Amateur Championship. Jupiter Hills also hosted last years U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier where the winner Bobby Collins shot 69-69 for a 2 under total. No one else broke par. Where the rough at Bethpage will be a 1/2 stroke penalty, Jupiter's "rough" is soft sugar sand waste areas and palmetto bushes. The ball sits down in the stuff and it amounts to about a half shot as well if the fairway is missed.
What would you shoot at Bethpage on Sunday, given a mulligan per hole?Probably 61 or 62. My putter is my enemy right now so I might shoot a lot higher.
With 18 freebies, I think I would shoot 90. Anything lower than that might be a stretch with my game right now.
I would expect to break 80. Obviously, a do-over per hole would change my approach considerably. Without mulligans, I think I'd have difficulty breaking 90. My penchant for playing tennis on the putting surface, coupled with a lot of fun in the rough would make this a Herculean task.