Tiger Woods’ performance at the 2008 U.S. Open this past weekend was incredible and showed once again why he is the best golfer on the planet. Rocco Mediate played great and had his chances, but it was pretty obvious Woods wasn’t going to let the tournament slip away. If he would have needed an eagle at the 72nd hole or in the playoff, he would have gotten it. He is that damn good, even when he isn’t at his best.
Other than Woods and Mediate, the other guy that has been mentioned most is Phil Mickelson. Lefty made a couple questionable decisions this past week, and he paid the price. In the end, it wasn’t his week.
Now that the popular stories have been discussed, it’s time to talk about some of the underrated stories from this year’s U.S. Open. I had a chance to watch nearly every minute of television coverage this year, and I jotted down a few notes along the way. Enjoy!
The overall setup of Torrey Pines was great this past week, but the bunkers specifically stood out to me. So many bunkers in this day and age give golfers a great shot at converting up-and-downs, but the softer sand this past weekend was much more penal. I’ve never seen as many balls plugged in bunkers as I did at this year’s U.S. Open. It was nice to see them act as a true hazard.
The bunkers at Muirfield Village (home of Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament) have been made more difficult in recent years, and after seeing the soft sand at Torrey Pines this past weekend, I’m hopeful that more tournaments make bunkers more difficult. It’s nice to see the world’s best golfers struggle a little after hitting arrant shots.
“Sneds” Does it Again
Brandt Snedeker played great at Augusta earlier this year, and he gained a lot of new fans in the process. His next five events, however, resulted in two missed cuts and nothing inside the top 30. After making the cut on the number at this year’s U.S. Open, “Sneds” fired rounds of 68 and 71 on the weekend to finish in a tie for ninth. He joined Tiger Woods, Robert Karlsson, and Miguel-Angel Jimenez as the only golfers to finish in the top 10 in both majors this season.
Something about the majors appeals to Snedeker, and it’s clear he will win some big ones in the future. He has a solid short game, and his calm demeanor helps in pressure situations. He struggled after coming so close at The Masters, but let’s hope he bounces back a little better after the year’s second major. If not, we will probably see him back in the hunt at Royal Birkdale next month.
Brandt Snedeker wasn’t the only young golfer with a strong finish this past weekend. D.J. Trahan came out of nowhere to finish in a tie for fourth, while Eric Axley and Camilo Villegas both finished in a tie for ninth alongside “Sneds.” Many of the world’s best struggled (more on that later), and it was nice to see some young guns getting some experience in contention. Hopefully these guys will take the next step in the near future.
Els’ Short Game Woes
It was nice to see Ernie Els in contention this past weekend, but he let a lot of shots slip away. Over the weekend, it was hard to find another golfer that gave himself more chances than The Big Easy. From tee to green, he was very solid. His short game let him down so many times in clutch situations. That’s tough to watch because Els’ short game has won him so many big events in the past.
The swing changes Els has gone through in recent months have been well documented, but it’s time for The Big Easy to get back to the basics. His soft touch around and on the greens is the major reason he has been one of the best over the past 15 years. In 2008, the South African is ranked 171st in putting and 134th in sand save percentage. His other stats aren’t great either, but those two are most shocking.
Regardless of what Els does with his long game, he won’t be one of the world’s best for long if he doesn’t improve his short game. He has always been solid around the greens, and it’s a shame to see him struggle so much.
World Top-10 Struggles
Tiger Woods is the clear-cut top golfer in the world, and Phil Mickelson is definitely the number two guy. After that, things are shaky at best. The world top 10 is playing as poorly right now as they ever have. Erik J. Barzeski mentioned the overall struggles in last week’s U.S. Open Predictions, but it’s worth mentioning again. Will anyone step up and give Woods a run for his money?
Tiger was out a couple months before the U.S. Open, and that gave everyone else a chance to make up some ground. Mickelson won an event during that time, but he hasn’t been consistent at all. Adam Scott has had his moments this season, but he isn’t playing like a number three guy should be. Geoff Ogilvy, who is now fourth in the world, has arguably played like the second-best golfer over the past month, but he hasn’t found the winner’s circle since the WGC-CA Championship in March.
Ernie Els, number five in the rankings, has played poorly since his win at The Honda Classic earlier this season. Sergio Garcia, ranked number six, has played as well as anyone else in Woods’ absence and has moved into the top 10 because of it. Justin Rose, on the other hand, has played very poorly other than his tie for second at The Memorial. It shocks me to see him ranked seventh in the world.
Steve Stricker, Vijay Singh, and Jim Furyk round out the top 10, and they have also been very inconsistent this season. Stricker has been flat-out awful since the first couple months of 2008. Singh and Furyk have had some solid finishes this season, but overall, they are playing as poorly as they have over the past several seasons.
With the breaking news that Tiger Woods will miss the rest of the 2008 season, it’s a must for the rest of the top 10 to step up their games and show they are worthy of the rankings. If not, it’s time for others ranked outside the top 10 to step it up and make a move. It’s disheartening to see so many top golfers struggle on a week-to-week basis when they should be taking advantage of not having the number one guy in the field. It’s going to be interesting to see who takes a stand in Woods’ absence the rest of this season.
The Final Say
Lee Westwood also deserves a mention this week. The Englishman went toe to toe with Tiger Woods in the final round and matched his score in the process. Westwood played well enough to get into a playoff, but he just couldn’t convert a couple key chances. It will definitely be interesting to see how he does in future majors after handling the pressure so well this past weekend.
It’s your turn to tell me what you think about this week’s article. Is Brandt Snedeker a future major winner? Also, can The Big Easy get his short-game problems sorted out in the near future? Finally, which top-10 golfers will step up in Tiger’s absence? If you have anything to add, please comment below or discuss it in the forum. Thanks for reading this week’s Thrash Talk!
Photo Credits: © 2008 The Sand Trap .com.