Because my column is published on Sundays and since we don’t publish a paper on Mondays, I didn’t have the luxury this time to see how the tournament was shaping up after three rounds. Instead, I only had two (which is just as well, since it’s a crapshoot anyway). So here’s the column:
I don’t know what’s more impossible: the U.S. Open completing 72 holes before Monday or me trying to navigate a crowded leaderboard to pick a winner with just two rounds in the books.
But I never back down from a challenge (in this instance, anyway), and unlike Angel Cabrera, who made the cut but is too far back to mount any real challenge, I still have a chance at a personal Grand Slam. I picked correctly back in April that Cabrera would don the green jacket, and I’ve got three majors left.
You know the drill by now. Here are my picks (a.k.a. guesses) of who can win, who won’t win and who will win the 109th U.S. Open.
Who Can Win
Phil Mickelson -1 (Through one hole in third round)
I’m only slightly breaking my cardinal rule here.
I know what I’ve written before, and I know that in the past, I’ve blindly blown past said cardinal rule. So excuse the hedging here, even though I wrote after Way Left Winged Foot that I wouldn’t pick Lefty to win a major again until after he actually did it.
Well, chalk me up for getting swept up into the emotion of what Mickelson’s trying to accomplish this week. I may even wear pink on Monday when this Open finally comes to an end.
Mickelson is miles back, though, and would need some help to get into real contention. That said, this is the same guy who had a good chance to steal Augusta through nine holes on Sunday before fading on the back nine. Bethpage is there for the taking, and Lefty’s just as capable of throwing up a 64 as anybody. Maybe even moreso. So he’s in it.
Lucas Glover -7 (Through 36 holes)
I’m not sure how many people realize how good of a player Glover really is. He darn near made the Ryder Cup team last year, has won on the PGA Tour, finished second at Quail Hollow last month and ranks 12th on Tour in birdies this year.
Remember, this isn’t a standard U.S. Open course anymore. It’s more like a Buick Open, and Glover could win a Buick Open.
Sean O’Hair -2 (Through 36 holes)
O’Hair can flat-out play and might be a future star in the making. He’s already won three times on Tour, including at Quail Hollow this year, and has three other top-5s in 2009 to go with it. He’s first in all-around ranking on Tour, sixth in scoring average, second in greens in regulation and hits more than 64 percent of his fairways. Pretty good combination to make a run in the final two rounds of an Open.
Tiger Woods +3 (Through one hole in third round)
I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care.
Yes, he’s miles back. Yes, he’s never come from behind to win a major. Yes, he has 26 players ahead of him.
Don’t care. He’s Tiger.
This goes back to my Buick Open theory for the 2009 U.S. Open. Low scores, maybe even historic scores, are out there.
And Tiger does well with history (and in Buick Opens). Drop a 63 in the third round, and he’s at 4 under and scaring the bejesus out of everybody. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, just saying it could.
Who Won’t Win
Peter Hanson -3 (Through 36 holes)
It’s not like the Swede is a bad player, but he misses half his fairways. Even at this Open, that will eventually kill you.
David Duval (-3 Through 36 holes)
I’d love to see it, especially since Duval has become a mini-Phil in that he’s engaging with the gallery. When he was great, he was a cold fish. Now he’s been humbled, and his game has been showing signs of life this year.
But this was also the guy who started his second round with four bogeys in six holes. Give him credit for bouncing all the way back, but this is too much.
Azuma Yano (-3 Through 36 holes)
Ricky Barnes (-8 Through 36 holes)
He’s playing the best of anybody, and the result has been a record-breaking 36-hole score and a one-shot lead halfway through.
Six years ago, Barnes as hailed was “The Next Big Thing”, winning the U.S. Amateur and moving as high as third at the Masters before finishing 21st. Since then, though, it’s been near-miss after near-miss in earning his Tour card. Even this season, he’s missed six out of 12 cuts, and before Thursday, had never had a round under par at the Open.
He’s still cocky and he’s wearing painter hats. But he’s not the next U.S. Open champion.
Steve Stricker (-1 Through one hole in third round)
I think he’s going to make some noise in his third round, just because his game suits an Open. But Stricker rarely closes the deal on Sunday.
Then again, this Open probably won’t finish on Sunday…
Lee Westwood, Ross Fisher, Todd Hamilton, Oliver Wilson, Nick Taylor, Hunter Mahan, Gary Woodland (All Under Par)
They range from 2 under to 1 under, and they’re all a total crapshoot, kinda like my picks. Stupid rain.
Speaking of rain….
Bethpage Black (Under Water through three days)
Maybe it’s just bad luck, but the 2002 Open at Bethpage was marred by consistent rain showers. Great course, even better crowd, but maybe better suited for a PGA Championship in the future. Maybe August brings less rain?
Who Will Win
Mike Weir (-6 Through 36 holes)
When he won the Masters in 2003, Weir won because he was the grittiest and most focused player in the field. And with a less-than-stellar top half of the leaderboard, I think Weir has the mental makeup and the hard-boiled game to prevail.
Weir always seems to be perfectly under control, his maddeningly annoying preshot routine aside. He hits 65 percent of fairways, and though his lack of length should hurt him, he’s deadly on the greens and out of sand. How good is Weir around the greens? He has better scrambling stats than some guy named Philip Alfred Mickelson.
He’ll probably need a perfect two rounds of short-game expertise to hold off the bombers on a long course with soft greens, but I just don’t see him getting rattled by his position, the players around him or anyone who might happen to make a charge.
So he’s my pick in a wide-open Open.