If you read the printed version to this column in The Herald, then you know I made most of these picks as the leaders were making the turn. Here is my updated version following the completion of the third round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Once again, I’m gonna take my shot anyway at Who Can Win, Who Won’t Win and Who Will Win the U.S. Open.
And just like Phil Mickelson, I too can still finish with my own version of the Grand Slam. I got Lefty’s win at The Masters right. Let’s see how I do with the Open.
Who Can Win
Dustin Johnson -6 Of course. Not only does he lead here, he’s won the last two AT&T Pro-Ams.
Careful though. Only three rounds in the last two years came at Pebble for Johnson, whose last win was a rain-shortened event. He’ll be in the mix the entire way, but it’s not as automatic as a lot of people think.
Still, he flat-out owned the course through the first seven holes Saturday. He has such a huge edge with his length — Johnson has averaged 26 yards more than the field on his drives, and he’s second in greens-in-regulation — that he’s hitting shots on a firmer course with more spin than anyone else.
I think he’s the favorite entering the final round. We’ll see how he handles an Open Sunday.
Graeme McDowell -3 A half-hour before his tee time, McDowell was on the range swinging a mid-iron with his left arm and holding a cellphone — and talking into it — with his right hand. Dude just emanates cool.
Could he handle the lead on Sunday, and especially on the difficult last 11 holes at Pebble? Well, he’s won a bunch on the European Tour, including his last start, is a Ryder Cup vet and leads the Euro Tour in greens-in-regulation at nearly a three-quarter clip. He’s also made the cut in his previous four Opens.
He has the game, but more importantly, he seems to have the head. He just looks fearless, and is playing like it. Reminds me of Trevor Immelman at The Masters a few years ago.
Ernie Els E Everything looks good with Els again, and he is leading the PGA Tour’s money list for a reason.
But he’s got to start making those intermediate putts. If he can’t make a couple of 5-6-footers on Sunday, it won’t happen.
K.J. Choi +1 (11) His back-nine binge at Augusta signaled his major arrival. He’s as steady as they come. If he gets it going on the early birdie holes, who knows?
That was then. 7 over is now. Goodbye K.J.
Us Viewers We’ve got Johnny Miller for the final round of a major championship. Love him, hate him, whatever, he’s the best since Ken Venturi. My favorite quote on Saturday? When Tiger Woods was lining up a slippery short birdie putt on No. 6, Miller quipped, “These are the putts that drove me up here.”
Who Won’t Win
Phil Mickelson +1 Bogey-bogey start after a brilliant day Friday and a loose day Thursday. Lefty’s second round looks like the aberration, and I still don’t trust him at the Open. He’s given more Opens away than the media gives him credit for, and as good as he is, when it gets tight at the Open, Lefty gets tighter. I’d like to see him win, but I think other guys are just playing better.
Ryo Ishikawa +3 He’s no amateur. But he’s still 18. Eighteen-year-olds don’t win majors. Someday.
Alex Cejka +3 The guy no one is talking about. Worked for Y.E. Yang last year, though.
Gregory Havret E Who?
A guy who beat Lefty in a playoff at the Scottish Open three years ago. Still…
The USGA If the 14th hole becomes a mess on Sunday like it’s been for three days, this Open may be remembered like the 2004 version at Shinnecock Hills for its No. 7 green.
Davis Love III +4 Went from tied for 59th and making the cut on the number to a tie for 10th and a spot in one of the last five pairings at the end of the day, not much unlike my guy Brandt Snedeker (+5, T13). Sunday will be a different day for both, I’m afraid.
Tom Watson +6 (F) A great performance that more than justifies the USGA giving him a special exemption.
Posted his score and moved up the board in a hurry. He’s tied for 16th. Fifteenth or better gets him into next year’s Open.
Paul Casey +6 Erase triples on 14 and 2, Casey could’ve led. Look out at St. Andrews, though.
Who Will Win
Tiger Woods -1 (F) It’s not fair to compare Tiger 2010 to Tiger 2000.
But the fist-pump is back.
In his Pebble romp Woods didn’t miss a putt under 8 feet. Before a birdie binge Saturday, he had just three birds over 39 holes. And he finished his front nine with three birdies, three pars and three bogeys. He was getting closer, but he wasn’t quite there yet.
And then the back nine happened.
This is still the guy who came back from about 4,328 strokes back on Sunday to win at Pebble once upon a time, and while there seemed to be too many studs in front of him all day, he made two different moves on Saturday.
He made everything again.
He was pointing the finger at the hole again.
He hit a shot on 18 that rivals Lefty’s at 13 at Augusta for Shot Of The Year.
He’s got a lot of work still to do, and he needs Johnson to back up. But after watching him play the last 15 holes in 7 under Saturday, would you bet against him?
Hello again, world.
Let’s see if my shot at a PodloSlam remains.