In nearly 10 years of doing the Who Can Win, Who Won’t Win and Who Will Win columns on the eve of the final round of every major golf championship, I’ve only twice been burned by someone rising from the Who Won’t Win group to nab one of the greatest prizes in golf.
Ben Curtis, anyone?
Y.E. Yang, he of the 49 on the back nine Saturday at Pebble? Yup, missed on him at the PGA last year.
Beyond that, either my pick to win flames out miserably (Greg Norman at the British — oh come on, calling the Greg Norman win the night before it happened would’ve been something you’d still be hearing me crow about.), stumbles just enough for someone to beat him or, well, wins. I’ve been right more than a few times, including Trevor Immelman at the 2008 Masters and Phil Mickelson just this year at The Masters (even though I, for the third time in the last four years, broke my own “Until Lefty wins a major after the Way-Left Winged Foot debacle, I ain’t picking him no more” rule.)
That said, I’m still learning as I go with these things. And I learned another lesson on Sunday with Graeme McDowell winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
No, not that a run at a PodloSlam is impossible.
To always go with my gut, my first instinct.
Whether you choose to believe it or not — and I don’t blame you if you don’t — on the first draft of Sunday’s column, I had McDowell as my winner. I even wrote that his week reminded me so much of Immelman in ’08. (Notice how I left that part in there?) At least I kept him in my Who Can Win group.
But I fell hook, line and sinker for Tiger Woods’ 31 on the back nine on Saturday. I saw the darts for irons, the middle-of-the-cup putts and the first-pumps and finger-points. I saw the old Tiger, and I thought he was back.
Here is what else I thought: no way was the lead going to stay so low. Now, I didn’t think Dustin Johnson would crap the bed like he did, but I figured 2 or 3 under would win. (Looking back, I guess I did think Johnson would crap the bed — at least to a degree.)
And so I figured Tiger had substantively scared the bejeezus out of everyone with his back-nine barrage, and a 70 might be enough to get him back to his major-winning form. Blinded by the birdie binge, I guess I looked past the fact that it was his first staggering nine-hole stretch since his personal life made like a microcosm of Paul Casey at the 14th hole this week.
Let the record show I was right about going away from Lefty, who played about the same Sunday as he did in two of the first three rounds. And Ernie Els was certainly capable, like I said, sharing the lead even at one point. But then he fell apart, too.
And while McDowell nearly stumbled away the Open down the stretch, he remained the class of the field to win at even par.
I just wish I had stayed with my gut. The PodloSlam would still be alive.