One item of business before we analyze the U.S. Open ... John McNamara returns this Friday with his third edition of “Long-Term 101.” He’s added a tool or two for his research, so it’s not only new, it’s improved, too.
Inside the Ropes
The United States Open
The Olympic Club, San Francisco, CA
Yards: 7,170 as per the scorecard
Par: 70 (34-36)
Average green size: 4,400 square feet
Stimpmeter: 12.5-13.5 ft.
Bunkers: One fairway bunker; 61 green-side bunkers
Water Hazards: zero
Course Architect: Willie Watson and Sam Whiting (1924); Sam Whiting (1927 redesign after a storm); Robert Trent Jones (modified 1955); William Love (2009)
Notes: There is no out-of-bounds on the course; Fairways are Bentgrass, Rye and Poa annua; Greens are Bentgrass.
Winner’s Share: $1,350,000 and 600 FedExCup points
Defending Champion: Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy destroyed the field at Congressional winning his first major by eight shots and setting multiple records while doing so.
Date: June 14-17
Notes: The top 60 and ties will make the cut for the weekend. The rule was formerly the top 60 and ties plus anyone within 10 shots of the lead. That rule no longer applies. Olympic Club will play 373 yards longer than it did in 1998.
The Olympic Club has hosted four U.S. Opens. In 1955 Jack Fleck defeated Ben Hogan in a playoff. 1966 saw Billy Casper best Arnold Palmer, who had a seven-shot lead with nine holes to play, in a playoff. In 1987 Scott Simpson outlasted Tom Watson and in 1998 Lee Janzen won his second U.S. Open title when Payne Stewart failed to make birdie on the 72nd hole. This course is known as the “graveyard of legends” as the underdogs rule at Olympic Club.
The four champions at Olympic Club have combined for seven major championships while the runner-ups have finished with 27 majors.
No player has won on TOUR the week before the U.S. Open and has gone to win the tournament the following week. This eliminates Dustin Johnson as he won last week in Memphis. If you are keeping track, Lee Westwood won last weekend in Sweden so we’ll see if he can break this jinx as well.
Rory McIlroy became the youngest winner in over 100 years last year at Congressional.
Only Willie Anderson (1903-1905), John McDermott (1911-12), Bobby Jones (1929-30), Ralph Gudahl (1937-38), Ben Hogan (1950-51) and Curtis Strange (1988-89) have defended their titles.
The last time the U.S. Open was played at Olympic Club these players also were involved:
Steve Stricker T6
Lee Westwood T8
Stewart Cink T11
Phil Mickelson T11
Matt Kuchar (amateur) T15
Tiger Woods T18
Casey Martin T23
Thomas Bjorn T25
Vijay Singh T25
Joe Durant T32
Padraig Harrington T32
Ernie Els T49
Tim Herron T53
Retief Goosen T61
Mark Wilson MC
Shane Bertsch MC
Young Guns versus Old Guns
In 25 tournaments in 2012 the “Young” versus “Old” has seen the “Middle” take over as Zach Johnson hits the board for the not-too-old and not-too-young. The “Middle” guys continue their lead versus “Young” guys 12-111 while the “Old” folks have two wins.
For the “Young”, in order of victory on the calendar, Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan (29 at the time of his TWO wins), Rory McIlroy (now 23), Justin Rose (31), Rickie Fowler (23) and now Dustin Johnson (27) have cashed winner’s checks.
The “Middle” now has victories from Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34), Matt Kuchar (33), Jason Dufner (35) TWICE and Zach Johnson (36) have helped keep their season-long lead.
The “Old” guys that have hoisted the trophy are Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41). They’ll need some help and maybe this week at a major.
So What? So Let’s Dance!
From the USGA:
The Olympic Club was established in 1860 and enjoys the distinction of being America's oldest athletic club, with some 5,000 members who compete in 19 sports out of its downtown San Francisco clubhouse. Its 45 holes of golf include the Lake Course, which was originally designed in 1924 by Willie Watson and Sam Whiting, and redesigned by Whiting in 1927 after it suffered storm damage. The Lake Course remains true to the 1927 design, with minimal renovations in the intervening years, save for the recent creation of a new eighth hole, a 200-yard par 3. The course is hosting its fifth U.S. Open and will surely challenge players with its narrow, tree-lined fairways and small, well-bunkered greens.
That would be a huge under-statement of what’ about to happen this week in San Francisco. The USGA watched last year as Rory McIlroy and, to some degree, Jason Day tore apart their design at Congressional Country Club. Sure, part of that was based on heavy rains that softened the course but McIlroy’s 16-under-par broke the 72-hole record for scoring and he went on to tie or break 12 other records. Jason Day’s total of eight-under-par 274 would have won 46 of the last 50 U.S. Opens and forced a playoff in three others. Twenty players finished under-par for the week. There’s no chance that’s going to happen again this week. In 1973 Johnny Miller torched Oakmont with 63 on Sunday. The following year the USGA set up Winged Foot to yield seven-OVER-par to winner Hale Irwin. This might not be a repeat but Olympic Club will play much tougher than Congressional.
The U.S. Open is the most difficult test in golf for a myriad of reasons: it tests all facets of the game both physically and mentally and course design is the predominant contributor to these tests. Olympic Club has doglegs on seven of 14 driving holes. On top of that, the fairways can tilt the opposite direction of the doglegs. There are plenty of false-front greens. There are holes that tilt severely back-to-front. The greens are smallish. The rough has been grown up around certain greens and driving areas so if you miss your shot, you will not be rewarded. Conversely, the USGA will reward the players who do hit the correct part of the fairways and greens with opportunities for birdies and pars. Players will have to have the mental fortitude to know when to take their opportunities and when to take their punishment. They will have to handle missing four or five foot putts on undulating greens. They will grit their teeth when chips and pitches up to greens roll back to their feet. Players will have to move the golf ball left-to-right and right-to-left. Players, due to the elevation changes, will also have to be comfortable playing shots above and below their feet. The course set-up shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. It’s long. Obviously the rough has been grown up, the fairways shrank and the greens are rolling fast. Whew. This wears me out just typing all of that. To put this in perspective Matt Kuchar played a practice round here last weekend. He said he played great. He made zero birdies and just two bogeys. You have to like his attitude going into this week if he can accept that two-over is a good round this week.
Another interesting part of the weekend at Olympic Club will be the rigorous opening stretch of holes one through six. Mike Davis, the USGA course “doctor” said that if you play those holes in one or two over par, you will be ahead of the field as you play the final 12 holes. I read the blog of seven-time Olympic Club Champion Randy Haag and he ranks five of the opening six holes as the toughest on the course. He also ranks 15, 16, 17 and 18 as four of the six-easiest holes coming in so if you survive early, you have a chance to score late. He also stresses that Olympic Club is a first-shot course. If your ball is not in place off the tee, birdies and pars will be hard to come by throughout the round. Players will have to grin and bear it over the first six holes and that is part of the mental test of golf that the USGA is putting into play.
When projecting the field this week I’ll be looking for veteran guys who have been around the block and can work their golf balls and make shots. With narrow fairways and small greens short-game and scrambling will also be a factor in who wins this week. History is our greatest teacher and history shows that it won’t be a favorite who wins this week. Now, who has the guts to pick a second-tier guy to win a U.S. Open? Gulp…
Here we go!
Lee Westwood: He was my favorite coming into this week before he won last week in Sweden. Sure, he took the appearance fee instead of defending in Memphis but I doubt that will have any effect on his swing this week. Unless his larger wallet knocks him off balance…According to his Twitter account, he’s now playing new PING i20 irons and has a new Nome putter. I guess he likes them as he ran away from the field to win by five shots as he finished 19-under-par. If you are worried about jet-lag, the tournament ended a day early, Saturday, so players had an extra day to travel to San Francisco. Westwood has made 11 of 12 cuts in his career at this event and has finished in the top three in two of the last four years. It doesn’t hurt that he also finished T7 here in 1998.
Tiger Woods: Been there, done that. He didn’t break par in any of his four rounds his last time at Olympic in 1998 and still finished T18. In his final tune-up for the U.S. Open Woods was victorious at the Memorial after he birdied three of the last four holes on the way in on Sunday. He also won in his prep for the Masters by five shots but went on to finish T40 at Augusta. The question I have with Woods is whether or not his “new” swing can hold up on a course that’s this tight with trouble lurking around every corner. I believe his swing will hold up and he will be up for the challenge.
Dustin Johnson: After almost three weeks on the sidelines Johnson has roared back into form with T19 at Memorial and WIN last week at Memphis. His putting bailed him out at the Memorial as his driver and irons were rusty; his ball-striking returned last week at Memphis and he made just enough putts to hang on for a one-shot victory. No player has won consecutive events on TOUR finishing with winning the U.S. Open. Johnson was the 54-hole leader at Pebble Beach in 2010 but closed with 82 to fall to T8. Johnson was T2 at the 2011 Open Championship and has made the cut in all four U.S. Opens in his career. He has the most victories on TOUR under the age of 30 (six).
Sergio Garcia: The harder the course and harder the conditions the better Garcia plays. He’s made the cut in nine of 12 U.S. Opens and has hit the top 25 eight times. Renowned for his ball-striking Garcia has managed, even with his putting problems, to hit the top 10 four times. One of the best players in the world not to win a major, Garcia has finished in the top 13 in four of his last five world-wide starts (T56 THE PLAYERS).
Graeme McDowell: The 2010 champion at Pebble Beach has feasted on U.S. Open courses over the last seven years. He’s played in six events and has made the cut each time out. He did not play in the 2008 event at Torrey Pines but in his last three outings he’s finished T18, WIN and T14 last year. McDowell excels on these courses because he’s a superb driver of the golf ball, first on TOUR, and is an excellent iron player. I’ve read that Olympic Club is a first-shot course and the more fairways McDowell will hit will give him plenty of chances to be in this tournament.
Jim Furyk: The 2003 champion at Olympia Fields is looking to do the Olympia-Olympic double. He’s played 17 championships and has only been cut once, last year at the easiest course is U.S. Open history. Go figure that out. He’s currently second on TOUR in driving accuracy, 25th GIR, 24th strokes gained-putting and 11th in scrambling. Furyk won’t be bothered by tight fairways and gnarly rough. His demeanor is perfect for the U.S. Open and I’m shocked he hasn’t won more than one. He does have four other top five finishes on top of his 2003 win. His worst finish in his last eight starts is T26. I’m buying.
Phil Mickelson: Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Mickelson has done everything in a U.S. Open but win it, including second place five times. It’s no secret that Mickelson tunes his schedule for the majors and the U.S. Open is his white whale. Mickelson WD two weeks ago at the Memorial so he should be rested and ready to make the charge. Hale Irwin is the oldest U.S. Open champion at age 46 in 1990. Mickelson, 42 on Saturday of the U.S. Open, can see the sands running through the hourglass on his chances to add this title to his already impressive collection. The question this week is will Mickelson use two-iron, two drivers or three-wood on this narrow-driving course. It’s a shot-makers paradise so this should fit Mickelson if he can get the ball in the fairway.
Peter Hanson: The Swede has also had recent successes at U.S. Opens as he’s finished T18, T16 and T7 in his last three starts. In five career starts, he’s made the cut in the last four he’s played. Hanson couldn’t hold the 54-hole lead at Augusta earlier in 2012 but neither could Rory McIlroy in 2011 and look what happened to him. Hanson ranks second on TOUR in GIR, 32nd in scrambling and 64th in driving accuracy. It’s obvious by his last three finishes that the U.S. Open suits his game.
Matt Kuchar: The story has been told time and time again about the spring and summer of ’98 as Kuchar captured the hearts of golf fans from coast-to-coast with his low amateur finishes at both the Masters (T21) and the U.S. Open (T14) at Olympic Club. The story has also been told about how Kuchar’s game went South and he had to play himself back on to the PGA TOUR. In his last two appearances at the U.S. Open the “new” Kuchar has posted T6 in 2010 and T14 last year. His all-around game screams U.S. Open champion-in-waiting and he just might be to the point in his career where the belief is finally there. Kuchar was T3 at Augusta and is the reigning PLAYERS champion so he’s dealt with pressure already in 2012. How many times has THE PLAYERS champ went on to win the U.S. Open? Yeah, that might be a problem but I still think Kuchar will be around the leaders come Sunday.
Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has made the cut in four of six U.S. Opens in his career but that is only part of the story. He has finished CUT, DNS, T23, T9, CUT, T8 and T11 last year. Snedeker is constantly at these events because of his steady short game. He’s currently ranked 13th in strokes gained-putting and is 14th in scrambling. Snedeker, like Hanson, is also an above-average driver of the golf ball. Snedeker also fits the profile of a “second-tier” guy who could continue the Olympic Club tradition of knocking off the big-name favorite. WD Monday evening.
Rory McIlroy: The 2011 champion who brought Congressional to its knees will surely not have another easy ride as he tries to join the legends in defending his U.S. Open championship. McIlroy has caused a stir in the fantasy world as he has missed three of his last four cuts but that could be a blessing in disguise. After he was summarily dismissed at the Memorial after 71-79 he took off for San Francisco to get an early look at Olympic Club. He walked the course with his entourage and took in the sights and sounds but repeating here or at any U.S. Open is no easy task. McIlroy has also never won a tournament (0-8) when he trails by one or two shots entering the final round of any tournament.
Jason Day: After WD at the Masters with an ankle injury, Day has teed it up four times on TOUR in 2012. He’s either finished T9 (WFC , HP) or MC (THE PLAYERS, Memorial). As mentioned above Day’s play last year at Congressional was outstanding and it was partly due to his short game around the greens. Day got up-and-down from everywhere. He’ll need to have that short-game wizardry again this year at Olympic Club as his tee ball and iron play have struggled. His length off the tee should be an advantage as it will put shorter irons in his hands as he approaches the small greens. According to the Twitterverse, Day would have no problem leaving if his wife goes into labor. He’s a good man for telling us fantasy geeks that…
Luke Donald: He’s first in scrambling and total putting. He’s eighth in driving accuracy. Yet in eight-career tournaments Donald only has two finishes in the top 25 and his best finish is T12 in 2006. Donald should fare better this year because this course does not favor only long hitters. Olympic Club requires shot-making and scrambling and Donald is capable of both. In his last three starts on TOUR he’s finished third, sixth and 12th. He has also made 17 consecutive cuts, second best on TOUR. If he’s lurking on Sunday, watch out, as he also has the best final-round scoring average on TOUR in 2012.
Ian Poulter: His current form suggests that he could be in the mix this week as Poulter has finished third (API), seventh (the Masters) and T25 (THE PLAYERS) in his last three TOUR outings. Three difficult courses resulted in three top 25’s. Poulter is an excellent driver of the golf ball and he is in the top 20 in scrambling in 2012. His record at the U.S. Open is not spectacular but he’s played enough big-time golf that he shouldn’t be bothered by the surroundings and the goings-on this week.
Jason Dufner: One of the few guys that I will throw past history out the window this week. Dufner has been on fire as he’s won twice, finished second and was T68 in his last four starts on TOUR. He showed his chops last year on a very difficult Atlanta Athletic Club track when he lost to Keegan Bradley in a playoff. Dufner will hit plenty of fairways and greens this week but it’s his putter that is his least-favorite club. His ball-striking this week will keep him in the mix and his laid-back personality is the perfect fit for an event of this magnitude.
Justin Rose: Only two Englishmen have won this tournament in its 111 previous outings so that doesn’t help the likes of Donald, Westwood, Poulter and Rose. I’ve rated all four of these gents this week because of their ball-striking and Rose fits right in. Rose has been having an excellent 2012, including a win at WGC-CC at Doral and four other top 10’s. He’s currently ranked eighth in ball-striking and is sixth in scrambling. His putter isn’t as consistent as he would like but he will give himself plenty of chances to hole putts based on his tee-to-green game. Rose’s history in the U.S. Open is spotty with four MC in six starts but in his other two appearances he’s been T10 and T5.
Francesco Molinari: One of the better ball-strikers on the European Tour, Molinari has been playing well this season with a win and two other top 10’s. He’s not long off the tee but he is a GIR machine who can take advantage of his accuracy to make waves this week. He’ll be off-the-radar this week because of his lack of history at this event but he’s been playing solid golf.
Zach Johnson: He finally came back to Earth last week in Memphis (MC) after tearing up the TOUR in his three of four events prior. He has the right combination as well for Olympic Club as he’s in the top 20 in driving accuracy and the top 10 in putting and scrambling. The 2007 Masters champ has not finished better than T30 in eight U.S. Opens (four cuts made). As with Dufner, I believe Johnson’s form trumps his history this week.
Davis Love III: The Ryder Cup Captain has played excellent golf over the last two events and last two U.S. Open championships so I’ve included him this week. After T13 at Memorial, DL III backed that effort up with T3 last week at FESJC in Memphis. In 2010 he was T6 at Pebble Beach and he was T11 at Congressional. He showed last week that he’s dialed-in and I believe he’s worth a shot in deep-field drafts.
Steve Stricker: He’s made the cut in his last six-consecutive starts at the U.S. Open and has finished in the top 25 in five of those starts. Stricker’s ball striking and short game around the greens leaves me surprised that he hasn’t won one of these. Stricker has been inconsistent as 2012 has rolled along. In eight events where he’s made the cut, he has a WIN and three other finishes in the top 10 and four events where he’s been T36 or worse. His last two events on TOUR he’s MC (THE PLAYERS) and was T50 at Memorial. He’s hardly the form player entering this week’s event but I think he’ll shine given the conditions at Olympic Club.
Charl Schwartzel: The South African hasn’t missed the cut in 10 consecutive major appearances which tells me he has no problem playing difficult golf courses. He finished T16 at Pebble Beach (2010) and was T9 last year at Congressional.
Rickie Fowler: The pressure is off Fowler now that he’s finally won on TOUR but guess what the next question is going to be? That’s right, “when are you going to win a major?” Fowler has been lights-out in his last five tournaments, save for his 84 on Sunday at the Memorial. Fowler ranks in the top 25 in both driving accuracy and GIR. All the focus this week will be on Tiger, Phil and Bubba so this will help Fowler. He played the 2007 U.S. Amateur here as well.
Jonathan Byrd: Based on form, I can’t leave Byrd out this week. In his last four events he’s finished no worse than T12. He an above-average putter and has plenty of short-game to help him navigate Olympic Club this week. I’m riding the guy with the hot hand as my dark-horse, mid-level American pick.
Tim Clark: Injuries have plagued the 2010 PLAYERS champion but he has been getting back on the right track in recent weeks. In his last three starts, including T25 at THE PLAYERS, he’s finished T19 (CPIC) and T42 FESJC last week. He’s made eight U.S. Open starts and has played the weekend six times. Four of those finishes were in the top 25, including his best finish, T3 in 2005.
Ties to Olympic Club
Colt Knost: He won the 2007 U.S. Amateur at Olympic Club. He’s an excellent driver of the golf ball. It’s a total stretch but it seems like there is a guy or two every year that comes from out of the bushes to contend at this tournament. Knost has played championship golf on this course which will do wonders for his confidence.
Brian Harman: Played the 2004 Junior Amateur here losing in the quarterfinals but he was stroke-play medalist. His tee ball will make him this week; his short game will make or break him. Youthful long-shot.
Michael Allen: It’s his home course. I’m guessing he’s quite familiar with all the nooks and crannies. Let’s see if he can pull a “Tom Watson” and contend for the hometown crowd.
Five Left Out
Bubba Watson: Life is moving pretty fast for Watson. After taking the entire month of May off, Watson returned to the Memorial where he put on a concert, was tailed around Columbus by some idiot and shot his two-worst rounds of 2012. We witnessed the frustration during the telecast as he didn’t look like he was having any fun. He won’t have any fun this week as he is the only golfer who is eligible for this year’s grand slam and the press will be on him constantly. If Watson thought playing Muirfield Village was frustrating, he’ll have his hands full this week at Olympic playing with Woods and Mickelson.
K.J. Choi: In 11 U.S. Open starts Choi has one top 25. If you read this column you have known to stay away from Choi in 2012. It’s just not happening for him at the moment.
Nick Watney: In five U.S. Open starts, Watney’s best two finishes are 76th and T60. The other three times he’s been MC. In 11 full-field events in 2012 Watney has exactly one top 25 (T8 WFC).
Ben Crane: Crane has MC in the last three U.S. Open tournaments and the best finish in his career is T53. Shot 74-80 in the final two rounds at Memorial his last time out.
Keegan Bradley: Only one top 25 in his last six starts (T24 HP) plus three MC. Bradley was a first-time winner at the PGA Championship last year but I don’t believe in lightning striking twice.
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: the U.S. Open (Glass’s Picks)
Group 1: Lee Westwood
Group 2: Jim Furyk
Group 3: Davis Love III
Group 4: Brian Harman
Ned said, “…
Ned Brown is a long-time contributor for Rotoworld Golf. He’s had documented success in Yahoo!’s game for years. Even if you’re confident in your selections for that game, give his insight a read. Now, Ned also provides us with his Golf Channel fantasy game selections as well!
Full Disclosure: I am NOT Ned! He’s smarter and better looking!
Matt Kuchar-- He really has come through this year in big events, with a T3 at the Masters and a championship at THE PLAYERS. His recent history in U.S. Open is good ( T8 in '10 and T14 last year), and despite not being the hottest player right now, I think he will be in the mix on Sunday.
Phil Mickelson-- I'm going to put a line through the Memorial withdrawal and assume that he is in good form for this week. He tends to play well on the West Coast and he is a five-time runner up in the U.S. Open. If you want to save a start on Mickelson, then go with Jim Furyk, who also has a very good record in the U.S. Open.
Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Zach Johnson
Tiger Woods-- I have mixed feels about Tiger this week. He looked great in his win at the Memorial, but in his three starts before that he looked terrible. Which Tiger shows up this week is the big question, but I can't see how you leave off your roster, especially in Group B.
Rory McIlroy-- He broke out of his mini-slump last week in Memphis and I expect him to be in good form this week. McIlroy gets up for big events and he is the defending Open champion.
Lee Westwood-- Westwood tuned up for this year's Open with a five-stroke championship romp at the Nordea Masters. He is almost always at the top page of the leaderboard in Majors and one of these days he'll earn his first Major championship.
Dustin Johnson-- Johnson won last week in Memphis, which was only his second start off a three month rest for a back injury. Usually, you can fade a winner coming directly into a U.S. Open, but Johnson is rested and in prime form, which is a combination that is hard to fade.
Justin Rose, Bubba Watson, Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Ian Poulter
Jason Dufner-- Dufner has been the hottest player on the TOUR with a pair of championships and a second place in his last four starts. His record in the U.S. Open is nothing to get excited about, but he never has played at this level before.
Martin Kaymer-- The second pick is Group C is by far the hardest one this week. I like Kaymer, Peter Hanson and Jonathan Byrd almost equally this week. All three look like they are primed for a win, but I'm using Kaymer based on that he already has a major title on his resume.
Peter Hanson, Jonathan Byrd, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: the U.S. Open (Ned’s Picks)
Group 1: Rory McIlroy
Group 2: Jim FurykGroup
Group 3: Padraig Harrington
Group 4: Patrick Cantlay
“And another thing…”
The analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat with GolfChannel.com's Ryan Ballengee on Wednesday at NOON, ET. They will be breaking down the field at the U.S. Open and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.