Wednesday, June 17, 2009

US Open Preview

Any tournament Tiger Woods plays in he is the prohibitive favorite. Always, no matter what. He won last year's US Open with one leg. If someone asked, would you take Tiger or the field, most times it would be smart to take Tiger. This week it isn't even close. I'd bet 20 dollars to win 10 dollars on Tiger (not that I illegally gamble or anything), he just has all the makings of a clear cut favorite.

Let's start with his performance two weeks ago at the Memorial. Tiger won Jack's tournament hitting 49 of 56 fairways. That is 87.5%, a staggering 25.6 percentage points over his season average of 61.9%. Did I mention yet that a major key to winning US Opens is keeping the ball in the short grass.

Not only does Tiger have this new found weapon in his driving accuracy but every other conceivable indicator has him winning this week too. Let's see... he won last week, he won last year's US Open and he won the the last time the US Open was played at Bethpage Black. Basically, if he is anywhere on the leader board at anytime this week, every other player is trying hard not to make a number two in their pants. Tiger's game is built to win majors, especially US Opens and if he has his “A Game” he wins again this year.

If the inconceivable happens and Tiger doesn't win this year, what other players are going to contend? Let's look at the criteria it will take to win. First off, the winner has to be a very long hitter. This year there are three par 4's coming in at over 500 yards, so distance will be at a premium. In addition, hitting fairways will be very important because the rough will be long and hard to manage. That being said, players will inevitably be in the rough so it will also take a very strong player to be able to play out of the rough. Adding all these factors up, it is going to take a long accurate ball striker to be able to contend in this tournament.

The first two guys on the list of contenders, Paul Casey and Geoff Olgilvy, are close friends who will be playing together in the first two rounds. Starting with Paul Casey, nobody has more worldwide wins going into the tournament than Casey and he is due for a breakthrough in a major. He is a very solid ball striker, who's game is well suited for a long course like Bethpage Black. His playing competitor Geoff Olgivy, a very trendy pick this week, is a past US Champion at Winged Foot in 2006 and is currently leading the PGA tour money list. He fits the bill as a long accurate ball striker and he already knows he has experience winning. His smooth calm demeanor and temperament will be a major asset battling down the stretch this week.

Since Tiger won the US Open in 2008, the past three majors have been won by Padraig Harrington, who won the 2008 British Open and 2008 PGA Championship, and Angel “El Pato” Cabrera, who won this year's Masters. Both guys have all the tools to win at Bethpage: long hitters and accurate ball strikers. Also, both guys get to play their first two rounds alongside Tiger. Padraig always seems to find a way to make the huge putts and hit the big shots. On the other hand, Cabrera can really drive the ball long and he can really rip through a carton of cigarettes, so he has that going for him. In golf you can never count out the fat guy who waddles like a duck and can hit mammoth drives. In any other game maybe, but in golf being a fat, out of shape, cigarette smoker bodes very well. If he gets hot, watch out because El Pato might win another US Open.

Another group of players that I see being major contenders are the pretty boy heart throbs of the tournament. Sergio Garcia (a golf spy who drinks Michelob Ultras at his pool in his spare time) makes his return to Bethpage with hopefully a shorter pre shot routine and more crowd support. He has shown that he has the overwhelming talent and ability to win at majors, but he just needs to put it all together and play a complete tournament.

Camilo Villegas is his pretty boy counterpart who will be in his group for the first two days. Besides being a member of the gator nation, Camillo is a long ball striker who will have the ability to play strong shots out of the rough and contend in this tournament. The thing I am worried about with Camilo is that he has never really contended before in a major and it might not be his time yet.

The big name that I obviously overlooked is the world's number two golfer, Phil Mickelson. It would be a great story if he won or even contended this week but with all that he has to battle and deal with emotionally, it might be too much for him to take on the major test of Bethpage Black mentally. We all know that the crowd will be behind him trying to carry him to victory but the US Open is golf's toughest challenge even with nothing weighing down your mind. Having the weight of his wife's breast cancer treatment on his mind will make it very tough for Phil to compete.

After highlighting all these potential contenders My final prediction is that Tiger finishes in first at 2 under with no other players under par this week. But if I had to pick someone other than Tiger to win this week, I would take Angel Cabrera, because he is everything that I value in sports: an out of shape, chain smoker who can't speak English without a translator. If you can't get behind a guy like that than move to a communist country or something because America doesn't want you.


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