U.S. Open preview: will the stars shine?

by Dan M | Posted on Tuesday, June 11th, 2013


By Chad Conine

I already suspect what’s going to happen when I sit down on Sunday to watch the final round of the U.S. Open. I suspect there will be a huge gap between what I want to see and what will actually unfold at Merion Golf Club.

I want to see something like this: “(Ben) Hogan shocked and amazed the golf world by returning to tournament golf only 11 months after his accident, and, amazingly, took second place in the 1950 Los Angeles Open after a playoff loss to Sam Snead, he was cheered on by ecstatic fans. ‘His legs simply were not strong enough to carry his heart any longer,’ famed sportswriter Grantland Rice said of Hogan’s near-miss. However, he proved to his critics (and to himself, especially) that he could still win by completing his famous comeback five months later, defeating Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio in an 18-hole playoff at Merion Golf Club to win his second U.S. Open Championship.”

That’s the Wikipedia description of the Miracle at Merion. I don’t know about you, but I watch sports in order to see moments that will live forever. And that’s what I will want to see a few days from now when I settle in my couch.

The U.S. Open seems like the stage for that type of greatness. It’s the most democratic of golf’s majors and the final round usually falls on Father’s Day as it will again this year. That’s plenty of metaphoric fanfare.

But here’s a more accurate simile for the final round of the U.S. Open: it’s like watching professional athletes go to the dentist. This year’s U.S. Open champion will win the title by shooting between even-par and 2-over on the back nine.

So the best case scenario is that we see the superstars of golf battling brutally difficult conditions (Pennsylvania rough ain’t nothing to trifle with, and it’s a safe bet the greens will be more slippery than a young Allen Iverson). There are good reasons to believe that will happen, but this is also real life and not a Hollywood script so the stars might get cut out of the final scene.

I think some of golf’s current superstars will factor in the home stretch of the U.S. Open because it’s going to come down to putting and the superstars get to be the superstars by sinking putts. Want proof? This is the list of the top 5 players by driving distance on tour this year: Luke List, Nicolas Colsaerts, Robert Garrigus, Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland. And this is the list of the top 5 players by putt average: Phil Mickelson, Billy Horschel, Tiger Woods, Charlie Wi and Greg Chalmers. Guess which list took me longer to double-check the spelling.

Plus the superstars have been struggling a lot lately. Witness Tiger’s Masters debacle and 79 on Saturday of the Memorial, Rory McIlroy’s 79 on Saturday at the Masters and 78 in the first round of the Memorial, Mickelson was irrelevant at the Masters and missed the cut at the Players Championship. So in the paradoxical world in which we live, those struggles have prepared them all to be in contention at the U.S. Open.

How’s that for wishful thinking?

Of course, my superstar watch list has to be extended to include Graeme McDowell and Matt Kuchar, especially since it’s easy to make a compelling argument for each at the U.S. Open. Graeme McDowell is No. 1 on the tour in driving accuracy, which will help keep him out of the monstrous Merion rough (though he’s not in the top 50 in putting, which could be a problem). Also, McDowell has finished in the top 20 at the U.S. Open each of the last four years including his victory in 2010.

Kuchar ranks 134th in driving accuracy, but he was much better than that in his win at the Memorial. He’s 13th in putting, making him a textbook example of driving for show and putting for dough. He’s having an amazing season and might just be the best player in the world right now with no majors on his Wikipedia page.

And finally, Brandt Snedeker could fit in either of the above categories. He’s 10th in driving accuracy, 12th in putting and he’s having a fantastic year. But he shot 80 on Friday at the Memorial and missed the cut, giving him bounce-back potential.

But you know what will happen? At most, one of the guys I mentioned in this column will be in contention along with a player who is trying to inch his way into golf star status (and probably Angel Cabrera).

Photo by Chad Conine

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