Who will win the 112th U.S. Open?

By Jason SobelJune 17, 2012, 4:44 am

SAN FRANCISCO – After 54 holes at the 112th U.S. Open, only two players are under par for the tournament - Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell. But in their rearview mirror sit 26 players within six shots of the lead. So, just who will ultimately be crowned champion at Olympic? Our GolfChannel.com team weigh in:

By JAY COFFIN

Graeme McDowell will capture his second U.S. Open Sunday at The Olympic Club and it will mark the third consecutive year that a man from Northern Ireland will walk away with the trophy.

McDowell seems at peace with the U.S. Open conditions as much as anyone else. He admitted Friday that it has not been fun this week, nor has it been easy but he’ll find a way to enjoy it when it’s all over.

Something about McDowell oozes clutch. Sure there have been a couple final-round collapses – the 2011 Players Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational this year going head-to-head with Tiger Woods are the ones that immediately come to mind – but there have been so many more clutch moments where McDowell has produced. It’s difficult to think he won’t show up with his A-game Sunday in sunny California.

The legend began two years ago at Pebble Beach where he won his first U.S. Open after outlasting Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. Later that same year he drained the winning putt for Europe in the Ryder Cup in Wales. In December of 2010 he went head-to-head with Woods at the Chevron World Challenge and took him down.

Success in those three pressure-packed moments is all I need to believe McDowell will win this U.S. Open.


By REX HOGGARD

The line on Lee Westwood goes that despite that all-world ball-striking, until he began holing putts down the stretch in big events there was no reason to think he would magically start on any given Sunday.

On Saturday at The Olympic Club the Englishman took a monumental step in what will be his major breakthrough. As the world No. 3 put the finishing touches on what was already one of the day’s best rounds he stepped to his uphill 35-footer at the last hole and calmly charged the birdie attempt into the cup to cap a day’s best 67.

If victories are born from learned experience, both good and bad, count Westwood's 54th-hole crowd pleaser as a crash course in what he is capable of doing when it matters.

He will likely have to match that feat at some point on Sunday to shed his title as the best player without a major championship, but imagine how easy dinner went down on Saturday following his walk-off birdie.

They say Westwood is a bad putter, but you don’t climb to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a truly balky flat stick. Similarly, you don’t achieve greatness without a few bruises. Westwood has plenty of scar tissue, on Sunday it’s time for the long-awaited payoff.


By RANDALL MELL

Jim Furyk will win the 112th U.S. Open, but he will have to survive a battle with another master tactician, Graeme McDowell.

With those two paired as the leaders in the final round, Sunday could feel like a world-class chess match. This is Boris Spassky vs. Bobby Fischer good if you like to see master strategists maneuver.

Asked earlier this week how you manage through a U.S. Open, McDowell said: “You play Jim Furyk golf.”

Furyk vs. McDowell is classic U.S. Open fare, two guys built for this kind of Sunday scrum on a fast, firm and ferocious course. Furyk gets the slight edge here only because it seems difficult to imagine him retiring with just one U.S. Open title. Same goes for McDowell, but he has more time.


By JASON SOBEL

I’m taking Nicolas Colsaerts to win the 112th U.S. Open Championship on Sunday – mainly because I know nobody else will.

There’s something to be said for picking the underdog at a major championship. Entering the final round at Pinehurst in 2005, the focus was on Tiger Woods and Retief Goosen and Jason Gore. The name Michael Campbell was hardly uttered at all – and all he did was simply fly under the radar and swoop in for the title.

It takes more than obscurity to win one of these, of course.

Colsaerts has a major advantage in the fact that he’s one of the five biggest hitters in the elite professional ranks today. He has yet to play his best golf, posting scores of 72-69-71 so far. And in the fourth-to-last pairing of the final round, he can play relatively pressure-free while the majority of the focus rests on others.

More than anything, the Belgian fits the mold of recent major winners, from Geoff Ogilvy to Graeme McDowell to Charl Schwartzel. Those are all big names, you say? Well, they weren’t until they won their majors. It’s got to happen at some point. For Colsaerts, it just may happen on Sunday.

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Hot Seat: Honda fans bring noise and heat

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 1:34 pm

The Bear Trap awaits in South Florida.

With hot, sunny days forecast for all four rounds of the Honda Classic, the mercury’s rising, especially at the 17th hole, where the revelry at the Goslings Bear Trap party pavilion could turn the tee box into a sweat box.

It may be even steamier for women playing the Honda LPGA Thailand, with temperatures forecast in the 90s for the weekend.

Here’s our special heat index gauging the toastiest seats in golf this week:

Five-alarm salsa – PGA National’s 17th tee

PGA Tour pros almost universally don’t want to see the craziness promoted at the Phoenix Open’s party hole (No. 16) duplicated at other Tour events, but they will get a distant cousin this week at the Honda Classic.

The Goslings Bear Trap party pavilion sits over the 17th tee, where Graeme McDowell cracked that players can get “splashed with vodka cranberries” if the wind is right. The Cobra Puma Village surrounds the 17th green.

That pretty much means everyone playing through there late in the day, with the party fully percolating, is on the Hot Seat.

Tiger Woods is scheduled to go through there at about Happy Hour on Friday afternoon.

“I said to myself, ‘This isn’t Scottsdale, this is ridiculous,’” Billy Horschel said after playing through there a year ago.

Sergio Garcia was among players who got heckled there last year.

It’s one of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour, ranking as the 21st most difficult par 3 last year.



Hot-collar rub – Rickie Fowler

Fowler returns to the Honda Classic as its defending champ.

He also returns for his first start since losing the 54-hole lead at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he bogeyed three of the final four holes and fell all the way out of the top 10 at Sunday’s end.

Fowler is now one for his last six closing out 54-hole leads on the PGA Tour.


Shanshan Feng during Round 2 at the 2017 Japan Classic.


Spicy Tom Yum heat – Shanshan Feng

The Rolex world No. 1 in women’s golf is back in action with the strongest field of this young season ready to resume chasing her at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

World No. 2 Sung Hyun Park will be making her first start of the year. No. 3 So Yeon Ryu, No. 4 Lexi Thompson, No. 5 Anna Nordqvist and No. 6 In Gee Chun are all in the field.

Park and Ryu shared Rolex Player of the Year honors last season. Thompson was the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year.

Feng has ridden atop the world rankings for 15 consecutive weeks. She opened the year tying for third at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic last month.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 21, 2018, 1:00 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

“If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

“I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”


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So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

Horschel told GolfChannel.com last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

“I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

“Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

“I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

“We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

“We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

“But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

“They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

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Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

And now?

Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

“Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

“Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

“I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

“That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

“It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.