PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – We’re on the eve of crowning a champion in the 110th U.S. Open here at Pebble Beach. But before we do, here are nine questions to ponder as we head into the final round of a championship that began with high expectations. Consider this our final nine:
Will the 14th hole take any prisoners?
Yes, it will, for certain. But the USGA just hopes that it won’t be anyone who is in contention. There have been numerous train wrecks on the 580-yard par 5 hole during the week because of the tiny green tucked behind a bunker. Pablo Martin, Erick Justesen and Camilo Villegas all made 8 Saturday and there were a slew of 7s. This championship’s worst nightmare would be for, say, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson or Graeme McDowell to get to that tee box with the lead and gag away the hardware.
Can Europeans end the 40-year U.S. Open drought?
They can, but it’s not likely. McDowell, a Northern Irishman, is the only real threat but he has a ton of major championship experience chasing him with Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson. But Padraig Harrington said Friday following the second round that McDowell is good enough to win a major right now.
Gregory Havret and Alex Cejka are the only other Europeans close to the lead but they’re both too inexperienced. It’s still difficult to believe that a European hasn’t won the U.S. Open since 1970, when Tony Jacklin won. There have been so many great Europeans over the past 40 years – Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie to name a few – yet none has won this championship.
Speaking of Gregory Havret, who is he and how is he on the leaderboard?
He’s a 33-year-old Frenchman who is playing in his first ever U.S. Open and only his fourth major championship. He’s won three times on the European Tour but the biggest came in 2007 at the Scottish Open where he took down Mickelson in a playoff. The biggest reason why Havret is tied for fourth-place right now is because he’s avoided the big numbers. He made double bogey on his second hole in the first round but has made 10 birdies over the past three days and has his putter working.
“I hope I won’t think too much about this night coming,” Havret said. “It’s a day, obviously very important and very fantastic for me tomorrow.”
Will Phil Mickelson avoid a sixth second-place U.S. Open finish?
Yes, but only because he’ll finish third or worse. Too much has to happen for Mickelson to capture his first U.S. Open crown and too many heavy hitters are ahead of him. It’s just not likely that he’ll be the only one playing well in the final round, which is what needs to happen for him to win or finish second. There’s always next year.
Will the winner be anyone other than Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell or Tiger Woods?
No. Those are the three guys. Woods is the man that everyone will be watching but Johnson put up the same score Saturday (66) to jump to a three-shot lead. Woods has never come from behind to win a major championship and Johnson has won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am here each of the last two years. McDowell is a world class player who broke out of the proverbial shell two years ago as a stalwart on the European Ryder Cup team. One of these three will win.
If the winner isn’t Johnson, McDowell or Woods, who will it be?
Mickelson and Els are the only two possibilities. Els is at even par and Mickelson is at 1 over. Each man needs to shoot at least 66 and hope that everyone in front runs into a terrible fortune on the aforementioned 14th hole.
Will this be Tom Watson’s final U.S. Open?
Earlier in the week Watson met with the press and said that this is likely his last U.S. Open. He thanked the USGA for giving him the special exemption here at a place that means so much to him because of his Open victory in 1982. So when he made the cut on the number Friday, it was a sentimental moment because the gallery knew they’d see Watson at least two more days. But following Saturday’s third round, where Watson shot 70, he dropped a glimmer of hope that he could play in another Open.
“If I were to win the U.S. Senior Open, and that's my goal, that would be – I would play the following year in the U.S. Open, regardless,” he said.
And there’s no reason to believe he can’t.
What will be the winning score?
Five under par. So do the math – Johnson would need to shoot 72, McDowell needs to shoot 69, Woods needs to shoot 67 and anyone else needs a minor miracle. Plain and simple.
Will the champion be a legend like Pebble Beach has produced in Opens past?
No. Adding to the list of Pebble Beach U.S. Open winners Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Tiger Woods will be. . . . Dustin Johnson. He just has this place figured out better than anyone else. It’s sort of surprising too because this is one of shortest Open setups in recent memory and Johnson is the longest hitter in the field. It difficult to think that he can replicate his success of Saturday – the four-hole stretch where he was 4 under was impressive, as was the birdie, birdie finish – and post another 66 but he won’t need too because he has a three-shot lead.
“Ever since I’ve come here, I’ve loved playing here,” Johnson said.
He’ll love it even more after Sunday.