The year’s second major is upon us, and the storylines heading into the U.S. Open at Pinehurst are exactly what we expected back on Jan. 1 …
OK, maybe not.
Prediction No. 1: Third in 1999, second in ’05 … yep, this is finally the year that Tiger wins at Pinehurst!
Reality: He went under the knife in March, remains sidelined indefinitely, and will have to wait at least another eight years, probably more, for a third crack at No. 2.
Prediction No. 2: A bridesmaid no more! One win away from the career grand slam, Phil will complete the storybook ending where all of this U.S. Open heartbreak began.
Reality: Lefty has dealt with back and oblique injuries, is still without a top 10 on Tour during his worst season as a pro, and now is one of the subjects in an insider-trading investigation. All of which clouds his chances for championship glory.
Prediction No. 3: His personal life in order, Rory will return with a vengeance in 2014!
Reality: OK, so the engagement lasted only 4 ½ months, but McIlroy picked off a surprising victory at the BMW PGA and hasn’t finished outside the top 25 since September. That said, he remains as maddening as ever, posting nine-hole scores of 40 or worse in four consecutive Tour starts.
Prediction No. 4: Adam Scott? Pssh! He’s too nice to ever reach world No. 1!
Reality: Well, he’s No. 1 now, though for how long remains to be seen. Positioned to give the rest of his OWGR pursuers the stiff-arm, he instead retreated on the back nine at Jack’s Memorial. Cutthroat, not yet.
Prediction No. 5: Waste areas? Bunkers? Dustin Johnson is going to be SO confused at Pinehurst!
Reality: We’ll find out in a week if this is true, but, yeah, this seems likely.
One Jan. 1 prediction that came true: There will be an all-U.S. Open #AskLav mailbag. So, without further ado, here are your questions:
Admittedly, my confidence is waning – the anticipation for the Open is building and Phil’s game is stagnating. Last week’s T-49 at the Memorial was his 16th consecutive start on the PGA Tour without a top 10, and that runner-up in Abu Dhabi feels like eons ago. He raved then and now that he’s driving the ball better than he ever, yet he ranks 131st in total driving. That’s problematic, of course, because putting the ball in the fairway is imperative at Pinehurst. We’ve been surprised before, of course, and Lefty could muster one of his most unexpected performances ever at No. 2. Though his focus and desire figure to be at an all-time high, it’s simply a matter of whether his game is sharp enough to stand up to a major test.
Nah, none of that nonsense. During U.S. Open week I usually try to stretch out my fingers and wrists, stock up on pens and notepads, and make sure the fridge in the rental house is stocked with beer. This year’s preparation has been a little bit different. I’ve been taking doxycycline hyclate pills twice a day to knock out the Lyme disease I contracted while covering the NCAAs in Kansas, so, truthfully, I haven’t really gotten much time to work on my game heading into the Open.
Actually, I’d expect the sandy areas to play easier. The hack-out rough we’ve seen in recent years has more or less been a penalty stroke. That’s not much fun for players, spectators, viewers or physical therapists. For men of a certain skill, however, playing from the waste areas at least offers a few options on how to make par. Rough or sand, the Open’s No. 1 rule will still apply: Find the fairway off the tee.
#AskLav: Who wins, OWGR top 10 or the field? – Chad Howat, via Instagram
Normally, I’d say the top 10, because the last three U.S. Open winners have been ranked 13th or better. But this major feels different. Because so many players will miss greens at Pinehurst – a course that will play as the third-longest U.S. Open in history, and longest in terms of yardage per stroke as a par 70 – it becomes, essentially, a 156-man short-game contest. That significantly grows the list of contenders, more so than just the 10 biggest names.
That’s the line he used at the end of the commercial – “Like I need some more pressure” – but how can it be bad timing? Phil clearly OK’d it. It’s a cute gimmick, but let’s be serious: If he’s coming down the 18th fairway with a chance to win that elusive Open, his 8,290th thought will be about the lucky soul about to cash in. So bad timing? No, that’s Marketing 101, capitalizing on a potentially momentous occasion.
Unfortunate timing, of course, was the feds hunting him down at Memorial – two weeks before the Open – to ask more questions about the insider-trading investigation. That’s more nuisance than distraction, especially if, as he contends, he did nothing wrong. But it’s a nuisance nonetheless.
#AskLav: How much work will be needed to get ready for the girls? – WPHS_T_Bird, via Instagram
Hopefully not much, but this is the USGA’s Great Experiment and no one is really quite sure how it will work out. LPGA players have already expressed legitimate concerns about divots in landing areas and around the greens. Bigger issues for Mike Davis & Co.: weather delays or 18-hole playoffs.
No, I have not, but only because friends don’t let friends buy VW Beetles.
It’ll present a different challenge, no doubt, with the confounding greens and sandy waste areas and new emphasis on the ground game. It’s more of a strategic test than one that will repeatedly kick you in the groin. That always makes for better drama.
Definitely! That’d mean one less U.S. Open scripting email to delete.