Punch Shot: Three questions heading into U.S. Open

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UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Will Tiger Woods make the cut? Will the winner be someone ranked inside the top 10 in the world or outside of it? How much of a story will the golf course be by week’s end? Our team at Chambers Bay debate these three topics.

TIGER: MAKE OR MISS CUT?

REX HOGGARD: Despite an air of cautious optimism, this will be a short week for Woods. Even if he can find fairways, which he was unable to do in his last start at the Memorial, Woods’ short game has not exactly been sharp this season and that adds up to his first missed cut at the U.S. Open since 2006.

RYAN LAVNER: Call me crazy – delusional? – but Woods will make the cut this week. Watching him during his practice sessions here at Chambers, it’s clear that his iron game is sharper than it was at Memorial. Yes, Tuesday is a different animal than Thursday, but it’s progress nonetheless. Plus, as erratic as he’s been over his past two starts, Tiger is still making cuts, first at The Players and then at Muirfield Village. That streak continues here.

WILL GRAY: Miss. Walking around Chambers Bay earlier this week, I was struck by how penal this layout becomes when you veer off-target. Woods has been doing plenty of veering in recent weeks, and I don’t expect that to change here. There is no aspect of his game which he can rely on as an anchor, and with 11 double bogeys or worse in his last eight rounds, it seems Woods will log plenty of big numbers. He insists that the end of his “shift” transition is near, but I don’t see any light at the end of this particular tunnel.

JAY COFFIN: Sadly, Woods will miss the cut here this week and question marks will remain. He needs reps, but here he’ll get the weekend off. His game just is not nearly sharp enough to play more than two days. Sure, fairways here are generous, but they’re still extremely missable. If he hits is half as poorly as he did two weeks ago at the Memorial it could be a long 36 holes. Hope I’m wrong, certain I’m not.


WINNER: INSIDE OR OUTSIDE TOP 10?

HOGGARD: While the uncertainty of Chambers Bay has many predicting a first-time major winner this week, the stars atop the World Golf Ranking have proven themselves particularly adept at challenging conditions and quick adjustments, particularly the trio of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler who have won four of the last eight PGA Tour events.

LAVNER: My top three picks to win are Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy, in that order, so looks like we’re taking a top-10 player by default. That’s the recent trend, anyway; Eight of the past 10 majors have been won by a player ranked inside the top 20. Sure, there may be a few more odd bounces at Chambers, but the difficulty of the course should separate the field. Keep in mind that when the U.S. Amateur was held here in 2010, the No. 1-ranked player in the world won.

GRAY: I’ll take the field vs. the top 10 in this scenario at most Open venues, but particularly one as unpredictable as Chambers Bay. Even the top players in the world will not be immune from the quirks and bounces around these greens, and imagination and skill will have to be supplanted with a little bit of luck to contend. When the field option includes players like Jimmy Walker, Hideki Matsuyama and – dare I say – Phil Mickelson, I’ll side with the “bottom” 146 guys.

COFFIN: Dustin Johnson is my pick to win it all, but I’ll still play the odds and go with someone outside the top 10. Too many studly bombers with tons to prove in major championships all reside outside the top 10 and there are about 60 players who have a legitimate shot at winning. Everything about this week feels unpredictable. Makes sense that we’ll end with an unpredictable winner.


CHAMBERS BAY: HOW MUCH OF A STORY?

HOGGARD: By Sunday Chambers Bay will be little more than a bit player in this week’s story despite the attention that has been focused on the layout. Executive director Mike Davis and the USGA can’t have it any other way because if the former sand quarry is still the story on Sunday something went terribly wrong.

LAVNER: At the end of the week? Hopefully not much, if Mike Davis does his job properly. He has so many options here that he can make the winning score 10 under or 10 over. With perfect weather in the forecast, there is no excuse for losing this golf course. Fans will enjoy the fact that players have options – off the tee, from the fairway, around the green. OK, so maybe the course will be a significant part of the story after all. It’ll be the stage for some supreme shot making.

GRAY: Much like last year at Pinehurst No. 2, I expect the significance of the course as a story to give way to the actual play as the week progresses. Chambers Bay is a novelty, and there will surely be a few bumps in the road this week that make for an interesting highlight reel, but at the end of the day, the story will be and should be about the player who leaves with the trophy and those he beat out.

COFFIN: It will be an afterthought, unless we have a Shinnecock Hills 2004 moment. Mike Davis is too smart to let that happen. Players have not been effusive in their praise of Chambers Bay, but they haven’t bashed it yet either. It’s likely that the course will push many to their limits, and there will be some goofy things that happen, but it won’t be unfair. Unfair equals complaints. Fair means we only concentrate on the winner by Sunday evening.