Blasting into the week ahead, from the rocky shores of Stillwater Cove to an LPGA resurrection and John Daly’s return to his roots.
No U.S. Open has seemed this wide open since Tiger Woods joined the PGA Tour almost 14 years ago.
There are lots of potentially good stories this week with Phil Mickelson trying to avoid a record six second-place finishes in this championship and claim his first U.S. Open title on a course he’s won on three times. The question with Mickelson is whether the outcome will be determined by another bold play that spurs him on to victory like his shot through the trees and off the pine straw did at the 13th hole in his Masters’ victory last April. Or if another gambles backfires, like it did when he hit the tree at the final hole at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open, when he tried to recover from bouncing a shot off the hospitality tent by carving an escape around that tree. Of course, there’s Woods’ bid to shake his poor form and remember his greatness on a course where he’s never been greater. His record 15-shot rout in the 2000 U.S. Open was the most dominant golf performance ever. And there’s England’s Lee Westwood, hot off last week’s victory at the St. Jude Classic, vying to become the first European to win the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin 40 years ago.
Bunker shot: Ernie Els is tough to figure, but there’s reason to believe the time’s right for him to claim his fourth major, his third U.S. Open. That’s if his head’s right. After winning twice in March, Els beat himself up for his failure at the Masters. You can almost see when he wants that next major too much and presses too hard. With Woods off his game, Els knows better than anyone what opportunity beckons. He finished second to Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000. U.S. Opens are all about patience, but it’s hard to be patient when you’ve been waiting so long for a chance like this.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Ernie Els. Contender – Luke Donald. Darkhorse – David Duval.
- Course: Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif. Par 71, 7,040 yards (Originally designed by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant and opened in 1919).
- Purse: $7.5 million (winner’s share, $1,350,000).
- TV Times: Thursday-Friday, ESPN, 1-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m., NBC, 3-5 p.m. Saturday, NBC, 4:30-11 p.m. Sunday, NBC 3-9 p.m.
- Last time: At 4-under 276, Lucas Glover finished a shot ahead of Phil Mickelson, David Duval and Ricky Barnes at Bethpage Black.
Shoprite LPGA Classic
Three years out of business, the Shoprite LPGA Classic makes its comeback.
A dispute over tournament fees and dates between former commissioner Carolyn Bivens and the tournament owners led to the event closing its doors.
Shoprite’s return provides hope that the LPGA will rebuild and return to a fuller schedule.
Bunker Shot: Two developments add sparks this week. Paula Creamer is expected to make her return from thumb surgery after missing nearly the entire season with the injury, and 15-year-old Alexis Thompson is making her professional debut. The Americans broke through for their first victory in an official event this season with Cristie Kerr’s victory at the LPGA State Farm Classic last week. Creamer and Thompson bring ambitions for more future American success.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Suzann Pettersen. Contender – Seon Hwa Lee. Darkhorse – Juli Inkster..
- Course: Dolce Seaview Resort’s Bay Course, Galloway, N.J. Par 71, 6,150 yards (Designed by Donald Ross and opened in 1915).
- Purse: $1.5 million (winner’s share, $225,000).
- TV Times: Golf Channel, Friday, 3-6 p.m.; Saturday, 4:30-7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3-6 p.m.
- Last time: Back in 2006, Seon Hwa Lee defeated Annikas Sorenstam, Juli Inkster, Sherri Steinhauer and Jeong Jang by three shots.
Fort Smith Classic
Tommy Gainey leaped 16 spots to No. 2 on the Nationwide Tour money list with his breakthrough victory in his last start..
Kevin Chappel still leads the money list, $6,300 ahead of Gainey.
Bunker shot: John Daly’s the headliner this week as he makes his first Nationwide Tour start since 1991. Daly’s a former Razorback who played at the University of Arkansas and is a favorite son in his home state. His star power goes beyond golf this week. He’s scheduled to join country western star Charlie Daniels on stage in a free concert after the first round. Tournament officials expect record attendance and record charitable fundraising with Daly in the mix.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Kevin Chappel. Contender – John Daly. Darkhorse – Jason Enloe.
- Course: Hardscrabble Country Club, Fort Smith, Ark. Par 70, 6,783 yards (Designed by Perry Maxwell and opened in 1927).
- Purse: $525,000 (Winner’s share, $94,500).
- TV Times: No TV.
- Last time: Jason Enloe defeated Chris Tidland in a playoff.