Blasting into the week ahead, from mighty Oakmont to a Scottish test before the British Open.
U.S. Women's Open
There was once a golf 'massacre' at Winged Foot in the women’s game, too.
Back in 1972, Susie Berning won the U.S. Women’s Open there at 11 over par for the championship.
With the U.S. Women’s Open being played at Oakmont this week, players are bracing for what could be another memorably punishing test. It seems almost a given that the event’s winning score will be over par for just the third time in the last 26 years. We just can’t be sure how punishing the U.S. Golf Association will dare to make it until play begins Thursday.
Basically, it will come down to how fast USGA officials set it up. Oakmont’s greens are among the most challenging in the world. Will they be manageable at 12 on the Stimpmeter? Or will the USGA push this test to the limit at 13.5, rivaling what the men faced there three years ago? Weather, of course, will play a factor. Patty Sheehan won at even par when the U.S. Women’s Open was played at Oakmont in ’92.
Bunker shot: Cristie Kerr, coming off her 12-shot romp at the LPGA Championship, is the overwhelming favorite. She isn’t a true bomber, but she’s one of the longest straight hitters on tour. What sets her apart is a velvet putting touch, maybe the best on tour. If she can win this week, she solidifies her legitimacy as the No. 1 player in the women’s game and begins a run to succeed Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa as the LPGA’s next dominant player. Kerr doesn’t lack the desire or temperament to dominate. The question is whether she’s reached another level and can muster her best more consistently.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Jiyai Shin. Contender – Cristie Kerr. Darkhorse – Jee Young Lee.
- Course: Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pa. Par 71, 6,598 yards (Designed by Henry Fownes and opened in 1904).
- Purse: $3.25 million (winner’s share, $585,000).
- TV times: Thursday-Friday, ESPN, 3-7 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, NBC, 3-6 p.m.
- Last year: Eun-Hee Ji rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt at the final hole to defeat Candie Kung by a shot at Saucon Valley.
John Deere Classic
There’s a quality consolation prize up for grabs this week.
Anyone finishing among the top five who isn’t otherwise qualified for the British Open earns a spot at St. Andrews and next week’s major championship.
Bunker shot: John Deere Classic officials make the most of their tough spot a week ahead of the British Open by offering a non-stop charter flight for players who want to play both events. This year’s transcontinental fliers will include a batch of players who are capable of winning on both sides of the Atlantic. Steve Stricker, the defending champ at the John Deere Classic, has a seat on that charter if he wants it. Among others, so do 2001 British Open champ David Duval, K.J. Choi, Tim Clark, Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson, Kenny Perry and Bubba Watson. The odds of somebody winning both events aren’t good. Though the John Deere Classic hasn’t always been played the week before the British Open, none of the 39 previous winners of the John Deere Classic has ever won the British Open.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Zach Johnson. Contender – Steve Stricker. Darkhorse – Jason Dufner.
- Course: TPC Deere Run, Silvis, Ill. Par 71, 7,257 yards (Designed by D.A. Weibring and opened in 2000).
- Purse: $4.4 million (winner’s share, $792,000).
- TV times: Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m., replay 8:30-11:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, CBS, 3-6 p.m.
- Last year: Steve Stricker fashioned a final-round 7-under-par 64 to beat Zach Johnson, Brett Quigley and Brandt Snedeker by three shots.
The Barclays Scottish Open
A lot of fuss is made that the European Tour doesn’t stage the event leading into the British Open on a links course, but the winner at Loch Lomond will carry the momentum of knowing he beat a quality field when he heads to St. Andrews for next week’s major.
Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell are among 10 players among the top 25 in the world competing.
Bunker shot: Mickelson nearly won this event three years ago, coming up short in a playoff with Gregory Havret. The confidence gained in playing so well in Scotland, however, didn’t translate in Mickelson’s British Open quest that year. Mickelson missed the cut at Carnoustie. Mickelson’s struggles at the British Open are well documented with just one top-10 to his credit in 16 tries in the championship. He was third at Royal Troon in ’04. His next best finish at the British Open? That would be a tie for 11th at St. Andrews in ’05.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Francesco Molinari. Contender – Phil Mickelson. Darkhorse – Soren Kjeldsen.
- Course: Loch Lomond Golf Club, Glasgow, Scotland. Par 71, 7,149 yards (Designed by Doug Carrick and opened in 1971).
- Purse: 3 million euros (winner’s share, $500,000 euros).
- TV times: Golf Channel, Thursday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m., replay 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-12:15 p.m., replay 6:30-9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., replay 7-9:30 p.m.
- Last year: Martin Kaymer posted four rounds in the 60s and defeated Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano by two shots.
Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic
A field of 160 players will compete on two courses.
A whopping 10 sponsor exemptions get into this field, as do the top five players off the Canadian Tour’s Order of Merit.
Bunker shot: Jamie Lovemark got a taste of winning claiming the Mexico Open Bicentenary in the last Nationwide Tour event and leaped to second on the money list behind Chris Kirk. Watch for a terrific battle for the tour money title into the fall.
Mell’s picks: Winner – Tag Ridings. Contender – Jamie Lovemark. Darkhorse – Hunter Haas.
- Course: Georgian Bay Club (Par 71, 7,139 yards) and Raven Golf Club (Par 72, 7,105 yards), Thornberry, Ontario, Canada.
- Purse: $800,000 (winner’s share, $144,017).
- TV times: Golf Channel, 1-3 p.m., replay midnight-2 a.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 1-4 p.m., replay midnight-2 a.m.
- Last year: Roger Tambellini won by a four-shot margin over Blake Adams.