Breaking down the favorites for Chambers Bay, Inbee Park's sixth major title, another out-of-nowhere PGA Tour winner, Andrey Pavlov's unmitigated disaster and more in this week's file-before-the-boarding-door-closes edition of the Monday Scramble:
Get ready for the Unknown Open.
After months of criticism and bellyaching about the mysterious links-style course near Puget Sound, the best players on the planet will finally tee it up in what figures to be the most fascinating major of the year.
Fascinating for a number of reasons: (1) The course is unlike any we’ve ever seen for a U.S. Open, with firm-and-fast fescue turf that will play more like a British links; (2) the early reviews have been so overwhelmingly negative that attitude and patience likely will be just as significant as crisp ball-striking and timely putting; and the players’ pent-up frustration with the USGA – from past setup failures to the anchoring ban to the arrogant claims that only those who arrive early and play often have a chance to win – ensures this is a make-or-break week for Mike Davis and Co. If this Open veers into goofy golf territory – as it did for the stroke-play portion of the 2010 U.S. Amateur, which I covered – Davis risks losing the players' trust forever.
This intriguing test could be a train wreck – well, hopefully not literally, because there is a noisy train that runs alongside Nos. 15-17 – or an all-time great Open. Whatever happens, it's guaranteed to be a fascinating week.
1. What the heck is happening lately on the PGA Tour? The favorites to win might as well be the guys who are struggling the most.
The last three winners on the PGA Tour were seven shades of slumping: Steven Bowditch had zero top-10s in last 17 starts. David Lingmerth? None in his last 27.
Hey, at least Fabian Gomez had a top-10 at some point this season … though that was back in October (a span of 15 events).
Little wonder there's no truly dominant player anymore. Seems anybody – seriously, ANYBODY – can win any given week out here.
2. One man’s top-10 favorites for the U.S. Open:
- Jordan Spieth: His stellar short game is perfectly suited for a grind-it-out Open, and having caddie Michael Greller (who used to loop at Chambers) on the bag is a huge advantage.
- Rickie Fowler: No one will embrace the unique challenges of this Open quite like Fowler, who thrives in linksy conditions. Wouldn’t surprise at all if Rickie copies Martin Kaymer and pulls off the Players-Open double.
- Phil Mickelson: It’s his last best chance to win an Open. Needs to hit more greens and scramble better than he has in the past few years, but this gamer still knows how to summon his best stuff for the biggest events (see: back-to-back runners-up in majors).
- Hideki Matsuyama: He’s a threat every time he tees it up, and his plodding, precision game should work well at an event in which the winning score will be somewhere around par.
- Dustin Johnson: His incredible length will allow him to cut corners and attack Chambers’ massive, undulating greens in ways his fellow competitors cannot. Another plus: DJ has shown more on-course maturity and discipline since returning from his leave of absence.
- Justin Rose: World-class ball-striker enters this week in great form. Only question mark: He doesn’t have a particularly strong record on firm, fast, linksy layouts.
- Rory McIlroy: When he’s on, he’s untouchable. Here’s hoping his missed cuts overseas were a result of fatigue, nothing more, because this event will be more interesting if he’s a factor.
- Bubba Watson: Has only played five times over the past three months, so his form is a bit of a mystery. So is his mindset. Chambers is all about guessing how the ball will react once it hits the ground; will Bubba unravel with the first bad hop into the hay?
- Henrik Stenson: Not in the greatest form since coming down with the pre-Masters flu bug, but there is no better iron player in the game. Low expectations, big payoff?
- Jason Day: Liked him a lot more before he developed these vertigo-like symptoms. Has struggled in the past on fast layouts, but his talent is undeniable.
3. Others worth a look in your U.S. Open pools: Jim Furyk, Billy Horschel, Brooks Koepka, Jimmy Walker, Chris Kirk.
4. Come on, man! Give us some sleepers! Not so fast. Eight of the past 10 major winners were ranked inside the top 20 in the world. No flukes here.
5. Mike Davis is a smart man. Here’s guessing he learned a thing or two from the 2010 U.S. Amateur.
The second day of stroke play was a disaster zone. A blast of warm air rolled through the area and made Chambers a baked-out, tricked-up hell for players. Spieth, Koepka, Daniel Berger and Russell Henley – all of whom are now on the PGA Tour – shot in the 80s in their one round of qualifying. When the setup crew mercifully dumped water on the greens and made the hole locations more accessible, it achieved its desired result: a blockbuster final four, with Peter Uihlein, David Chung, Patrick Cantlay and Byeong-Hun An. In the 36-hole final, Uihlein, then the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, won by a 4-and-2 margin.
Now, keep in mind that in the five years since a few teeing areas were added and the most treacherous greens have been recontoured, but the point remains: Davis saw Chambers’ potential as a fair, punishing venue that still produced high-quality, entertaining golf. His job now is to not get in the way.
6. Inbee Park completed an unusual three-peat on Sunday. She won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship for the third consecutive year, on the third different venue.
Only two players, all time, had accomplished that feat: Patty Berg (1937-39) and Annika Sorenstam (2003-05). Inbee has now won five of the last 12 majors (!).
7. With all of the fawning over the teen phenom, it’s easy to overlook what Park has accomplished this season. She has the lowest scoring average, the most rounds under par and the most top-10s this year. Oh, and she also returned to world No. 1.
8. So here’s an interesting factoid about Lydia Ko: Her two worst performances of the season have come at the two biggest events. She tied for 51st at the ANA Inspiration, then missed the cut at the Women’s PGA after rounds of 72-76. The 18-year-old star may look relaxed as she laughs off the pressure of being the top-ranked player in the world at the majors, but apparently she’s not as loose once play begins.
9. It’s time for LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to green-light Brooke Henderson’s age-waiver petition. She recorded another high finish in a major last week at the KPMG Women’s PGA (T-5), giving the 17-year-old Canadian starlet her second top-five and fifth top-25 of the season. Whan said he wants to see Henderson win an event before he waives the under-18 rule, but the fact that she’s routinely beating the best the LPGA has to offer is reason enough. If the Commish doesn't step in, Henderson might have only three events left this season, and that'd be a shame for this supreme talent. Just look at the leaderboard – she’s ready to be a tour member.
10. Expectations for Tiger at the Open? Basically, what they’ve been for the past six months – he’ll struggle to make the cut, and whether he sticks around for the weekend depends on if he can avoid the blowup holes. If he didn’t fix the two-way miss that plagued him at the Memorial, Woods could get eaten alive at Chambers, even with its forgiving fairways. Another thing to watch: Maybe he was just being careless because he was so far off the lead, but a few of his iffy short-game shots resurfaced at Muirfield Village. That doesn’t bode well for this Open, where there is insanely tight turf and severely sloping greens.
11. Mark Broadie, a Columbia University professor and the Tour’s preeminent numbers guy, unearthed a statistical gem last week in a column for Golf.com.
Attempting to put Tiger’s most dominant run in perspective, Broadie discovered that Woods beat the field – or shot a round better than the average score of the field for that round – a mind-blowing 89 consecutive times from August 1999 through November 2000. That’s nearly three times more than Mark O’Meara (33), the next closest on the list.
Try to wrap your head around that near-impossible level of consistency. Tiger didn’t take a day off, have a bad round, mail it in. Every single round he shot an above-average score that was better than half of the field.
It’s been said that Tiger’s consecutive cut-made streak of 142 might never be approached again, and that’s probably true. But this stat – this remarkable day-in, day-out consistency – is even more impressive.
Andrey Pavlov received a sponsor exemption to play in last week’s Lyoness Open, an awfully generous move considering this was a player who had yet to make the cut in 15 tries on the European and Challenge tours.
It’s hard to see him getting another chance now.
Pavlov shot a respectable opening 71 in Austria, then ran into a little* trouble on the par-5 first hole. (*OK, a LOT.) Just when you thought the 1,598th-ranked player in the world couldn’t get any worse, he rinsed six shots and recorded a 17, which was the second-highest single-hole score in Euro Tour history. Poor Philippe Porquier’s 20 at the 1978 French Open is still the worst ever.
This week's award winners ...
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: DJ. Dude was a lock for a high finish last week in Memphis … until he bowed out, citing an illness, after playing his opening nine in 3 over. Maybe he ate some bad ’cue, maybe he wanted to head to Seattle early, maybe he just wanted to spite all of us who took him in Group 1. Whatever. He’ll probably win at Chambers.
I DON'T NEED THAT STUPID 3-WOOD!: Greg Owen, after rinsing his tee shot on the 11th hole Sunday, decapitated his fairway wood:
Well... Greg Owen's bag just got lighter... pic.twitter.com/AT8WmZoUTj— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 14, 2015
You Guys Busy in 2016?: Hunter Stewart (departing Vanderbilt senior) and Robby Shelton (rising Alabama junior) were the only players to sport a 4-0 record at the Palmer Cup, college golf’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup.
Oldie but Goodie: Bernhard Langer. He won another senior major in a rout. His six-shot margin of margin was huge … but not even close to his own record, set at last year’s Senior British Open, where he won by 13. Hale Irwin (12) and Arnold Palmer (11) also had double-digit margins of victory in senior majors.
Doctor in the House: Colin Montgomerie. Monty spent Sunday morning in a Massachusetts hospital with chest pains, per Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte. Apparently, it was NOT related to Langer stomping the field at the Senior Players, the over-50 set’s 736th major of the year (roughly). Montgomerie was cleared to return, shot 3 under and tied for third.
Yeah, But Can You Do it When it Counts?: Bubba Watson. This insane putt gives you a pretty good idea of the severity of some of these slopes. Alas, Bubba has a better chance of four-jacking this putt than actually making it during the tournament:
Hold Your Tongue: Ian Poulter. Who will step up to fill his whiny void?
Ok my views on the @usopengolf course are yet to happen. I will let you all know what I think after I holed my last putt. Until then— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) June 11, 2015
@RyanLavnerGC in your opinion,what is most intriguing story going in?Tiger's play,Phil getting slam, Rory bouncing back after 2 cuts? Other?— Daniel Stepanek (@RJtheBear) June 14, 2015
The biggest story early is the course – how will it be set up, how will it hold up, who will embrace it? It’s a massive unknown, which is why we’ve seen so many stars head out there early for scouting trips.
After that, I’ll be most interested in seeing which star rises to the occasion. We’ve hit a lull in the schedule – after a historic Masters and a thrilling Players, there have been a number of dud winners. So now we wonder ... Will Jordan go back-to-back? Will Rickie build on his important win? Will Rory remind everyone who is No. 1? Check back next week, when we have more answers (maybe).
@RyanLavnerGC two sleepers outside top 30 for next week?— Al Walker (@alwalker1212) June 14, 2015
How about three?
- Could do worse than local boy Ryan Moore. Born and raised a few miles from Chambers Bay, he’s at least played there, which should count for something, though never in the tournament conditions he’ll face this week. (He held a charity event there for a couple of years.) Many would be tempted to dismiss Moore because he bunts it off the tee, but he managed himself just fine at big-boy Augusta National with a T-12 showing. Mixed results of late, but he did start well at the Memorial before settling for a top-20.
- Webb Simpson has already won a U.S. Open on the Left Coast, and he’s striking the ball better than at any point in his career. Entering last week he was ranked fourth in the strokes gained-tee to green statistic, and we say “entering last week” because, well, he missed the cut in Memphis. If he can shake in enough putts – he’s an awful 170th on Tour on the greens – he’ll be in contention.
- OK, so Charley Hoffman isn’t going to dazzle you, but the guy has played some of the best golf of his career this season. The 38-year-old Californian has seven top-15s this season, and that includes (A) a ninth-place showing at the Masters, and (B) back-to-back top-10s in Texas, his most recent appearances. Hmmm.