Pondering From Pinehurst

By Kraig KannJune 17, 2005, 4:00 pm
So far, so great! Here we are, only one round done here at Pinehurst and the leaderboard couldnt be much better.
The top-ranked players in the world were hardly a Day One disappointment. And we have just the right amount of players up there to qualify for a Monday headline that (sorry Hollywood) might read 'Cinderella Man.'
Like you, Ive got some things on my mind and some questions that you can help answer. So here we go. Six questions to ponder heading to the weekend:
1. Can Olin Browne and Rocco Mediate ' certainly quality players and PGA Tour winners ' hang in there?
I think one of them might just do it. The problem is that I cant decide which one. Both are very good ball-strikers. Neither is among the longest drivers on the tour, but they are tough customers mentally.
2. Is Retief Goosen the coolest customer among the Big 5?
Quite a statement by Goosen in Round 1. His 68 was very comfortable. Goosen admitted that he was a bit miffed by a small showing for his news conference earlier in the week. The defending champion is looking to make it three U.S. Opens since 2001. Ive got a strong hunch hell be there on the back nine come Sunday. And a win will end all talk of The Big 4.
3. Is Pinehurst the perfect U.S. Open venue?
It appears it might be the easiest to set up fairly. Nine players under par after Round ,1 compared to 20-plus back in 1999 ' and nobodys complaining. We still have three rounds to play, but thus far were seeing a golf course that demands everything. And a pair of first-day 67s is just enough to keep everyone thinking they have the chance to do the same thing.
4. If not Goosen then which of the other Big 5 has the best chance?
For my money right now.. I wish I knew. I didnt fancy Els or Singh coming in because of some inconsistent play the last few weeks. Tiger is Tiger and with that comes the thought these days that he could win by five or lose by 10. The realistic thought also persisted that Woods would certainly be in it. And with the Grand Slam hopes hanging in the balance, I expect Tiger to be there. Mickelson had it at 2-under, then let it slip even before making birdie at 18 to finish Thursday at 1-under. Hell be there, too. Im sticking with my pick that none of the Big 5 wins it, but at this stage if I have to go with one of the '5'. I like Woods.
5. Is the U.S. Open more interesting if the USGA and the players dont get along?
Simply said ' No. Last year was tough on everyone. And it left the fans of the sport squirming a bit, too. Nobody wants to see golf over the edge. And thats why I really think we have a good thing going right now. Ive always felt that Sunday at the U.S. Open had great drama. But a different drama. Folks are on the edges of their seats just like any other major. But its for a different reason. Chaos, catastrophe and carnage are ready at any moment with Sunday pressure. There are no eagles at 13 or 15 like Augusta provides. For that matter, we dont seem to see a hole-out eagle at the 11th like K.J. Choi gave us at the Masters, either. Its the dreaded double or worse that we might see that keeps us glued to the set. Who becomes unglued under pressure? Thats the U.S. Open and it doesnt need any extra 'help' from course set-up to provide the madness.
6. Hey Kraig, are you still sticking with Furyk?
Yes. Opening round of 71 has me feeling content. Round 2 will be the most important. If Jims there come Sunday, I feel his chances are strong.
And one other thing before I go Fred Couples at age 45 shot 71 on Thursday here. Perhaps theres a little magic left in his bag. A close call at the Memorial has fans ready for a miracle finish. Chants of 'Freddy, Freddy!' wouldnt be a bad story at all.
My questions ' your answers. What do you think?
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - 105th U.S. Open
  • Full Coverage - 105th U.S. Open
  • Getty Images

    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

    Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

    While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    “It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

    Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

    “I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

    Getty Images

    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

    McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

    “I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

    “There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

    He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

    “I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

    Getty Images

    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

    Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

    Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

    “If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

    Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

    “It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

    Getty Images

    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

    Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

    Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

    “It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

    “I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

    Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

    “If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”