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Par 5: Major predicament

Lee Westwood
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 Setting the agenda for the week ahead with five questions for tournament golf at large ...

Will Lee Westwood peak a week early again?

A lot of players wrestle with how to best prepare for major championships.

Do you play the week before? Do you rest the week before? Do you travel to the major championship site the weekend before to get in extra prep? Do you wear lucky socks from great rounds in your past?

Who knows? There are nearly as many formulas for winning majors as there are major championship winners.

Still, there is one rule that ranks above all others when preparing for the U.S. Open.

A player should never, ever win the week before the U.S. Open.

Why? Because nobody in the modern era has won the week before the U.S. Open and gone on to win the U.S. Open the same year.

It’s as befuddling as The Masters’ Par 3 jinx. It makes little sense.

So will Westwood make the same mistake twice? If he gets himself into contention in defense of his title on Sunday at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, you bet he’ll try. It makes little sense to play the week before a major without trying to win. No Player of integrity in this week’s event takes any such jinxes seriously. Every player in the field wants to be the guy who breaks the jinx.

Will Westwood welcome the extra pressure to perform?

It may not be possible to feel extra pressure in Westwood’s situation. He’s already loaded up with pressure by virtue of the fact that he ascended to No. 1 in the world without having won a major. He’s 38 with some close calls in majors that either embolden his bid or weigh it down. He sounds like the emboldened type as a No. 2 trying to regain his top ranking.

Still, Westwood’s decision to skip The Players Championship last month puts extra scrutiny on his run up to the U.S. Open.

Even though the PGA Tour changed its rules to give Westwood more flexibility to compete in The Players and also defend in Memphis, he passed on the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He said the 11 opportunities allowed him as a non-member playing the PGA Tour weren’t enough to make it worth the trip to The Players if he couldn’t supplement the trip with one more start. He wanted to play Quail Hollow the week before The Players and still defend in Memphis.

NBC’s Johnny Miller called Westwood’s skipping The Players as world No. 1 an affront to the championship.

“If he wins the U.S. Open, everyone will say, `Well, he got it right,’” said Chubby Chandler, Westwood’s agent. “If he misses the cut at the U.S. Open, everyone will say, `Well, why didn’t he play [The Players]?’ But you can only expect to tee it up in good shape. You can’t expect to win, only to give yourself a shot. I will be amazed if he doesn’t give himself a shot at Congressional.”

So what are the chances Robert Garrigus takes a three-shot lead to the 72nd hole this year?

It was hard to watch Garrigus blow a three-shot lead at the final hole at TPC Southwind last year, but who wouldn’t mind seeing him get another chance to win this event?

Garrigus pulled his tee shot into the water at the 72nd hole last year, took a drop and then yanked his next shot off a tree in a finish that would have made Jean Van de Velde turn his head(well, maybe not). Garrigus made triple bogey and then lost in a playoff.

Garrigus ended up being one of 2010’s feel-good stories when he redeemed himself bouncing back to win the Children’s Miracle Network Classic in Orlando. Given his spectacular defeat in Memphis, it was a popular victory. A win this week would be equally popular.

Who’s trying to play their way into the U.S. Open through St. Jude?

Not Sergio Garcia, thanks to his sectional qualifying effort Monday.

If there’s such a thing as karma, Garcia deserves a little golf god love at the U.S. Open after playing himself into the championship through the sectional at Tunica National in Memphis. He advanced through a playoff to earn a spot. Originally, Garcia didn’t plan on trying to qualify, but he said he found extra motivation with news his sister and her boyfriend were planning a trip from Spain to attend the U.S. Open at Congressional next week. Garcia will have more than family rooting him on after making the extra effort, which will extend his major championship appearances to 47 consecutive.

J.B. Holmes and Steve Marino weren’t so fortunate. They both missed making it through sectionals, but they can still play their way into the U.S. Open through the FedEx St. Jude Classic this week. Holmes (ranked No. 55 in the world rankings) tweeted Monday that he’d likely withdraw from Memphis so his chances are slim. Marino, No. 59, can still gain a spot in the U.S. Open by moving among the top 50 in Sunday night’s newest ranking.

Is Suzann Pettersen poised to become the No. 1 player in the world?

With all the talk about revolving No. 1s in the men’s game, it’s worth noting the women got this hot-potato theme rolling last year at the top of their world rankings.

After withdrawing from the ShopRite LPGA Classic last week with lingering effects of the flu, No. 2 Pettersen’s back in action at this week’s LPGA State Farm Classic. So is No. 1 Yani Tseng. With the event losing State Farm as its title sponsor for the last 19 years, LPGA pros will be looking to put on a good show in a bid to help woo a new title sponsor. Nine of the top 10 in the world rankings are playing this week.

Pettersen eliminated No. 1 Tseng from the Sybase Match Play Championship’s quarterfinals three weeks ago. She also knocked off Na Yeon Choi in the semifinals and Cristie Kerr in the finals in an impressive stream roll to the title. Pettersen’s run bumped her to No. 2 in the world, where she’s poised to try to become the fifth player in the last year to hold the No. 1 ranking.