Sunday June 10, 2012
All is set for another thriller
With the course and form of some of the best players going into the US Open this week, we can expect yet another absorbing showdown at the American national championship.
THE US Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, California starts on Thursday amid promise of yet another riveting Major championship.
The second Major of the season always enjoys great support from those who run it – the United States Golf Association (USGA) – and the people whose national open it is – the Americans.
It would be the correct thing to do to mention that from outside the borders of the US, the tournament has likewise been warmly received over the past 111 years.
There is not a US Open that goes by with all sorts of hype being built-up ahead of the showdown, and over the years some of the best golf ever witnessed on this earth has been played in this tournament.
The course set-ups over the many moons that have gone by have had their fair share in the spotlight, albeit, most of the time, for being stubborn and difficult to breakdown.
It is needless to say that this year things are unlikely to be a whole lot different, but maybe for reasons that many might not have expected.
When Rory McIlroy blitzed the Congressional Country Club outside Washington last June en route to winning with a record breaking 16-under-par, the American media unsurprisingly installed him as the “new Tiger Woods”, the superstar of golf.
It was being touted then by the many same scribes that the lad from Northern Ireland would arrive in San Franscico this week with one or two more Major titles to his name and in a position to further galvanize his standing as the game’s most prolific player.
There might have been some substance in the frenzy that surrounded McIlroy’s emergence as a Major champion at the Congressional last year, given that Tiger Woods was still in the midst of trying to re-group after his private life was turned upside-down and his once unbeatable game shredded along with it.
But what many did not reckon at the time, or maybe even now, is that once Woods has got his game on song, there is no better player than him in the world, nor indeed, has there ever been since he joined the pro ranks in 1996.
Thus, one gets the impression that it will be immensely difficult for the field to get past Woods in the bid to land the 112th US Open title.
Notwithstanding this, there is a handful of obvious candidates who could upstage the great American, and perhaps none of them have a better opportunity of doing so than world number one, Luke Donald.
The Englishman won in his homeland recently when he clinched the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club.
There is no denying that from an all-round standpoint, Donald has been the world’s best player over the past year and a bit, and that takes in account McIlroy.
One key factor in Donald’s favour is that unlike most European players he wins consistently, and does so in Europe and the US. So does he have a chance of success at the Olympic Club this week; yes, and maybe the best of the lot, besides Woods.
McIlroy’s chance of a second straight US Open triumph looks to have been distinguished with a run of terribly poor form, which included three missed cuts in his last three tournaments.
Some have put the 22-year-old world number two’s slump down to his dramatically changing lifestyle, which apparently does not include as much practice as it used to.
Lee Westwood, No. 3 in the world rankings, is long overdue a Major triumph, and with the England star having come so close on so many occasions over the three seasons and a bit, this could well be his crowning achievement.
Woods aside, the locals will almost surely be rooting for Rickie Fowler, another of the young guns with a formidable game and bright apparel to match his talent and popularity.
Folwer won the Wells Fargo Championship last month for his maiden victory on the PGA Tour. He was in contention last week at the Memorial Tournament, before watching his flight-mate Woods go on win the event in devastating fashion.
Matt Kuchar is another of the Americans who could emerge with the honours at the Olympic Club. The world number six won the Players Championship and proved he had the game to win on the big stage, so the US Open might well be where he comes of age in the Major league.
Phil Mickelson remains the most popular of the American players, but his game does not appear to be tuned to claim his first national open crown. This is not to he will not do it, but rather that hs chances of pulling it are a lot less than most would expect them to be at this time of the year.
Still, if there was one US player who could yet depart the US Open with the trophy in tow, barring Woods, then it is Jason Dufner.
Dufner won twice in quick succession in April and May, taking the Zurich Classic and the Byron Nelson Championship. He has also had a runner-up finish to tally five top-5s in the 14 tournaments he has played on Tour this season.
In the eyes of many, Dufner was the hottest player on Tour, before Mr. Woods came along and won last weekend.
But whether Woods, Dufner or any of the others win it, the US Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco should be another exciting Major championship; another one for the books. And for that reason, I cannot wait for it to get started.
2011 Rory McIlroy
2010 Graeme McDowell
2009 Lucas Glover
2008 Tiger Woods
2007 Angel Cabrera
2006 Geoff Ogilvy
2005 Michael Campbell
2004 Retief Goosen
2003 Jim Furyk