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US Open Preview
Posted by: Nick Bonfield on Wed 13 Jun 2012
The 2012 US Open takes place this week at San Francisco's Olympic Club. Rory McIlroy will defend the title he won so memorably last year but, until last week, a second US Open trophy for the Ulsterman seemed as unlikely as England winning the European Championship. Despite a good showing at last week’s Fed-Ex St Jude Classic, some of his closest competitors are in fine form heading into the championship, with the likes of current world number one Luke Donald, young sensation Rickie Fowler and tour veteran Matt Kuchar winning in recent weeks.
After McIlroy’s romp last year, the USGA have promised a far tougher examination. Mike Davis, executive director of the tournament's governing body, said: 'I think it's going to be the hardest ever start in a US Open. The first six holes are going to be absolutely brutal.' The Lake Course will play as a par-70, 7,170 yard monster, featuring 500 yard par fours and the longest par-5 in US Open history. As with any US Open, driving accuracy and a high percentage of greens in regulation will be the key to success, with longer hitters holding an advantage. The course is so long and the greens so difficult to hold that anyone playing approach shots consistently with long irons will make more mistakes. Any prospective victor must have a competent short game and, as with every major, a better putting week that the vast majority of the field.
Someone who will fancy their chances is Luke Donald. Whilst Donald isn't the longest on tour, he has improved his driving accuracy considerably of late, and the Englishman is currently eighth on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, first in scrambling and third in strokes gained – putting; the perfect combination for US Open success.
Lee Westwood has as good a chance as any this week. He remains the best in the world from tee to green – leading the PGA Tour in greens in regulation percentage – and is arguably the greatest driver of a golf ball in the modern era. He won comfortably last week at the Nordea Masters despite a plethora of missed putts, and if he can just find a bit of luck on the greens, he won't be far away come Sunday.
Justin Rose also has to be considered a contender. The 31-year-old moved up to sixth in world after his tie for second at the BMW PGA, and is one of the form players of world golf. He has won four times over the past 18 months, including victories at Cog Hill and Doral. He hasn't missed a cut this season, and is currently ranked fourth in greens in regulation percentage on the PGA Tour and sixth in overall scoring average. As with Westwood, he could win if he has a good week on the greens.
Rory McIlroy is the second favourite with most of the bookmakers, and has come in to form at the right time. He is fifth in the PGA Tour’s all round ranking and first in birdie average, an advantage given most players will be struggling for pars.
Other Europeans in with a good chance this week include Sergio Garcia, who shot a closing 67 at the Nordea Masters to finish in a tie for third, Peter Hanson, who seems to be there or there abouts every week nowadays, and in-form Belgian Nicholas Colsaerts. Martin Kaymer has fallen completely off the radar of late but has major pedigree, and could benefit from coming into the tournament under the radar.
The European contingent, though, will face a tough fight against some in-form Americans who have started to mount a fightback against European domination in the world rankings. There are currently six Americans in the world's top ten: Masters champion Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Jason Dufner, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson.
All eyes will be on Tiger Woods this week after his victory at Memorial. The greatest competitor in the modern game seems to have that bit between his teeth again and, in truth, it would be a surprise if he wasn’t in contention. He has had five top 25s, three top 10s, a second place finish and two victories this season and, significantly, currently leads the PGA Tour in total driving.
Fourteen years ago at the Olympic Club, Matt Kuchar was the low amateur, and the world number five is flying high after his victory at the Players Championship. Watson missed the cut at the Memorial, but his game is perfectly suited to the Olympic Club. Mahan has been quiet of late and might struggle around a course where his short game will be constantly called upon, but his two victories this season will stand him in good stead.
Jason Dufner is the form player in world golf – winning twice and finishing second in his last four starts - and you can never rule out one of golf’s most consistent performers, Steve Stricker. Rickie Fowler is also in tremendous form and his carefree attitude should benefit him this week, and Dustin Johnson enters the tournament after winning last week in only his second tournament since a lengthy injury lay-off.
Rest of world challenge
Historically, players from outside Europe and north America have faired well at the second major of the year, and there are a whole host of viable candidates looking to make it six rest of world victories in the last 12 years.
The highest ranked rest of world golfer (14) is 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, with 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen in 15th. Both players have major pedigree, and will be looking to extend the tradition of South African success at the US Open. No player has won more times that Branden Grace this season, and the European Tour rookie could turn a few heads this week.
The Australian contingent should also feature this year. Adam Scott has played relatively little golf in 2012, but has made six out of seven cuts this season, recording four top 25 finishes and a top 10 at the Masters. Jason Day is another tenacious competitor who has been in contention multiple times in major championships. He has five top 25s and two top 10s this season on the PGA Tour and a second place finish to his name at the Qatar Masters on the European Tour. His big hitting (6th in PGA Tour driving distance) will be of enormous benefit on an extremely long golf course, as will his fighting spirit and desire.
The second major of the year is wide open, and any one of fifty players could prevail. All that remains to be seen is whether the tournament lives up to its enormous potential.
For the low down on the top picks and betting odds check out the Jenks US Open preview.
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