2014 US Open Preview
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
Tiger Woods will sit back and watch the US Open unfolding at Pinehurst No2 and wonder what he did wrong to be missing out. The penal rough has gone and the course is perfectly set up for the 14-time major champion.
So, in his absence, who is going to win? While the rough has been dug out, it has been replaced with vast waste areas, where no sane man (or woman) wants to go. Unbelievably, the tournament is followed at the same venue by the US Women's Open. It's a strange decision, but the good news for all the guys is that it means the USGA will need to be semi-sensible with the greens. Cut the surfaces too short and the grass will die and the LPGA women will end up putting on the equivalent of marble tables.
In saying that, Pinehurst's main feature is its greens. Get the ball in the wrong place on some of them and you will be three-putting - at least. Like Augusta, you cannot leave the ball above the hole here. And you can be sure that the pin placements will be fiendish in the extreme.
There shouldn't be too many low scores, although the USGA has admitted that it is concerned it may have made the course too easy. Believe that and you will believe anything. Anybody who can finish 72 holes anywhere close to par will be there or thereabouts.
That means defending champion Justin Rose will arrive in good heart. The Englishman has not been at the peak of his powers so far this season, but difficult golf courses always bring out the best in him. On the other hand, very few golfers have successfully defended this particular major, so history is against him.
When you think about golfers who keep the ball on the fairway, you inevitably get to Jim Furyk. The American, who is a former winner, has recently found a whole number of different ways to come up short, but he remains one of the most consistent golfers on the planet. He is still riding high in the world rankings, but a suspect putting stroke will surely mean he comes up short once again.
The romantics among us will be rooting for Bubba Watson and while he has discovered a consistency this season that has been previously missing from his game, it would be a huge surprise if the Good Ole Boy was ever to win a US Open. Yes, he hits the ball miles. Yes, he is creative. And yes, he can have a wondrous touch on the greens.
But the one thing that is missing from his make-up is patience. And no impatient golfer has ever won the US Open - or ever will. If he can think his way round this golf course then he could contend. But can you honestly imagine Bubba leaving the driver in the bag? And can you see him counting to ten when a three-foot putt rolls 15 feet beyond the hole? No, nor can I.
Adam Scott and Jason Day should figure. Scott loves being world No1 and has played some beautiful golf this season, contending almost every time he plays. He strikes the ball beautifully, and hits the driver huge distances. Scott is also a wonderful long-iron player. But his one area of possible weakness is on the greens, and you have to wonder if he can wield that broomhandle monstrosity with the requisite degree of dexterity on these greens. Probably not.
Day has had a miserable season since winning the Accenture World Matchplay Championship. He has been laid low with a hand injury and has struggled to get back to his best. But Day is like Rose - brutal golf courses bring out the very best in him. The Australian also loves the challenge of major championships, so don't be surprised to see him in the mix.
When Rory McIlroy won the BMW PGA championship and then followed it up by starting the memorial at Muirfield Village with a 63. But he proved that all the old frailties remain with a second round of 78 that featured a fistful of double-bogeys and left the Northern Irishman shaking his head in disbelief.
He is a brilliant golfer and will climb to the top of the rankings again before much longer. McIlroy seems certain to be in contention. The question is: can he remain there?
And so I come to the two players I believe will be fighting it out for the first major of their careers. Not Henrik Stenson. Not Ian Poulter. And not Jordan Spieth.
First, I give you Matt Kuchar. Now before you go raising your eyebrows, let's consider a few things, shall we. Since 2010, he has had 46 top ten finishes on the PGA Tour, winning five times. And he has missed just seven cuts in all that time.
This season he has already had nine top tens and a victory to his credit. There is no more consistent golfer on the planet, on any tour - and he is playing on the most competitive tour in the world.
His swing is not a thing of beauty, but he does everything well. Kuchar has been knocking on the door for a while, and this just could be his year.
But if you were to pin me to the wall and ask me to pick one man, it would be...Ryan Moore.
No, I haven't taken leave of my senses. Very few first-time champions are under 30 - Moore is 32. Most first-time champions have "done their time" on the PGA Tour - he has been out there since 2005 and has served his apprenticeship, having won three times.
One of those victories came this season - and he also has nine top 25 finishes to his name during this campaign.
He doesn't hit the ball excessive distances, but he is accurate - he hits almost 67% of all fairways, and is 22nd in driving accuracy. He is 14th in greens hit in regulation (69.22%). fourth in birdies on par threes and sixth in birdies on par fours. Only two players on tour are better from 100 yards and is fourth in scrambling - these statistics all add up to a player who can score well even when he is not playing well. Get your money on him for a top five finish.
Derek Clements is a sports journalist with a particular passion for golf with over 12 years of experience covering golf and other sports including Chief Sub-Editor on the sports desk of The Sunday Times. To contact Derek email direct via [email protected]
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