The golfing gods and the USGA have left us with a truly tantalizing mix of events and pairings in advance of the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco. As in all U.S. Opens, the premium will be on driving accuracy and putting (specifically in the 5-10 foot range) so let’s get to the analysis:
On everyone’s mind is Tiger Woods. Can the two-time winner in 2012 sustain his newly regained momentum on what arguably could be considered a home field advantage? You’ll recall Tiger played his collegiate golf at Stanford and is a California native so this a home game. Olympic will favor the straightest of hitters and Tiger has found the go-to stinger shot that will get him in the fairway. He leads the tour in total driving and is incredibly 24th in driving accuracy. Ball striking consistency is becoming less of an issue, but on course adjustments seem to allude him because he’s still plagued by mechanical corrections and thinking issues when his swing is off. Tiger’s putting is coming around as well, and he’s ranked 8th from 5-10 feet. He’s not all the way back but is a serious contender.
Phil “Check your cell phone” Mickelson is also a California native and is partial to west coast courses. Is the mental fatigue over? If the cell phones were a true distraction at Memorial they won’t be at Olympic because the USGA doesn’t allow them in. I didn’t like the way that whole Memorial thing played out.
Does Bubba Watson have his mojo back? We’ll give him a pass at Memorial to bang the rust off his layoff. His record in the U.S. Open is spotty with his best finish being a tie for fifth in 2007 at Oakmont. The key for Bubba is keeping it in the fairway and exhibiting enough coolness under fire. Last year at Congressional, he lost his composure after some bad breaks. Bubba, Tiger, and Phil are paired together in the first two rounds. Clearly the USGA loves the Tiger-Phil matchup with the butt kicking Phil administered to Tiger at Pebble Beach creating a wonderful story line, but the throng that’s going to follow this threesome will be huge and the distractions aplenty. This pairing will make for great theater but doesn’t help any of the three.
Luke Donald has the KPIs (18th in putting from 5-10 feet and 8th in driving accuracy) but he still hasn’t won a big one. You need to meld killer instinct with the patience of Job to with this tournament and I’m not sure we can call Donald a killer.
Rory McIlroy is in good form in Memphis the week before and seems to have taken his issues with preparation more seriously. If he can drive it straight enough, he’ll contend on talent alone. Definitely has the guts and killer instinct.
Lee Westwood has half the package (driving ability) but just doesn’t putt well enough to win an Open. Whether it’s nerve or touch, something has always been the issue with Lee’s flatstick and that’s a non-starter. Lee, Rory, and Luke are also paired in the first two rounds and they’ve got to love this arrangement, as all the distractions and hoopla will be with the Big-3 American pairing. Look for Luke and Rory to be in contention after Friday’s round.
Matt Kuchar mysteriously did not play Memorial this year. I don’t like that trend because in the last two years he played Memorial two weeks before the U.S. Open and played well in both tournaments. If you believe in trends, this is not a good one.
Dark horse contender: Jim Furyk. The cagey veteran is playing super consistent over his last eight events with a tie for 26th at Wells Fargo being his worst finish. He’s presently 3rd in driving accuracy and 3rd in scoring average. With a past U.S. Open championship on his resume, Furyk knows how to get it done and will contend.
My final 2012 U.S. Open picks. Who do you like?
1st Place: Rory McIlroy.
2nd Place: Tiger Woods.
3rd Place: Jim Furyk