In the run-up to the US Open, we offer up our thoughts on some of the game's best players and their chances to win at Olympic Club.
His 2012 so far: He's got one win in the bag (the Pebble Beach Pro-Am) and two more top-three finishes. He was so close at Augusta, but one bad hole took him down. Still, he sits eighth on the money list and seventh in FedEx Cup points, so you've got to say this is a fairly decent year for Lefty.
His record at the U.S. Open: Heartbreaking. You've got the 1999 loss to Payne Stewart, the 2006 debacle at Winged Foot, the 2008 Torrey Pines hometown meltdown, the close-but-not-quite 2009 at Bethpage ... oh, it's a litany of Open pain for Phil. He was the low amateur in both 1990 and 1991. Since then, he's played in 19 Opens and placed in the top 10 in nine of them, including five second-place finishes.
Why he could win: Because nobody's paying attention to him right now. It seriously is like clockwork; when people are focused on Phil, he wilts. When the spotlight is elsewhere (like, say, Tiger/Bubba/Rory), he excels. Besides that, he's got the necessary short game and putting stroke to keep himself in the hunt this year.
Why he could fall short: See above. For whatever reason, Phil and the spotlight don't get along too well. If he sneaks up on a win, like by coming from behind on Sunday, it could happen, but if he has a strong lead heading into the final round, look out. Plus, the U.S. Open is the least forgiving of the majors, and Mickelson has a tendency to, shall we say, visit all sections of the course during a given round.
Our take: Another strong week that won't end in a win. Mickelson has so much going for him, but the U.S. Open continues to bedevil him. It takes nothing from his exceptional career, but it'll be an ever-present thorn until he's able to close it out. Could this be the year? Our guess is no.
His 2012 so far: With the exception of a missed cut at the Memorial, Watson has been the model of consistency this season. His playoff win at the Masters was, without question, the highlight of his season. But the career year doesn't stop there for the lefty, who also has a second-place finish and nine top 25s in 10 starts. That's Matt Kuchar-esque.
His record at the U.S. Open: It's been a mixed bag for Watson at the U.S. Open. In five starts, he's missed the cut twice and finished T-63; but he also has a T-5 (2007) and T-18 (2009). It's hard to say one way or the other if Watson has the game to win a U.S. Open, because he doesn't have enough appearances in the major to paint an accurate picture.
Why he could win: Because he's played well on tough U.S. Open tracks in the past, posting top-20 finishes at Oakmont and Bethpage. Knowing how difficult Olympic's going to be playing this week, having that kind of past success is never a bad thing. Plus, if Bubba can keep it in the fairway (and that's a big if), he's always a threat with his length off the tee.
Why he could fall short: The U.S. Open favors golfers who can hit fairways and greens on a consistent basis -- two things he has trouble doing. Bubba enjoys going for broke and firing at impossible pins, but if he tries to do that at Olympic, he could find himself in a world of trouble. Simply put, we don't think he has the patience to stay in the tournament and grind for 72 holes.
Our take: It'd be fantastic to see Watson keep his Grand Slam hopes alive with a U.S. Open win, but let's be honest, this course just doesn't suit his game. The narrow fairways and thick rough are going to cause him a lot of trouble off the tee, and his lack of tournament reps in the last few months makes you wonder if he's in form. We see a top-30 finish in Watson's future.
His 2012 so far: Astonishing for anyone else, erratic for Woods. He's won the Memorial and the Arnold Palmer Classic, but he missed the cut at the Wells Fargo and hasn't seemed on his game in several other events. Were this any other golfer, we'd be saying that he's having a career year (tied for most events won on Tour, third in FedEx points). For Woods? It's an afterthought.
His record at the US Open: Ungodly. He has three wins, including his demolition of the field (and par) in 2000 and his defining (and, until now, most recent Major) win at Torrey Pines in 2008. Overall, he's also got two second-place finishes and three other top-10s. He's only missed one cut in 16 Opens, and he didn't play last year because of injury.
Why he could win: Because he's Tiger Woods, and because this is the US Open, and because he still has it in him somewhere to rise to the occasion. In more factual and statistically provable terms, Tiger is playing right now as well as he has since The Hydrant Incident. He ranks first in Total Driving, 7th in Greens in Regulation, and 3rd in Scoring Average. In other words, he's playing a lot better than you think he is right now.
Why he could fall short: Tee to green, he's one of the best out there. But he's lost the touch on the greens that used to define his game. Used to be that everything inside 15 feet was a gimme; now it's maybe inside three feet. On a broader scale, Woods is still susceptible to the One Bad Round virus that's hit him every Major so far. Olympic doesn't care that he's Tiger Woods; Olympic will chew him up just like the fourth alternate.
Our take: He's going to make it interesting enough that Sunday will be a lot of fun to watch, but we're still not convinced of the stability of Tiger's putter. Until he proves that he can regain, and retain, that flat-stick mastery, he'll be in more tournaments, but closing out fewer of them.
His 2012 so far: For the most part, it's been an uneventful year for Lee Westwood. He picked up his first win of 2012 just last week at the European Tour's Nodrea Masters, and has five top-5 finishes in 11 stroke-play events. But other than that we haven't heard a whole lot from him this year. Still, we're pretty sure most golfers would kill for that kind of consistency.
His record at the US Open: It's actually quite good. His last four starts have consisted of two third-place finishes and a pair of top-25s; that's the kind of track record that would lead you to believe Westwood would be a decent pick this week. Even better is the fact that he finished T-7 the last time the US Open was hosted at Olympic Club in 1998.
Why he could win: Look, we all know the US Open is about hitting as many fairways and greens as possible. That's why it makes sense to pick a golfer who can keep the ball in play -- especially at a course like Olympic Club. Based on stats alone, Westwood could be that guy. He currently leads the tour in greens in regulation, and ranks sixth in ball striking and birdie average. And even though his seventh-place US Open finish was all the way back in 1998, it shows he has some positive history at Olympic.
Why he could fall short: Remember who we're talking about here: this is Lee Westwood, the guy who holds the "Best player never to win a Major" title. Can we seriously trust him to close the deal? He's been close on numerous occasions, but every time he gets into contention on the weekend, it's like he realizes the magnitude of the moment and completely loses it. He may be one of the best golfers on the planet, but it always feels like there's something that keeps him from winning a Major.
Our take: We know what you're thinking: nobody is crazy enough to take Lee Westwood this week. Well, friends, we're going to be the village idiot and go with the one guy who's broken our betting hearts on numerous occasions. Lee Westwood has the game to win at Olympic Club, and the way he's playing at the moment, it's finally time for him to take his rightful place in the winner's circle.
His 2012 so far: Feast and famine. He's got a win (The Honda Classic), two second-place finishes and a third. He also has two ugly missed cuts, including The Players Championship, and in both he looked so lost you weren't sure he was holding the right end of the club. He righted the ship in Memphis, eventually finishing T7, and seems a lot more prepared for the big show than he did a week ago.
His record at the US Open: Three Opens, and like much of the rest of his career, ultimate highs and total misfires. There was last year's astonishing win, of course, and a T10 in 2009, but in between he missed the cut. By that pattern, he'll be done early, right?
Why he could win: When he's on his game, there's nobody quite like McIlroy. Last year's performance at Congressional was one of the signature performances in US Open history, and no one who observed it came away thinking that this kid was anything less than the future of golf. His shotmaking, his putting, his composure, it's the kind of once-in-a-generation combination that could make him the next, and maybe last, player to get within sight of double-digit Majors.
Why he could fall short: McIlroy has a maddening tendency to check out on tournaments, missing shots he could knock down in his sleep when he's "on." And this can happen not just from week to week, but hole to hole. There's no more punishing test of golf than the US Open, and one ugly hole like the 10th at Augusta in 2010 could derail Rory's hope for a repeat.
Our take: Not this year. He'll be solid, he'll be strong, but he won't throttle the field the way he did last year. Too many players are playing too well; Rory won't embarrass himself, but he won't bring home another trophy. Yet.
His 2012 so far: Everything has gone pretty much according to plan this year for Luke Donald. He has two wins at the halfway point in the season (Transitions and BMW PGA Championship) and holds the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking going into the US Open. He also has five top 10 finishes in his last eight starts since the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
His record at the US Open: Donald hasn't exactly had the best history at the US Open. Dating back to his first appearance in 2002, he's only posted one top-15 finish in eight starts. Not only that, over the last five years, he's finished T-47, T-45, MC, WD, MC. That's not exactly the kind of record that screams future US Open champion.
Why he could win: Because he's playing some great golf at the moment and should thrive on Olympic Club's tight fairways. While some US Open tracks favor length, this one would seem to favor a guy like Donald, who has the short game to make the necessary par saves, and the accuracy off the tee to keep big numbers off his card. Plus, he won recently, and while that usually doesn't have any bearing on how a player fares at the US Open, it's never a bad thing when a guy is in-form coming into the most grueling test in golf.
Why he could fall short: It seems like we're always talking about Donald as a future Major winner, but every time the pressure starts to mount - as it did going into last year's US Open - he posts a poor finish. You get the feeling that the pressure could once again be too much. He's never faired well at the the US Open in the past, so it's hard to imagine his first Major win coming this week.
Our take: Luke has all the necessary tools to win a Major, but we don't think it's going to be this one. Despite playing some of the best golf of anyone on the planet at the moment, we see Donald finishing inside the top-25 at Olympic.
Devil Ball Golf, Yahoo! Sports