U.S. Open Preview

Who will win at Pinehurst this week?

This week’s 114th edition of the U.S. Open Championship may go down as one of the most “open” Open tournaments in the history of the game. With so many of the world’s big-name stars either injured, aged or no-shows this season, picking a likely winner is practically impossible—like tossing darts underhanded and blindfolded.

Tiger Woods is recovering from back surgery and has withdrawn. Phil Mickelson has yet to notch a top-10 finish in this wraparound season. Rory McIlroy’s game is freakishly inconsistent, as is Adam Scott’s. Matt Kuchar continues to battle final-round meltdowns. And three-time winner and FedEx Cup leader Jimmy Walker has been practically MIA of late.

So who’s left standing? What player has the game to tame Donald Ross’ venerable Pinehurst #2, a beastly layout that has been made even gnarlier and longer following a major revision by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore? Who has the bona fides to excite the fans and attract them to the tournament and at-home big-screens?

Zach Johnson comes to mind (one win in 16 events, including four top-10 finishes), and so does Patrick Reed (two wins in 16 outings). More likely though, it’s going to be a lower-tier pro that was so far off the radar that, again, it will cause the field to shake its collective head and wondering if a player will ever step up and put some energy back into the pathetically lethargic, parity immersed PGA Tour.

For what it’s worth—and my bookie is salivating over my selection—I’m going all-in on Bubba Watson.

Watson is being described as the most gifted shot-maker since Lee Trevino. He’s currently second in FedEx points, and last week at the Memorial had a legitimate shot of taking over golf’s No. 1-ranking before a couple of quirky miscues and a persnickety driver on the final nine holes thwarted his chances.

A two-time winner this year including The Masters (his second in three years) with seven top-10 finishes, Bubba can be freakishly long and accurate off the tee, and has the imagination and the skill to manage Pinehurst #2’s wiregrass-infested rough, fall-off greens and newly added length.

Who else will I be watching? Mickelson, of course. Despite the fact that Lefty will celebrate his 44th birthday on June 16, I believe he possesses the desire and the stick to complete that long-awaited final leg of a career grand slam that features three Masters, one PGA Championship and one British Open.

That would make Phil the sixth member of the Career Grand Slam Club, which contains only five players: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods. Mickelson also has six runner-up finishes at the National Open, and a victory at Pinehurst would make him the runaway feel-good story of the year.

My advice for picking the U.S. Open winner: Keep chucking those darts. Even a blind squirrel can find a nut now and then.


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Chris Duthie is a contributor to Colorado AvidGolfer, the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via www.coloradoavidgolfer.com.