U.S. Open favorites: Five to watch at Chambers Bay
UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – With the days turning to hours before the start of the 115th U.S. Open, a lot of folks are asking me who I think will win. With a course as unpredictable as Chambers Bay it’s anyone’s guess, but these are my five best bets.
Since seeing Chambers Bay for the first time, Phil has been my No. 1 pick. The open fairways, long par-4s and huge undulating green complexes are right up his alley. Not only would a Phil Mickelson victory be wildly popular with golf fans, but winning the Open would put him alongside Sarazen, Hogan, Player, Nicklaus and Woods as the only players to will all four major golf championships. Phil is an all-time great and probably deserves to be among those names. Besides Phil, how many players are in their sport’s Hall of Fame while they are still competing at such a high level? Not many, I presume.
Why wouldn’t I pick the guy who can absolutely lap the rest of the field? He won the 2011 U.S. Open by eight strokes. He won the 2012 PGA championship by eight strokes. If he brings his “A” game to Chambers Bay, the party is over, and everyone else is playing for second place. But … the problem with picking Rory is that he doesn’t always bring his “A” game. After winning the Wells Fargo by seven strokes in May, he went to Wentworth and missed the cut in the BMW PGA. Then, the very next week, he shot 80 at the Irish Open and missed the cut badly. We really don’t know yet which game Rory is going to bring to the U.S. Open, but I’d be nuts to not include the world’s No. 1 player as one of my favorites.
He’s possibly the best player on Tour who hasn’t won a major, and, at 35 years old, he may be due. Sergio has steadily been a contender in big tournaments during the past 15 years because he’s a great driver of the ball and a solid iron player. Plus, his chipping is a thing of beauty. Those things aren’t going to be a problem, but what concerns me is not just his putter -- which we know can be suspect -- but his patience. He can lose his temper a little too quickly, and in a tournament like the U.S. Open keeping a cool head will be crucial. Still, a Sergio Garcia win at Chambers Bay wouldn’t surprise me at all and would be a nice cherry to put on top of his already stellar career.
I had to pick one dark horse -- someone who has played well recently but isn’t really being mentioned as a serious contender. After a win earlier this year in Phoenix and a tie for third in Memphis, Brooks is hot coming into this week. Also, I had to pick someone who was long off the tee, and Brooks has no problem in that area. Still, there is one big reason that stands out to me personally: When I was playing Chambers Bay with the rest of the FOX Sports crew in April, Brooks showed up to play a practice round. That tells me he wants to put on a good show this week. If he finds himself in contention Sunday, he can draw confidence from the fact he played the course earlier than almost anyone else in the field. When you know you’ve put in just a little more effort in your preparation than your competitor, you feel like you deserve to win. That’s just the type of little mental edge that could put Brooks in the winner’s circle.
Any of the 16 amateurs in the field
OK, so I hedged my bets a little and added these guys. Deal with it, and let’s move on. The number of college players in the field this week is a big storyline, so I tried to watch a few of them Monday to see whether anyone stood out. I watched NCAA champion Bryson Dechambeau on the range -- he uses massively oversized grips, and each of his irons is the exact same length -- and he striped it. I also was personally excited to meet 15-year-old Cole Hammer, and on the chipping green I watched him hole out a couple 20-yard pitch shots. On the course, I saw Ollie Schneiderjans outdrive maybe the longest player on Tour, Gary Woodland. Then I saw Jack Maguire outdrive Bubba Watson a few minutes later. I can’t pick just one, so let’s just keep an eye on all of them. After all, those guys are probably the Ryder Cup team in the not so distant future.