Monday, June 13, 2011

The Top-10 Storylines Heading into the U.S. Open

There are always a ton of stuff that happens at the most open of the Opens, but this year seems especially filled with crazy subplots. Here are the best stories of the week so you can prepare for Thursday and all the action that comes with America's championship.

10.) Ty Tryon's Return to the Big Stage -- If you haven't read the story Steve Elling's story on Ty Tryon and Christo Greyling, who both qualified for this week's major championship, you need to ... like, right now. It's a great piece, and involves everything from family troubles to medical lawsuits. It also reminds us just how big of a deal Tryon was when he burst on the scene back at the age of 17. (How much of a big deal was he? I had him on my first ever fantasy golf team as my C player. Strange but true.)

Tryon is the type of name that could really peak interest if he had a good week, but even if he doesn't, it's the beauty of this tournament. A guy that once was the quintessential young gun, years before anyone had ever heard the names Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy or Matteo Manassero, is now bad for another shot at the biggest tournament in the United States. Gotta love those types of stories.

9.) Can Someone Like Padraig Harrington or Sergio Garcia Come Back to Life? -- Let us not forget, the last time Tiger Woods dipped out of majors for injury, Padraig and Sergio both started playing majors like they were a mini tour event, with Harrington winning three and Garcia finishing right behind him in two.

Garcia has had some ups and downs lately, and this tournament will never be his favorite since putting is his Achilles (sorry, Tiger), but for two of the best playing golfers in the world three years ago, it has been a strange road of late, and it would be nice to see both back in form, especially at a venue like Congressional.

8.) A Stranger's Tournament? -- For all the Tiger Woods', Retief Goosens and Payne Stewarts that have won this event, we've had our fair share of Steve Jones' and Michael Campbells. But is this really a tournament that anyone can win?

It hasn't exactly seemed like it of late, but when a golf course plays so difficultly, like TPC Sawgrass seems to during the Players, it could knock out an entire group if they have a tough tee time with bad conditions.

I feel like this tournament is one that could just as easily be won by names like Jason Dufner or Robert Rock if they're playing well, because like we saw with Lucas Glover at Bethpage, when the course is super tough, everyone struggles, not just the people you're expecting to struggle.

7.) Is Luke Major-Ready? -- He's the number one player in the world, and he has two big wins this year, but if there is one thing that has haunted Luke Donald's career so far, it's his mediocre showing in majors. That said, he did have one of his best finishes ever at this year's Masters, but he needed a chip-in on the 72nd hole to land that (either showing he can rise to the moment or is extremely, extremely lucky at the perfect time).

It seems the U.S. Open is the worst chance for Donald to end his major drought, and as good as he's playing heading into this, I just don't see him taking this one down. I'm sure a lot of people will be forking over dollars on this guy, but I just don't see it.

6.) Will Over-Par Win? -- Graeme McDowell guaranteed nobody would break par this year, and now reports are saying the greens could run a 14.5 on the Stimp (14.5!!). So yes, I think we could easily have our first over-par winning score since '07, and I think all those USGA dudes will be smiling and smiling if it happens.

5.) Is It Finally A Youngsters Time at this Championship? -- Ahh, the age-old question that everyone wants to know; when are the young dudes going to start wining majors? As we saw with McIlroy at Augusta, probably the best chance for one of the young dudes to cash in at one of these, it ain't easy, and it sure ain't easy when you're sleeping on the lead for three straight nights.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - the best shot for one of the young studs at a major is to be three or four back heading into Sunday, go all Ben Curtis on the field, and hope someone Mickelson's the 18th. Boom, there's your championship, and boom, nobody will remember how you won it two years from now.

4.) Will the Europeans Really Start Taking Over? -- Colin Montgomerie said earlier this week he thinks this is when the Europeans really start dominating majors. It might seem too easy to say yes, since five of the last 15 major winners have been European, and the top-three players in the world are all Euros, but I'd have to say, if there was ever a time for those guys to take over, it has to be now. They have so many names that are playing great golf, and don't seem to be intimidated in the slightest by American golf (hell, most live here), so if Euros sweep the rest of the majors this year, don't let Colin say I told ya so.

3.) The Interest Level for Fans -- With Tiger Woods out of the U.S. Open for the first time since 1993 (we will get to that in a second), and a golf course that requires a ton of safe plays and not a lot of risks, is the U.S. Open a fun golf tournament for fans?

Some love it (like my buddy Dan Levy), but others can't stand it, saying they'd rather see professionals play a golf course to perfection and not see them struggle to make pars for four straight days.

It'll be tough to get fans into this tournament before it starts, because it's at a nondescript golf course (seriously, name me one hole at Congressional that you know really well), and it doesn't have the biggest draw in the game with Tiger Woods watching from his couch.

That said, action trumps predictions, and if a lot of names get into a fight over the weekend, people will come crawling back to see what's happening.

2.) Filling the Void That is Tiger Woods -- Someone is going to need to do this, and fast. A Dustin Johnson or Bubba Watson type that overpowers a golf course and wins a big event, getting everyone in sports buzzing about what happened over the weekend.

One of my favorite games to play with the game of golf is to think, "What storylines would get the "PTI" boys leading off with the U.S. Open on Monday?"

Here are the ones I think would:

-- Mickelson winning the Open by five shots
-- Mickelson winning the Open with a birdie on the 72nd hole
-- McIlroy exercising the demons to his first major win after that Masters collapse
-- A big playoff with some of the biggest names in sports

To me, that's it, so any of those would be great, because without Tiger around, it's tough to get the recreational golf fan excited about Thursday.

1.) Can Phil Finally Finish First? -- Hey, speaking of Phil ...

Yes, he is the story since Tiger is out, and at this tournament, that seems just about right. It's strange to think just how well Mickelson has played over his years at this tournament, because this is the tournament that seems like it would never fit his golf game. He doesn't drive the ball straight, he takes too many chances, he hates playing safe, and he'd rather boom it 330 than hit a 4-iron in the middle of the fairway.

But for some reason (his touch, perhaps?), Mickelson has been able to contend at multiple U.S. Opens, but never able to close. For some reason, it feels like this week could be the week for Lefty. Why? Because he is flying under the radar as much as he possibly can.

Nobody is expecting much from him since he hasn't played very good golf this year, and as we saw in 2010 at Augusta National, when Lefty heads into a major without much expectations, he turns it on.

I think Phil has two majors left in him, and I think one of them is at this tournament. He is never going to win a British, he isn't going to win two U.S. Opens, but he could snag one, and maybe this week, he will steal the show.

I guarantee the executives behind the scenes are hoping I'm right.

Getty Images


Andy said...

Lots of great storylines out there this week.

As for the argument around watching players struggle vs. watching them make birdies, I don't think it's the struggle that is interesting to watch.

I like watching the US Open because the guys playing great execute brilliant shots under nearly impossible conditions. I don't want to watch players flub chips because the rough is so heavy. But I do want to see guys get up and down for par from tough spots.

Think about 2006 when Geoff Ogilvy chipped in on 17 and then made that amazing up and down on 18. That was a great finish dictated largely by the difficulty of the golf course.

Mark said...

Re the booming it 330 comment.

Phil has put a 2 iron in his bag. Perhaps he will manage the course better off the tee this year.

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