Thursday, June 16, 2011

2011 U.S. Open Preview - Top Contenders

Well, now that hockey is over we can get to covering real sports. Nothing says summer has arrived like the start of the U.S. Open. The way The Master's marks the beginning of spring, Father's Day weekend and the U.S. Open bring to mind BBQ and bathing suits. No? Ok, but summer is here and the golf season is heating up...even if the most compelling figure in the sport is sidelined with a bum knee and a sore vagina - I mean ego.

The Open is always the toughest test of golf, with the United States Golf Association (USGA) setting up the nation's finest public courses to be a brutal examination of a player's skill and mental fortitude. From Pebble Beach to Bethpage Black these are not typically courses where you will see really low numbers on the leader board. Such is the case with the 2011 venue - Congressional Country Club in Washington, D.C. suburb of Bethesda, Maryland.

In the shadow of the White House looms a monster of a golf course that has been made even tougher for The Open. The event has not been held there since 1997 when Ernie Els hoisted the trophy and looked like he might be on his way to a monumental career before Tiger emerged and relegated Els to an also-ran. Congressional is the home for regular PGA Tour event the AT&T Classic, but will play quite different this week.

For starters there is a new finishing hole with what used to be #17. With water around the green on the long par 4 there should be plenty of drama on the final hole as the weekend draws to a close. The course has been lengthened by about 360 yards total. The sand is deeper and fluffier, with shaved grass around bunkers that will allow for more balls to trickle in. All told the course should be a very difficult, but a very fair assessment of one's golf game. There will be opportunities to take some risks and get some rewards, but those risks had better be well calculated.

As for who is going to win this week it is anyone's guess. With the force that once was Tiger now all but seemingly gone from the game of golf a plethora of up-and-coming contenders have risen up to give golf a bright future. And don't forget about guys like Phil Mickelson - still seeking his first U.S. Open title, and Ernie Els who has a very good U.S. Open track record with two titles to his name.

Don't look to the top 2 players in the world (all playing together on Thursday by the way) for a winner. Luke Donald, Lee Westwood have 0 majors between them, but that won't stop many from picking either to win. Both come in playing well in 2011, but I don't think they have the kind of game that will fair well at a U.S. Open. While the top 3 players in the world are all from foreign soil, I actually think the Americans will end their major drought this week. If you're looking to pick a winner here's my list of U.S. Open Top 10 Contenders.

1. Dustin Johnson, USA - Looking to break through with first major after two collapses last year at U.S. Open and PGA. Combo of length off tee and accuracy from the fairways will make him a favorite this week.

2. Steve Stricker, USA - Won last tournament at Memorial. He is the tour leader in avoiding Bogeys. That could be huge this week.

3. K.J. Choi, S. Korea - Choi is the kind of player who isn't flashy but on Sunday you look up and somehow he's battled his way onto the leaderboard. That is a great recipe of patience and persistence that could fair well at Congressional. He's won here before (AT&T).

4. Matt Kuchar, USA - Leads the tour in the all-around ranking, and has 8 top 10s this year. Playing well right now having finished 2nd at Memorial. Ranks 2nd to Stricker in bogey avoidance.

5. Bubba Watson, USA - A very likable guy, Watson also has game. He's a long bomber but leads the tour in greens in regulation. Not a great Open track record, but not bad either. Looking for a breakthrough.

6. David Toms, USA - After a brutal playoff loss at The Players Championship, Toms returned the next week to win at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. He ranks highly in all the accuracy stats. Might not be long enough off the tee though.

7. Luke Donald, England - He is the world #1 so it is hard to pick against him. A safe bet to be near the top, I just can't picture him winning...although it certainly wouldn't be a stretch.

8. Kevin Streelman, USA - Good record at Congressional, and one of the hotter players on tour right now.

9. Nick Watney, USA - In the shadow of other young Americans like Johnson, Fowler etc. but has 7 top 10 finishes this year. Ranks 6th in all-around, but might not have driver accuracy needed to contend.

10. Phil Mickelson, USA - What the hell? Why not? Ol' Lefty has been seeking a U.S. Open for over a decade now, and Congressional could be just the course for him to do it. I don't think he will, but you can't help but like the sentimental favorite.

SLEEPER - Charlie Hoffman, USA - If you don't know who he is, he'll be the dumpy looking guy with the blonde locks flowing from under his Waste Management hat and sinking putts all over the place. If he gets hot with the putter he could make a run at the leader board.

And who wouldn't want this guy to win?

That's Andres Gonzalez. @Andres_Gonzales He's a pretty amusing twitter follow. Check it out.

That's it for now. Be sure to check back later for a Day 1 Wrap and look ahead to Day 2.

No comments:

Post a Comment