The field for our national championship has been whittled down from over 10,000 applicants to a field of 156 in Pinehurst, NC for the 2014 U.S. Open. It’s another Tiger-less major, but with Rory’s resurgence, Spieth’s year of “almost,” some uncertainty surrounding which (if any) other young players are going to step it up, and the Crenshaw-Coore restoration of #2, there are plenty of compelling story lines. And yet, Mickelson’s Shakespearian drama dwarfs all of this. Between the SEC investigation, the pursuit of the career grand slam, the quest for Pinehurst redemption, the balky putter we’ve seen in 2014, and the stark realization that time is running out, it seems like the time is ripe for Phil to at least make things interesting.
(In addition to this preview, we discussed the U.S. Open at length on our podcast this week, which you can check out here, and on iTunes. Please subscribe there, as we hope to record these more frequently going forward.)
Pinehurst No. 2
We touched on the changes to Pinehurst back in January, and there is plenty of other coverage out there about the course, so we’re going to skip a hole by hole breakdown. It’s going to be long (nearly 7,600 yards), firm, and brown. The greens are cereal bowls flipped upside down, and while they’re large, the actual targets are tiny. It creates an interesting conundrum where ballstriking and greens in regulation are at a premium, but chipping from tight lies, uphill, to table tops is also going to be highly emphasized. Oh, and you also need to hit it long and straight off the tee. Despite Crenshaw and Coore taking all of the rough out, that absolutely does not mean that errant tee shots will go without punishment.
So that gives us an emphasis on finding greens with your irons, chipping around the greens, and accuracy off the tee. We should also mention that you can’t win a major without making a ton of putts. Basically, Pinehurst No. 2 is the quintessential USGA championship course, and a true test to every facet of a player’s game. Last year, we were pelted with “anyone can win here” every time we turned on the TV, due to Merion’s lack of length. I’m not hearing that nearly as much this year, but it’s hard to determine what type of player this course fits best (especially because we haven’t seen anyone play the renovated version). NLU is a house divided on who this course favors. Fil contends that it’s going to be a short-game extravaganza. Tron counters that it’s going to reward GIR’s. Neil has no idea what’s going on – he’s deep in the emerging technology cut out in San Francisco grinding his balls off trying to close out Q2 with a bang. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle with this really lukewarm balanced take – it’s gonna take great ballstriking, a hot putter, and an ability to avoid the big number and take your medicine.
It’s our national championship. Not much more needs to be said. We’re going to be getting the full court press with coverage, and Phil is going to be shoved down our throats no matter where he stands on the leaderboard. It’s going to be hot, rainy, and NBC is going to pull out every tear jerking story that they can in their swan song for U.S. Open coverage before giving way to Fox next year (Joe Buck ladies and gentlemen!).
Justin Rose hosted a ballstriking fiesta, and hit the pinata on 18 with a pured four-iron that rolled just off the back of the green. An easy up and down, and he hoisted his first major championship trophy.
Mickelson mounted a charge on Sunday, but came up short. The highlight was this hole out on 10:
What will likely get lost in the annals of history is Lefty’s absolutely abysmal wedge into 13 which resulted in bogey. He and Bones misjudged the wind on the tee and he airmailed the green on what was one of the easiest holes that day. Bogey there sabotaged his round, deflated his sails, and proved to be the key miss of the tournament. It won’t be remembered like his follies at Winged Foot, but the miss is just as egregious.
My favorite GIF of the week was this Shawn Stefani ace, with my boy Kyle Stanley’s no reaction:
(all lines courtesy Ladbrokes.com, the Official Bookmaker of NoLayingUp.com)
Horses for Courses
Bubba Watson (20/1) – It’s the ‘Year of Bubba’ whether we want to admit it or not. He may not have the patience for Pinehurst, but I’m done betting against this guy. The last time we picked him, he shot 83 and cried and ran home, and I’d be fine with that result again. But if he’s going to win the first two legs of the grand slam, at least we’ll profit some from it.
Jason Day (25/1) – The thumb scares me to death, but he recently said he’s 100% healthy. His history in majors speaks for itself, as he has six top 10’s since 2010…. oh, and he’s 26. He had top 10’s in three of the four majors last year, including a T2 at Merion. I expect him to be around despite his injury woes.
Jordan Spieth (25/1) – I know, I know. All we do is pimp this kid. But he hits it straight, rolls it true, and chips well. He’s a top 10 machine and plays patient golf. He’s our definitive pick to win it all. It’s time.
Jimmy Walker (40/1) – Like him a lot here. Figured Walker would cool off after a scorching start to the season but that just hasn’t transpired. He’s still rolling the rock and he’s still puring the irons. He’s long enough. Can he hit his driver straight enough? I’m willing to take the chance.
Graham McDowell (50/1) – Tron loves him here based on his past Open success (he’s already slayed the proverbial dragon that Brandel Chamblee is always referencing), tidiness on the greens (#2 on tour in strokes gained putting), and experience playing rugged golf courses like this one back in the old country. The value is palpable!
Billy Horschel (80/1) – We actually got a play in on him at 100/1 before the odds shrunk. Coming off a T15 at the Memorial and a T6 in Memphis, and following up his T4 at Merion a year ago, this play screams value. This is a rarity, but we’re suggesting a double unit play on Billy Ho this week.
Graham DeLaet (80/1) – It seems Tron is obsessed with dudes named after delicious cracker cookies this week. Here’s his take: PREMIUM BALLSTRIKER. Putter has heated up in a big way in his last two starts. Took the last two weeks off to make sure he was healthy and fresh.I think he’ll be ready come Thursday. Not sold? Let’s turn to his local broadsheet, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, for some insider info.
Chris Kirk (125/1) – These odds are perhaps the most generous. Yes, this is Kirk’s first U.S. Open as a pro, but he’s coming off three straight top 15 finishes, including a T4 at the Memorial. He hasn’t missed a cut this year, has a win and a runner up, and he has the same odds as David Toms?? What am I missing here?? He’s a patient player and a slow simmer personality, that should serve him well. Can’t shake the Lucas Glover vibes with Kirk.
Also intrigued by the following, not enough to wager but enough to pick in fantasy: Rory (he terrifies me!), Senden (spooked by him having to putt on these greens though), DJ (he’s just been lurking the last few months and 33/1 is nice), and of course, Serg (Tron might as well be Jack Twist from Brokeback Mountain):
- If Brandt Snedeker’s still with us, this would seem a prime opportunity for him to identify himself, otherwise we may have to do a wellness check. I’m not counting on it.
- I’ve always enjoyed ESPN’s first few days of coverage. I’ll skip the obligatory Chris Berman joke and note how good they are at showing a LOT of golf shots. It seems to me that the Golf Channel, NBC, and CBS all love to show pre-shot routines, post shot reactions, and attempt to tell a story with every shot. ESPN’s strategy seems to be to cram as many shots into their time slot as possible, and it’s hilarious to watch Berman try to keep up. Scott Van Pelt is his usual steady self (does anyone dislike this guy?), Curtis Strange and Paul Azinger give great former player viewpoints without the ego, and Sean McDonough is criminally underrated. Just have the mute button ready for Todd Lewis’ spiritual compass, Tom Rinaldi.
- A great aspect of the US Open is the completely merit-based qualifying process which annually yields a smattering of amateurs. PGATour.com has a nice rundown on all twelve participating this year.
- Great nugget from GolfChannel.com about Justin Thomas/Jordan Spieth taking down Lefty/Fowler in a practice game this week. Something tells me the stakes weren’t quite up to the usual Mickelson levels.
- Fully expect to see Steve Stricker re-enter the cut in a big way over the next three months. He’s got four majors on tap (the John Deere Classic, duh), the WGC OWGR points pinata, and the FedEx Playoffs ATM Machine. It’s a three month stretch of golf that Stricker knows can keep his status rolling in a big way and then go back to being retired until next April. His form’s been good already, with nary a missed cut (although his results at Doral were iffy), a lights out performance at Memorial his last time out (T6 with 71, 70, 70, 68 and that was with a cold putter), and he’s got this stretch circled on his calendar. Not sure if he has the juice to win here, but at 50/1 I know Tron is taking a flier. #CompetitiveStarvation
- Random nugget from the 1999 US Open here, obviously won by Payne Stewart. Look at his final round scorecard, which was kept by Phil Mickelson. Think Phil was a little angry writing that 2 and 4 on the final two holes? It looks like it’s in bold!
Enjoy the week and catch us on twitter during coverage @NoLayingUp.