U.S. Open the place to establish the next Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson
BY HERB GOULD For Sun-Times Media June 7, 2014 12:16AM
Phil Mickelson plays in the Memorial golf tournament Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Dublin, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete) ORG XMIT: otk_glf_024
AT A GLANCE
Tournament: The 114th U.S. Open.
Dates: Thursday through next Sunday.
Site: Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort and Country Club.
Length: 7,562 yards.
Purse: To be determined ($8 million in 2013).
Cut: Top 60 and ties after 36 holes.
Defending champion: Justin Rose.
Last year: Rose won his first major championship, closing with an even-par 70 at Merion for a two-shot victory over Phil Mickelson and Jason Day. He became the first Englishman in 43 years to win the U.S. Open, finishing at 1-over 281. Mickelson had the 54-hole lead and reclaimed the lead by holing out for eagle on the 10th hole. But he made bogey twice with a wedge in his hand and closed with a 74. It was his sixth runner-up finish in the U.S.Open.
Television: Thursday: 8 a.m.- 2 p.m. ESPN; 2-4 NBCSN; 4-5 ESPN2; 5-7 ESPN. Friday: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. ESPN; 2-4 NBCSN; 4-6 ESPN. Saturday and Sunday: 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. NBCSN.
Updated: July 9, 2014 6:27AM
It’s not easy to see it now, but there’s opportunity galore for a watershed U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 this week.
It’s looking less and less likely that the era of Tiger and Phil will endure much longer. And while no one has truly filled golf’s superstar void yet, the U.S. Open is a great place to start doing that.
Tiger Woods won’t even tee it up because of an ominous back injury. And Phil Mickelson, who hasn’t played well this season, comes in saddled with the added distraction of an insider-trading investigation.
If Mickelson, who has six painful second-place finishes in his unrequited U.S. Open quest, were to complete his personal grand slam with a victory at Pinehurst, there’d be no bigger story. But that also would be a seismic surprise with his game and his baggage.
‘‘I don’t see him hitting on all cylinders well enough to win,’’ two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange said. ‘‘He hasn’t been playing well, and this [insider-trading report] on top of it. I really believe he probably is [innocent], but it’s still weighing on you. It’s not good timing for Phil.’’
What golf needs now is a new hero. There would be no better place to usher in a new standout than a national championship at a revered Donald Ross design.
Rory McIlroy, who seemed poised to ascend when he lapped the U.S. Open field at Congressional in 2011, has fallen back into the pack. Justin Rose, a heart-warming champion on Father’s Day at Merion a year ago, could make a big statement with another U.S. Open, but a repeat would be a bigger surprise than last year.
McIlroy, Adam Scott and Mickelson are the betting favorites, but that’s more about bettors than golfers. If Bubba Watson decides to hit it straight, the two-time Masters champion could make a major statement without shocking the golf world.
Then again, the U.S. Open trophy has regularly been the domain of one-hit wonders lately. Webb Simpson (2012), Graeme McDowell (2010) and Lucas Glover (2009) all caught lightning with a golf club for a week, then returned to mere-mortal status.
What this tournament could use is a more inspirational surge, by a Matt Kuchar, a widely admired everyman veteran who’s vaguely similar to Payne Stewart, who won at Pinehurst in 1999.
‘‘Is there a dominant player who’s playing better than anybody else right now? I don’t think so,’’ two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North said. ‘‘This is as open an Open as we’ve ever had, and a guy like Matt Kuchar has to be one of the favorites. He has great patience. He’s a good solid ball-striker. And he has grown immensely the last three or four years.’’
Kuchar, 35, who’s third in the FedEx Cup standings, is due to break through to a major win. But if you want a champion with a chance to resonate for a long time, Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old who burst on the scene with a dramatic playoff win at the John Deere Classic last year, is a player to watch. Spieth, fifth in the FedEx Cup standings, is exceptionally young. But in leading the Masters by two strokes on Sunday before finishing tied for second, Spieth showed he has game.
‘‘I’m a huge Jordan Spieth fan,’’ former Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger said. ‘‘He’s exactly the role-model-type player this tour needs. He’s a mega-talent. He’s replaced for me what [two-time U.S. Open champion] Retief Goosen used to be in his demeanor, the way he goes about things. I love to watch Jordan Spieth.’’
Adding extra spice to this week’s U.S. Open drama is the course makeover by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Forget that cliche about “U.S. Open rough.’’ The rough at Pinehurst has been supplanted by pine straw, wiregrass, sandy scrub, hardpan — which will produce all manner of interesting lies and options.
‘‘It is what they want to call undergrowth,’’ Strange said. ‘‘I call it weeds — [the] worst-kept lawn you’ve ever seen. It’s going to be difficult. If it stays firm, it’s going to be a tough challenge.’’
This Open also will be marked by a first and a last. For the first time, the Women’s Open will be played on the same course, a week after the men. And this will be the last Open televised by NBC. In 2015, Fox Sports, which signed a 12-year mega-deal to enter the golf world, takes over America’s national championship.
With Tiger and Phil on the wane, you can be sure Fox execs are hoping a star is born at Pinehurst this week.