PGA Confidential: Looking ahead to U.S. Open, St. Jude Classic recap

Thursday August 5th, 2010
The people's choice? Phil Mickelson is among the favorites at this week's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Robert Beck/SI

Every week of the 2010 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

OPEN FAVORITES ARE MICKELSON AND WESTWOOD; DOES TIGER HAVE A CHANCE?
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Greetings to members of the round table. As the St. Jude Classic came to a close, Robert Garrigus needed supplemental oxygen on 18. But Memphis can wait. We are just days away from the 110th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. (Complete preview is here.) The preamble has focused on Tiger Woods, and the state of his game and his life a decade removed from perhaps the most dominant performance the game has ever seen. He hit 47 of 56 fairways at the 2000 U.S. Open, but that was then. Does Tiger have a chance to win this week? Are we convinced that Phil Mickelson is the favorite? Or is it Lee Westwood?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: I could see Westwood in the mix. He may not be the best closer, but he's playing well and is strong as a bull. Tiger? Don't think so, for all the obvious reasons.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think Tiger can contend. He hasn't forgotten how to play the game. He's had two weeks to figure out how to take half of the golf course out of play. If he can do that and rely on his famous short game, he can be in the mix. Can he contend? The Tiger we've seen so far in 2010 couldn't. But a different Tiger may show up. I would not count him out. Ever.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Not many drivers are needed at Pebble, which is huge for Tiger. He can dust off the Hoylake gameplan. Still, it feels like a top 10 will be a moral victory. Westwood has all of his best Opens on the West Coast. He likes the greens. I expect him to contend, but Phil is the heavy fave.

(Click here to submit a question for Alan's next mailbag.)

Morfit: I've got to believe Phil is thrilled he skipped Memphis this week. It was Africa-hot there, and the Open is a long week. Guys need to be fresh going in or it'll catch up to them eventually.

Shipnuck: And now they all have to fly cross country. Phil has been here since yesterday relaxing.

Van Sickle: Memo to Tour players in Memphis: When the heat index is 110 and you're going to sweat out your slacks, bite the bullet and wear navy blue or black. Otherwise, your swamp-butt will be glaringly apparent on TV and not very pretty.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: My guess for the Open — and this is unusual for the national championship — is that the best flatsticker will win. Scouting report is for very fast, very smooth greens, true summer conditions. Great for the Luke Donalds, the Justin Leonards, the Steve Strickers.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don't see Tiger in the mix. Right now he seems ill-suited for the mental and physical demands of U.S. Open golf, his 2000 Pebble performance notwithstanding.

Herre: If it is all about the greens, Phil has to be the favorite.

Van Sickle: Phil has to be the obvious pick. When things have been going his way in the past, though, it always seems to be a precursor to disaster. But he'll have a huge amount of support. And if you're talking about putters, don't forget Zach Johnson. He's got seven wins in his career.

Shipnuck: Wedging is huge — Pebble has the smallest greens of any Open venue, plus seaside gales. Everyone is going to miss greens. Another reason to like Phil.

Morfit: I agree that Phil's wedge play around the greens is best on Tour, which should serve him well, but it's hard to pick him to win, isn't it? I mean, he's got five second-place finishes in this thing. At some point don't you wonder if maybe he wants it too much?

Van Sickle: When do the close calls become a quixotic doomed quest? Like Arnie and Watson with the PGA, Norman with the Masters, Sam Snead and the Open. But Tiger appears to be on the ropes, and Phil is comfortable at Pebble. (Just like he was at Torrey Pines.) This is a terrific opportunity for Mickelson.

Morfit: Does golf need Phil to win? Is the sport on its way to obscurity in the absence of a charismatic star at the top?

Bamberger: As long as it's close, an Open at Pebble is a grand slam. Why? Cliffs, Pacific Ocean, Watson's chip-in.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Golf has thrived for centuries, and it'll be just fine no matter who wins.

Herre: A Phil will win would be a nice story, but I don't think the game NEEDS him to win. A better result for golf might be one of the young guys winning.

Shipnuck: Phil winning would be monumental. Going to St. Andrews halfway to the Slam? Doesn't get bigger than that.

Lipsey: Tiger winning his third in a row at St. Andrews would be a tad bigger than being halfway home.

TIME FOR A JOURNEYMAN TO STEP UP?
Morfit: Tiger has no equal as far as being able to turn it around in a hurry, so he could certainly be in the mix. That said, I think this is going to be one of those weeks where the winner ends up being a Ben Crane or another of the Tour's countless second- or third-tier journeymen. Tim Clark? We know who the obvious favorites are, but who would be your least-obvious favorite?

Van Sickle: Hold on there, Cam. Four Opens at Pebble and we've had Nicklaus, Watson, Kite and Tiger. I don't think we're looking at a first-timer. I think we're looking at the obvious. Phil. Tiger. Ernie. Furyk. Zach.

Hack: How about David Duval as least obvious? I keep flashing back to him at Bethpage last year. He just wouldn't go away. He's a long shot, sure, but he's had some good spins around Pebble in his lifetime.

Morfit: Good call, Damon. I covered the AT&T this year, and Duval looked very stout.

Bamberger: And Duval was playing not for a check but to reclaim long-lost glory. He was going for everything, with every club.

Hack: The thing I like about Duval is that he's nearly as testy as his former self. When he's in the mix, like he was at Bethpage and Pebble, he's visibly mad when he doesn't win. Ask him how he's playing and he's quick to drop the "I've been playing well for awhile now" line. He's feisty again.

Lipsey: He's been using the "I've been playing well" line for years. Finally, he's got some action to back up the words.

Van Sickle: Least obvious? Does anyone expect 60-year-old Tom Watson to pull off another miracle? Vijay Singh has a pretty good record at Pebble in the AT&T and got a special exemption. He could be highly motivated. If only that resulted in more holed putts. Luke Donald recently won in Madrid. He's been criticized in the British press as an underachiever, apparently disregarding his wrist problems. He could do well — he hits a lot of fairways and greens and he's a great chipper.

And did I miss it or is anyone talking about Ernie Els, who has won twice on tour this year, going for a third Open? He seems to be under the radar, at least for a few more days.

OPEN QUALIFIERS
Morfit: Which is the more surprising result from sectional qualifying, Ty Tryon squeaking through on the number, or two-time heart-transplant recipient Erik Compton sweating out 36 holes and then getting through a three-for-two playoff? Great stories, both.

Bamberger: Compton is pretty much a proven golfer — he's at the level where he should be able to get hot for 36 holes and play his way in, amazing though it is. But Double T? He'd gone the way of Double D. Is he still sporting Abe Lincoln's beard?

Herre: He's lost the beard, but gained a wife and child.

Van Sickle: Lots of great stories about qualifiers. And as we know, most of them aren't around for the weekend, except for your occasional Steve Jones. Good luck to all.

Morfit: That begs the question about qualifying. Isn't there something wrong with the criteria when Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose are not in the field?

Lipsey: Those guys had more than a year to accrue points, dollars, etc. They knew the criteria to qualify and didn't meet them. Seems fair to me.

Herre: Seems like qualifying is pretty democratic. There's a reason it took so long for Rose to win in the U.S. Fowler can be brilliant, but he can also be ordinary. He needs to add consistency to his game.

Bamberger: The USGA LOVED IT when a qualifier (Rocco) got in a playoff with Tiger. The whole weird qualifying process helps make the Open the Open.

Shipnuck: The whining about Rose not being in the Open is misguided. He had as good a chance as anybody in the qualifier.

ST. JUDE: GARRIGUS COLLAPSES AND WESTWOOD (FINALLY) CLOSES THE DEAL
Van Sickle: How about Robert Garrigus gagging in Memphis? Was that tough to watch or what? If he and his caddie knew he had a three-shot lead on the 18th tee, he definitely should've bunted some irons down the fairway and played for bogey.

Morfit: The last time I saw a gaffe like Garrigus's on 18 was Saturday, by the English goalkeeper.

Herre: There's no explaining why a veteran pro can just go brain dead. Guys choke in other sports, but you're really on an island in golf.

Bamberger: Golf looks slow and methodical on TV, and it is for the best players. For others, when they are in the thick of it, it goes by like weeds on an interstate. They can't breathe and they can't think straight and mistakes happen.

Van Sickle: Once Garrigus hit that awful tee shot, and worse second, there's almost no mental recovery. Give him credit for making the three-footer to save triple and at least get in the playoff. Also liked the way he busted that 3-wood on 18 in the playoff — only problem was, it ran through the fairway behind a tree. The right club for him was the baffler, obviously, but after whipping that shot into the water in regulation, I don't blame him for not trusting it a second time.

Morfit: Can anyone think of a more painful recent finish, besides Van de Velde's?

Bamberger: Phil at Winged Foot and Bethpage. Duval and Bethpage. Ricky Barnes at Bethpage.

Van Sickle: Justin Leonard had a similarly bad meltdown on that same hole in Memphis, although he rolled in a putt to win, anyway, then theatrically fell down onto his back as if exhausted from the extra effort. Some video CBS could've pulled up and replayed.

Herre: Good point, Gary. I'm sure the CBS guys will be kicking themselves.

Van Sickle: CBS guys should already be kicking themselves for Bill Macatee as the host. But that's another story.

Morfit: What a cruel game. The most painful finish I can recall offhand is Greg Owen slapping it around the 17th hole at Bay Hill a few years ago. The fact that Owen still hasn't won and hasn't come close since only makes the Garrigus implosion more painful.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, GOLF.com: All the "thoughts and prayers" that players were Tweeting about Garrigus were hilarious. Guy made $380,000 for choking like a dog. He's going to be ok!

Herre: Yeah, like he's going to go jump off a bridge. He manned up for CBS after the round, and will be fine.

Morfit: The St. Jude playoff turned into quite a pillow fight, too. The PGA Tour: These guys miss six-footers. Lee Westwood finally won with a birdie on the fourth playoff hole. That result could have significance going forward. Maybe the man just needed to be reminded that he knows how to get it done somewhere besides the Euro tour.

Bamberger: It says a lot for Westwood's devotion to the fitness trailer that he won in that wicked heat.

Herre: You're probably right, Michael. Did you notice that his pants weren't sweated through? He seems to be the entire package, except for chipping, which could be a problem this week. But in general I agree that he could rise to No. 1.

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