Tour and News

PGA Tour Confidential: Dustin Johnson wins St. Jude Classic, U.S. Open predictions

Photo: Mark Humphrey /AP

Dustin Johnson won in his second event since returning from a back injury.

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

DUSTIN JOHNSON WINS ST. JUDE
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: A week after Tiger gave us another "You have to be kidding me!" moment, two of the best twenty-somethings, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, got their games back into form just in time for the U.S. Open. Before we get to all the questions heading into Olympic, we'd be crazy to overlook a wild finish at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. In his second start since returning from a back injury, D.J. birdied two of the last three holes to notch his sixth PGA Tour win, the most of any player in his 20s. What did you think of D.J.'s win?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It was huge, like his tee shots. Despite everything, I still believe in D.J.'s talent. This sets him up to be a contender at the year's three remaining majors.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: When you see the guy play well, he's like nothing else in golf. The monster is out of the cage.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: If he can convince himself that a major is just another tournament, he'll win one soon. That's a big if, though. Clearly he has the physical tools.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: There's no denying that D.J. has talent, and winning begets confidence, so he's got that going for him heading into the U.S. Open. Which is nice. But I was at Pebble Beach when he made a mess of the final round in 2010. And I was at Whistling Straits when he blew it on the 72nd hole, and at Royal St. Georges when he went O.B. on the back-nine Sunday to all but give the claret jug to Darren Clarke. I can't stop thinking about those moments when I think about Dustin Johnson.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Not sure Olympic is a great fit for D.J.'s power game, but it's good to have him back in form for the summer's majors.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Looks like Dustin is ready to shake that underachiever label. He suddenly looks like a threat at Olympic, too.

Reiterman: That's an interesting label to put on D.J. Underachiever? I don't know if I buy that. Six wins by 27. (He turns 28 on June 22). Been right there in a couple of majors. He's also fought through some injuries. I think he's progressing nicely toward a career that's slightly better than Davis Love's - maybe 25 wins and a couple of majors? That'd be good enough for the Hall of Fame.

Bamberger: He actually reminds me of Davis Love but with a better putting touch. I seriously doubt he'll have Davis's staying power, however.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Good comparison. The way Davis strikes the ball, it's amazing he hasn't won more.

Hack: It's the lack of attention to detail, not so much the winning. He just doesn't seem like he's all there all the time. Hence, the underachiever label. I think it fits.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: A guy like D.J. will always be, to an extent, an underachiever until he gets a major under his belt, though I agree with Ryan that it's a pretty harsh label to put on him at this age.

Hack: Late to his tee time at Riviera, Bunkergate at Whistling Straits. Need I go on?

Hanger: That makes him more of a screw-up than an underachiever in my book.

Hack: Disagree. Underachieving and screwing up are cousins, at worst.

Shipnuck: He's saddled by Potential. And Talent. A few years ago he and Rory were clearly the next big things. Rory has nabbed an Open and made it to No. 1. So in that context, D.J. has underachieved a bit. But time is on his side.

Wei: D.J. just needs to learn how not to "pull a D.J." during crucial moments on Sunday at majors.

Morfit: HOF? I've always wondered if Dustin has it between the ears, but I'm starting to wonder about the rest of them, too. I think Chamblee is right that a lot of these guys are overcoached. Whatever happened to Bruce Lietzke?

Wei: D.J. played great at Memorial (T19) considering his three-month layoff. I was most impressed with D.J.'s draining two clutch putts to win. Don't think I've ever used the words "clutch" and "putting" in same sentence when referring to him! Early in season he was really frustrated with his putting, so maybe the time off was what he needed.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What did you make of D.J.'s win?

D.J. BACK-TO-BACK?
Reiterman: We all know that no one has ever won a U.S. Open after winning on the PGA Tour the previous week. So does that mean D.J. is already doomed to some obscure spot on the leaderboard? Or is he the type of player who can break the streak and win in back-to-back weeks?

Shipnuck: When he's hot, he stays hot, and his power lets him use shorter clubs off the tee, a huge advantage at Olympic. So he's dangerous.

Morfit: I don't think Olympic (Lee Janzen, Scott Simpson) is the type of place that's going to reward D.J.'s big, brawny game. I like his chances at Bethpage Black, however.

Bamberger: I can't see it. I can't see the guy staying focused for three weeks.

Mick Rouse, editorial assistant, SI Golf Group: If he's feeling confident and refreshed heading to Olympic, I like his odds to be in the picture. He will be able to club down and still outpace a lot of players out there. If he can keep things straight and doesn't lose his putting touch, he should be in a good position to have a look at it.

Dusek: It's really hard to win on the PGA Tour, and it's even harder to win back-to-back PGA Tour events. I agree with Alan that Johnson is the kind of guy who can stay hot for a while, but I wonder if he's mentally strong enough to hold it together under U.S. Open pressure.

Hack: I could see D.J. go back-to-back. Why not? He's on the Cali soil he loves, he's unconventional, and the Memphis win should have him even more loose than usual, if that's even possible.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: As far as the Open goes, winning this week is probably the worst thing that could have happened to D.J. Now everybody will be talking him up, revisiting all the close calls at majors. I'd have liked him better flying in under the radar.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Can Johnson win in back-to-back weeks? Is he one of your Open favorites?

THE DEFENDING CHAMP
Reiterman: What a strange week for defending U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy. After three missed cuts, he was hoping just to make the weekend. Then, with a chance to win, he missed a bunch of short putts over the weekend and yanked his drive with a 3-wood into the water on 18 for a double. What did you make of Rory's week? And do you think he's got everything put back together in time to win at Olympic?

Morfit: It seems unlikely, although he's got to be pleased he got back into contention. It seemed like he forgot how to play golf practically overnight. Scary game that way.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: My guess is no. Olympic will take the driver out of his hands, which is one of his advantages. The course is also said to be playing firm and fast, which is another negative for Rory.

Shipnuck: It was somewhat encouraging, given his poor recent form, but we know Rory can get hot in a hurry. The long-standing question is whether he can become a dominant player by converting more of these opportunities. This weekend was not exactly progress.

Godich: I just saw too many disturbing things from Rory. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 12th after a birdie at 11. He three-putted from about 35 feet at 14. He didn't birdie the easy par-5 16th from the middle of the fairway. Then he hit it off the world at 18 after the birdie at 17. I think he takes more negatives than positives into the Open.

Rouse: Finishing T7 after missing those cuts isn't progress? I think there are more positives to take away from this week than negatives.

Hanger: His game doesn't seem to be in good enough shape right now, but neither did Tiger's before he won at Memorial. His chances are as good as anyone's.

Bamberger: I think Rory is a classic horses-for-courses golfer. Olympic doesn't seem like a fit for him. Augusta does.

Dusek: Clearly everything isn't ideal in Rory's world, but making the cut in Memphis was a start, and the 65 he shot Friday was solid. The missed short putts are troubling.

Morfit: Maybe an emergency session with Dave Stockton is in order.

Herre: Going to Stockton is like a trip to the ER.

Wei: I wouldn't count Rory out. I think he took huge steps in the right direction. Sure, Olympic may take driver out of his hands, but if he's striking the ball well, it doesn't matter. I think he'll be in the mix on Sunday.

Reiterman: Obviously we wouldn't be shocked if he was in contention, but that drive on 18 showed he's still got some work to do before Thursday. And then, will he be confident enough in the swing adjustments he's made with his coach when he's coming down the stretch at a major?

Hack: I kept waiting for Rory to step on their necks, which never happened. That said, I think the week was a step forward from all those missed weekends. I can see him being a factor at Olympic.

Wei: Rory wasn't so clutch coming down the stretch, but 18 is a really easy hole to screw up (just ask Robert Garrigus). This week was about working on his swing tweaks and feeling comfortable with them in competition -- almost like a few extra practice rounds to get ready for the U.S. Open. Not the finish he was hoping for, but I think he's way more concerned with defending his title at Olympic.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Can Rory win a second consecutive U.S. Open this week?

WESTWOOD'S SWEDISH WIN, OPEN CHANCES
Reiterman: Lee Westwood won in Sweden in his U.S. Open tune-up. It was his 22nd-career European Tour title. A great achievement. Did he move up on your list of U.S. Open favorites, or were you not that impressed?

Herre: I could see Westwood in the mix at Olympic, but not winning. I don't think he putts well enough.

Morfit: I've seen Westwood throw it away too many times to predict a major for him, but I'd like to see it. His talent is major-worthy and, as with Monty before him, it would be a shame to go his whole career without a major W.

Dusek: U.S. Opens are about hitting fairways, hitting greens and making putts. Westwood is one of the best in two of those departments. He dropped a new putter in the bag in Sweden (new irons too) and promptly won. If he and his new Ping Nome can stay hot, he could certainly win at Olympic.

Rouse: I'm not high on Westwood. I figure him to be around during the weekend, but never really charging toward the top.

Ritter: Westwood's win in Sweden was impressive, but I always had him on my list of six or seven favorites for this week. Someone with his talent -- and so many close calls -- can't possibly go his whole career without picking off one major, can he?

Hack: Lee continues to work hard and reap the benefits. It still feels right to say he'll win a major, maybe even at Olympic. His ball-striking is so good.

Bamberger: Olympic is ideal for Westwood. Jet lag is not. Repeating is so hard. I fear he contends and comes up short, but I'm rooting for him.

Godich: Westwood is in the same boat as D.J. He'll win a major when we least expect it. Not this time.

Shipnuck: There's never been any doubt Westwood is a contender. Can he chip and putt on Open Sunday well enough to actually win? Nothing that happened in Sweden really answers that question.

Wei: I liked Lee before he won in Sweden. He finished T7 in '98, and I know they've made changes, but he probably has good memories and feelings about Olympic, so that's a bonus.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Did Westwood's win make you more confident in his chances this week at Olympic?

THE BIG 3
Reiterman: One of the best pre-U.S. Open rituals is analyzing the groupings. Last week, we learned that the blazers in Far Hills decided to put Tiger, Phil and Bubba in the same group, no doubt with a little nudge-nudge from their TV partners in Bristol. Since then the common theme I've heard is that this is great for TV, bad for spectators. Was this a good move by the USGA? Do you like these blockbuster groupings?

Herre: Everyone wants a good TV show, especially when it's prime time from the West Coast. I doubt ESPN had anything to do with the pairings.

Dusek: I love groupings like this. I get that fans on-site at Olympic will have a hard time seeing the action with so many people following this group, but guess what: Tiger, Phil and Bubba draw big crowds all the time. I know, this one will be epically big, but I'm dying to see he head-to-head battle within the framework of the U.S. Open. I wish the PGA Tour would pair Tiger and Phil together on Thursday and Friday a few times a year for added buzz.

Herre: Right, David. This will be a fun group to watch. Kudos to the USGA.

Hanger: And the fans at Olympic should have clear sight lines for all the other groups out there.

Bamberger: You don't need groups like this at the Open. It's a gimmick. Spread the wealth.

Rouse: I love to see the big names go against each other. It's never a guarantee that you're going to get the marquee pairing after the cut, so I'm fine with the USGA giving us what we all really want to see on the first two days.

Ritter: I like the big-name grouping and can't wait to see if Phil can extend his recent run of great play when paired with Woods, or if Tiger will flip the script. Folks on site will still find plenty of spots around the hills to see the marquee names. And fans looking to follow the Shane Bertsch/ Martin Flores/ Tommy Biershenk group should have a virtually unobstructed view of the action.

Hack: The threesome is contrived, but so are all TV Shows. This was about ratings first, second and third.

Shipnuck: It's great fun. Having Tiger and Phil together adds a delicious frisson. I also love the Luke-Lee-Rory pairing.

Godich: I'd love to see more of Tiger and Phil in the same group. And I like how they rounded out the group with an eccentric like Bubba. I'll be interested to see how much attention Tiger and Phil give to Bubba and his creative shot-making.

Wei: It's always bad for spectators. If they want a front-row seat, then their couch is the place to be. I always love the U.S. Open groups; they prove the USGA does indeed have a sense of humor.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Do you like the marquee group of Tiger, Phil and Bubba, or would you rather see them split up?

TIGER, PHIL OR BUBBA?
Reiterman: We'll get to your U.S. Open picks in a moment, but first I want to hear your picks for this group. Who's going to have the best score out of Tiger, Phil and Bubba?

Hanger: It's total guesswork, but I don't think Bubba's been playing enough since the Masters to be medalist for this threesome. I'd bet on Tiger after that Memorial showing, although Phil should be plenty well rested after his W/D in Columbus.

Wei: I think Bubba is too busy fending off overzealous fans in late-night car chases.

Bamberger: This is a common British Open betting game. I like Tiger.

Dusek: Tiger, then Phil, then Bubba.

Shipnuck: Tiger.

Ritter: Has everyone forgotten what Phil's been doing to Tiger head-to-head lately? Can't get Pebble out of my head for this one. Give me Phil, then Tiger, then Bubba for the first two rounds.

Hack: Ritter's on it. Phil wins, Tiger places and Bubba shows.

Ritter: The only thing Phil didn't do in that final round at Pebble was take Tiger's peanut butter sandwich and eat it in front of him.

Rouse: I think Tiger and Bubba will be pretty close, but I'd give the edge to Tiger, with Phil a few strokes behind them.

Godich: Tiger, and it won't even be close. Phil will have his moments. I'll be surprised if Bubba makes the cut.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Put them in order for the first two rounds: Tiger, Phil and Bubba.

DARK-HORSE PICKS
Reiterman: Jack Fleck. Billy Casper. Scott Simpson. Lee Janzen. All great players in their days, and all won a U.S. Open at Olympic. But they were not the golfers expected to win. Will we have another surprise winner this year? Who's your dark horse?

Bamberger: Ryder Cup captain Davis Love.

Herre: Spencer Levin. The wee chain-smoker can work his way around any course, and he has been playing well of late. Not the greatest putter, but we're talking dark horses.

Dusek: The 2007 Masters champion, Zach Johnson.

Hanger: How about Jim Furyk? He's always described as the type of gritty player made to contend at Opens, and he's had a solid year. He has a T2, a fourth, a T8, and four other top 15s.

Hack: I like Gentleman Jim as a dark horse, too. See some similarities to Janzen.

Ritter: Padraig Harrington has been playing better these days, and most importantly, sources confirm he's still Irish. I know a trend when I see one.

Reiterman: I didn't drink the Kool-Aid earlier this year, but it's hard to overlook Brendan Grace as a dark-horse pick. Three wins already. A South African. Sounds like a lot of recent major winners.

Godich: Ernie Els.

Rouse: I'm going with the amateur Patrick Cantlay.

Wei: John Senden, Justin Rose (does he count?) and Jonathan Byrd.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who's your U.S. Open dark horse?

YOUR REAL PICKS
Reiterman: OK, time for the main course. No one picked Bubba to win the Masters, so no pressure this time! Who is your pick to win the U.S. Open and why?

Herre: Tiger Woods. First major in four years. At that pace he'll break Nicklaus's record when he's 52.

Bamberger: Mahan because of his iron play and distance control.

Dusek: We went through our entire debate, and no one has mentioned Luke Donald, the world's No. 1 player. He's been my pick to win the U.S. Open since last November. He's one of the best iron players in the game, has a solid short game and can putt. Olympic should set up perfectly for Luke. If you don't think he's going to win here in San Francisco, you probably don't think he can win a major.

Reiterman: I second that pick. I wanted to go with Dufner, but Luke's been the best player for a while now, and I think he'll finally get it done this week.

Hanger: I like Luke a lot this week too, but it's no fun picking the same guy. I say Phil finally breaks his U.S. Open curse.

Hack: I'll take Phil, for the prep with Johnny Miller and the five second-place finishes. He's past due.

Ritter: I feel like the run of first-time major winners will continue. Matt Kuchar's peaking at the right time, and I think his game fits Olympic.

Rouse: I'm also going with Kuchar.

Godich: Using the horse racing comparison, I have to go with Tiger. The Derby and the Preakness are two weeks apart. Without fail, the horse that wins the Derby is in the best form and the favorite in the Preakness. Tiger won two weeks ago at Memorial. I don't see how you bet against him. Let's just hope he doesn't blow a tendon like I'll Have Another.

Morfit: I just wonder if Tiger can stay on top of his new swing for more than one week in a row. We'll soon find out.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Who's your pick to win the U.S. Open?

CHINA'S MAJOR WINNER
Reiterman: Many people believe China will play a big part in growing this great game. Well, did you see what happened at the LPGA Championship? Shanshan "Jenny" Feng, 22, became the first golfer from mainland China to win a major championship. Your thoughts on the tournament, and what this could mean not only for the LPGA but also for the game as a whole.

Bamberger: Trump once told me that golf will be HUGE in China because the Chinese love to gamble. Faldo once told me that golf will be huge in China because golf suits the Chinese temperament. In the next 50 years, golf in China will become the major force in the game.

Shipnuck: The LPGA has a major in France? Seriously? Expect that to last for a few contracts, and then the LPGA's fifth major is definitely headed east.

Hanger: Not sure how much impact this particular win will have, but the rise of Asia in general and China in particular seems inevitable in the world of golf.

Hack: Watched some of the coverage earlier, and Feng made a great birdie on 17 from a fairway bunker. Ripped her drive on 18 right down the middle. Love how she hits her irons. Really nice tempo. She's from Beijing and works with Gary Gilchrist in the States. This will be a huge win in the mainland and beyond.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Will Feng's win prove to be a game-changer in China?

 

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