2008 U.S Open picks

Mickelson has been playing Torrey Pines since he was a kid.
Fred Vuich/SI

SAN DIEGO — It’s almost always sunny and warm and oh-so-California-like two miles inland, but the skies are often hazy and slightly overcast here at Torrey Pines on the worn cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s the summer marine layer, which hangs over the coast and drifts back and forth — bright sunshine one minute, gray the next.

The skies may not be crystal clear, but the favorites are. The focus is on You Know Who and You Know Who Else. Anybody else who wants some attention is going to have to shoot a good number first.

So, without further ado, here are my Magnificent Seven picks for the week at Torrey Pines:

1. Phil Mickelson There are so many reason to pick Phil that it’s getting out of hand. He’s a San Diego native; he’s played the course since he was a kid; he lives here; he’s going to be the overwhelming crowd favorite; he’s won tournaments at Torrey Pines; and he knows the course better than anyone in the field. And, he’s won twice this year, including a few weeks ago at Colonial, so he’s on his game.

And here’s the most important fact. The USGA has left the fairways much wider than usual for an Open course — they’re 24 to 33 yards across, give or take a few, the same width as used for the PGA Tour’s Buick Invitational. The blue coats are being slightly more lenient because the course is 7,643 yards, so players need room to hit driver. Long courses don’t always favor long drivers, but this one will. Phil has as much distance as anyone, and with four runner-up finishes, he knows how to play Open golf. It will be a surprise if he doesn’t contend.

2. Tiger Woods If he was winning on a bad knee, there’s no reason to think he’s not going to continue winning on a repaired knee. He hasn’t played in a tournament since April, but he owns Torrey Pines. He won the Buick Invitational here six times. He’s from Southern California, too — the Los Angeles area — and has played Torrey Pines plenty of times. Need I mention that he’s the best player in the world by a ridiculously large margin? Some are writing him off because of the knee. Big mistake. No one wins the Open without beating Tiger.

3. Angel Cabrera The language barrier kept this husky Argentine from getting the credit he deserved for winning last year’s Open at Oakmont. He’s long, pretty good with his irons and aggressive. His style should work well at Torrey Pines, where power is a plus. He’s not a great putter, but he can lag it close to make pars, a crucial skill on Open courses. In fact, Torrey Pines is a better course for him than Oakmont was last year. He doesn’t get a lot of media attention, but don’t forget about him.

4. Sergio Garcia Anyone who can knock off the mighty Paul Goydos in a playoff, as Sergio did at the Players, is obviously Open-champion material. Sergio finally got some help with his putting, courtesy of Stan Utley, and he has reverted to the relaxed style he used as a junior golfer. It’s paying off. Garcia’s ballstriking tee to green can match anyone’s. He may finally be ready to go head-to-head against Tiger.

5. Geoff Ogilvy Another obvious choice since he won the ’06 Open when Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie imploded on the 72nd hole. He’s quite a talent, hits his drives the prerequisite mile, and his game seems to have come around this year. He won at Doral, was second in Houston, seventh at Colonial and ninth at Memorial. He’s too good of a player to finish his career with only one major title. This is a good fit for No. 2, although he missed the cut at this year’s Buick Invitational.

6. Anthony Kim You don’t expect a soon-to-be 23-year-old to win an Open. It’s supposed to require experience. But Kim, also a Los Angeles native, is something special. He broke through for his first win at the Wachovia Championship last month. He’s got the whole package — length, iron play, short game, putting and killer instinct. He tied for 20th last year in his first Open. Is he ready to win a major? I think he’s ready to win pretty much anything.

7. Stewart Cink He’s the hottest player who hasn’t won this year. He’s had six top-10 finishes including two seconds and two thirds. He keeps coming up short, but he’s getting into contention a lot. His Open record could be better — his only really close call was when he hurried a tap-in putt on the 72nd hole in 2001 at Southern Hills and missed. When Retief Goosen three-putted, that silly miss cost Cink a spot in an 18-hole playoff the next day with Goosen and Mark Brooks. He’s got an Open-style game — fairways and greens and solid putting.

8. Mathew Goggin (If the Big Ten can have 11 teams, my Magnificent Seven can have eight golfers.) Call him a sleeper pick if you must, but this Aussie is playing great golf right now. He led the Memorial after each of the first three rounds before slipping back slightly in the final, then went to Memphis and played his way into the Open. Maybe he’s running low on gas after that stretch, but I don’t think so. He’s a terrific ballstriker, although his most recent wins were on the Nationwide Tour in 1999. The Open is usually about fairways and greens, and that’s what Goggin does best.