FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Against all odds and a lot of raindrops, the United States Open is finally going to crown a winner Monday. At least, we hope so.
Who’s going to survive the pressure-packed crucible that is the U.S. Open’s final 18? Here’s how I see the morning shaping up:
Ricky Barnes (-7): If experience was so important, nobody would ever win for the first time. The guy shot the Open record for the first 36 holes (132), and he’s playing the best golf of his life. But he started to crack a little during the third round’s back nine, and he was in a bit of trouble when the horn sounded Sunday night. Who is this guy? He won the U.S. Amateur in 2002, put in his time on the Nationwide Tour and earned his way to the PGA Tour this year, where he hasn’t cracked the top 45 in anything. The veteran golf-watcher in me says he’s going to be way out of his comfort zone — I’d actually like his chances better if he were one or two shots back. The winner will have to hit fairways and make everything inside eight feet. I don’t think that’s him.
Lucas Glover (-7): He, too, stumbled in round three, suffering a four-shot meltdown in three holes on the front nine. He’s won once on Tour, and he holed out a long bunker shot on the 72nd hole for the victory. Glover is a nice guy with a lot of talent and drive, but his record as a closer is weak, and he’d be the first to admit it. This is a great chance for him to finish off a tournament and snatch a major. I think he might.
David Duval (-2): He is now golf’s most amazing non-injury comeback story. You’ll never get inside Duval’s mind, which is good. Yes, he has ground to make up, but a guy who can hang tough for 54 holes can do it for another 18, especially when he’s got a British Open jug on his mantle. He would be a popular winner and a great story. How will Duval handle the final-round pressure of a major for the first time in eight years? I think he handles it pretty well, and maybe comes up one shot short.
Ross Fisher (-2): This Englishman has made a few waves this year. He was fourth in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson and got off to a good start in Augusta. He is quiet and underrated in America because we’re not familiar with him, but he keeps getting his name on the leaderboard. He could be the surprise winner.
Hunter Mahan (-2): He’s a good iron player, so he can attack pins on the Black Course’s soft greens. He’s also a pretty good putter. He can definitely contend over the final 18, but with just one win on his resume (Hartford in ’07), I don’t think he’s ready to swipe a major just yet.
Mike Weir (-2): After two solid rounds, he slipped back with 74 on Sunday. Getting out of the spotlight might not be a bad thing, though. He can regroup. He drives it well and putts well. Weir can definitely make a run. In fact, I expect him to.
Tiger Woods (E): He made a birdie in the dark to get back to even, but he’s only got 11 holes left in the fourth round. He needs to go really low on the back nine, but it’s not impossible, and Barnes and Glover could come back to the field. The greens are soft but too slow and bumpy for Woods’s taste, and he simply hasn’t made enough putts so far this week. If they start falling, don’t rule him out.
Sean O’Hair (-1): His wife is about to have a baby and O’Hair has played well frequently this year. He birdied the opening hole Sunday evening. He has the game to win an Open.
And the winner is… Phil Mickelson (-2): Maybe it’s crazy to pick a guy who began the last round six shots back, but you could feel the momentum shift — and hear it in the tremendous roar — when Lefty drained that 40-foot putt on the 18th hole of the third round. He is making enough birdies to shoot low; he just has to cut out some of the bogeys.
He’s the sentimental favorite. The New York fans have loved him ever since they adopted him here in ’02. Now that his wife, Amy, is battling cancer, he has even more support. I saw something different in Phil’s round Sunday — a steely look of determination instead of that usual grin. Only four players began the last round ahead of him, and Phil is easily the most experienced. He’s No. 2 in the world, and he’s due a U.S. Open victory after his tough luck at Pinehurst, Shinnecock, Bethpage and Winged Foot. It’ll be front-page news and a Cinderella story if he pulls it off. I say this is the time.