Today marks the beginning of the 107th installment of the U.S. Open, which is being played at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, right outside of Pittsburgh. This is one of the few instances where actual golf fans, including myself, probably forgot who won at Winged Foot last year (Geoff Ogilvy) because all anyone can really remember is Mickelson reverting back to his old ways and absolutely choking the title away with a double on the 72nd hole. Phil got over the hump in Augusta, but it seems like he is still is fighting his demons on all other "major" fronts. And now, it looks like "Lefty" may not be able to even finish this year due to his nagging wrist injury. So, I would be absolutely shocked if Mickelson were even able to contend this year. So, with that being said, who has the best shot of winning? Oakmont apparently is going to be one of the toughest courses ever to host an Open, as numerous players have come out and said that a double digit over-par winner is not unlikely. Therefore, you're going to be looking for a guy that keeps the ball in the short stuff and get out of trouble if needed. Also, the greens will always be firm in majors, so you're also going to be looking for a guy who can use the flat-blade and take advantage of some of those rare birdie opportunities. One way of determining how well a golfer will fare against this incredibly hard challenge, and factor in all of the above qualities I have mentioned, is to look at the "All-Around" statistic, which is a cumulative sum of a player's ranking in scoring, putting, eagles, birdies, sand saves, GIR (greens in regulation), driving distance, and driving accuracy (also known as FIR, or fairways in regulation). Here is a look at the top 20 in that category so far on the tour in 2007. Remember, just like in golf, the lower, the better:
Now, here's a further breakdown, with FIR, GIR, and putting considered:
|Tommy Armour III||70.35|
|Doug LaBelle II||68.56|
|Tommy Armour III||68.92|
Ok, so looking all of this over, you're going to want to look at the names that keep re-appearing. Two names of interest are Jerry Kelly and John Rollins, two names the casual golf observer may not know. Kelly never had any kind of success in majors, that is until this year, when he finished tied for 5th at the Masters. Kelly is a guy who is known for making a lot of putts, and he is able to keep the ball straight, although he is relatively short off the tee. He has two tour wins to his credit, both coming in 2002, so it has been awhile since Kelly has seen his name on top of the leaderboard. However, I do expect him to be in contention through the first two rounds, but ultimately, he will fall off the pace. If you look back over his history, you will note that he was in the final group on Sunday at the 2005 PGA Championship, which he ended up placing in a tie for 34th, so I'm not expecting a weekend charge by Kelly, but I do think he will be able to put up decent totals for Thursday and Friday.
John Rollins is an even more obscure name by standards. Rollins, a VCU grad (holla Richmond!) also has won twice on the tour, with his last coming at the 2006 B.C. Open. The thing about that particular tournament is that it takes place while the British Open is being played, so you really don't get the top names there for that tournament. However, Rollins has power, and more importantly, accuracy, and given that the last two winners, Ogilvy and Michael Campbell at Pinehurst in '05, were not well-known at the time of their wins, Rollins, who currently is 9th in the FedEx Cup points system, really has a shot to do some damage in this tournament.
Right now, after Tiger, there really is no definitive favorite. However, given that 2007 is the year of the villain, as I proclaimed back in February, I am going to go with my least favorite golfer, Vijay Singh, to hold up the trophy on Sunday. He's got all the qualifications, all of the skills, and most importantly, he's "due" for one. Vijay's placed in the top 10 seven times in the 12 Opens he's played in. He's #1 in the All-Around statistic, and has made every cut for a tournament he's played in, including 11 top 25s, four top 10s, and two victories coming at the season-opening Mercedez-Benz Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. As far as what kind of numbers he'll have to post, I think if the Masters were any indication (won by Zach Johnson at +1 by two strokes, the first winner to finish over par in 51 years), then expect the final score to be around two or three over par. Again, from what has been said, and the reputation of the USGA in terms of heightening the rough and making the greens that much more slippery, I would not expect any red numbers to appear on Sunday.
Have a good weekend, and don't forget about Dad on Sunday. Take care. Peace.