Terrific U.S. Open curtain-raiser today by Barry Svrluga. This tournament is not Bob Hope Desert Classic, where someone might go 30 under par. This is the week when par is almost a birdie. Grind it out. Keep it straight. I remember the ‘97 Open at Congressional [see my Slate story here], the first cut of rough was essentially unplayable. Tiger was the superstar of the sport already, but his astonishing distance off the tee didn’t do him any good on a course in which hitting a few degrees left or right from perfect would result in a penalty. This year the two weeks of heat sent the grass into a torpor and they didn’t cut it as punitively as the last time, but still, the winning score is going to be something like 2 under par after 72 holes.
I like the chances of one of the young guns, like Dustin Johnson or Adam Scott. Luke Donald? Actually I know very little about these guys. Lee Westwood is an old guy who’s overdue; Mickelson would be a fan favorite but he’s struggled lately and isn’t gettingg any younger and if your putter is iffy you got no shot. Rory McIlroy is probably still too young, and the last time he had a big lead, in the Masters, he imploded like Gingrich’s campaign (that’s how we do similes here in DC, sorry!). I would look for a potential leader after the first round coming out of the Donald, Westwood, Kaymer trio that teed off at 8:06 on No. 10, or maybe Bubba Watson, Scott and Robert Karlsson in the 8:28 grouping. Or McIlroy, Johnson and Mickelson at 1:35.
I’m going to root for Steve Stricker. Let’s pick him as champ, right now. In a playoff over...hold on, looking for an exotic name...Alvaro Quiros.
It’s hard, as a fair-weather fan, to make sense of the sport without the organizing principle of Tiger Woods. Tiger’s quest for 19 majors (to break Nicklaus’s record of 18 [not counting 2 U.S. amateurs, which I did count in the Slate piece]) has defined the sport for a decade and a half.
I don’t see how he gets there, now. He’s still got the mental edge — that mysterious quality of high-pressure excellence that, for example, LeBron James may still lack — and he’ll surely get his game back at some point. But you have to remember how it is that he won his 14 majors: By being MUCH better than everyone else. He lapped the field. While he won 14, did anyone else win more than 4? At his peak, about a decade ago, in the moment of the Tiger Slam, he was winning tournaments by 15 strokes. He was that much longer off the tee and finer around the greens.
You win lots of majors by winning lots of tournaments in general and making lots of birdies and sinking crucial putts and basically being excellent tee to green for almost every round you play. The Tiger Woods who did all that is gone, for the moment. At this point, he can hardly walk. Maybe the incredible torque that let him drive the ball 350 yards at the age of 18 has beaten his knee beyond full repair. I assume he’ll eventually be back in the mix, but if he can’t dominate as before (which seems unlikely) he is also unlikely to win 5 major tournaments, which, as others have noted, would be a sensational career in isolation for any other golfer.
It’s also apparent that in the last couple of decades the sport has changed — there are more good players who in any given tournament can come out of nowhere to win. Who the heck is Charl Schwartzel? Did I spell that right? How do I pronounce his name? He’s your Masters champion.
Louis Oosthuizen: Major champion, another spelling nightmare.
Graeme McDowell! Help me here.
I miss Nick Price.