U.S. Open notebook

Dustin Johnson, winner of last two Pebble Beach National Pro-Ams, feels right at home at Pebble Beach

Dustin Johnson may have a leg up on the field, considering his recent success at Pebble Beach.
Dustin Johnson may have a leg up on the field, considering his recent success at Pebble Beach. (Ross Kinnaird/getty Images)
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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. -- For all the talk of past glory at Pebble Beach Golf Links -- the greats of the game, from Jack Nicklaus to Tom Watson to Tiger Woods -- no one in the 156-player field at the U.S. Open has had as much recent success here as Dustin Johnson. The 25-year-old South Carolinian has won the last two AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Ams, the regular PGA Tour stop at the coast that rides along the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean.

"Any time you play a golf course very well and you've got a lot of confidence on it, it helps," Johnson said. "I feel like I'm swinging well right now, and I really like this golf course, but it's going to play extremely different than it does in February."

The course Johnson arrives at is altered significantly from the track that hosts the regular event. The United States Golf Association, which stages the Open, has added 224 yards to the layout, lengthening, most notably, the par-4 10th and 13th holes by 49 and 46 yards, respectively. That would seem to favor a player like Johnson, who is second on tour in average driving distance at 303.6 yards. Woods, who played a practice round with Johnson on Monday, described Johnson as "stupid long."

"The way he played [Monday] was very similar to how he played in the AT&T," Woods said. "He took driver off of the holes that he normally would and [it] was a pretty aggressive game plan."

Johnson, though, believes he'll have to dial back his aggressive approach during the tournament because the course is much firmer than it is during the regular tour stop, which comes during February's wet season. Thus, those long drives could run through fairways into bunkers or -- worse -- over the cliffs and onto the beach alongside Monterey Bay.

"The ocean's in play more when the ball's bouncing," Johnson said. "Everything tends to slope towards it. In February, the ball, wherever it lands is where it's at. You don't hit driver as much [now], because the ball's running out, you don't need to."

European dry spell

Forty years have passed since a European last won the U.S. Open, a staggering statistic given all the great players the continent has produced since -- Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, José Maria Olazábal, Padraig Harrington among them.

"That's a coincidence, that's all it is," said Harrington, whose three major titles include two British Opens and a PGA Championship. "There's nothing more to it. The U.S. Open is no tougher a major to win. That's like, why are so many U.S. guys winning the [British] Open. It's just a coincidence. It's the way things have run. I don't read anything into it."

Harrington, from Ireland, and Englishman Lee Westwood, who won on tour in Memphis last weekend, are both among the favorites this week. Great Britain's Tony Jacklin was the last European Open champion, in 1970.

Els has eye on homeland

Two-time Open champion Ernie Els, who was co-runner-up to Woods here in 2000, has one eye back on his native South Africa, which is hosting the World Cup. He and his father watched the opening at New Jersey's Pine Valley Golf Club, where they were playing for fun.

"I must say my hair was standing on end for about 20 minutes, you know?" he said. "It's just an amazing spectacle down there, the biggest sporting event in the world, and we're hosting it."

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