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2005 U.S. Open preview
2005 U.S. Open preview
Six years ago we witnessed a spectacular U.S. Open as the late Payne Stewart held off Phil Mickelson to win by one shot sinking a 15 foot par putt on the 72nd hole. Things haven't changed much at the historic No. 2 Pinehurst course, the host of this year's U.S. Open, but handicapping the field for future book odds and matchups will have a totally different outlook.
I firmly believe that the best players in the world will score better on Pinehurst No. 2, much more so that in 1999. Also, expect big hitters to prevail. Here's why.
The course has only been lengthened by 100 yards since 1999. Using two-time U.S. Open champ Ernie Els as an example, he averaged 278 yards in Driving Distance in '99 and this year he is averaging 296, although we have seen him hit many drives longer than that. The Big Easy hit 407 in Hawaii and 347 last week at the Memorial to name a few well struck drives. Eighteen yards average plus, is a huge advantage on any course. This equals approximately two clubs shorter with approach shots into all the par fives and par fours. This is compounded when you think of the turtleback/inverted saucer lightning fast greens of Pinehurst, to be able to attack or even hold these torturous greens will be easier.
In 1999, Els was hitting the Taylor Made Firesole Driver with the "bubble shaft." You can't give away these sticks for $99 on eBay. He was using the best ball of that era, the Titlelist Professional 90, which was limited at best to 305 yards. Today, he swings the latest in technology the Titlelist Titanium 905 driver with a $750 Fujikura shaft and the Pro V1 ball. Longer, straighter and better in windy conditions, should spell lower scores.
The par 70 layout will play to 7,214 yards. Payne Stewart was the only player in the field under par at one under 279. The cut back then was at 147, seven over par. I predict the winning score to be at 5 under 274 or lower and the cut line at three or four over par.
Now, add in the potential of soft conditions. Yes, the early forecast calls for plenty of rain and thunderstorms. Soft conditions will make the course play longer but holding the greens will be paramount this week.
The USGA has tightened the fairways from 26-30 yards wide in '99 to 24 to 28 paces this year. As always, hitting a tight fairway at a U.S. Open is a key factor. This is usually because of penal 3-4 inch thick rough.
Mother Nature has not been kind to Pinehurst. Cold weather has made the rough spotty in places and only 1-2 inches thick in some areas. Yes, I know what you are thinking. Tiger proofing? The USGA?
Surely, with a healthy thick U.S. Open style rough, Driving Accuracy is the main stat. I'm starting to believe the "Big 4" of Tiger, Ernie, Phil and Vijay have as good a chance as anyone, especially when they can bomb it off the tee and hit wedges into soft greens. I was hoping to fade Tiger this week, but given the conditions you cannot ignore him.
Short game from 30 yards and in will be at a premium. If you miss the correct section of a green or miss the green all together, the run-off and swales around the greens require a delicate pitch or lob. Els and Mickelson are the best at short pitch shots, Tiger a close third.
Key handicapping points and numbers:
No European has won the U.S. Open in 35 years! Tony Jacklin in 1970 ....much over due......I like Euros, Luke Donald, Darren Clarke, and Paddy Harrington, ...not Sergio.
Players that hit their approach/iron shots high are at a distinct advantage.
David Toms....expecting a baby during U.S. Open week ala '99 and the beeper show of Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson was close to winning last year, two behind Retief Goosen and runner-up in 1999.....spells good game for Pinehurst.....do not bet against him in matchups this week.
The Goose......two-time U.S. Open champ, shot 75-82 in 1999 and missed the cut...hoping that Pinehurst is hard and fast......No. 1 in scrambling in 2004.
Notables that missed the cut in 1999......Goose, Els, Appleby, Funk, Sluman, Couples, Riley, Chad Campbell.
Tiger Woods 3/1......no value here, look to play Tiger in matchups against anyone but Ernie and Phil.......he is hitting the driver so far it's scary, will he tune it down for the U.S. Open or blast away and fight the spotty rough?
Mike Weir 25/1.....Weir has missed three cuts in a row! His game normally sets up well for a U.S. Open, but will fade in matchups due to current form.
Vijay Singh 6/1.........he took a couple of weeks off and 10 days without hitting a ball while vacationing in Fiji.......his swing looked out of sync last week and it showed, he missed the cut at the Memorial where the fairways are wide enough you could land a 747 on most of them.
Jim Furyk 20/1......Furyk under normal U.S. Open conditions, is my pick to win.......but soft conditions, spotty rough and the big hitters have a better than average chance to win a U.S. Open........Furyk's game really starting to show good form T17 last week and five Top 10's in his L9 starts.
Go Against in Matchups....if you can find them.
Davis Love III
Charles Howell III
This U.S. Open is very special to me. I will be at Pinehurst as a Marshall Volunteer and my two sons will be Standard Bearers for the tournament. If I can bring any handicapping info to the site, as always, you will get my best.
RE: 2005 U.S. Open preview
I still think Woods is a fade here. I don't think anyone - even Tiger - who ranks 159th in driving accuracy can win the US Open. Even more so if the wind blows, so I'll be staying in touch with the forecast.
The latest from the greenkeeper is that he is happy that he is generally at 3 inches of rough, and has been cutting the rough back to get to that regulation 3 inches. That plus the narrower fairways is for me the key to this event. Recent weather in Carolina has been ideal growing conditions.