Tuesday, June 12, 2012
The U.S. Open experts' picks
Each week of the season, our experts will share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.
This week's tournament: the U.S. Open at Olympic Club.
Horse for the Course
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Steve Stricker
At the 1998 U.S. Open, the 45-year-old 12-time PGA Tour winner was paired in the final round with the eventual champion, Lee Janzen. Stricker, who would finish in a tie for fifth, calls Olympic one of his favorite courses.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Lee Westwood
Few have much experience at Olympic, but at least Westwood was top 10 here in 1998. And he always has seemed geared toward U.S. Open venues, given his strong driving ability.
Ian O'Connor, ESPNNewYork.com columnist: Matt Kuchar
He had a top-15 finish at Olympic in '98 as an amateur and was fourth after 36 holes. He's been strong in the last two U.S. Opens and has arrived as one of the world's best players.
Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com senior national columnist: Luke Donald
Johnny Miller knows this place better than the club pro, but he's not playing, is he? I could see this course fitting the game of, say, Luke Donald.
Farrell Evans: Jason Dufner
The 35-year-old Auburn grad has had two wins, a second and a tie for 68th in his last four starts. After nearly winning last year's PGA Championship and contending early this April at the Masters, he's proved he's comfortable in the limelight of the major.
Bob Harig: Dustin Johnson
You have to love the way Johnson has rebounded from the back injury that kept him out for three months. He briefly got into contention at the Memorial and won the FedEx St. Jude Classic on Sunday. It will be fascinating to watch him navigate some of the doglegs at the Olympic Club.
Ian O'Connor: Bubba Watson
I know, I know, U.S. Open tracks don't usually agree with mad bombers. But Tiger says you have to shape the ball at Olympic, and as Bubba proved on his playoff approach out of the trees at Augusta, he shapes it like only a precious few can.
Gene Wojciechowski: Tiger Woods
I like the way Tiger Woods' swing looks these days. If Memorial Tiger can carry over to U.S. Open Tiger, then he could do some damage here.
Farrell Evans: Jonathan Byrd
The five-time PGA Tour winner has had a T-9, T-12, T-10 and T-6 in his last four starts on the PGA Tour. He has the temperament and game to win the U.S. Open. His best finish in 16 major appearances was a tie for eighth at the Masters in 2003. In three U.S. Opens, his best was a tie for 15th at Olympia Fields in '03.
Bob Harig: Spencer Levin
The Northern California native probably has as many rounds as anybody at the Olympic Club and has some good karma going for him. He earned a spot in the field by moving to 60th in the world on Sunday -- despite missing the cut in Memphis.
Ian O'Connor: Kevin Na
Everyone wants to see how this impossibly slow player fares in the group directly ahead of the intimidating threesome that is Tiger, Phil and Bubba. But methodical works at the Open, and Na has the game to be in the hunt.
Gene Wojciechowski: Zach Johnson
I don't know if he's a total sleeper, but I'm going with Johnson on this one.
Farrell Evans: Tiger Woods
Unless the old Hank Haney swing creeps back into his head, the 14-time major champion shouldn't have any problem winning his fourth U.S. Open. He was going through a complete swing overhaul when he played here in 1998, but he still finished in a tie for 18th. Two of his three U.S. Open wins have come in his home state of California.
Bob Harig: Zach Johnson
He's played great for the last month, and with a victory at the Colonial, Johnson seems well suited for Olympic, where precision is much more of a factor than length. Johnson does not have a great U.S. Open record, but he fits the mold of an Olympic U.S. Open winner, someone beneath the superstars but a strong player who, in this case, would not be a surprise.
Ian O'Connor: Tiger Woods
Favorites usually don't win at Olympic, but Tiger isn't your average everyday favorite. He's hot, confident and, when healthy, still better than everyone else.
Gene Wojciechowski: Jason Dufner