First Time's A Charm
July 30, 2007
Stewart Cink blew the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, missing a putt inside the leather that seemed meaningless until Retief Goosen three-putted the 72nd hole a few minutes later. But Cink has rebounded and has been involved in three Ryder Cups and a Presidents Cup since then. He also has won a WGC event and plays well on tough courses, with a T-3 at this year's Players and a T-6 at Carnoustie. You have to like the way he has absorbed the aftershocks of 2001.
Luke Donald was expected to make a lot of noise at the majors this year. That hasn't happened—his best finish is a T-10 at the Masters—but he remains a guy whose skill set and demeanor are ideal when scoring conditions are difficult. He stays out of trouble, which should serve him nicely at Southern Hills. Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia might possess more natural talent, but Donald does a better job of playing to his strengths—an often overlooked commodity at golf's biggest tournaments.
After breaking through with his first PGA Tour win at June's Travelers Championship, Hunter Mahan could have cruised through the rest of 2007. Instead, the 25-year-old has kept giving it the gas, claiming three more top-10s, including a T-6 at the British Open with his third straight closing-round 65. The former college player of the year at Oklahoma State also has some experience at Southern Hills, winning the 2003 Big 12 title there by 13 shots.
Tim Clark, the diminutive South African, has played big of late, with three straight top 10 finishes including back-to-back runner-up finishes at the John Deere Classic and U.S. Bank Championship. Despite battling a bulging disk in his neck, Clark's stroke average over his last 16 rounds is 68.8—and that includes four rounds at Oakmont. Add in his record in majors (he's had a top-three in all but the British Open) and Southern Hills could be his breakthrough moment.
Although Sergio Garcia led the British Open in driving distance and was 18th in driving accuracy, his post-round comments after the playoff loss to Padraig Harrington have everyone wondering if he can recover from Carnoustie. The current best player to have never won a major has too many tools (including his new belly putter) to go much longer without winning major hardware.
When Scott Verplank turned pro two decades ago, multiple major championships were thought to be in his future. It hasn't panned out that way, but he has had a solid career and the 43-year-old won his fifth career PGA Tour event earlier this year at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship. He was T-22 in the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, the type of course that should suit his workmanlike game.