Our "expert" breaks down the field at Congressional
Patriotic Pick Of The Week
Steve Stricker. Once upon a time, the Strick Show opened the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional with a 66. He would only finish T-36, but he did pick up a runner-up at the D.C. track at the 2007 AT&T National. Stricker only has three career top fives in majors, but two have come at the U.S. Open. He also seems to have adjusted to his sparse schedule at age 43, as he's coming off a win at the Memorial after contending at the Players. In that win, he seemed to handle his emotions better than usual, other than the two late approaches he dumped in bunkers. The lack of waterworks at the trophy presentation seemed to indicate that the 43-year old is finally getting used to winning, even if it's not in the sport's biggest events.
Unpatriotic Pick Of The Week
Martin Kaymer. If a German can win the NBA Finals MVP award, why can't one win a U.S. Open? Of all the golfers to succeed Tiger Woods as No. 1 in the world, the 26-year old is the only one with a major championship trophy on his mantle. While he's never played Congressional before, keep in mind he'd never seen Whistling Straits either before he won the PGA Championship there last August. And by the way, nice headcover...Random tournament fact: Congressional CC has had seven former presidents as members, including William Howard Taft. Rumor has it that the big guy had a knack for breaking clubs... And golf carts.
Is It His Time?
Phil Mickelson. Never before have I wavered so much on one player. I was all set to guarantee Lefty would take home his first U.S. Open trophy, but then I saw this picture and was reminded of how erratic he's been the last year and a half. While he still added another Masters during that time and currently is fifth in the FedEx Cup standings, there are too many red flags (and red hazard lines) around his game to pick him to finally get over the hurdle after five runner-ups in our national championship.
He's No. 1 For A Reason
Luke Donald. Simply put, no one is playing better golf right now. It's gotten to the point where a recent T-7 at the Memorial seems like a disappointment. Since starting the 2011 PGA Tour season with a missed cut at the Northern Trust Open, Donald has lived in the top 10 since, including a win at the WGC Match Play. While closing the deal remains a bit of a question mark, he is as likely to be in contention on Sunday as anyone in the field.
Boring Patriotic Pick Of The Week
Matt Kuchar. Like with Luke Donald, it's tough to not pick Kuchar right now when the man never seems to have a bad week. He also never seems to win, but the more he puts himself in contention, the more it's bound to happen. No stranger to USGA-tournament pressure, the 1997 U.S. Amateur winner finished T-6 at Pebble Beach last year. We'd be surprised to see him come up short of that this year.
Fan Mail Break
"Hey, Alex, sorry I won't be in town this week. I know you were excited to see me play in person and I was looking forward to going out to Chili's with you a couple times. Good luck with your picks and we'll talk soon, Tiger Woods"Thanks for the note, Tiger, and let me know if you're looking for a caddie. OK, so the 14-time major champ didn't actually write me, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't. Please feel free to e-mail mewith comments, questions or just to make fun of my picks. And of course, you can follow me on Twitter.
Former Champ To Play
Jim Furyk. The Grinder notched a T-5 the last time the U.S. Open was played at Congressional in 1997. In his three most recent trips back, he's racked up two T-3s and a T-7 in the AT&T National. This season, including a first-ever cut at the Memorial, hasn't been quite as successful as his player-of-the-year campaign last season, but we have a feeling he's due.
Former Champ To Avoid
Ernie Els. The recent Hall of Fame inductee was the winner the last time a U.S. Open was held here. But winning another big one right now seems like a real longshot for the South African. In fact, with his putting, it's about as likely as seeing the Big Easy riding next to me in coach on my Amtrak train to D.C. Speaking of longshots, did I mention I bet on Ruler On Ice (24-1) at the Belmont?
Sleeper of the Week
Sergio Garcia. Yes, he's a big name, but honestly, who is giving him a chance? A week ago, people weren't sure he'd get into this event, but he showed up at his sectional qualifier and made it through. After taking a seven-month break from the PGA Tour, he has quietly played very well until last week's missed cut in Memphis when he made an 11 en route to an opening 78. Garcia is dreadful with the putter, but Congressional (where he won the 2005 Booz Allen Classic) is a ballstriker's course and Sergio, through everything, is still a ballstriker first and foremost.
Best Fat-Grip Putter
K.J. Choi. The Tank already claimed golf's so-called "fifth major" this year at TPC Sawgrass. Why not add an actual one to his resume? A former winner at this course (2007 AT&T National), this is a great chance for Choi to join Y.E. Yang as the only Asian to win a major championship. Plus, how do you pick against a guy named the Korean Juggernaut. Wait, that is what K.J. stands for, isn't it?
Don't be surprised to see this guy make a run
Hunter Mahan. Since missing the Masters, Mahan has been in the top 16 in each of his last four events. He's tied for fourth in ballstriking for the year on the PGA Tour and he has a great track record at Congressional with a runner-up, a T-8 and a T-12 in three appearances at the AT&T National.
And the winner is...
Jim Furyk. It's hard to think Furyk will end his career with just one major title and it's harder to think of a more golden opportunity for him to get it done. I've got Jimbo edging Stricker, Kuchar and Donald down the stretch to end a the streak of four straight international and first-time winners. Will it be a photo finish? One can only hope.