Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director rules and competition, generally has been applauded for his U.S. Open setups, but have they served to negate some of the advantages the game's best players have and allowed lesser lights to win?
Steve Elling of CBSSports.com makes a compelling argument that that is the case, quoting Tiger Woods, who said, "He's given more guys the chance to win the golf tournament. It's more open now." In other words, "fair," the word so often used by players to describe Davis' setups, has in fact become an equalizer, Elling argues.
"Beginning in 2005, with the exception of Woods' victory at Torrey Pines two years ago, the toughest test in golf has been won by a series of less-heralded players, some with no pedigree whatsoever on the PGA Tour," Elling writes. "In fact, throw out the career victory total of Woods -- who, mind you, required 19 playoff holes to defeat journeyman Rocco Mediate -- and the five other winners combined had amassed three U.S. tour wins before winning the Open."
He cites winners Michael Campbell, Angel Cabrera and Graeme McDowell. "None was higher than No. 37 [in the World Ranking] heading into the tournament week, and among the winners of the past six Opens, only Woods was ranked in the top 16. Two were ranked outside the top 70.
"Hardly stiffs. Hardly stalwarts."
But hasn't that always been the case, great Open champions, Hall of Famers, interspersed with winners who were hardly stiffs, but hardly stalwarts?
From 1969 through 1998, these men have won Opens: Orville Moody, Lou Graham, Andy North (twice), Scott Simpson, Lee Janzen (twice), Corey Pavin and Steve Jones. That's nearly one in three won by a player who could have been described as hardly a stiff, but hardly a stalwart.
There are, too, those winners whose game seemed better suited for an Open than any of the other majors: Hale Irwin (three-time U.S. Open champion), Pavin, Tom Kite, Curtis Strange (two Opens) and Retief Goosen (two Opens). All were stars, but none won any other major.
It seems that the recent spate of Open champions to which Elling refers is less an anomaly than a continuation of a historical pattern.
-- John Strege