The U.S. Open may well be one of the most celebrated golf tournaments on American soil, unmatched in tradition and history by any other tournament. Arguably the greatest meeting of land and sea, Pebble Beach Golf Links’ list of past U.S. Open Champions boasts the greatest players of their respective decades—Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Tiger Woods.
The 2010 U.S. Open will be the fifth on the famed Pebble Beach—a course that will have played host to more U.S. Opens than any other venue over the past 38 years.
The history, mystique and beauty that is Pebble Beach will give the greatest players in the world a tough run at the title this weekend.
I’ve compiled my Top 5 Picks for the week. Here’s who I like, why I like them and what driver they’re using to tackle the famed Pebble Beach.
Driver: Victory Red, 9 degree with AD DI-8 by Graphite Design shaft
Despite Woods’ rough start to the 2010 season, there’s no way we’re counting Tiger out just yet. Woods’ record-setting 15-stroke victory at the 2000 U.S. Open held at Pebble Beach still resonates as arguably the greatest and most dominant performance in the history of golf.
Not only did Woods finish at 12 under at a tournament where no one else broke par, he did it with a triple bogey Saturday afternoon at the third hole, one of Pebble’s easiest par 4s. The next closest contender shot 15 strokes worse and finished at +3.
Tiger Woods of 2010 certainly is not the Tiger Woods of 2000, but we can’t discount the magic that happens when he steps foot onto Pebble Beach.
Driver: Callaway FT Tour with prototype UST x-flex shaft
Els was one contender who finished tied for second at the 2000 U.S. Open, 15 strokes in the shadow of Tiger Woods.
Els, who at one time was included in every discussion involving the world’s most elite players, had fallen out of fans’ minds after a two-year winless drought on the PGA Tour spanning 2008 and 2009.
Starting to see the Big Easy get his groove back, he enters Pebble having won twice already this year—once at the World Golf Championships-CA Championship at Doral in March and two weeks later at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Els has 60 professional wins to his credit (16 on the PGA Tour and 24 on the European Tour) including three major championships: the U.S. Open in 1994 at Oakmont, in1997 at Congressional and The Open Championship in 2002 at Muirfield.
Most recently coming off a T3 finish at the Valero Texas Open, Els is no stranger to contending in U.S. Opens.
Driver: FT9 Tour, 7.5 degree with Mitsubishi Fubuki shaft
Lefty will have a huge support system rooting for him not only because has he never won a U.S. Open title, but also because a good finish here could catapult him into the No. 1 ranked player spot in the world above Tiger Woods. Let’s also not forget that Mickelson is looking for his second Major victory of the year, a feat Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have all done in the last 50 years.
Mickelson has had success at Pebble before, just not during an Open. He is a three-time winner of the AT&T National Pro-Am and has been runner-up five times in the past 11 years at U.S. Opens.
Pebble’s small greens—the smallest of any Open venue on Tour—will force many players to miss greens. A stellar short game will be key to scoring well here and that’s where Phil has an advantage. If his impeccable short game is on, expect him to duel to the end to finally get an Open victory.
And while the game of golf doesn’t necessarily need Phil to win, it certainly would follow in the trend of past champions who are the greatest of their era.
Driver: Ping G-15, 11 degree with an Aldila VooDoo NV6 X-Flex
Westwood is a man on a Major Championship mission. He’s finished in the top-10 in eight of his last 11 events on the PGA Tour including second at The Masters and a T4 at The Players. His win last week at the St. Jude Classic proves his game is right where it needs to be and he’s got some feel-good momentum propelling him forward into the week.
Westwood’s recent U.S. Open finishes include placing 23rd at the 2009 U.S. Open and a third place finish in 2008, his best-ever finish in the event. His last go-round at Pebble in the 2000 U.S. Open? A tie for fifth place.
Aside from U.S. Opens, the previous three Majors have treated the Englishman well. He has three-straight top-three finishes at major championships, finishing tied for third in the 2009 Open Championship and PGA Championship to go with his second-place finish at this year's Masters.
If he is to prove himself at this year’s U.S. Open, he certainly needs to have his nerves in check; Westwood is paired with Woods and Els in the first two rounds.
Driver: Taylormade R9 10.5 degree with a Fujikura Motore 65 gram x-flex
Johnson is a bit of a wildcard because although he doesn’t have any notoriety in Major Championship finishes, he’s got several key components working for him this week.
First, he won the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am the past two years in a row, a feat only five others have done, including greats Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Sam Snead.
Johnson made his PGA Tour debut in October 2007 where he missed the cut at the Valero Texas Open. He has since won each year, becaming the first player since Tiger Woods to go straight from college and win in each of his first three years on the PGA Tour.
Johnson finished his last four events under par with a top-10 at the Byron Nelson and his worst a 34th place finish.
Though the course will be unrecognizable with its U.S. Open set-up, don’t count out a good week for Johnson. His last three rounds at Pebble, he shot 65-64-74.
There ya have it--@BirdieBailey's top picks for the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach