U.S. Open roundtable: Tiger, Phil, Brooks and bold predictions
June 10, 2019
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
- June 10, 2019
- Brooks Koepka will hope to complete the first three-peat at the U.S. Open in more than 100 years. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Lots of storylines entering this week’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. PGATOUR.COM’s writers offer up their opinions on the biggest questions.
Brooks Koepka seeks the first three-peat at the U.S. Open in more than 100 years. Will chasing history impact his chance to succeed?
MIKE McALLISTER (Managing Editor): I’d like to say no, but maybe there’s a reason why only one player since the Great Depression has three consecutive wins at any major (Peter Thomson, Open Championship, 1954-56). But hey, if Brooks doesn’t get it done this week, he’ll have another three-peat bid next year at TPC Harding Park.
ANDREW TURSKY (Equipment Insider): I think chasing history actually improves Koepka's chances to win. Koepka seems to be motivated by opposition, like when the Bethpage crowds starting chanting for DJ late on Sunday at the 2019 PGA Championship, or Tiger Woods made his charge in the 2018 PGA Championship. In this case, Koepka's opposition is the historical unlikelihood of a three-peat, and he's Mr. Rise-to-the-Occasion.
SEAN MARTIN (Senior Editor): I don’t think so. I don’t think he’ll put too much thought into it. With four majors in the bag, the pressure really is off. Everything else is a bonus from here.
BEN EVERILL (Staff Writer): Nope. Not with this machine. Of course he might not win again this year but the historic part of things won’t bother him. It may actually help him. It’s all gravy from here for Koepka.
CAMERON MORFIT (Staff Writer): This stuff does get progressively harder, as Koepka has already shown us. For about an hour on that last day at Bethpage, he looked, dare I say, mortal.
HELEN ROSS (Writer): How hard is it to three-peat? Well, consider this: Tiger Woods successfully defended four majors in his prime but never won three straight. The fields are just too strong and there are 149 other players who want their own piece of history.
ROB BOLTON (Fantasy Insider): The next thing that impacts his confidence will be the first thing, so the right guy is in the driver’s seat. He’s not going to fold or implode. Pebble Beach will be a throwback to the U.S. Open tests up through, well, when it last hosted in 2010. As a result, the renewed setup of what Koepka faces in this tournament presents the biggest challenge.
Phil at Pebble
Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson again is chasing that elusive career Grand Slam. Is this his last legitimate shot?
McALLISTER: Actually, 2013 at Merion may have been his last legitimate shot when he finished T-2 to Justin Rose. He hasn’t been in contention in a U.S. Open since then, and I’m not sure even his comfortability and track record at Pebble Beach – five wins, including this year -- will be enough this week.
TURSKY: Although he's increased his speed off the tee this season hitting "bombs," the long and narrow U.S. Open setups at Winged Foot (2020) and Torrey Pines (2021) could be problematic for Mickelson, who's hitting less than 50 percent so far in 2019. If he can't get it done at Pebble Beach this year, on a course he's proven successful, the following couple years won't get any easier.
MARTIN: I agree with Mike. Merion was his opportunity. After he holed that wedge shot from the fairway, he seemed destined to win.
EVERILL: Phil himself says he has this year and next year to get it done. I think his chances at the U.S. Open are long done. He’s destined to be the guy who missed the Career Slam with six runner-ups. And hey, there’s no shame in that.
MORFIT: I don't give him much of a chance. There's just too much scar tissue, he wants it too much, and his driver is too unreliable.
ROSS: I would never say never where Phil is concerned. His comfort level at Pebble Beach certainly will be a plus, but a win on his 49th birthday to complete the Grand Slam would be a story of epic proportion.
BOLTON: Like all of his fans with stars in their eyes, I never count him out, but I’m not blind to the element of time, either. But this question is better asked if he doesn’t win this week. I might face a harsher reality, and so might he.
Speaking of Phil, how much of a player’s history at Pebble Beach in February spills over to Pebble Beach in June?
McALLISTER: Sure, the course and conditions will be different, but I do think it’s a factor. Dustin Johnson is a two-time AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am winner (and has six other top-10s in 12 career starts in that event). Plus, he was the best player at the 2010 U.S. Open through three rounds. Jordan Spieth has won the Pro-Am. I think both will be in contention this week. It won’t be the decisive factor, but you can’t ignore it.
TURSKY: The mind of a golfer can be quite sensitive. You can't underestimate the confidence that comes with playing well at a particular venue, even though a U.S. Open Pebble Beach and a Pro-Am Pebble Beach are different animals. On the flip side, a missed cut or poor performance in February, or in years prior, can also spill over into the psyche. Winning in February is better than missing the cut, certainly, but everyone starts at even par on Thursday.
MARTIN: It’s two different courses in February and June, but I do think being accustomed to putting on poa annua and Pebble’s severely tilted greens should help. Also, with the greens being so small, everyone will be missing them, which will turn this into a scrambling contest. The field has hit approximately half the greens in the past two U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach.
EVERILL: Very minimal. Different conditions completely and remember they use two other courses in February and play six hour-plus rounds. It can bring you into the week in a nice frame of mind so that’s a bonus. But everyone has a smile around the Monterey Peninsula.
MORFIT: I agree with what Phil said after winning the AT&T: There's just no comparison between that course and the one these guys are going to see at the U.S. Open. Other than the views, which presumably will be about the same.
ROSS: Yes, the USGA will set up the course more severely than when the PGA TOUR visits in February but it’s still iconic Pebble Beach, and I think there’s definitely something to be said for familiarity with the golf course.
BOLTON: All experience is valuable. From the basics of traveling to the site to knowing how to navigate the property to the familiar sightlines inside the ropes, those who have been here before should be calmer. For them, it’ll feel like just another tournament at first. For the 42 in the field who could plan ahead for angles into narrow fairways when they were here in February, they’re ahead of the curve.
Tiger then and now
Tiger won his first U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes. How close is current-day Tiger to 2000 Tiger?
McALLISTER: Uh, no one, much less 2019 Tiger, will ever get close to 2000 Tiger. I’ll go out on a limb and say if Tiger wins this week, it won’t be by 15 strokes. But I suspect Tiger wouldn’t care what the margin of victory would be if he claims major No. 16.
TURSKY: 2000 Tiger Woods was possibly the most dominant golfer, if not athlete, of all time. He was unbeatable, even with less than his “A” game. Now, Woods is ranked No. 5 in the world, and while it's been an impressive climb back, he needs his entire game to click in order to win. Let's not forget he just missed the cut at Bethpage, where he won the 2002 U.S. Open.
MARTIN: He’s not. And that’s OK. We’ll likely never see anyone get close to 2000 Tiger. He won three majors by a combined 23 shots.
EVERILL: Light years. But no one will ever touch 2000 Tiger ever again. And he doesn’t need to be. I like 2019 Tiger. More approachable. More smiles. And still good enough to win.
MORFIT: I spoke with Jesper Parnevik about this recently, as he played with Tiger the first 36 holes that week. Jesper said, only half-joking, that Tiger seemed to be willing the ball into the hole with his mind, such was the strength of his mental game. This is not that Tiger, but he often seems to find a way, doesn't he?
ROSS: Tiger in 2000 was on a once-in-a-lifetime run. That doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the Tiger in 2019 who defied the odds after four back surgeries and ended an 11-year major drought at the Masters.
BOLTON: That comparison is absurd, so I’m not taking the bait. However, I’ll reiterate how well Woods has evolved into the tee-to-green tactician that he’s needed to be to remain a force. Lo and behold, he can still move it off the tee. And no one is more imposing inside the ropes. So, on second thought ...
If it’s a first-time major winner this week, pick a name and state your argument.
McALLISTER: Patrick Cantlay. Obviously in form, having won at Muirfield Village. Top 10s in the first two majors this season. A California native who’s played Pebble Beach several times. Oh, and last time I checked, he’s top 10 in both FedExCup and world rankings.
TURSKY: Hideki Matsuyama. He's trending in the right direction coming off a 6th place finish at the Memorial, and he hasn't missed a cut all year. He's ranked third on the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and fourth in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green. At Pebble Beach, where the greens are small, hitting greens will be crucial. Should he miss the small greens, he's also ranked ninth in Strokes Gained: Around the Greens. He finished T2 at the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, and T16 at the most recent major at Bethpage.
MARTIN: My heart says Matsuyama. My head says Cantlay.
EVERILL: My heart says Marc Leishman but something tells me someone like Gary Woodland could contend. Would be great if it was Rickie Fowler also.
MORFIT: Kevin Na. How crazy would that be?
ROSS: Look no further than your FedExCup leader, Matt Kuchar, who has won twice and finished runner-up on two other occasions this year.
BOLTON: Just as there’s the thought that this is Mickelson’s last realistic chance to win the U.S. Open, Brandt Snedeker doesn’t get many good looks because his game doesn’t travel that well in the majors, but Pebble Beach presents the best opportunity to the get the monkey off his back. He’s playing really well upon arrival, he’s a two-time winner of the AT&T here, and of all majors, he’s played his best in the U.S. Open. A T8 at Pebble in 2010 is one of six top-11 finishes in the tournament.