Woods & Rough In New York

 Like a mobster who enjoys the act of suffering to and through the breaking point, the United States Golfing Association sets up a United States Open with an abundance of obstacles. This isn’t a PGA Tour event where the birdies flow under pristine conditions and the final score shoots back in the -13 range.


Nope, this is the Open. There are only two par 5’s on the entire course. About 400,000 bunkers line the way from the tee box to the green on every hole. Celery stalks dressed as “rough” swallow up wayward drives. A round of 74 is considered acceptable. On Monday morning, 3 days before the tournament starts, three players have already withdrawn from the event.


So, who’s ready to give it a go?


Tiger Woods, the best golfer in the world, will line up as the early favorite to take home yet another U.S. Open trophy. We will never forget the other-worldly performance he displayed at Torrey Pines last year in a playoff victory over Rocco Mediate. There’s really no way he can top this. Winning three U.S. Open titles, Woods looks to collect his 15th major title this week in New York which would put him within three majors of tying the all-time record of 18 majors held by Jack Nicklaus.


Tiger has won two tournaments this season – at Jack’s tournament in Ohio and Arnold’s in Florida. In both tournaments, Woods had to go low on Sunday to shave away deficits of four and five strokes to become the champion. Even after surgery and a lengthy staycation away from the Tour, players are still scared of his name on the leaderboard. It’s something that didn’t happen with Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus or Gary Player. The level of talent in that golden era of golf could easily dominate the current crop of pro golfers. Now, I’m not taking anything away from Tiger, but who acts as his toughest competition?


Phil Mickelson, shaky at best, is going through a family struggle that no one wants to face. Ernie Els has lost his putting stroke. Retief Goosen probably won’t forget his U.S. Open collapse at Pinehurst. Sergio Garcia hasn’t won a major. Steve Stricker can’t finish in a major. Vijay Singh is past his prime.


Who else is left?


Paul Casey, ranked third in the world, looks to finally finish in a big time tournament. A standout on the European Tour, Casey finally looks to shine when the lights are the brightest. Casey usually hangs around for the weekend. He hasn’t missed a cut since the ’06 PGA. Winning twice this year on the European Tour, Casey looks for his first major at one of the tougher settings in championship golf.


Henrik Stenson hopes the mojo he picked up from the final two majors last year continues on the tee box at the Open. Winner of The Players Championship last month, Stenson no longer can hide under golf’s radar. The man who wears the Boss clothing label has proven that he can take on all challengers in big events. Stenson won the World Match Play Championships in ’07 and always plays well in the big tournaments. Could he be a factor on Sunday?


We enter Bethpage week with the usual question: Would you like to pick Tiger Woods or the field?


Your guess is as good as mine.


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