Welcome to the 2010 United States Wide Open from Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif.
This could just very well be one of the more epic U.S. Opens of all-time, what with the venue and talent level that is on hand for the season's second major. With all the variables mixed in, it also could bring us a rogue winner as well.
It literally is that wide open.
The Pebble Beach Golf Links that the PGA Tour played during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am back in February was nothing like what the field will experience in first-round action Thursday. When the tour was in town five months ago, it was for the sixth event of the season and part of the West Coast swing. Doesn't that seem like eons ago? In addition to Pebble Beach, the AT&T uses Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Spyglass Hill Golf Club in its rotation over four days of competition. Wet weather is seemingly always a factor.
Not this week.
This week it is all Pebble Beach, all the time, under dramatically different atmospheric conditions.
In February, the idea at the AT&T was to go low. This week, it will be interesting to see how the USGA decides to protect par on a golf course that will seem both familiar and unknown.
I have always stated that in regards to Tiger Woods and major championship golf that he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, of any conversation. Now, I'm not even sure if he'll win an event this season, much less a major, such is the state of his game.
With that said, what Tiger did off the course has certainly brought so many more players into the mix, especially at this venue, where you don't have to be someone who bombs it eight miles in the air to take advantage of the golf course.
And in case you haven't noticed, the "Young Guns," a group of players under 30, seem better prepared and more fearless than ever before. It's funny that Tiger created this monster with younger players getting more reps, using better equipment, paying more attention to fitness and nutrition, and receiving better instruction. Now, he seems ill-prepared to deal with the onslaught of outstanding young talent that is coming at him at alarming speed.
Is talent or experience more important? How many times have you or I "played" Pebble in some simulated form? If Ryo Ishikawa can post the first 58 ever shot in a Tour event to win overseas and Rory McIlroy can shoot a final round 62 (on the same weekend, no less) to win at Quail Hollow, does it matter that Ryo is 18-years old and Rory is 21?
Right now, at this event/venue, would you take Tiger and Phil or Ryo and Rory? How important is it that the "Young Guns" in the field don't carry the same baggage that Tiger (accumulating since Thanksgiving '09) and Phil (five second-place finishes in the U.S. Open) carry? The variables are what makes this game so fascinating.
The USGA always does an outstanding job with the groupings for the first two days of the US Open and this year is no exception.
The World Cup Groups off the first tee at 9:22 a.m., 9:33 a.m. and 9:44 a.m. include; Toru Taniguchi (Japan), Soren Hansen (Denmark), Edoardo Molinari (Italy), followed by Francesco Molinari (Italy), Soren Kjeldsen (Denmark) and Hiroyuki Fujita (Japan), then Tim Clark (South Africa), KJ Choi (Korea) and Mike Weir (Canada)
Home away from Home group, 9:55 a.m. Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy and Robert Allenby from Australia
The Good Ole Southern Boys group, 10:06 a.m. Matt Kuchar, Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank
One-hit Wonders group, British Open version, 3:03 p.m. David Duval, Tom Lehman and Ben Curtis
Best Players yet to win a Major group, 3:14 p.m. Sergio Garcia, Steve Stricker and Paul Casey
Up Close Group, 3:36 p.m. Lee Westwood, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods
US Open Winners group, 9:44 a.m. off the 10th tee, Retief Goosen, Jim Furyk and Angel Cabrera
Major Champions All group, 10:06 a.m., 10th tee, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Y.E. Yang
Old and New group, 3:47 p.m. Ryo Ishikawa, Rory McIlroy and Tom Watson
You've got to like the kids. They're talented, they're fearless and they can flat out play. It's one thing to have a pretty swing on the range, but it is quite another to take it from the mats to the course. Players like Ishikawa and McIlroy could certainly enjoy a coming-out party at this U.S. Open.
I could also see Ian Poulter doing well at Pebble Beach, as well as Tim Clark. Both have won on the PGA Tour this season to add another notch to their staff bag and Pebble Beach as a venue, while no doubt being penal under the USGA's set up, will reward players who keep it in play.
Now, what one does with those opportunities will determine the championship, but when you have won recently on Tour against your peers, it can do nothing but help your confidence.
Could this be the Major that Steve Stricker captures? The key will be to get off to a good start and not have to play from too far behind. Day One is when we see some unfamiliar names atop the leader board, but if Stricker can get off to a solid start, the only thing that matters is where is he at the end.
Tiger won't be a factor and what he did at Pebble Beach 10 years ago in the Open, well, seems like a decade ago, because it was. If this was the AT&T, I'd say he'd have a realistic shot of being on the first page of the leader board Sunday, but not this championship.
I would have loved Lee Westwood if he hadn't won last week coming into this event. No one in the history of the game has ever won the event immediately prior to the US Open and then won the Open. I would love to see Westwood rewrite history.
Jim Furyk and Retief Goosen could very easily contend this week. Both have US Open championships to their credit and again, Pebble Beach isn't a place where you have to hit the ball 330 yards off the tee to make your play.
When push comes to shove I believe that Phil Mickelson will take home the 2010 United States Open at Pebble Beach. It is all there right in front of him at a venue that he enjoys. The key will be dealing with the issues outside the ropes so that he can focus on the task at hand inside the ropes.
After five runner-up finishes, Lefty finally will bag his Open.