The Open's agony and beauty

Brian Murphy

Credit Lee Westwood for his triumph at the St. Jude Classic on Sunday: As an Englishman, he now has one more win over American athletes than his home nation's soccer team does in the 2010 World Cup.


Had to get that gratuitous bicycle kick to the groin of that soccer-loving nation before we put on our Uncle Sam beards and psych up for this week's United States Open at Pebble Beach. That's right. I said it. Soccer. S-o-c-c-e-r.

(They hate that we don't call it "football.")

OK. Moving on.

And before we leave the St. Jude, I'd like to thank Robert Garrigus for giving us the best possible U.S. Open primer.

It may sound harsh, but considering this tournament was played in Memphis, one had to wonder if Jerry Lee Lewis was pounding the ivories on bluesy Beale Street with his new tune, "Whole Lotta Chokin' Goin' On" (R. Garrigus remix).

On the same topic, remember our National Open is famous for one thing: agony.

Think of the morass of missed putts at the 72nd hole at Southern Hills in '01. Think of Phil Mickelson's double-bogey on 17 on Sunday at Shinnecock in '04. Think of Jason Gore and Retief Goosen going 84 and 81, respectively, from the final twosome at Pinehurst in '05. Think of Phil – again – going off the merchandise tent on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot in '06. Think of 54-hole leader Aaron Baddeley shooting an 80 on Sunday at Oakmont in '07. And think of Phil – again – last year tying Lucas Glover for the lead on the back nine at Bethpage, only to miss a short putt for birdie on 14, 3-whip for bogey on 15, bogey 17 and finish two shots off the pace.

Like I said: agony.

So what better way to prepare than watching poor Bob Garrigus arrive at the 72nd hole with a three-shot lead for his first PGA Tour win, then pull out a Ouija board and summon the ghost of Jean Van de Velde.

To wit: Tee shot into water, drop, third yanked cruelly into a grove of trees, punch out for 4, to the green for 5, fight to make a "7" and make a playoff, only to see his tee shot on the playoff hole take a wicked kick from the fairway and park itself behind a tree.

Or, "stone dead," as CBS' David Feherty so poetically opined when he saw the lie.

To compound the problem, Garrigus was wearing khaki slacks that failed to hide a copious amount of gluteus maximus perspiration, if you know what I mean. The heat index in Tennessee was 106, so the sweat did flow. Every CBS camera shot from behind Garrigus showed a stain on his lower half that approximated the shape of the continent of Australia.

That's what you call a tough day.

Because this is U.S. Open week – I am currently wearing a blue blazer while typing this – and because I want this week's column to focus on Pebble Beach, I'll lump a lot of those details in there for my regular column features.

Like "Mulligan of the week"?It's a tie between giving Garrigus a mully on the 72nd hole tee shot and allowing him to go back to the locker room and put on dark slacks.

Or "Broadcast moment of the week"?That's easy. It was the middle of Garrigus' horrific triple bogey on 18, when Feherty – always good for a B.M.O.W. – said Garrigus must have felt like he was "aboard a psychotic horse galloping towards a burning barn." Further credit to Feherty – he cited the movie "The Birdcage" for the line.

Or "Scorecard of the Week"?I'd have been happy to give it to the winner of the LPGA State Farm Classic, only it didn't have a winner Sunday night after storms delayed the finish until Monday. Darn Midwest.

Which is the perfect transition, amigos. We turn our eyes west to Pebble, not just because it is perhaps the finest meeting of land and sea in the golf world, not just because it is an American treasure on a weekend when America's soccer team gave America a feel-good by holding its own on the world stage, and not just because it seems to always tap epic winners, especially guys named Jack and Tiger.

No, the primary reason we turn west with enthusiasm is: NO THUNDERSTORM DELAYS.

That's right. For those of you who don't know how blessed we are here in my native Golden State – I mean, except for the horrific budget mess and the plunging public schools and the outrageous real-estate prices – I am here to make my first bold prediction of the 2010 U.S. Open: NO THUNDERSTORM DELAYS.

Anybody remember Bethpage last year? I thought so.

California doesn't do thunderstorms in the summer. We do spectacular sunshine, that's what we do. And when we don't do that, we do romantic, soothing fog off the coast, the better to frame the beauty of the land.

It was a high-ranking USGA official who told me at Bethpage in '04, during another thunderstorm delay: "This is why we should simply rotate the National Open: Pebble Beach one year; Olympic Club the next year; Pebble Beach the next year; and so forth … "

He was only half-joking.

So, with your expensive Ray-Bans on and your sunscreen at the ready, let's enunciate our "Top Five Storylines Heading Into Pebble Beach, Already Knowing That This U.S. Open Will Totally Rule":

1: Tiger

I hesitated to make Tiger the No. 1 storyline, but then I remembered: He's Tiger. As in, No. 1 player in the world. As in, dude who won by 15 – Fifteen! – the last time a U.S. Open was played at Pebble. As in, guy who plowed his Escalade into a tree on Thanksgiving night and engineered the most epic fall from public grace in the post-O.J. sports landscape.

That Tiger.

Thing is, I don't like Tiger to win the U.S. Open. I don't like how erratic his driver has been. I don't like that he doesn't have a swing coach. I don't like that even his putter betrays him at key moments. I don't like his shaky confidence. I don't like how he seems to have lost all of his you'll-never-beat-me aura. I don't like that he's only played two 72-hole tournaments this year.

All that said … what's the first scorecard you'll check after 18 holes?

I will never, ever write off Tiger at a major. I am declaring this column on OTA (Official Tiger Alert).

2: Phil

If Phil Mickelson was ever primed to win a U.S. Open, now would be the time. He won the Masters. The Open is in California, his home state. Lefty has great history at Pebble, having won three AT&Ts (two more than Tiger). And speaking of Tiger, Phil's mortal rival's cup runneth over with Kryptonite.

Plus, Phil will turn 40 the day before the Open begins, and he's one of those guys who will have a monster blowout birthday party, maybe renting a hot-air balloon or a fleet of trampolines or have Cirque du Soleil set up camp in his rented home's backyard, so Lefty will be good and loose by Thursday morning.

His legacy of heartbreak at the Open is staggering. All I have to do is say a few key words – Payne Stewart, Shinnecock, Winged Foot, Bethpage – and you feel his pain. But Lefty's whole golf career, and late 30s resurgence in majors, has been all about shucking off the painful past.

If Tiger's scorecard is the first you check … Phil's is the second.

3: Young'uns

After a decade of false-start penalties on declaring the Next Big Thing to challenge Tiger, 2010 has brought the arrival of the first legitimate Next Big Things. They don't have the scar tissue of getting thrashed by Tiger. They have had, essentially, a Tiger-free landscape on which to romp in 2010. And they are delivering, big-time.

So, yes, the U.S. Open could signal a milestone week for Rory McIlroy (21), Ryo Ishikawa (18) or Jason Day (22). Or for slightly older young'uns like the 25-year-old trio of Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel.

The 25-and-under crowd will be a monster theme all week, and I'd bet one of those names above will be a factor on Sunday – likely Johnson, who has won twice at the AT&T.

I'd include Rickie (Orange!) Fowler, naturally, but in one of the tragedies of the Open's severe admissions test, Fowler failed to qualify. Think of the U.S. Open as that really stern teacher who you hated and hated – but when you got an "A" in her class, the grade made you more happy than any other, because she made you work for it.

4: Old'uns

If there's any major that rewards patience, it's our National Open. And if there's any group out there that won't rush their way around, it's the 40-and-over "Old'uns," the "Not-so-fast-you-Taylor-Swift-listenin'-kids-you" generation.

Or do we need to dust off the old joke about the old bull and the young bull at the top of the hill, gazing down on a field filled with cows? I won't, because this is a family column (for the most part), but when you're studying Pebble's U.S. Open, don't forget that Tom Watson (60) has played the golf course once or twice, maybe even won something there once or twice; Tom Lehman (51) won a major on the Champions Tour last month and has a ton of positive results at the U.S. Open; Fred Funk (54) is just straight enough and easygoing enough to hang; Rocco Mediate (47) had an eventful Open at Torrey Pines, if you don't recall; Davis Love (46) essentially considers Pebble Beach his Sea Island-in-California home away from home; and – am I forgetting anyone? – oh, yes! Vijay Singh (47) has himself a special exemption. He's won at Pebble. I ain't betting against him.

Just saying.

5: Furr-i-ners

Given that the World Cup will be a dominant background theme all week, and given that Retief Goosen and Ernie Els both come from the host nation, and have won four U.S. Opens between them, it might be wise to consider a non-American kissing the trophy on Sunday night by Stillwater Cove.

Not that we're against furr-i-ners winning our National Open. Angel Cabrera was a damn-likable winner at Oakmont. Michael Campbell was, too, at Pinehurst.

Wait. Michael Campbell? Has anybody seen Michael Campbell? Hello! Paging Mike Campbell!

At any rate, even though I opened the column by mocking England's 1-1 draw with the U.S. in soccer – that's right, I said it, "soccer" – we may be looking at a case of King George's Revenge on the Monterey Peninsula.

Westwood, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Paul Casey are all Englishmen, and all ranked in the world's top 10. Each of them has the stoic temperament – well, maybe not the flamboyant Poulter – to win the U.S. Open, grinding the field into dust with consistency.

Poulter probably has to be eliminated from contention because he might spend too much time ironing his pants to get some work done on the range. (Kidding. Love ya, I-Man!)

So there you have it. Your handy-dandy "Top Five Storylines Heading Into Pebble Beach, Already Knowing That This U.S. Open Will Totally Rule."

Because Pebble Beach rules. Totally.