Any U.S. Open uproar begins with Tiger

Jun 10, 2003 7:41 AM

The 103rd U.S. Open plays at Olympia Fields outside of Chicago this week and the standard U.S.G.A. criteria will have to be met by whoever is the eventual winner:

In other words, hit it long, straight and make some very dicey putts.

However, none of this will be easy for the field with the 7,190-yard course playing par 70, and just two par-5 holes. Neither one is on the back 9, which is likely where the real "fun" (at least for a spectator) will happen.

Overall, the course will feature 88 bunkers, one lake, one creek, narrow fairways, wicked rough and greens that will start out playing like a pool table on Thursday and then get quicker as the tournament progresses.

All of which begs the question, who are the contenders?

Taking a look at the odds makers Top 5, the clear favorite in this, or any other golf event, is obviously Tiger Woods. However, Woods has cooled off from his return at the beginning of the year and recently displayed some very un-Tiger like play.

Since Tiger’s last victory in March, he has tied for 11th at The Players Championship with par scores for both his first and last round, tied for 15th at the Masters with three rounds over par, finished tied for 29th ”” nine shots off the lead ”” in a European Tour event three weeks ago, and then tied for fourth place at the Memorial after shooting a 76 on a Saturday round on a course he has won on three previous occasions.

Is Tiger playing well enough to only be getting 2-1 odds? As the saying goes: not exactly.

Ernie Els has also been quiet since his hot start in January, but recently finished fourth in the Volvo PGA Championship overseas and had a decent T-13 finish at the Memorial. The previous Two-Time U.S. Open Champion not only has the experience to win, but the length off the tee and the strength to muscle out of potential hazards.

Inexplicably, his best Open finish since winning Congressional in ’97 was a second place finish miles behind Woods at Pebble Beach. The consistent Top 10 finishes in Majors (Top 10 in both the Masters and British Open the past three years) probably has the 8 or 9-1 price neither a great value nor outrageous odds.

Davis Love III, two weeks back from learning his brother-in-law committed suicide after confessing to the FBI that he was misappropriating Love’s funds, may or may not have his head in the game. Love definitely has the skills to win as proven by his three Tour wins this year No. 2 all-around ranking. However, he hasn’t faired that well in past U.S. Opens with only three Top 10 finishes in 14 Opens played ”” and only one since his second place tie at Oakland Hills in ’96, along with two missed cuts (Pebble Beach in 2000 and Olympic in ’98).

Still, Love is currently ranked in the Top 5 in Total Distance (Length & Accuracy), is in the Top 30 for Greens In Regulation, and has been near flawless with his putting average. All that makes him a decent contender with reasonable 12 to14-1 odds.

Next on the list, depending on who is offering the odds, is either Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh. The edge may be with Singh since there are no women to contend with this week. The two-time major winner has had a great year to date, with 10 Top 25 finishes, including two wins.

One of Vijay’s greatest strengths is his distance off the tee (currently ranked eighth), but he tends to be all over the place with his tee shots (ranked 116th in fairway accuracy). If Singh keep his driver in the bag most of the weekend, bettors who have him at anywhere from 12 to 18-1 odds may be watching him intently Sunday.

So, with the idea of leaving the driver’s head cover on, we can now discuss "The Best Player Never To Win A Major" a.k.a. Phil Mickelson. While players such as Tiger have tended to use the more accurate 3-wood in place of the driver, Mickelson seems compelled to smack the heck out of the ball with the big club on every tee.

The results this year have been no wins, with his best finish a third place tie at the Masters. Mickelson ranks a woeful 180tin Fairways Hit. He has two runner-up finishes in U.S. Opens, which is impressive with his aggressive play on course conditions that can easily penalize that kind of style.

Lefty had his best chances at winning a major in 1999 and 2001 but came up short. In the ”˜99 Open, Woods, Mickelson and Stewart were all in contention down the stretch at Pinehurst until Stewart made his 25-foot putt. Two years later at the PGA Championship, a conservative David Toms just beat him out. Mickelson’s aggressiveness off the tee makes it appear less he will end the drought this week. The odds of 15 to 20-1 support that theory.

Other contenders? Mike Weir can still win the Grand Slam, but it doesn’t seem all that likely. Jim Furyk will break through in a major sooner than later. Justin Leonard has shown some recent signs of life and Rocco Mediate is becoming more and more a staple of the Top 10.

One thing is for certain, the winner will be the one who ends up hitting it longer and straighter than the rest of the field, while wielding a magic putter.