The U.S. Open returns to storied Shinnecock Hills on Long Island starting Thursday with the betting interest heightened by the return of Tiger Woods coupled with Phil Mickelson chasing the one Grand Slam golf event that has eluded him.
But the real story is Shinnecock removing the black eye from 2004 when the windy, dry conditions made the golf course virtually unplayable. The 7th hole was the prime culprit. The green had become so unfair Ernie Els made a putt that actually wound up in the bunker.
The USGA was ripped, and rightly so, for letting the course conditions get out of hand. Now 14 years later this great test of golf at last has the opportunity to resurrect its image.
Mickelson finished second that year, two strokes behind Retief Goosen, who actually finished 4-under par in what fellow South African and legendary Hall of Famer Gary Player called “one of the greatest putting exhibitions he had ever seen.”
So clearly course conditions will be front and center – above what will be a stellar field. This is a second chance for Shinnecock, whose members had said would never host another US Open after the shame it caused in 2004. Time and commitment to excellence does have a way of healing wounds.
The golf gods would appear to be liking the return to Shinnecock. The four day forecast is excellent with temperatures in the low 70’s, mostly sunny skies and no wind concern although it may approach 12 mph on Sunday. Still, that’s nothing compared to how it was 14 years ago.
Mickelson obviously will be a sentimental favorite and Woods will drive up the betting by his mere presence, hopefully for the entire 72-hole event. To show you how tough Shinnecock Hills was in 2004, Goosen and Mickelson were the only players to break par 70. Els finished 7-over and actually wound up tied for seventh. Woods was 10-over and well within the top 20 at shared 17th.
There’s not likely any 61 happening at Shinnecock unless someone totally loses it on the front nine. We’re just kidding, these are the best players in the world. But 5-under par would be a very good score to post this week.
Off Shinnecock’s Open history, class will win out in the end. Goosen was a multiple Grand Slam winner. Corey Pavin (even par) beat Greg Norman by two in 1995 and Raymond Floyd (-1) also won by two shots over Chip Beck and Lanny Wadkins in 1986.
This is definitely an old school golf course – the US Open was at Shinnecock Hills way back in 1892 when it was match play competition. It’s very likely one of the elite players will come out the champion so take your pick. Longshots can wait for events like the John Deere Classic and Maui.
We’ll put at the top of the list Justin Rose, Jason Day, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson, who won at Memphis. Rory McIlroy is capable of heroics and Tiger has been right there until the back nine on Sunday. Jordan Spieth will certainly draw support, but his putting has really been awful by his standards for quite sometime.
Bryson DeShambeau, the winner two weeks ago at the Memorial, should factor in as will Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm. Henrik Stenson usually stands out on tough courses. It’s going to be a shootout with no real clear-cut choice.
Johnson and McIlroy were early co-favorites at Westgate at 12-1. Woods was 16-1, Mickelson fairly high at 30-1. DeShambeau was 40-1 as was Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey. You could take a stab at Matt Kuchar at 60-1 and really take a flier on Jim Furyk at 250-1.
The matchups were not out at press time, but a recommended way to approach Shinnecock.
Encore: A tip of the cap to Tom Barton, a friend of GamingToday and noted radio voice and handicapper nationally. Barton was recently mentioned by the Wall Street Journal and USA Today for being among the first to place bets back East when the Supremes gave their approval to sports wagering. Delaware was the first state up. New Jersey just joined with Monday’s bill signing.