If a Woods falls in the wilderness and no one cares, does it make a sound?
Tiger is not entered in this week’s U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club and we have no idea when or – dare we say it – if he will come back. And, we hate to admit we’ve become more resigned to Woods being absent than we are excited when he’s present. Fifteen years is a long time for unbroken stardom in professional golf. Not to mention 15 or so minutes of tortuous infamy.
That said, ever so gently, we turn our attention span to the Open, which will likely be the most wide-open Open we’ve seen since Scott Simpson was voted Least Likely To Win in 1987. If Charl Schwartzel can win The Masters, any one of 50 or 60 players can haul the Havemeyer Trophy home this time next week.
And that makes for a strange confluence of events leading to the first shot struck in anger on Thursday. Luke Donald is the world No. 1 and while no one disputes that ranking, no one really believes that Donald – or anyone else, for that matter – is deserving of being called the best player on the planet. Until someone starts winning major championships with regularity, that designation still belongs to a guy who is on crutches and in a walking boot.
So, who’s going to win, you ask? Who knows? That’s not a very informed answer but there you are. The truth is that no one knows who will win, not even – at the moment – the eventual winner himself.
Running down the list of suspects, while useful for your U.S. Open office pool strategy, accomplishes little in the way of predicting a reasonable result. So, let’s consult as close a thing to an expert as it gets in player picking and that would be the esteemed bookmaker Ladbrokes, the famous England betting shop. Don’t the bookies always seem to know something we don’t and isn’t that why we can never beat them?
First, Ladbrokes doesn’t believe there’s a clear favorite to win, either. If you want a punt on the Open, you’re going to have to take a flyer. The shortest odds on the board are 12-1 and they are laid on Donald and Phil Mickelson, at least one of them for no apparent reason.
Donald rates his odds as the highest-ranked player in the field. Mickelson, on the other hand, appears to be at the top of the board because he has won more major championships – four – than anyone else in the field, as hard as that is to believe.
Donald is major-less and Mickelson hasn’t won a U.S. Open, making neither of them particularly attractive as a betting proposition. Donald seems to be the more logical pick of the pair, as he is on good form as of late, winning the BMW European PGA Championship three weeks ago at Wentworth, which vaulted him to No. 1.
Mickelson is the enigma in the equation. Yes, he won the Shell Houston Open, but so what? He tied for 27th at The Masters, lost in the second round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play, tied for 55th at the WGC-Cadillac at Doral, and tied for 33rd at The Players. He can’t drive it in a 10-acre field, which is why he put a 2-iron in the bag for the Open. If he can’t find the fairways at Congressional, good luck hanging around for the weekend and another T40.
Lee Westwood, the world No. 2, is next at 14-1, based on nothing but his current ranking. He spit the bit in the playoff against Donald at the BMW PGA Championship and, like Donald, has no major championship on his résumé. He seems to be a better choice because he has some top-three finishes in majors, finishing second in The Masters and the Open Championship in 2010 and tied for third at the Open Championship and PGA Championship in 2009.
So, why isn’t he the favorite? Precisely due to his track record. He’s had plenty of chances and hasn’t done the deed. It makes one wonder if he has what it takes to clear that last hurdle and sprint to the finish line.
Rory McIlroy is 16-1 but he couldn’t keep his ball out of the backyard of the Jones Cabin at Augusta off the 10th tee in the final round. From there, it’s the “World of Potential Quintet” at 25-1, which includes Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan. But potential means you haven’t done anything yet, and of that group, only Kaymer has won a major and he hasn’t done anything worth mentioning lately.
More than likely, the winner will pick up his first major at the U.S. Open and it’s difficult to determine whether that’s good for the professional game. If it’s Donald or Westwood, it might be a sign that the next great player is just inches away.
But if it’s K.J. Choi or Nick Watney, it just emphasizes that we don’t have a dominant player anymore and it’s likely that we won’t for the foreseeable future. For everyone who was weary of Woods winning so darned often, you have to admit that you miss him, even if it’s just a little. Don’t you?