The U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach this week after a 10-year hiatus, and it is sure to be a week filled with thrilling golf and breathtaking scenery. As the week unfolds, my thoughts immediately turn to three Nike Golf athletes who have history at this event and at this location. Tiger Woods, Lucas Glover and David Duval are all world-class players who have gone through an interesting last year, all for three different reasons. Here I consider what their chances of winning at Pebble are considering what they have been through in the last year.
The focus is sure to be on Tiger this year as he returns to the venue where he trounced the field in 2000, winning by an unprecedented 15 shots. But things are very different for Tiger this year for several reasons: First of all, this is the first time since he turned professional that Tiger is not the favorite going into the U.S. Open. Secondly, Tiger has been struggling with his game, missing the cut at Quail Hollow and finishing 19th in his last start at the Memorial. He has also been recovering from a neck injury that caused him to withdraw from the Players Championship. Lastly, Tiger is also trying to overcome the off-course distractions that have plagued him for the last 8 months, most recently the parting with his teacher Hank Haney, and speculation on who (if anyone) will replace him.
But for all the reasons one might use to make a case for Tiger not playing well at the Open this year, here are several reasons why I think he will contend: First, the venue — nothing but good memories here at Pebble for Tiger, especially from the last time The Open was held here. Second, Tiger always seems to step up his game for the majors — case in point, this year’s Masters where Tiger scrapped out a 4th place finish while hitting the ball in a very un-Tiger-like fashion. Lastly, Tiger’s pre-tournament preparation this year — despite the current unknown of his coaching situation and his mediocre finish at the Memorial, Tiger seems to have handled the past several weeks as close to his normal routine as he has all year. Memorial, then a week off, then he was out at Pebble on Sunday morning playing practice rounds and getting mentally prepared for the week ahead. In my mind Tiger has a very good chance of challenging for the title on Sunday afternoon, precisely and simply because it’s the U.S. Open, and it’s at Pebble Beach.
Lucas Glover has basked in the limelight of his Open win since taking the trophy at a soggy Bethpage Black last year. The defending champion gained elite status on the PGA Tour with his first major win, but doubters might say it would be difficult, albeit impossible for him to win this year. First of all, it’s difficult to win back-to-back U.S. Opens — the last to do it was Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989. Secondly Lucas has had an up and down year since his Open win — he’s had 4 top 10 finishes in official events, and his highest finishes this year were a third place finish at the Players and a 9th place finish at The Farmers Insurance Open back in January. At the majors he missed the cut at the Open Championship at Turnberry, finished 5th at the PGA and T36 at The Masters. Lastly his putting has let him down — he currently ranks 104th in putting and needs to get his putter working if he is to contend at Pebble.
I think Lucas has a real chance of contending at the Open this year for three reasons: His game is suited to Pebble Beach — he hits it long and he’s not afraid to hit driver where he needs to (key on holes 9, 10 and 13 which have been lengthened this year), and his short game can get him out of any trouble he gets into. Secondly, his attitude after last year’s win — he basically is the same low-key person he was before his major win, and his down-to-earth demeanor could serve him well at Pebble as it did at Bethpage. Lastly, missed cuts – Lucas missed the cut at The Players the three years prior to his 3rd place finish this year, and he’s missed the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am the last three years also. A stretch? Maybe, but I look for Lucas to not only make the cut but also have a high finish at Pebble this week.
David Duval has had a difficult year since contending at last year’s Open at Bethpage, finishing in a tie for second place with Phil Mickelson and Ricky Barnes. The high of almost winning a major (and perhaps the low of not winning) resulted in a year of inconsistent play and a string of missed cuts. His highest finish since then was his T2 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. But I think these two second place finishes are precisely what I think will power David to a high finish at Pebble this week — his memories of what he accomplished in the Open at Bethpage last year and at Pebble earlier this year. Add to that a more grounded perspective gained from family life, and I look for a calm, steady performance that could very well put David in contention this weekend.
It’s sure to be an exciting four days at Pebble Beach this weekend, and we’ll have to see if Tiger, Lucas or David can make a run at the title. But if you ask me, I would not be surprised to see all three in the top 25, with at least two cracking the top 10. Who knows, maybe one of them will end up hoisting the trophy on Sunday afternoon.