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Adam Gold

No favorites at a Tigerless US Open

Posted June 8
Updated June 9

Sergio Garcia takes a shot during the 74th annual Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, NC on August 18, 2013.

As Edith and Archie used to sing, "those were the days!"

The days to which I'm referring are those when Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods patrolled major championship venues. The days when it was easier to point to the obvious "man to beat" during those four weeks of the year when golf mattered the most.

We love known quantities in sports. We love dominance. We love knowing who, or which team, is going to be there at the end with a chance to claim the trophy. We love the Heat, the Yankees, the Patriots, Alabama, Duke, Roger Federer, Jimmie Johnson, etc. Of course, we also hate them, but there's a fine line between love and hate. In fact, love and hate are essentially identical emotions, each just different manifestations of high levels of passion.

Let's face it, we miss Tiger Woods. We need his dominance, or somebody's. Without it, we simply don't know whom to root for -- or against. It was so much easier back in the day. Even if you didn't like him, and there were plenty who didn't, even before the midnight ride down his driveway fleeing his long iron-wielding (now) ex-wife, you knew he was going to be there. Today? It's anyone's guess because there isn't a sure thing on tour other than the guy who used to have his own video game. So, do I get behind the current world number one, Adam Scott? Or, one of the former place-holders of Tiger's crown, Rory McIlroy? What about Matt Kuchar, the best and most consistent American player of the last few years, what about him? Is he worth my rooting interest?

Then there's Phil Mickelson, the most popular player among the paying customers on the PGA Tour, should I emotionally invest in his chances to finally pull off the elusive United States Open victory lap that has eluded him since coming to Pinehurst in 15 years ago?

Yes…no…maybe.

From his first professional major, the 1997 Masters in which he set the tournament scoring record, through the 2008 US Open, which he won on a broken leg and torn knee ligament, Tiger Woods' record in major championships was 14 wins and 20 losses. Or, a winning percentage of .412. At his best, between 1962 and 1975, Jack Nicklaus converted only 13 of 56, or a winning percentage of .232. In a sport where the best players -- historically speaking, not just in any given year -- essentially win about 10 percent of the time, less in major championships, Woods lapped the competition unlike anyone in the game's history.

Don't even pretend that we don't miss that. Even if you're predisposed to root against him, not having him as a foil leaves an empty feeling in all of us here in the Sandhills.

So, for whom should we cheer? Better stated, as a prognosticating people, who should we tab as the "man to beat"? For the record, Bovada.lv has McIlroy as the 8-to-1 favorite with Scott as the second choice at 11-to-1. In comparison, for more than a decade, even when Woods was playing with one leg tied behind his back, he was rarely worse than even money. Most conversations began with, "Tiger or the field"? And, in most cases, the smart money took Tiger.

Those days are over. The Isleworth Hydrant -- or maybe it was the back parking lot at the local Perkins -- put a stop to the pursuit of history and now, after multiple injuries, as well as the numerous psychological scars that time has inflicted, Woods' major championship putting looks a lot more like the guy in jorts holding up play at Adventure Landing than someone who won nearly half of the majors he entered for a dozen years.

So, again, I ask, who is the man to beat?

The first thing we need to do is eliminate the US Open history element of the equation. In fact, I'd argue strongly that the only person to which national championship past performance matters in this particular event is Mickelson, and that's only for the fact that he's been so close so many times before and wants it so very much.

The way this Open is going to play, with exactly zero rough off the fairways and around the greens, most resembles the style we'll see a month from now at Royal Liverpool in the Open Championship. The redesign of Donald Ross' legendary Number 2 course at Pinehurst is more like one you'd see in England and Scotland, or one of the sand belt tracks in Australia, such as Royal Melbourne, so I'd be more inclined to look towards those events for the players who are most likely to challenge this week.

So, for what it's worth, my (sure to fail) picks...

10) Hunter Mahan; still looking for his first major championship and to erase the memory we all have of his Ryder Cup meltdown against Graeme McDowell in Wales four years ago, he profiles as a player to watch. He's played reasonably well at the last two Open Championships and has a win and a runner up finish at the WGC-Match Play the last two years, over a course that produces some similar challenges around the greens that the players will face this week.

9) Ian Poulter; this may be the biggest reach on the list as Poulter, while having a very good record in the Open Championship, has not had the kind of year expected of someone who fancies himself a serious contender. But, the closer we get to the Ryder Cup, the better IJP tends to play and I contend that you won't have to be a long hitter to challenge for this trophy.

8) Graeme McDowell; the 2010 US Open champion at Pebble Beach could easily have added two more notches to his majors belt in 2012. He played in the final pairing in both the U.S. and British Opens that year and while he wasn't a factor at Muirfield last July, McDowell's strength is his play with his irons and Number 2 is a second shot golf course. He's also one of the best putters on tour and the winner here will have to save strokes on the greens to have any chance at all.

7) Jordan Spieth; we have absolutely nothing to draw upon as the second year star has played but four major championships as a professional. Yes, he could have easily won the Masters two months ago, but the moment appeared to be a little bigger than he was ready to deal with and his only experience in the Open Championship was last year's back-in-the-pack finish. Spieth likely contends only because he's one of the three or four best players on tour this year, though his inability to win thus far this season is bordering on confusing.

6) Dustin Johnson; in two of his last three trips to British Summer Time, Johnson's been right in the mix. Three years ago, he had every chance to win the Open only to fall off down the stretch as Darren Clarke was rolling back the clock. Johnson is going to win major championships in his career. Not one, but several. He's too good not to cash in at some point. He could have already won at Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits and Royal St. George's and for all his length off the tee, he is a greens-in-regulation machine.

5) Adam Scott; this is the best player in the world. He's also the most consistently good player, which don't always align. Scott has been in the top 15 at nine of the last 13 major championships and probably should have won the last two in the United Kingdom. He gift-wrapped Ernie Els' fourth major championship two summers ago and then, last year, gave away the lead with six holes to play with bogeys on four consecutive holes as Mickelson claimed his first non-American major. He drives it long and straight, which even to the untrained ear sounds like a great combination, and is among the best iron-players on tour. Throw in the fact that until they wrench his illegal putting stroke from him in two years, he's one of the best on tour in that category, and you have the makings of a serious contender. I just don't think he'll win.

4) Zach Johnson; sixth, ninth and 16th in his last three swings at the Auld Claret Jug says that the Iowa native has a great chance to win his second major this week. He'll be in play all week because he is a fairway hitting savant and he is simply brilliant around the greens. I've been saying for a long time that they can play this course as long as they want and it won't favor the longer hitters. This is a tough player's track and Zach is as tough as they come.

3) Matt Kuchar; it's going to happen soon for the most consistent American player. It has to. He crossed the line fifth at Augusta and probably went to sleep that Sunday night -- scratch that, I doubt he slept at all -- thinking that he should have been right there at the end rather than watching Bubba Watson stroll up the 72nd fairway under no pressure whatsoever. He's's long enough, straight enough, has a great demeanor and has a USGA championship pedigree, having won the United States Amateur championship 17 years ago. The 2013 Match Play champ will be right there Sunday evening.

2) Phil Mickelson; at the beginning of the year I was certain that Mickelson was going to win at Pinehurst. This is his kind of golf course, demanding imagination and creativity around the greens, and because he wouldn't likely need to bomb it off the tee, he could dial it back enough to be in play and still take advantage of his strengths. But, Mickelson hasn't contended in North America in almost a calendar year. In fact, the last time he woke up Sunday morning in America with a reasonable chance to win was at Merion last Father's Day. This is the first time in 11 years that he's showing up to the Open without at least one win to his credit. Still, I can't help but think that the only real question is how is he going to let this one get away.

1) Sergio Garcia; I thought I'd go a little off the board for the winner. Not as far off the board as Michael Campbell was nine years ago, but for the most part, the casual fan assumes that Garcia is an emotional disaster that will never be able to summon the fortitude to win a title as stout as the U.S. Open. And honestly, it's hard to disagree with that logic as he's been in position several times before and has not been able to see it through. Garcia has seven Top-10 finishes in the Open Championship, including having a putt to win it at Carnoustie in 2007, only to fall to Padraig Harrington in a playoff. But, more importantly than that, he has fond memories of Pinehurst, finishing in a third place tie in 2005, and he's become one of the premiere players on Tour today. Sergio, for all his negative reputation, is one of the best second shot artists in the game and he's solidified his short game to the point that it is one of the best in the sport. Now, if he can only overcome himself….

Of course, since not a single one of these players is the caliber of a Woods, or Jack, or Tom Watson, or even a Greg Norman, the only player to lose each of the four majors in a playoff, it shouldn't shock anyone if none of the above ends up with a chance to win come Sunday afternoon.

Such is life in our post-Eldrick world. Hurry back, Tiger. Golf was infinitely more fun when you were around to root for -- or against.

15 Comments

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  • vt94hokies Jun 10, 4:17 p.m.

    I was at the site today. Things have changed since the 09 Open. They have roped off just about everything vs 09. The 18th green gallery seats were the best. I did see Adam Scott, Phil, and a few others finish. The #1 tee is a decent spot too. I saw loads of people tee off. The 13th hole had hundreds of people. No way to see anything there. I actually saw more in the Putter Boy Pavilion tent. It is almost twice larger than two high school gyms. Loads of TV's, food, and beverages. It was a great day.

  • lewiskr45 Jun 10, 9:30 a.m.

    He's not even in the tournament and whats the first article about, a tigerless tournament.... View More

    — Posted by huxter72

    Same with the nba and lebron. They just know how to beat a dead horse.

  • Jim Pomeranz Jun 9, 11:49 a.m.

    The favorite: Donald Ross! Take four rounds of par 72 and sign the card! Two takes:
    http://ncgolfer.blogspot.com/ and http://raleighco.com/.

  • vt94hokies Jun 9, 11:49 a.m.

    Just looking forward to seeing the best in the World here again. I am pulling for Phil. I don't know if he can pull it off, but still wishing. I hope that D. Johnson, Simpson, Bubba, Z. Johnson, Rory, and a few others will have a great week.

  • Itsmyopinion67 Jun 9, 10:48 a.m.

    At least guys don't have to worry about their ladies with Tiger not in town.

  • huxter72 Jun 9, 10:35 a.m.

    He's not even in the tournament and whats the first article about, a tigerless tournament. Everything will revolve around his abscence, not the contenders or the other numerous storylines. Thats the media for you. Even if he were in it and didn't make the cut that would be the story.

  • useyourheadalready Jun 9, 10:12 a.m.

    Tiger brings in the casual golf fan. He is great for the game, no one is in between on Tiger you love him or hate him and that is what makes you watch. I for one will still go and watch. But I wish Tiger was here, when he is in the field the first thing you look for is his score.

  • packfan1752 Jun 9, 10:05 a.m.

    Tiger hasn't been a threat for a major in 6 years. His time has past. Stop beating a dead horse, Adam. There are much better golfers playing this weekend.

  • vile garbage Jun 9, 9:33 a.m.

    You can say whatever you want about being over Tiger Woods. But I assure you the ratings for this U.S. Open will be the lowest in over a decade. Sure golf was around before Tiger Woods, but Tiger made golf what it is today. Tiger brought golf back, and now you want to hate on the guy. Ask the players that are getting rich from playing golf who is responsible for the big checks they bring in. Haters.

  • Southern Girl Jun 9, 9:15 a.m.

    IMO, Tigerless is going to make for a much better US Open. At least other golfers will be spotlighted!

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Local
Final
UNC 82
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Final
MVSU 60
NCCU 94
 
Final
UNCW 66
ECU 54
Final
CAR 2
NYR 3
Final
CHA 104
UTA 86
Final
WVU 83
NCSU 69
 
1:00pm Today
CAR
CLE
7:00pm Tonight
NYR
CAR
 
Final
NYK 90
PHO 99
Final
NOP 88
POR 114
Final
CHA 104
UTA 86
Final
HOU 97
ATL 104
Final
DAL 99
SAN 93
Final
DEN 76
IND 73
Final
LAC 106
MIL 102
 
3:30pm Today
TOR
NYK
 
4:30pm Today
CLE
MEM
 
6:00pm Tonight
MIA
BOS
 
6:00pm Tonight
BRK
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6:00pm Tonight
SAC
LAL
 
6:00pm Tonight
ORL
PHI
 
6:00pm Tonight
WAS
PHO
 
7:00pm Tonight
MIN
IND
 
7:00pm Tonight
OKC
NOP
 
Final
LALAF 16
NEV 3
Final
UTEP 6
UTST 21
Final
COLST 10
UTAH 45
Final
AFA 38
WMICH 24
Final
BGU 33
SALABAMA 28
 
Final
GEOR 81
CHAR 78
Final
WKENT 67
LOU 76
Final
MICH 51
SMU 62
Final
CIN 47
VCU 68
Final
BSU 77
ABCHRIST 33
 
Final
PROV 85
UMASS 65
Final
AMER 46
MNTER 45
 
Final
UNC 82
OSU 74
Final
IUPUI 71
SALA 65
 
Final
VILL 82
SYR 77
Final
VT 64
CITA 61
Final
DUQ 79
MLOWELL 63
 
Final
FAIR 61
BEL 73
 
Final
YALE 60
GTDNS 64
 
Final
FD 76
DEL 74
 
Final
PSU 73
DREX 68
Final
UNCG 64
ELON 71
 
Final
ILL 62
MIZZ 59
Final
CAMP 90
MONT 64
 
Final
LONG 106
PSUBEAVER 74
 
Final
HOU 63
SCST 71
 
Final
FSU 75
SFLA 62
Final
BING 51
BONA 69
 
Final
RUTG 68
RFLSH 73
 
Final
MCNST 69
TOL 83
 
Final
JVU 84
TRUETT 55
 
Final
GT 65
VANDY 60
Final
INDST 56
EILL 60
 
Final
BUT 73
IND 82
Final
STEPH 94
ARTCH 57
 
Final
OREG 83
DELST 70
 
Final
Terriers 61
FATL 56
 
Final
TXARL 89
HPYN 50
 
Final
KU 96
LAF 69
Final
ARKST 67
MARS 58
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MEM 78
ORU 63
Final
KNST 53
UMBC 66
 
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NW 67
WMICH 61
Final
MIZST 65
EMICH 77
 
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STJOE 54
 
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KENT 83
UCLA 44
Final
COC 68
DAVID 80
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RIU 69
DET 55
Final
UCR 78
HOUB 67
 
Final
MURST 89
ILLST 77
 
Final
NWST 89
LALAF 85
 
Final
WAGN 66
MON 74
 
Final
MVSU 60
NCCU 94
 
Final
PITT 81
OU 77
Final
TENNM 77
PBY 60
 
Final
WYO 57
SOUTH 39
 
Final
AFA 75
UCD 81
Final
MSST 51
USCU 53
 
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JMU 71
HIGH 80
 
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TXST 90
HTILL 56
 
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DRAK 54
ISU 83
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SHU 73
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SCU 72
NE 78
 
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MSU 64
TXSOU 71
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SHSU 61
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BU 62
 
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UNCW 66
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MRGST 69
 
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MAR 58
STJOE 75
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KYST 71
TEXAM 64
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MAST 72
VALPO 75
 
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UMKC 104
INCWORD 110
 
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IDST 50
CALST 59
 
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NIOWA 56
IOWA 44
Final
SIUE 61
UWMIL 56
 
Final
TEX 78
LBSU 68
Final
TCU 88
TXSA 57
Final
ARK 84
SEMIZ 67
 
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NCOL 69
JVST 60
 
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ARST 81
LEH 84
 
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NMST 67
NMU 69
 
Final
WASH 69
OKLA 67
 
Final
GRCN 81
STED 55
 
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WEBER 73
WLVRN 61
 
Final
WVU 83
NCSU 69
 
Final
SDST 70
BST 57
 
Final
GONZ 63
CPSL 50
 
Final
PAC 71
FRES 68
 
Final
PORT 87
MNTST 60
 
Final
CSNO 68
TAMCC 75
 
Final
UTST 65
SDKST 68
 
Final
BYU 79
STAN 77
 
2nd
UNLV 28
UTAH 32
 
12:00pm Today
UVA
HARV
 
1:00pm Today
BGU
FERST
 
1:00pm Today
ARMY
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1:00pm Today
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1:30pm Today
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2:00pm Today
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2:00pm Today
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2:00pm Today
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2:00pm Today
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2:00pm Today
STLU
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2:00pm Today
UNCA
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2:05pm Today
EVAN
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2:30pm Today
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2:35pm Today
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3:00pm Today
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3:00pm Today
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3:00pm Today
MONT
SD
 
3:00pm Today
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TENST
 
3:00pm Today
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3:30pm Today
SCAR
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4:00pm Today
HAMP
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4:00pm Today
SDU
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4:00pm Today
BC
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4:30pm Today
NICST
TROY
 
4:30pm Today
BRAD
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6:00pm Tonight
UGA
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6:30pm Tonight
ALA
APP
 
7:00pm Tonight
KSU
NDST
 
7:00pm Tonight
WASU
SJST
 
9:00pm Tonight
UTEP
ALCOR
 
10:00pm Tonight
SEAT
SACST
 
Final
LOS 4
ARI 2
Final
CLB 3
CHI 2
Final
BUF 1
COL 5
Final
PIT 3
FLA 1
Final
CAR 2
NYR 3
Final
MON 4
OTT 1
Final
TOR 4
PHI 7
Final
NYI 3
TAM 1
Final
NJD 0
WAS 4
Final
MIN 5
NAS 6
Final
VAN 3
CAL 2
1st OT
SJS 2
STL 2
 
6:00pm Tonight
DET
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6:00pm Tonight
EDM
DAL
 
7:00pm Tonight
BOS
BUF
 
7:00pm Tonight
NYR
CAR
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHI
TOR
 
9:00pm Tonight
WIN
PHI
 
Final
WAS 27
PHI 24
Final
SFX 35
SDC 38
1:00pm Today
NOS
ATL
1:00pm Today
HOU
BAL
1:00pm Today
CAR
CLE
1:00pm Today
CHI
DET
1:00pm Today
TAM
GBP
1:00pm Today
PIT
KAN
1:00pm Today
MIA
MIN
1:00pm Today
NYJ
NEP
4:05pm Today
STL
NYG
4:25pm Today
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BUF
4:25pm Today
DAL
IND
8:30pm Tonight
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SEA