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06/10/2012

It’s long been said that the U.S. Open is the game’s toughest test, which other than last year’s dart-throwing, free birdie contest at Congressional has proven year after year to be the case.  This year’s event will be a strong reversal of last year’s aberration as the event travels across the country just outside of San Francisco where the dogleggy, gnarly, foggy, quasi-quirky and extremely challenging Olympic Club plays host to the event for the 5th time.

The Olympic Club is not long by today’s standards, as at “only” 7,170 yards it will be one of the shortest courses to host an Open in years; however, a grip-it-and-rip it, bomb and gouge pitch and putt birdie plethora it most certainly will not be, as reverse cambering doglegs, small and diabolically sloped and quick greens coupled with the U.S. Open’s typical ankle-deep rough and the field will be in for a mighty stern test.  It’s a definite fairways first, then greens type of course that will eat alive any player who tries to think otherwise.

Call me cynical, but I enjoy seeing the world’s best struggle from time-to-time.  Other than when Chris Berman is ruining the action on ESPN on Thursday and Friday, it’s probably my second or third favorite week to watch golf on tv all year (certainly behind Augusta and maybe tied with the British Open).  Seeing flubbed chips, frustrated looks, 35 actually be a good score for 9 holes and guys struggling to break 80 is kind of a relief for us non-world class players to see every now and again.  There’s no question that is going to be the case for this year’s national championship.

Now, on to some meat and potatoes picks.

Contenders:

Jim Furyk
Jim FurykAs I mentioned above, The Olympic Club is not about gripping and ripping or bomb and gouge, it’s about strategic placement off the tee and being able to work the ball both ways, which is exactly what Mr. 5-Hour Energy does so well.  I’ve picked him three times this year in this column to win tourneys and although he has yet to notch one in the victory column, he has come mighty close.  I see this being a very solid week for Jimbo and wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him earn his second U.S. Open title this week.

Steve Stricker
Steve StrickerI don’t believe that the word “deserves” a major is the right way of phrasing it, but let’s just say that more than anyone in the game (yep, even Lee Westwood), Stricker seems to be the man with the most long-tested talent without a trophy on golf’s biggest stage.  Many have always thought that Augusta would be the best fit for him to win with his stellar work with the flatstick, but count me into the category that believes that his wrist-less work with his wedges from all yardages is nearly un-copy-able and is a perfect fit for the gnarly lies that every competitor in the field is sure to face this week.  I so badly want the Wisconsin native to win his first major that I won’t pick him to win for fear of a cross-country jinx, but I truly believe that this course just seems like one where he should be in contention.

Matt Kuchar
Matt KucharThe man whose smile would make Stuart Smalley proud grinned his way to a t-14th finish at the ’98 U.S. Open at Olympic Club while his father Peter Kuchar danced and jumped all around Justin Leonard’s smarmy face (ok, that’s a different story for a different day).  What that means is that Kooch has some great memories from the West Coast, which coupled with his mega confidence from his PLAYERS victory this year and I-don’t-do-anything-flashy-just-fairways-and-greens game should match up well for a high finish this week.

Other contenders I like for this week: Sergio Garcia, Davis Love III, Justin Rose

Sleeper:

Fredrik Jacobson
Fredrik Jacobson The JunkmanAs I wrote about here nearly two months ago, I have a major gut feeling about The Junkman this week.  He is the scrappiest goose on Tour and seems to have the perfect game to fit any U.S. Open course.  He’s coming off a solid t-27th finish last week at the FedEx St Jude Classic, and is still listed at 125/1 to win this week as seen here.  It’s a bit of a long shot of course, but man that’s tremendous value.  Look for the Junkman and his painter cap to be criticized by the condescending Johnny Miller while in one of the last groups on Sunday.

Ultra Sleeper– San Fran hometown player Champions Tour stud Michael Allen.  In an interview this week he said that he pretty much started playing professional golf hoping to qualify for the ’87 Open at Olympic Club (he failed to qualify).  25 years later he now has his chance.

Bust:

Hunter Mahan
Hunter Mahan ShankCall me crazy to pick against a man who has already won twice on Tour this year, but I just don’t see Hunter and his fake-follow through, hosel rocket wedges and fluffy double-hit chipping paranoia faring well this week at Olympic.  Johnny once called Hunter the best driver of the ball in the game, but Johnny is also the biggest exaggerator in the game.  I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see MC next to HM on Friday evening.

Winner:

Jason Dufner
Jason DufnerYep, I’m picking the big dipping, Hogan-like Duf man to hoist his first major trophy this week.  Why?  Well, for starters, all that he has done is win twice and finish 2nd in his last four starts on Tour.  He also lead the Masters at the halfway mark and lost in a playoff to cross-eyes slowpoke Keegan Bradleyat last year’s PGA Championship.  Not too shabby for the ‘ol confidence bank.  Also, nothing against Lee Janzen, Scott Simpson, Billy Casper of Jack Fleck, but not exactly the 1-2-3 HOF list of winners that you’d expect from a top venue, and Duf seems to fit right into the group.  Fairways, greens, lots of chew and emotionless gutty bouncebacks from bogeys (required by any U.S. Open winner) are all what Duf does best.  Hey, even Duf might crack a smile reading that last sentence.  A major champion he shall become.

Live coverage begins on ESPN (please no Chris Berman this year) at 11am Central on Thursday and carries all the way until 9pm each night.  (Love me some live primetime golf coverage).

Enjoy the action everyone!

Joel Harrington