Sunday, June 17, 2012

US Open 2012 Sunday Predictions

By Adam Maher

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There are 17 players within five shots of the lead to start Sunday at the US Open this morning in San Francisco. So theoretically, by the numbers, this one is completely up for grabs. But in looking closer at the names of those players who are within five strokes of the lead, the word theoretical might as well be replaced with absolutely.

The leader board's top five are without a doubt heavy names, all ranked within the World Golf Rankings Top 50 Players: Graeme McDowell at -1 (ranked 21st in the world), Jim Furyk at -1 (36th), Fredrik Jacobson at +1 (47th), Lee Westwood at +2 (3rd), and Ernie Els at +2 (43rd).

To no surprise, Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk are without a doubt the best drivers on the PGA Tour this season. They rank top two on tour in driving accuracy. Besides David Toms, Graeme and Jim are the only drivers on tour that hit the fairway over 70% of the time. Both players have matched their driving with stellar approaches all week. I won't be surprised if Graeme holes one from over 100 yards today. Look out for that.

Westwood, the highest-ranked golfer who finds himself in the last three pairs to tee off this afternoon, ranks #1 in GIR (greens in regulation) this season on tour (73.8%). Lee, who rocked a 67 yesterday, has swung his career into a Phil Mickelson type flow at the moment - not only was Lee the first player to become the World's #1 Ranked Player after Tiger's reign came to a crippling demise, he's made a career of finishing runner up at Major Championships. Having said that, I would not be surprised to see Lee, who was named PGA Player of the Year in 1998, 2000 and 2009, pull this one off today for his first Major Championship victory. His first Major would come five years later than Phil's. Phil was 34 in 2004 at Augusta - Lee is 39.

Furyk, on the other hand, has made his living by winning events. He's got 16 victories on tour since he joined in 1992, with one Major Championship coming in the form of the 2003 US Open. And even though he has been in what some might call a funk ever since he won Player of the Year in 2010, and he's got the funkiest swing in the game, his game has been restored recently, and with powerful consistency, which has made for great television. Jim is a fan favorite. He's always in the hunt and it is no surprise to see him in the last pairing today.

Though his career is certainly starting to settle down - that's to say, he might have three to five good years of competitive golf left in the tank - if he drinks enough 5 Hour Energy, he could very well win today and repeat next year. Jim is that good. Not to mention, he tamed the Tiger yesterday.

When I heard, "Ernie Els is at the point of his career where this very well could be his last dance at the US Open," on the broadcast yesterday, I thought to myself: damn, Ernie was the best player in the world when Tiger was still at Stanford. These broadcaster broz could be right. But then I realized that Ernie is only 42 years old. Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he won his last Major. To see Ernie nab this victory would be some historic ish. He'd lament his career as one of the all-time US Open greats. It would be his third win at the US Open. I'm down for that.

Jacobson is the least experienced, accomplished player in the top five by far. He's only got four career wins as a pro - three in the Euro league and one on Tour. The best he's ever finished at a Major Championship was fifth when Furyk won the US Open by three strokes in 2003. Having said that, I was watching Jacobson's round yesterday. He had this one up and down from the sand from the most awkward position I've seen all weekend. He's been lights out around the greens and is only two strokes off the lead. I think he'll manage a nice round today and perhaps lock up a spot in extra holes if this thing goes to OT.

Ernie Els, shortly after winning the 1997 US Open at Congressional, Tiger's sophomore year on tour.

After the top five, the most competitive players are all hovering closer to the bottom of that top 17 that I mentioned earlier. It was nice to review the leader board's top five players' accolades, but I believe today's winner will come out of the following group of golfers: Jason Dufner at +3 (ranked 9th in the world), Webb Simpson at +3 (14th), Matt Kuchar at +4 (6th), Martin Kaymer at +4 (12th), and Tiger Woods at +4 (4th) all have the capability to surge and strike Sunday afternoon.

Tiger had the worst Saturday round of the ten golfers thus far that I've named - he went +5. But I fully expect him to figure out his distance issues today and pull things together. I think yesterday was a good dose of medicine for Tiger. Here everyone was thinking he was going to run away with the Open, and he goes off and makes himself look as human as ever. Missing greens by over 40 feet, missing four footers for par, duffing tee shots; these things will not repeat today, believe me you. Can't wait to see which red polo he rocks today. By the way, has anyone seen the new Nike TW 13 commercials? They're quite possibly the hottest golf kicks ever. Maybe even the nicest shoes I've ever seen. Pricey, though.

Regardless of shirt or footwear, Tiger will need to make some putts and get his irons in order if he wants to be in contention and not look like a fool today. I think he'll do just fine, even though he'll most likely come up short in the end.

Jason Dufner, unlike Tiger Woods, did not duff any tee shots yesterday, though his surname might suggest otherwise to a casual fan. The Duf might be the coolest bro in contention today. Anyone who didn't catch it last week should read Alan Shipnuck's profile on Dufner. It's dope, boy. I especially enjoyed the bits that talked about how Dufner supervises his alma mater's (Auburn Tigers) practice rounds.

Here's an except:
The players call him Duf or Dufner, and his trust in their games is absolute; he often strolled down the fairway as shots whizzed directly over his head. “Dufner’s such a regular guy,” says senior Will McCurdy. “He always makes us feel comfortable.”
Maybe so, but the Tigers clearly are in awe of the ninth-ranked player in the world. McCurdy’s mom, Susan Hawkins, was snapping photos as she followed the practice round. “Will told me to take as many as possible with him and Dufner in the same frame,” Susan said. “He’s still a little starstruck.”
Throughout the round Dufner was an upbeat presence, often dispensing compliments. He drew guffaws with his understated commentary on errant shots.
“See ya.”
“Thanks for playing.”
Hilarious stuff from The Duf - but he's no slouch. The Dude has two wins on tour this year already, and a few runner ups as well. I'd love to see him pull this one off today. But it's not going to happen.

That leaves us with Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson and Martin Kaymer.

Simpson has never finished in the top 10 at any major. He's still young, and is playing his way towards breaking into that top 10 spot, but even though he nailed a 68 yesterday, he still has no chance to win today. I just don't see it. There are too many good players in the hunt and he is too inexperienced.

Kuchar was picked by ESPN's Dr. Andy North in another edition of his absolutely insane/not worth being on television cue card system/formula for figuring out the US Open winner, which he unveils every year at the Open, but pretty much never gets right. It's actually quite offensive to know that they pay Andy to do that every year, but I guess his pedigree earned him the right to act a fool on TV for the rest of his career - but at some point, you've got to come to reality, man! I'm one to talk.

Do you think Andy even realized how hilarious the pun he made at the 20 second mark was? "The Euros really messed us up this year," what a guy! I'm kidding - this is the most idiotic piece of television I've ever seen.

No offense to Kuchar, but anyone who knows anything about Andy North's "system" is that the only rule that actually applies is that whoever Andy picks won't win. It's that simple. So, sorry, Matty, you're out.

That leaves us with 27-year-old super stud, German wonder boy Martin Kaymer. Kaymer, who won the 2010 PGA Championship, was one of the many golfers to hold the World #1 Ranked Player title since Tiger was dethroned in 2009. He actually held it for eight weeks - much better than Rory.

Kaymer has drastically dropped his score on a consistant basis through the first three days of tournament play this week. The Thursday 74 really hurt him, but if this trend continues, he'll shoot a 66 today, maybe even a 65 - which would put him at Even or -1 for the championship, a score that I think will be enough to snag a spot in extra holes.

In the end, Kaymer will tee off with McDowell head to head in OT and Kaymer will come out victorious. It's a bold bet, and I hate to go against Tiger, but Graeme and Martin are the hot players heading into Sunday.

I already correctly predicted Bubba to win at Augusta. Let's make it two for two, Marty!!! Keep my Grand Slam dreams alive!