Who’s it going to be at Bethpage?
The 102nd U.S. Open – also known as “Can anybody out there beat Tiger?”
Last year, going into the Open at Southern Hills, Woods was coming off a Masters win, completing the so-called Tiger Slam.
The assumption was that Tiger would roll to the natural Grand Slam, according to a Vail Daily article, dated June 14, 2001.
Well, the Daily apologizes. We obviously misquoted our panel of golf pros, because, in retrospect, they all really said Retief Goosen, right?
No matter. Tiger won the Masters in April and is in the same position as last year. With the standard disclaimer – that vehicles are closer than they appear in your sideview mirror – here are their thoughts for 2002:
Sean Riley, head pro, Vail Golf Club
Who’s it going to be?: I’m going to take Phil Mickelson. Tiger is a great golfer, and every time he steps up to that tee at a major, the odds are in his favor. But he’s just not going to do it every time.
So Lefty gets his first major?: Phil does very well in U.S. Opens, especially in the past four or five. He always seems to finish in the top five or the top 10. He’s got a good, rhythmic swing. He’s very consistent, which is what you need in a major.
How ’bout the U.S. Open being at an affordable public course? I think it’s great. No. 1, there are a number of great public golf courses in the country that are phenomenal and could host the U.S. Open. It just so happens that Bethpage has a lot of notoriety and is well-recognized by the public. There’s more than one public course out there that could host a major, for sure. They’re being found, little by little, and people are getting braver and going for them.
Jeff Hansen, head pro, Red Sky Ranch
Enlighten us: I think Sergio Garcia is going to win.
Sergio… Sergio…: The reason he’s going to win is because he’s never won before and it’s his turn. He is the one guy who can challenge Tiger. Tiger’s the one I think who will win, but Sergio’s the guy that is going to overtake him.
Jeff Boyer, director of golf operations, Eagle Ranch
And your crystal ball says?: Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods. You can’t take the tournament away from him. He’s obviously the favorite. I like Ernie Els. As a player, he’s fun to watch. He’s got a great game, especially for the U.S. Open. He’s done so well in U.S. Opens. No matter what he’s doing prior to coming into the U.S. Open, he always plays pretty strong. I think he’s the best bet to contend with Tiger.
But do you want Tiger to win?: Tiger? Who can root for him anymore? He wins everything.
How much do you enjoy the U.S. Open?: I think that probably the neatest thing about the U.S. Open is that anybody has the opportunity to qualify. As long as they have the handicap, even an amateur can go and play in a qualifier anywhere in the country. That Tin-Cup dream, just like the movie, where they can qualify. You never know.
Chris Woolery, head pro, Cotton Ranch
Oh, Great Karnac?: “I’m going to go with Eldrick, Eldrick Woods. I don’t know what people are calling him, but I’m going with Eldrick Woods, something a little different.
Anyone close?: The runner-up is is going to be Vijay Singh. Vijay will only win if there’s an Act of God or Eldrick is unable to finish. Eldrick by10 strokes.
How ’bout the Slam: Eldrick will win a Slam probably the three next consecutive years. I’ve lost too much money betting against him.
How about Eldrick vs. Tiger?: Eldrick is much better than Tiger.
Mark Kizzire, head pro, Eagle-Vail
Lemme guess?: Since the players are saying it’s the hardest golf course they’ve every played, I think the best player in the world would have the best shot at it. For that reason, you’ve got to go with the best ball-striker, the best putter, the best-iron player, Tiger Woods.
Darkhorse?: Chris DiMarco.
Ken Bielski, head pro Copper Creek
Who’s it going to be?: I don’t need to tell you who.
Humor me.: Majors are what Tiger lives for. As of now, he has essentially only three more tournaments on his schedule – the U.S. Open, the British and the PGA. That’s all that matters and he’s going to win at Bethpage.