U.S. Open Preview Roundtable: How Tiger Will Play, Sleepers to Watch, Picks to Win
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The year’s third major is upon us, as the U.S. Open begins tomorrow at Pebble Beach. There is no shortage of storylines this week, from Tiger Woods’ return to the site of his greatest performance to Brooks Koepka’s chase for his third straight U.S. Open.
The SI golf crew previews the action to get you ready for Thursday’s first tee shot, including giving their picks to hoist the trophy come Sunday afternoon.
How will Tiger Woods play?
Michael Rosenberg: Very well. Pebble Beach is an iron-play course, and Woods is one of the best -- perhaps the best -- iron players in the world. Woods's history here is obviously strong. He has contended in three of the last four majors. I expect Tiger to be in the hunt on the weekend.
Daniel Rapaport: He’ll play as well as he putts. Tiger has struggled on poa annua greens recently, including in Mexico and at Riviera earlier this season. If the Memorial was any indication, the ball striking is right where it needs to be, and he should be rested after taking last week off. Because he’s not going to need to hit driver too often, he’s going to put himself in position to attack with his irons. He’ll have birdie looks; the question is whether he’ll convert them. It all comes down to the Scotty Cameron this week.
Matt Dollinger: I’m betting on Bethpage Black being a blip on the comeback radar for Tiger Woods. Fresh off the Masters win, Tiger came to the PGA less-than-fully prepared both mentally and physically. Pebble Beach and the U.S. Open will be a different story, and Tiger is primed to contend. If he can avoid a bad start (which he’s prone to in majors), he’ll be dangerous.
Mark McClusky: Tiger probably played the greatest tournament in golf history there at Pebble beach at the U.S. Open in 2000, and even in 2010, with his game in a shambles, he finished T-4. He’s the greatest iron player ever. It’s a perfect setup for him, and I’d be honestly shocked if he wasn’t in the top 10.
Joan Niesen: I think Tiger will do well this weekend, certainly better than he performed at Bethpage, but it's hard to predict a win considering the strength of the rest of the field. Yes, he'll make the cut, and the fact that hits a higher percentage of greens in regulation than anyone else on Tour will definitely work in his favor at Pebble Beach. But I don't see him truly contending on Sunday.
Stephanie Apstein: I don't expect a repeat of the PGA, where Woods missed the cut. He later acknowledged that he was somewhat the worse for wear that week, and he has had great success here, notably at the 2000 U.S. Open. Look for him to play well this week, especially tee-to-green.
Will the course become a story, as it has at so many recent U.S. Opens?
Michael Rosenberg: No. The USGA needs to pick naturally difficult courses that are meant to host U.S. Opens, grow out the rough, and let the tournament unfold. If the conditions are great and the scores are low, so be it. The USGA runs into problems when the course is not really a U.S. Open course (Erin Hills, Chambers Bay) or the USGA gets so worried about protecting the sanctity of par that it goofs up the greens (Shinnecock). Pebble Beach is perhaps the classic US Open course. Tour players play it every year. I think this will be a relatively stress-free week for the USGA folks.
Daniel Rapaport: It’ll be a story even if it’s not a story, if that makes sense. Because there’s been so much complaining about venues at recent U.S. Opens—too much, if you ask me—a lack of complaining would be a story: Hooray! The USGA finally didn’t screw up! The U.S. Open should be at Pebble Beach every year! That sort of thing. For what it’s worth, the course looks absolutely sublime, but you’d be amazed at the things Tour pros can find irksome. You just never know.
Matt Dollinger: It already is a story! Patrick Cantlay showed on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/p/ByX9iy0lL9a/) just how insane the rough is at Pebble Beach. The scenery might be picturesque, but off the fairway and around the greens it’s disastrous.
Mark McClusky: It can’t not be a story — or at least a meta-story at this point. That is to say, the fact that we’re talking about whether or not it will be a story means that it will be some sort of story. But I’m oddly optimistic that the conditions of the course won’t dominate discussion. Early reports are that we’re back to a more classic type US Open setup with narrow fairways and thick rough. Pebble is such a gem that if the USGA can keep the greens from dying, everything should be OK.
Joan Niesen: The record-high temperatures and lack of rain in the area will be a topic of conversation and lead to a dry course, but I don't think the course will be as big of a talking point—or issue—as last year, at least.
Stephanie Apstein: Yes, but not because the USGA has screwed it up. Players are spoiled by perfect greens; at Pebble Beach they will have to contend with poa. Expect to hear the word "bumpy" once or twice per press conference, especially out of the mouth of anyone who player poorly.
Give us one sleeper who you think will contend come Sunday afternoon.
Michael Rosenberg: Kevin Kisner. Not very long, keeps it in the fairway, putts well, has played well in majors. He'll have to have one of the best weeks of his life with his wedges, but it's not crazy to think he an win this week.
Daniel Rapaport: Brandt Snedeker. He’s won the AT&T twice. He finished T4 last week in Canada, including shooting 60 on Friday. He hits a ton of fairways. He’s an assassin on poa annua greens. Should I continue?
Matt Dollinger: Jim Furyk. He might be the most cerebral player in the field and, at 48, his game is still sharp enough to contend at majors. Remember, he finished solo second at the Players, the tournament with the strongest field of any. He’s won a U.S. Open before and finished T16 when the Open was at Pebble in 2010. His game has been as consistent as ever of late and I could see the all-world grinder sticking around on Sunday afternoon.
Mark McClusky : Is Tommy Fleetwood a sleepr anymore? He’s been a trendy pick in majors recently, and again, I think he’s got a great game for Pebble. If you’ve never played the course, it’s hard to overstate how tiny some of the greens are, and Fleetwood’s ball striking matches up perfectly.
Joan Niesen: I'm not sure if I'd call him a sleeper, but we're certainly not talking about Tony Finau enough going into this tournament. In Vegas, 15 players have better odds of winning than Finau, who's finished in the top 10 of four of the past six majors in which he's played.
Stephanie Apstein: Webb Simpson is second on Tour in scrambling percent at 67.92. That ability might come in handy at a U.S. Open!
Who will win the tournament?
Michael Rosenberg: Tommy Fleetwood. In his last US Open round, he shot a 63. He has major-championship swag about him. The course would seem to suit him. He's my pick.
Daniel Rapaport: Patrick Cantlay. His game is tailor-made for majors. That 64 on Sunday at the Memorial was one of the five best rounds of golf played on Tour. He grew up on poa greens. This is his time.
Matt Dollinger: I’m taking Tiger! Come at me. It’s tempting to take Koepka or one of the young guns in a loaded field, but I’m still drinking the Kool-Aid from Augusta (one of the few refreshments not served on the property). If Tiger’s putter is hot, the rest of his game is perfect for Pebble. A course that doesn’t demand long, straight drives is probably best for Woods at this point in his career. We know he can work the ball. We know he knows Pebble Beach. A second major would add to an already legendary comeback.
Mark McClusky: The heart says Phil, the head says Dustin Johnson.
Joan Niesen: Why fight the inevitable? I'm going with Brooks Koepka.
Stephanie Apstein: I'm still not picking against Koepka until he finishes worse than second at a major.