With the first groups teeing off at our national golf championship in 8 hours or so, let's examine some of the big storylines at the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
1. The big story is Phil Mickelson. A year ago, Phil pulled the choke job of this young century, yakking up a lead on the 72nd hole by banging his ball of a sponsor's tent, putting it in a garbage can...and generally making a mess of the tournament. It sent him in a tailspin for the rest of the year. Now this year Phil looked like he was back, he finally dropped his old dead weight coach and grabbed Tiger's old swing coach, won The Player's Championship, and looked like the favorite for the Open. That is, until he hurt his wrist during a practice round at Oakmont a few weeks ago. A golfer with a bum wrist is kind of like a pitcher with a bum shoulder or a sprinter with a pulled hammy. Depending on how bad it is, or if he tweaks it while hitting out of the notorious Open rough, Phil might not finish the first two days, much less contend for the title. We'll see.
2. The course is the other big storyline making headlines. Tiger predicts the winning score will be +4. Vijay says +10. The reality? Maybe somewhere in between. The winning score was +5 last year at Winged Foot. The U.S. Open is known for graduated rough that gets deeper the further you are from the fairway, narrow fairways and undulating greens. Oakmont features a par 70 layout, with a 288-yard par 3, and the only two par 5s measuring over 600 yards each.
3. Unfortunately, the traveling freak show known as John Daly won't be pegging up a ball at this year's Open, as he isn't in the field. Which gives him some more time to get beat up by his wife. Or scratch his own face to make it look like he got beat up. Or whatever it is that fun loving degenerate does.
So who are my favorites this week? I'll throw three guys out there to watch (forgetting about Tiger and the gimpy Phil).
Padraig Harrington is coming off a win at his nation's championship, the Irish Open, a few weeks back, and has performed well at the U.S. Open in the past (including last year). He'll try to break a major league drought by Euro players in the majors with a win.
Adam Scott is playing very well lately, and is trying to become the first of the sub-30 year old "young guns" to break through with a major. Now that Geoff Ogilvy just turned 30, nobody younger than 30 has won a major championship. If Scott's shaky putter can come through for him, he has the ball striking ability and length to tackle this course.
Finally, look for a local boy, Steve Stricker, to have a good week. The Madison native has traditionally played well in the Open and is playing his best golf in the last 10 years. Plus, the guy can putt, which is a very handy skill to have at this tournament.