Commentary

What's not to like about Tiger?

Originally Published: June 16, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- You are about to witness history.

For the first time since Jack Nicklaus wore polyester, since Jim Furyk needed a comb, since John Daly wandered into his first Hooters, I'm not going to pick Tiger Woods to win the U.S. Open. That's it. I can't be swayed. Now enjoy the column and drive home safely.

Nope, I'm absolutely, positively convinced Phil Mickelson will leave Bethpage Black with the U.S. Open trophy stuffed in the trunk of his courtesy car. He should have won it in 2006, but someone kidnapped his brain moments before he played the 72nd hole at Winged Foot. Lefty has the game, the No. 2 ranking, the driving distance, the fans. ... the everything to win his fourth major.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Ross Kinnaird/Getty ImagesTiger Woods and Phil Mickelson's caddy Jim "Bones" Mackay walked a few holes together on Tuesday morning at Bethpage Black. When Bethpage hosted the 2002 Open, Woods was the only player to finish under par.

Except that he's fresh from a T-59 at the St. Jude's Classic, where he looked and played like a guy whose wife was preparing to undergo treatment for breast cancer. After the initial Bethpage adrenaline rush (the New Yorkers love Phil), then what? I mean, he's human. So maybe it's a little too much to think Mickelson can pretend his family's life doesn't have a fried egg lie these days.

OK, no Phil. Then I'm going with Padraig Harrington, winner of two of the past three majors and three of the past seven. And remember, he finished T-8 at Bethpage in the 2002 Open. Harrington is money -- or at least he was until, well, he wasn't. He's missed the cut in three of his past four PGA Tour events and doesn't have a top-10 stateside finish in 2009.

So onay for Harrington. That's fine. I'll pick Ian Poulter then. He's good and he's due. Poulter played lights-out at the Ryder Cup, so he isn't allergic to pressure. He's not just another pretty pair of pants anymore.

Oh, I forgot: No European player has won a U.S. Open since 1970.

But if anybody can break that streak, it's the happy-go-lucky Sergio Garcia. OK, he's not so happy-go-lucky. He's more whiny-go-unlucky. But one of these days he's going to win a major, so why not here? In 2002, he finished fourth at Bethpage.

Oops. I was just reminded that Garcia has played in nine U.S. Opens and has never finished the tournament under par. And he just got dumped by Greg Norman's daughter. And that in Round 2 of the 2002 Open here, one of his shots was of the middle finger variety to the New York crowd. But New Yorkers are a forgiving people, right? I'm sure they've forgotten all about it.

Rocco Mediate! I'll take Rocco! The People's Choice. Torrey Pines was longer than Interstate 5 and yet Rocco took big, bad Tiger to a playoff in last year's Open. So why can't he do it again? After all, he has three top-10 finishes in his past six Opens.

No reason, except that Bethpage Black is longer than the Long Island Sound. Plus, Woods is playing on two legs instead of one this time. And nothing personal, but Rocco is scuffling this season. He's making lots of cuts, but not cashing any six-digit checks. His last two rounds of tour play: 81-78 at the Memorial.

Of course, there's always Furyk. He's finished T-5, T-9 and second in his past three tour events. He won the Open in 2003. He went T-2, T-2 at the Open in '06 and '07. So there.

Then again, he shot 73-80 while missing the cut here in 2002. And as a general rule of thumb, I don't like to pick guys who pose for golf magazine covers wearing clown outfits. But that's just me.

Henrik Stenson? He won the Players Championship!

But he missed his last two Open cuts and his last three cuts on the U.S. and European tours.

I've got a sure thing: Geoff Ogilvy. He beat Phil at Winged Foot in 2006 and T-9'd at Torrey last year. He's won twice this year. And Ogilvy doesn't buy any of that eye-of-the-Tiger stuff.

If only he hadn't been prone to blowup rounds lately. He went 67-74 in his last two rounds of the recent Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and then 63-75 in Rounds 3 and 4 at the Memorial.

Anthony Kim is fearless.

And winless in 2009.

Paul Casey is ranked No. 3 in the world.

And he's also from England. Did I mention that a Brit hasn't won an Open in 39 years?

Angel Cabrera won the '09 Masters and is the last person not named Tiger to win a U.S. Open.

And, sigh, he missed the Open cut in 2008. Cabrera is like the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade -- he shows up once a year.

Silly me. David Toms is playing great these days. Three top-10s in his last six tournaments. I'm sorry, what did you say? He T-45'd the last time he played here?

Then congratulations, Kenny Perry. You're my choice to win it all.

Except that you've gone into a little bit of a tailspin since yakking away the Masters in April. Never mind.

Wait, I just stumbled across a contender. He scorched Nicklaus' course to win the Memorial a few weeks ago. He won at Bay Hill in his 2009 stroke-play debut. In between, he's finished T-6 at the Masters, fourth at the Quail Hollow Championship and eighth at the Players. Best of all, he won Opens in 2000, 2002 and 2008.

His name: Gary Woodland.

Sorry, wrong U.S. Open contestant bio. It's Woods, as in Tiger.

"I like my chances in any major," Woods said Tuesday.

Especially this one.

You are about to witness history: me flip-flopping on my pick 939 words into a column, and Woods becoming the fifth player ever to win four U.S. Opens.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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