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Jason Sobel's U.S. Open live blog

6/17/2009 - Golf

4 p.m. ET: So after three days of the pre-tournament live blog from the U.S. Open, we've learned the following things ...

• Bethpage Black is going to play really long.

• It's going to play even longer if it rains.

• Such a scenario should only help Tiger Woods.

• The New York fans will be supporting Phil Mickelson more than ever.

Whew. Glad we got all of that cleared up.

Can't wait to cover some actual golf. I'll be live from the Black at 8 a.m. ET on Thursday morning, just in time for the vaunted Tiger Woods/Angel Cabrera/Padraig Harrington threesome, which tees off six minutes later.

Pack a rain suit and join in the fun, as I'll be updating the action every few minutes from the course. Until then, hit 'em straight ...



3:15 p.m. ET:
About to wrap up the live blog in a little while, but let's get in the right frame of mind for tomorrow with a few early prop bets ...

From Jim in Parts Unknown:

Set the over/under for us: There are 51 players making their first appearance in this year's U.S. Open in a field of 156. How many will make the cut? Five?

Five?! I'll take the over all the way to the bank!

Let's set that over/under at a still-conservative 12. That should at least make you think a bit.

From Twitter:

sacsim@jasonsobel Any word from the 18th how some of the amateurs are scoring out there? Early predictions on high round for Thursday? u/o 88?

Hmmm ... 88? I think that could be a bit high. Let's call it an Ocho-Cinco for the worst score of the day.


And while we're at it, here's my suggestion: The Big Ben Bet. In the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge last week, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger shot an 11-over 81 from the tips in tournament conditions.

So, how many players will fail to at least tie Big Ben in each round? I'll set the Day 1 over/under at 7.5. And I think every player who shoots 82 or higher should be forced to wear a Roethlisberger jersey for the remainder of the tournament.


2:47 p.m. ET: So I had a spy all lined up for on-course reports during the first two rounds, but, well ... the plans fell through.

I'd never suggest sneaking a phone onto the course, but smoke signals and/or mental telepathy are both encouraged.

Speaking of those who are willing to lend their assistance, I'm actually quite enjoying some of the comments on the 1-156 rankings that were posted earlier:

cruckk (6/17/2009 at 2:51 PM) Poulter-1, Tiger -2, Padriq- 45. Can ESPN please hire a real golf writer!

Thomas Dawg (6/17/2009 at 2:23 PM) Jason Sobel, your the biggest hater in History. Get a life and the facts.

Don_Beaupre4Life (6/17/2009 at 1:47 PM) Is Jason trying to #### off Tiger? 2nd? Tiger is 2nd in nothing when it comes to golf!

hoovman96 (6/17/2009 at 1:33 PM) Couldn't have said it better myself. Tiger not being #1 = ZERO credibility to Sobel's list.

calvinhedges (6/17/2009 at 2:04 PM) Sobel is a complete ####.

That last one is my personal favorite. Always keep 'em guessing, right? Wonder what that word could have been ...

Seriously, though -- if we can take such a thing as trying to predict a golf tournament as serious -- I believe these are all the same commenters who took me to task after the Masters for my pre-tournament selections at that event.

Still think I'm a "hater" when it comes to picking Tiger Woods?

Fine. Then don't check out this column, in which I correctly picked him to win the Memorial (Nos. 11 and 17).

If you disagree with my picks for this week's U.S. Open, I'm OK with that. Heck, I went back and forth on 'em about 20 different times, too, before finalizing the list right before my deadline.

But to try to call me out for never choosing TW to win is just plain wrong. And you might wind up sounding like a complete #### -- whatever that is.


2:30 p.m. ET: I had heard rumblings that Soren Kjeldsen was in bad shape coming into this week, and those rumblings have just been confirmed, as he has officially withdrawn from the tournament because of an ear infection.

Replacing him in the field is Steven Conway of Murrieta, Calif. Conway shot 71-69 at the Roslyn, Wash., sectional to originally achieve alternate status.


1:55 p.m. ET: Let's do a little rapid-fire Q&A from the inbox before I check out the grub in the media center dining area …

From Scott in Denver:

How does the rough look? Do you see a lot of wedge shots back to the fairway versus gouging it to the greens?

It's thick, but hardly impossible. In fact, one of Mike Davis' main goals was to avoid the gnarly rough that grew to the left and right of the fairways seven years ago. It's not nearly as penalizing this time around, though if the rains come -- sorry, when the rains come -- it may grow thicker and more unmanageable. That could be a problem if they can't mow it when it's wet.

From Tommy in Boston:

Where do you think it would rank among the all-time best feel-good golf moments if Lefty won this U.S. Open on Father's Day at Bethpage, where he is universally admired?

As I wrote in my Weekly 18 column the other day, I think it would be among the most dramatic, inspirational, emotional stories we've ever seen at the Open. I know a lot of readers criticized my take on this, but it would be up there with Francis Ouimet in 1913, Ben Hogan in 1950 and Tiger Woods last year. Just think about a triumphant Phil Mickelson walking up the 18th fairway with a two-stroke lead, the crowd in a frenzy knowing what they do about the current situation of his wife, Amy. There wouldn't be a dry eye in the house.

From Jeff in Seattle:

I think Bandon Dunes would be a great course to host a U.S. Open. That said, I don't think it will ever happen because of the limited accommodations in the area. Where would everyone stay?

Well, that's one of the main reasons the venue hasn't been seriously considered as a host yet. Is that something that can be fixed by an expansion in accomodations? I don't have the answer to that, but if the USGA wants an Open there and the venue wants an Open there, I wouldn't be surprised if -- somehow -- they are able to make it happen one day.

From Christian in High Point, N.C.:

Speaking of future tournaments, what do you think of the decision to play the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open in 2014 back-to-back at Pinehurst No. 2? I understand, for financial reasons, it may seem palatable, but I don't think there're many golf fans in North Carolina who can afford to miss two weeks of work in a row (I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to pull it off). Are the women being sacrificed in the name of the almighty dollar?

Wow, you're already trying to figure out how you will get an extra week off in 2014? That's called planning ahead. As for the decision, I think it's a good move. It'll create more of a buzz for the women's Open and it's definitely a money-saver, as the USGA will be able to keep its infrastructure in place. They couldn't do this every year -- for a few reasons -- but as a one-time deal, why not? It's worth a try.


1:21 p.m. ET: I'm currently standing just off the back of the 18th green, and the only word I can think of to explain it is …

Wow.

I know it's not the toughest finishing hole we'll ever see at an Open, but it's hardly an easy one either. The approach shot is similar to that on the final hole at Southern Hills -- almost straight uphill. And there are a few ultra-tough potential pin placements, too. Front left and front right bring those greenside bunkers into play, while back right means the large slope is a factor.

Helping the players is the fact that this green is reportedly retaining more than any other right now, as all of the water collected above the putting surface drains down onto the green.

If there is a full inch of rain tomorrow -- which is very possible -- this could be the first green USGA officials deem unplayable.

Stay tuned …


12:21 p.m. ET: E-mail from Brian in Westborough, Mass.:

You may want to reconsider your Poulter pick. Now, I know he says it will be just him and Tiger, but …

• They have played in the same PGA Tour stroke-play event 56 times in their careers.

• Tiger has beaten Ian in 53 of those.

• Poulter finished T-12 in the 2006 U.S. Open when Woods MC'd after he returned following the passing of this father.

• Poulter finished 1 shot ahead of Woods in the 2007 Players.

• Poulter finished second, 3 shots ahead of Woods in this year's Players.

So of those three times, Woods admitted that the '06 U.S. Open was the only event he ever played where he wasn't ready to win. The other two happened at TPC Sawgrass, where despite winning in 2001, Woods really doesn't like the course. I believe this year's U.S. Open is not at Sawgrass, and Woods is ready to win. Poulter has never beaten him in a major. Do you honestly believe Poulter will not only beat Woods, but actually win? Seriously, if you got a bonus for predicting the winner, would you pick Poulter?

All valid points. Of course, if you wanted to break down a field and use all sorts of historical analysis and data to determine a champion, the numbers would point to Tiger Woods every single time. Does that mean he's going to win all of 'em? Does that mean we should all pick him to win every time? No and no.

I picked Poulter because -- believe it or not -- I really do think he can win this week. As I wrote, it just seems like one of those years when really-good-but-not-great players capture all or most of the big ones. On the heels of Angel Cabrera at the Masters and Henrik Stenson at the Players, Poulter definitely fits that mold.

Again, if you want to see a list of the world's best players, in order, check out the OWGR. Do I think Woods can win this week? Absolutely. That's why I ranked him No. 2 and not 156th. But I see Poulter winning a big one soon, and based on his strong recent performances, I think this could be the week.


12:14 p.m. ET: This news just in from the USGA:

Oakmont Country Club has been selected by the United States Golf Association as the site of the 2016 U.S. Open Championship, marking a record ninth time the venerable layout will host the national championship. The dates of the championship are June 13-19.

This has been rumored for awhile, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Based on how Oakmont played two years ago, I'm sure many players are already shaking in their soft spikes.

Perhaps the bigger announcement was this:

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore., will host the 2011 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship and the 2011 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship, June 27-July 2, 2011. This will be the first time that the Amateur Public Links Championships are conducted jointly.

Obviously, the dual PubLinks news isn't bigger than that of the 2016 U.S. Open, but I've got to wonder if the USGA is using this as sort of a "feeler" tournament. If Bandon Dunes comes across well at these tournaments, perhaps it could be placed in the rotation for more prestigious events down the road.


11:59: Just spoke with Peter Tomasulo for a few minutes. He told me a pretty cool story …

Tomasulo grew up playing Virginia CC in Long Beach, Calif., and was joined a while back by fellow pros and longtime friends John Mallinger and John Merrick. Each of them made the field this week, which shouldn't come as too much of a surprise for the trio of PGA Tour regulars.

But they all got a kick out of making it a Virginia foursome, as their 47-year-old pro, Mike Miles, also qualified through sectionals.

The four of them celebrated by playing a practice round together on the Black Course yesterday.


11:50 p.m. ET: With players employing so many practice contraptions on the greens and working so hard on their games all the time, you don't often see much fun taking place.

That wasn't the case a few minutes ago, as Angel Cabrera and Alvaro Quiros just waged a little putting contest on the front practice green.

I can't confirm, but it looked as if Quiros won it with a walk-off slam dunk from about 20 feet away.

Of course, these are two of the game's bigger hitters. So whaddya say, fellas? Let's go double or nothing at the driving range!


11:32 a.m. ET: Something tells me this never happened back at the first U.S. Open in 1895.

USGA officials just held a news conference to discuss a variety of topics, including the weather issues for the week. The tournament's official tweeter, if that's the right wording, posted this sentiment from Jim Hyler, the chairman of the Championship Committee, which I will now use in my live blog:

usopengolf Hyler: there will be no 'lift, clean, and place' at Bethpage.

I suppose I could have just asked Hyler, but this method seemed much more technologically advanced.

In any case, that's some pretty important information. They'll play 'em down -- as they should -- which could result in plenty of mudballs from the fairway throughout the tournament rounds.

In fact, just the idea of lift, clean and place is frowned upon by the USGA. It would be considered almost sacrilegious in a U.S. Open championship.


11:05 a.m. ET: OK, folks ... getting a ton of e-mails asking for my 1-156 ranking ... which is strange, because it's always pretty inaccurate.

Anyway, for entertainment purposes only, of course, here is my ranking of this week's entire field.

A few notes ...

• I just think Ian Poulter is ready to win a big one. He plays with guts and keeps coming close. If it doesn't happen this week, don't rule it out for next month at Turnberry, either.

• Yes, I picked "against" Tiger Woods. If placing a guy No. 2 out of 156 is really "against" him. Doesn't mean I don't think he can win, though. Obviously, I wouldn't have put him so high if I didn't think he had a great shot.

• Some big names not too high on the list include Padraig Harrington, Anthony Kim and Adam Scott. Hey, do you want my honest opinion or just a regurgitation of the OWGR?

• Poor David Erdy. I don't mean to embarrass the kid, but somebody's gotta be last. I hope he proves me wrong. I really do.


10:43 a.m. ET: First e-mail of the day from Casey in Austin, Texas:

I understand you're not a weatherman. That said, are we talking about thunder and lightning type rain or just a steady drizzle? Is it looking more and more likely, if the forecast holds, that a Monday finish (without a playoff) might be necessary?

You're right. I'm not a weatherman -- and a lot of times, especially at major championships for some reason, it tends to rain when it's not forecasted and be clear when it's supposed to rain. Best I can do is show you this forecast, which doesn't make it seem like as much of an issue as originally thought.

Even though the USGA got plenty of mileage out of the Monday playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate last year, tournament officials will do everything in their power to finish all 72 holes by Sunday evening.


10:19 a.m. ET: After celebrating his birthday at home with his family, Phil Mickelson arrived in New York last night and came here to the course early this morning.

The biggest news out of the interview session is that this could be his last tournament for a little while as he plans to remain at home while wife, Amy, undergoes treatment for breast cancer -- and yes, that may include next month's British Open.

(For more on the news, here is Bob Harig's story on the situation.)

Here are some of the highlights from Phil's news conference earlier this morning ...

On looking ahead to this week: "I'm putting everything I have into this week, because I don't anticipate being able to play for a little while. And the fact that my normal support system, Amy and the kids and so forth, aren't going to make the trip this week; I'm kind of hoping to have that or feel the support to kind of help me through the week."

On Amy's diagnosis: "The first couple of weeks we didn't know what was going to happen, what was going to take place. But ever since our original diagnosis, we've had little tidbits of good news here and there. We'll start our treatment July 1. We'll have a great family vacation next week. And we have kind of a game plan on moving forward."

On playing in the New York area: "I love playing in the New York area. The people here have treated me and my family incredibly, and I love coming back here and playing here. Bethpage is one of my favorite golf courses. To be able to play this Open, I'm excited that things worked out."

On his birthday celebration: "We celebrated with the family. We all went to breakfast together. My little favorite breakfast joint. And my kids brought me breakfast in bed first, but then we decided to go out."

All in all, it seems like Phil is in good spirits right now and excited about this week's tournament. And for those who want to criticize -- or at least voice their concern -- the fact that he didn't show up until Wednesday of this week, let's remember that Mickelson was here last Tuesday, as well, so he's already gotten in some valuable time on the Black.


10 a.m. ET: It's the calm before the storm here at Bethpage Black -- both figuratively and literally.

On the day before the U.S. Open first round, many top players will eschew a practice round in favor of a little R&R -- rest and range time. Apparently those major players also include Mother Nature, who is taking a brief respite from what is supposed to be a rain-drenched week, as we're currently enjoying a clear, calm 60-degree morning.

(And no, it isn't often that U.S. Open weather is a few degrees lower than most players' lob wedges.)

Expect the temps to dry out the course a bit, which it so desperately needs. That's because the rain is forecasted to return full-force tomorrow.

The biggest news so far today has come from Phil Mickelson, who met with the media in the interview room earlier this morning. I'll devote my entire next post to his comments, so check back in a few minutes.

As always, I'll be posting reader questions and comments throughout the day, so e-mail me at usopenblog@gmail.com or Twitter account JasonSobel to have your voice heard. You may now swing away …