U.S. Open Day One: Supporting Cast Takes Center Stage
Tiger, Phil & Torrey Pines = Prime Time Golf
The 108th U.S. Open begins Thursday, and it will be marked by a series of firsts. This will be the first U.S. Open tournament to be held on a city-owned course -- the South Course at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, CA. . It will also be the first Major golf tournament to be scheduled to finish in prime time. Thanks to the West Coast location, NBC will televise the Saturday round 3-9 pm Central, and from 2-8 pm Central on Sunday. It will also be the first time that the Open has paired the Top 12 players in the world in four groups of three.
And of course, Hometown Hero Phil Mickelson will be trying to capture his first U.S. Open title as well.
There are two courses at Torrey Pines, the North and the South Courses, with the South hosting the Open.
Torrey Pines, not to be confused with the Dalhart Country Club.
The Torrey Pines Golf Course holds 70% of all tee times for residents, who can play for a mere $42 on weekdays, $49 on weekends and holidays. Swedish golfer Henrik Stenson is in the field, and earlier this year he wanted to get in a practice round. Stenson went on line, booked the tee time ($145 for non-resident), and brought another pro with him. They were paired with a young couple just learning the game. Stenson and his friend played from the tips, the couple from the forward tees.
"Let's just say it was an interesting round," Stenson said.
The rest of the 10:04 tee time awaits the arrival of Tiger Woods.
The majority of publicity for the event is of course going to Tiger and Phil the top 2 players in the world who will be matched with Adam Scott, #3 on the list, for Thursday and Friday play. BTW, if you want to feel sorry for anyone in the Open, Rich Beem and Joe Ogilvie, who both play out of Austin, might be a good place to start. Ogilvie, Mark Calcavecchia and Oliver Wilson tee off right before the Terrific Trio, while Beem, Lee Janzen and Steve Flesch will be following what surely will be a zoo-like atmosphere of almost uncontrollable fans.
Torrey Pines is a special place for both Phil and Tiger. Mickelson grew up in the San Diego area, won high school matches on the golf course, and has won the Buick Invitational three times and finished in the Top 10 six times as well.
Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods have nine Tournament Championships between them on the Torrey Pines sight.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods says "This course fits my eye. I feel very comfortable here." Really? Let's see, in 11 starts in the Buick Open, Woods has six wins, has four other Top 5 finishes and a Top 10. Oh and he captured six Junior World Championships on the course, begining at the age of 10.
So, who do you take in the Open Championship, Tiger, Phil, or the rest of the field. Both of the top players have stumbling blocks. Woods last played tournament golf at the Masters in April, and had knee surgery (for the third time on his left knee) days later. He didn't walk a full 18 holes of golf until this week. He is confident that the knee is fully healed, but this week will be his first full stress test.
Mickelson meanwhile hasn't won at Torrey Pines since they renovated it in 2001, with an eye towards this tournament. He admits that he hasn't really been comfortable with the new greens ever since they were revamped.
Obviously the South Course will also be "toughened up" by the USGA, meaning it will not resemble the course played by the pros in January. It's been stretched to over 7,600 yards, and the rough, while not as monstrous as some Opens in the past, is still deeper and closer in to the fairway than the usual Torrey Pines setup. The Buick Invitational also includes one round each year on the much easier North Course, and obviously that will not come into play this weekend.
I'm leaning towards taking the field this week. Woods has his knee to test out, and Mickelson, who has been known to do some flakey things under pressure, will be under the most intense scrutiny of his career on his hometown venue.
But if neither one does walk away with the championship this week, I'm sure they will find solace at home.
Let's just say Phil has some ideas.