I want Tiger Woods to win the 115th U.S. Open. Woods’ returning to relevance at Chambers Bay would give the course a permanent association with one of the most iconic figures in American sports history.
But if Chambers Bay proves too rugged for the fragile state of Woods’ game — he’s working with his fourth different swing coach — I want Phil Mickelson to prevail. Mickelson has won 42 Tour events, but never a U.S. Open. Orville Moody won the 1969 Open at Cypress Creek in Houston, but achieved no Tour victories before or after Cypress Creek. There is something unfair about Mickelson’s drought.
If Woods or Mickelson fail to finish first at Chambers Bay, I want, oh, take a pick: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth. The field is rich with possibilities, and I am not particular.
Sometimes I’m asked if sportswriters have a rooting interest in the games we cover. The stock answer is no, writers don’t root for teams or players. Writers root for stories.
As with all stock answers, the truth is more nuanced than that. Because the Mariners, for instance, are more interesting when they play well, I want them to play well. Do I root for them? Put it this way: Moving furniture up a narrow spiral staircase is more fun for me than watching Fernando Rodney attempt to protect a one-run lead in the ninth inning.
But shifting to neutral in golf is easy. The only golfer I can imaging rooting for was Tony Lema, who was killed in a plane crash two years after winning the 1964 British Open. Lema used to stock the media tent with complimentary Champagne after his victories.
My rooting interests next week will dwell on the composition of the Sunday afternoon leaderboard. I am hoping for a mix of household names and fresh faces, former champions and aspiring stars, a 10-player convergence toward a fantastic finish.
The ideal leaderboard a week from Sunday will contain these players, in alphabetical order:
Rickie Fowler: He calls his driver “The Great Bambino” and recently joked about purchasing an insurance policy for his face. Before Fowler gained recognition as a top amateur at Oklahoma State, the self-taught Californian never had a swing coach.
Cole Hammer: The 15-year old from Dallas, who just finished his freshman year of high school, qualified Monday to become the fourth-youngest competitor in U.S. Open history. An amateur hasn’t won an Open championship since Johnny Goodman in 1933.
Dustin Johnson: Away from golf, life has tended to resemble a soap opera for the big hitter. But he appears to have taken some cues from his father-in-law, retired hockey great Wayne Gretky, whose lectures presumably sound like this: “You’ve got the ability to be best in the world at a sport very few people can play without losing their temper after 10 minutes. Don’t blow it.”
Martin Kaymer: The 2014 U.S. Open champion from Germany hasn’t seen his name on the leaderboard of a North American event since, well, the 2014 U.S. Open. Kaymer never was challenged while cruising to an eight-stroke victory last year at Pinehurst No. 2. A similarly dominant performance by Kaymer — or by anybody — is not atop the USGA’s wish list.
Rory McIlroy: The world’s No. 1 player had a private plane and ringside seats lined up last month for the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight in Las Vegas. But because his second round at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship in San Francisco didn’t conclude until the early evening, McIlroy remained at TPC Harding Park and hosted a fight-watch party — pizza and beverages for all — in the media interview room.
A random act of coolness.
Phil Mickelson: During Mickelson’s recent visit to check out Chambers Bay, rumor has it he left a tip in excess of $100 after a lunching at a deli. That’s pocket change for somebody who’s earned $76.8 million on the Tour, perhaps, but I’m a fan of random acts of coolness.
Colin Montgomerie: At 51, he’s still looking for his first victory in a major. Chambers Bay’s length — it will play up to 7,600 yards — seems ill-suited for a 51-year old not renowned for his booming drives. But Montgomerie, who last competed in the U.S. Open in 2008, has been a force on the Champions Tour. I hope he makes the cut, and I hope he contends through Sunday.
Did I mention I am rooting for stories?
Sam Saunders: The Clemson product had dated his future wife for a month before she learned he was the grandson of Arnold Palmer. She found this out on Google.
Think about this: You’ve got a grandfather so famous he’s synonomous with a popular soft drink, you’re anxious to impress a girl you’re dating, and yet you don’t mention the fact you’re the grandson of famous person whose name is snynomous with a popular soft drink.
I would have bragged to her if my grandfather had lived across the street from the best friend of Arnold Palmer’s second cousin. I would have bragged that five minutes into our first date.
Jordan Spieth: Among the 156 players teeing off Thursday at Chambers Bay, only the 2015 Masters champion is eligible to complete the first half of golf’s grand slam. It’s sort of like the Preakness after the Kentucky Derby: The dream is alive but a hugely improbable longshot.
I mean, how long has been since a thoroughbread won the Triple Crown?
Tiger Woods: Last in alphabetical order, ranked No. 181 in the world, he’s an afterthought whose career careened around the time his SUV did in the driveway outside his Florida mansion.
Woods likely won’t generate a buzz by occupying a spot on the Sunday-afternoon leaderboard, but what a story it’ll be if he does.
That you were there at Chambers Bay to see Tiger revive his legend qualifies as something to brag about on a second date, assuming you remain modest on the first one.