Pebble Beach is a unique golf course. Hanging dramatically on the edge of the Monterrey Peninsula, it is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful courses in the world. It’s golf porn for the discerning sports fan. The Playboy grotto of the golfing world. Jesper Parnevik loved the course so much he named one of his daughters after it. Tiger Woods loved the course so much he won the US Open there by 15 strokes. But that was eight years ago. Nowadays, the only thing he racks up by that margin is cocktail waitresses – and yet he’s still joint-favourite with Phil Mickelson at 7/1. Seriously, what?
Admittedly, Woods walked it the last time the US Open was played here. But that was in 2000 – the Year of the Tiger. In those days he used to drive as straight as a die but nowadays he can’t even avoid fire-hydrants in his own driveway. Woods also knows that there is more at stake than just a major win. Phil Mickelson is breathing down his neck louder than Devon James and has already bagged the first major of the year. If he finds his game – which he could well do give that he’s already won three AT & T Pebble Beach National Pro-Ams – he will become the World No1 and the first person to get on top of Tiger since he popped down the road for pancakes.
Although he has yet to win a US Open, four-time Major winner Lefty has got a decent chance of winning here. He has finished runner-up five times out of the last 11 so he certainly a better chance than Tiger – but the competition is closer than it’s ever been.
One contender has to be Dustin Johnson who became the first PGA pro in 20 years to win back-to-back AT & T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am titles in February. Only Bubba Watson hits the ball further than Johnson, who also putts well and holds his nerve under pressure, as he did when he had to get up and down from the bunker for the birdie required to avoid a play-off with David Duval four months ago.
Though it helps, you don’t need to be a big-hitter to succeed at Pebble. With the Pacific Ocean waiting to gobble up errant drives, you’re better off keeping the ball on the fairway, and that’s why Tim Clark comes into the reckoning. The South African is second in the PGA driving accuracy stats and, along with KJ Choi, is the most dead-eyed of the lot when it comes to peppering the flagstick. He had never won on Tour before this year but his victory at the Players Championship will have given him the confidence to go two better than his third-place finish at Shinnecock Hills in 2004.
Now call me a hypocrite but after my diatribe about Englishmen never winning anything the other week, I’m going to go and change my tune, and back two of them. Lee Westwood will be highly fancied, after continuing his incredible season with a win in the St Jude’s Classic last week. He is also a straight-hitter his recent successes mean that he can no longer be ignored, even if the odds are a touch restrictive. The fact he finished runner-up at the US Masters can be seen in one of two ways. One: he’s a very good player. Two: he’s a major bottler. But to say he’s a bottler is a bit harsh considering he’s been in contention in almost every event he’s teed off in this season and I am convinced this is the best chance he has of winning a Major this year. So is he, and his preparation has been meticulous as he was practising at Pebble Beach last week.
Another Englishman for whom the Major bell could finally toll at the US Open for the first time in 40 years is Luke Donald, who has shot into great form in recent weeks with an impressive five consecutive Top-Five finishes. Luuuuuuuke was out of contention last year through injury but he is back to his best now. Like Clark, Donald is no King Dong off the tee but he is a steady eddy, leading the Tour in both scrambling and sand saves and sitting fifth in the putting stats. At 33/1 he’s got to be worth an each way bet.
US Open tips
Lee Westwood – 12/1 (General)
Luke Donald – 33/1 (Bodog/SportingBet)
Dustin Johnson – 40/1 (General)
Tim Clark – 66/1 (General)