By James Dalthorp III


It’s going to be tough to see another US Open this week at Torrey Pines without Tiger Woods – but the fact we are coming off a Phil Mickelson major win has to make golfers believe in the general concept of turning back the clock.

The PGA was no slouch in the power department – Kiawah was one of the longest major championships ever. Which really goes to show that technology in golf equipment has merged the power gap as much as the young, talented, athletes that have come to the game since the Tiger and Phil era began in the late 90’s.

Torrey Pines is not a forgiving golf course. The best player that week will definitely leave with a win (barring a COVID test, sheesh) and we’ll see a unique field really get after it.

With conditions in So Cal fairly lush this past season, I expect the rough to be very high and the greens to be in great shape – perhaps as fast as Torrey can get. That being said, there will be more of a premium on distance. And of course, scrambling.

1. Viktor Hovland –

I don’t want to put too much emphasis on recent performance in the Farmers Insurance Open – which is regularly played here every spring. The course is not set up as difficult and there is a second course added to the early mix. However, as a recent runner-up in that event, Hovland should look intriguing. He’s coming into his own as an absolute world beater. We can see in real time how he’s improving. And as this course tends to yield to great ball strikers – Hovland may not need to putt his best to win.

2. Cameron Smith –

These aussies are making a lot of racquet in US Open’s and big championships lately. Mark Leishman, who Smith won the Zurich two ball with earlier this season, won here at Torrey recently in the Farmers. And their games have some similarities. While Leishman is longer off the tee, I believe Smith is the better player inside of 100 yards. Should Smith avoid the rough and keep his misses below the hole, I think he can break out here. He’s been knocking on the door.

3. Jordan Spieth –

I can’t believe there are still doubters in Jordan at this stage in the season. In fact, I’m doubling down on my belief in his process. While I’ve said it again and again over the past year leading up to his comeback, what I didn’t see coming was that Jordan would also vastly improve on some courses where he had a horrible track record. Torrey Pines is much like Bay Hill in that regard. IT’s not a course that would necessarily lend well to his game. But Jordan’s short game translates anywhere. He’s hitting the ball as well as ever. And I think as steady and consistent as he’s been in contention, this is another chance to make a statement.

4. Branden Grace –

IF you’re looking for a dark horse, Grace is your perfect storm. Consider that Grace actually has the lowest career round in a major championship with a 62. He does well on this poa Anna grass and he will be a tough player considering recently strong form. It’s taken him a while to come into his own in the “states,” but he is peaking at a great pace after some solid finishes. He is capable and steady, much like his counterparts – Oosthuizen and Schwartzel, both major winners.

5. Phil Mickelson –

There will definitely be a number of reasons NOT to pick Phil this week. For one, it’s important not to always buy into the hot hand theory when a lot is on the line. However, this is one has my full attention. Coming off his PGA win, I don’t think Phil will be celebrating this one as much as one might believe. Consider this: Brooks Koepka would have passed Phil for total majors if he had won at Kiawah. Phil, now sitting at 6 – has only one major left to win the grand slam, THIS ONE. And it just so happens to be in Phil’s backyard, San Diego. Why hasn’t he done well here in the past? Maybe his conditioning – which he has improved. Maybe his mental side – which is better. And since the PGA, he’s proved that he can still scramble well. This is a new Phil – perhaps more tactical. And this would be the ultimate victory. There is a new vibe in Phil world right now. And if he’s in the hunt, it will be most epic.


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