U.S. Open Notebook

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Athlon looks at golf's second major of 2011

Athlon looks at golf's second major of 2011

It's Open Season
For folks in the D.C. area, the arrival of U.S. Open week provides a nice break from Weinergate and more bad economic news. For a week, anyway, the focus is on golf, and there’s no shortage of storylines heading into this year’s Open at Congressional Country Club.

European Invasion 
This year’s U.S. Open leaderboard could include more Euros than a Swiss bank. There’s Rory McIlroy, last seen melting down at the Masters but still primed for a breakthrough; Luke Donald, the current occupant of the top spot in the World Golf Ranking; Lee Westwood, a popular pick to end his career-long major drought; Martin Kaymer, reigning PGA Champion; the Molinari brothers, golf’s leading brother act; and teenage phenom Matteo Manassero. And that’s not to mention defending champ Graeme McDowell, who’s struggling to find his form but plans to mount a credible title defense.

America’s Got Talent 
Don’t count out the Americans, though; there are candidates aplenty (this is D.C., after all). There’s Phil Mickelson, a five-time Open runner-up who seems to have found his putting stroke; Steve Stricker, a top candidate for a major breakthrough according to no less an authority than Jack Nicklaus; Nick Watney, who has seven top 10s in 11 starts this season; Matt Kuchar, perhaps the most consistent ballstriker on Tour; and Dustin Johnson, who’s a couple of final-round stumbles away from already holding that first major. Americans once dominated this event, winning 68 of 74 U.S. Opens between 1926 and 2004, but they’ve won only two of the last seven. They’d love nothing more than to reclaim their national championship.

Missing in Action
This year’s U.S. Open will be notable, at least partly, for who’s missing. Tiger Woods broke hearts in the boardrooms at ESPN and NBC with the following tweet: “Not playing in US Open. Very disappointed. Short-term frustration for long-term gain.” With that, golf’s primary needle-mover dampened national interest in our national championship while offering further evidence that Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships that once seemed so close remains oh, so far away. The other notable absentee? Golf’s version of Old Faithful. For the first time in more than 17 years, they’ll have to hold a major championship without Vijay Singh, who had participated in 67 consecutive majors, the longest active streak in golf. That streak included the 2010 U.S. Open, where he was awarded a special exemption. During the course of the streak, Singh posted three wins —at the 1998 and 2004 PGA Championships and the 2000 Masters —and 21 top-10 finishes. But he hadn’t really contended in a major since finishing T6 at the 2006 U.S. Open, his most recent top-10 finish in a major.

What They’re Saying
A sample of comments from some possible contenders heading into this
year’s U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.

Steve Stricker
“I enjoy the course. I’ve had some successes over the years there. I had an opportunity to win Tiger’s event there a few years back. You have to drive it well there. You’ve got to hit great iron shots there and you’ve got to putt well.”

Dustin Johnson
“I think the Americans, we’re playing really good right now. You know, the Euros, they’re tough. There’s a lot of good players, and they’ve been playing well in the majors. You know, one of us is going to have to step up and get a ‘W’ at the U.S. Open.”

Phil Mickelson
“I’d love to win our national Open. I’ve come close five times now, five second-place finishes, which is actually a good sign in the sense that it’s a course or a setup that probably nobody thought I would do well on throughout my career and yet I’ve played some of my better golf in the U.S. Open. And I just need a few breaks here and there or maybe a few less mistakes here or there to be able to come out on top.”

Congressional Country Club Blue Course
Bethesda, Md.
June 16-19, 2011
Defending Champion: Graeme McDowell

Congressional Notebook

• Congressional Country Club will host the U.S. Open for the third time. Ken Venturi won in 1964, and Ernie Els was victorious in 1997. It also was home to the 1976 PGA Championship won by Dave Stockton. Tiger Woods’ annual AT&T National made the course its home from 2007-2009, and may return in 2012.

• Playing against doctors’ orders, Ken Venturi battled oppressive heat and exhaustion with salt tablets and tea between rounds on a 36-hole final day at the 1964 U.S. Open, and used ice packs and wet towels to cool off en route to a final-round 70 to win by four strokes.

• Dave Stockton won the 1976 PGA Championship at Congressional by a shot with a winning score of one-over-par, the last time someone secured the Wanamaker Trophy with a score above par. It’s only happened three other times since the tournament went to stroke play in 1958.

• Slow play became a national issue at the 2005 Booz Allen Classic at Congressional when Rory Sabbatini putted out of turn on the 17th green and stormed off toward the 18th tee before partner Ben Crane finished the hole.

• During his second redesign of the course in a decade, Rees Jones transformed No. 10, the old closing par 4, into a par 3 in 2006.

TV COVERAGE 
Thursday — ESPN 10 a.m.-3 p.m; 5-7 p.m.; NBC 3-5 p.m. 
Friday — ESPN 10 a.m.-3 p.m; 5-7 p.m.; NBC 3-5 p.m.
Saturday — NBC 2-8 p.m.
Sunday — NBC 1:30-7:30 p.m. 
ALL TIMES EASTERN

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<p> For folks in the D.C. area, the arrival of U.S. Open week provides a nice break from Weinergate and more bad economic news. For a week, anyway, the focus is on golf, and there’s no shortage of storylines heading into this year’s Open at Congressional Country Club.</p>
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