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Straight Shooters Wanted

June 05, 2003|THOMAS BONK

We all know what the U.S. Open champion looks like, of course, even if we don't really know his identity just yet. We just know the qualities. It's not a secret what type of player wins on a U.S. Open course, which is typically a layout that could be set up easily by either the United States Golf Assn. on a good day or your dentist on a bad day.

There won't be anything different this year at venerable Olympia Fields Country Club in suburban Chicago. The guy who wins will do just enough of the right things to win the U.S. Open. The routine has become routine. You have to hit the ball straight and keep it out of the rough. You have to hit it a long way. And you have to be able to make putts on greens that are tricky and fast.

In this case, the greens promise to be quick at Olympia Fields, where the plan is to have them set at 12 on the Stimpmeter by Monday, then have them bake to the consistency of glass by the end of the week. To say the greens are fast is like saying Lake Michigan is wet.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 07, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Golf -- Payne Stewart won the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst in North Carolina. The year was incorrectly reported as 1998 in an article in Sports on Thursday.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 11, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
U.S. Open golf -- Payne Stewart won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999. It was reported incorrectly in a Sports article Thursday that he won in 1998.

Moving on, it is apparent that the player who prevails next week is going to have to block out all the distractions, tackle trouble head-on and push on until he crosses the goal line. Why? Maybe because football Hall of Famer Amos Alonzo Stagg was the first president of Olympia Fields, in 1916, and he won 548 games coaching at the University of Chicago for 57 years.

Coincidentally, that's about the same length of time it could take to debate this year's contenders. Let's take the easy way out instead and turn a long list into a short one.

Tiger Woods is the favorite, as usual, and that's going to be the case every time he steps onto the course. Last week at the Memorial, Woods could have won for the fourth time at Muirfield Village, except for two factors -- a 76 on Saturday and Kenny Perry's playing like Tiger Woods instead of, well, Kenny Perry.

Let's eliminate Perry at the Open right away. Sure, he has won his last two events, but here's a guy who won four times in 16 years and then wins twice in two weeks? You have to think he has used up all his good karma.

Meanwhile, Woods says he's happy with his swing, he's pleased with his putting and he has his act together. For everyone else at Olympia Fields, there can be no more unsettling words heard in the locker room, with the possible exception the USGA's is banning courtesy cars for the week.

Woods also is the defending Open champion, leading from start to finish and winning last year at Bethpage Black, where he was the only player who broke par. Plus, he's due. He hasn't won a major since then.

Phil Mickelson was second and he definitely has a chance this time out, basically because he usually seems to play well at the Open. He tied for fourth when Corey Pavin won at Shinnecock in 1995, tied for 10th when Lee Janzen won at the Olympic Club in 1998, was second again when Payne Stewart won in 1998 at Pinehurst, was seventh in 2001 when Retief Goosen won at Southern Hills and was second for a third time when Tiger won last year.

Then there is Ernie Els, who already has won the U.S. Open twice -- the same number as Woods -- and he's averaging 301.6 yards off the tee. Which is more important? Go with the comparison angle. If someone is destined to stand up to Woods, Els would be the proper choice, because he hits it just as far and is just as strong when he confronts the challenge of advancing the ball out of the rough.

Padraig Harrington is enjoying a groundswell of support, which is nice, but that might be traced to his plan to consider playing the PGA Tour full time and people are liking him more. Harrington is not hard to like, and he's not hard to pick, either, because he's consistent, not flash. If that's not a good quality for success at the U.S. Open, then the River Liffey is going to start flowing the wrong way back home in Dublin.

Goosen should be considered a contender again, along with Davis Love III, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh and Mike Weir, who still has a chance to win the Grand Slam.

Chances are you're going to hear a great deal about Olympia Fields, but the important numbers are that it's 7,190 yards, the par is 70 and there are only two par fives (none on the back side). There also are 88 bunkers, one lake and one creek.

And, soon, there will be only one winner. Who it will be is anyone's guess. No, we don't know who it is, but remember, we do know what he looks like.

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