Feels like the Masters all over again
It feels like the Masters all over again.
Only 10 weeks ago this very column looked at all the great storylines golf fans could follow heading into the weekend of the Masters.
With one round in the books at the US Open, it seems many of the storylines haven't changed, while new ones have come about.
Once again, Tiger tops the list. He won two weeks ago against a strong field at the Memorial. His game looked better there than it looked in his win at Bay Hill two weeks before the Masters. Woods finished tied for 40th at Augusta.
He shot a 1-under par 69 in Friday's first round in this year's US Open.
He's the only player in the field of 156 who is not only playing against the rest of the field, but also against the memory of prior greatness. Unless he wins another major or two, he's always going to hear comparisons between the old Tiger and the new, less successful Tiger.
He'll need to validate his opening round with a few more and maybe a strong finish on Sunday. That's what the old Tiger would have done, the one who seemed like a lock to surpass Jack Nickaulas' record of 18 major championship wins. Stuck on 14 since 2009, Woods still feels that goal is within reach.
He's 37. He surely has at least 10 good years, but opportunities to win majors only come four times a year. That's surely the biggest storyline this weekend and will remain so at every major as long as Tiger is playing and at least staying competitive.
Same goes for Phil Mickelson's quest to win a US Open. The three-time Masters champ and four-time major winner wants to win his country's national title more than any other he plays each year. His 6-over par performance on Thursday leaves him in poor position, but if he can make the cut he's got a chance on a weekend where scores could skyrocket.
Mickelson's been a US Open runner up six times and has placed in the top 10 nine times. If he can climb back up near the top of the leaderboard by Sunday, there might not be a better storyline.
Just like 10 weeks ago, the golf world is excited to see how last year's US Open champ will do under the pressure of another major.
After his blowup at the 2011 Masters, Rory McIlroy cruised to an eight-stroke win last year at Congressional. He played well last week, tying for seventh in the FedEx St. Jude Classic. A rough start on Thursday leaves him needing a solid Friday to make the cut.
One overlooked player at the Masters was 2010 British Open champ Loius Oosthuizen. His double-eagle on No. 2 was one of the greatest in major championships history. And it took a playoff for Bubba Watson to beat him.
Oosthuizen was ninth at last year's US Open and is likely to be a factor this weekend.
Speaking of Bubba, he expressed some displeasure about the course in his pretournament press conference. His ability to shape shots seemed like a valuable asset at Olympic Club, but his first 8-over par leaves him well out of contention.
The bevy of young American players seeking their first major is also a good storyline. Rickie Fowler, Jason Dufner, Hunter Mahan and Dustin Johnson are all close enough to par to have a chance over the weekend.
Several English players are also hoping to win their first major this weekend. Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, both ranked in the top five in the world, seek their first major. Ian Poulter posted a solid first round and is also seeking his first major victory.
With all the attention being paid to golf's younger generation, several old, wise players will tee it up. Many of them have tasted success at majors. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III has played well this year. David Toms always seems to stay in contention at the majors. Ernie Els is 10 years removed from his last US Open title and could use a top-10 finish to earn some exemptions for next year so he can return after failing to qualify for the Masters this year. Retief Goosen, Angel Cabrera and Geoff Ogilvy have all won the tournament in the past and can't be counted out this weekend.
It should be an exciting weekend. While all the same storylines remain from the previous major two months ago, many of them could take interesting turns this weekend at Olympic Club.