Saturday, September 19, 2020

U.S. Open, Day Two

 Something must have happened at Winged Foot yesterday, because suddenly the legendary course started playing much more like its old self.  On Thursday, the course was full of low scores, with Justin Thomas posting a 65 -- the lowest score ever made at Winged Foot in a National Open.  But yesterday, Thomas shot a 73, Tiger shot a 77, Jordan Spieth and Sergio Garcia each shot 81's.  Only six men are still under par at Winged Foot through two rounds.

A lot of big names -- including Tiger, Phil, Spieth, Garcia, Justin Rose, and PGA Champ Collin Morikawa -- missed the cut and are no longer with us.  But Winged Foot usually gives us a strong leaderboard, and that is what we have after two days:

1.  P. Reed-4 (66+70=136)

2.  B. DeChambeau-3 (69+68=137)

T3.  R. Cabrera Bello (ESP):  -2 (68+70= 138)
T3.  H. English-2 (68+70=138)
T3.  J. Thomas-2 (65+73=138)

6.  J. Kokrak:  -1 (68+71=139)

T7.  T. Pieters (BEL):  Even (66+74=140)
T7.  X. SchauffeleEven (68+72=140)
T7.  M. WolffEven (66+74=140)
T7.  B. ToddEven (68+72=140)
T7.  H. Matsuyama (JPN):  Even (71+69=140)

Since we're starting a new decade, here's a look back at the National Opens of the 2010's, from worst to best.  As you'll see, it was a roller coaster of a ride.

2014:  Martin Kaymer (GER) won at Pinehurst with a score of 9 under par.  He had a five-shot lead going into the last round, and won by 8.  One of the most boring major tournaments ever played, unless you are good friends with Martin Kaymer.

2011:  Rory McIlroy (NIR) won at Congressional with a score of 16 under par.  He had an eight-shot lead going into the last round, and won by 8.  The two top Americans were Kevin Chappell and Robert Garrigus.  The Membership at Congressional was furious at the USGA for the low scores, and no major tournament has been announced for Congressional since.  On the other hand, my kids and I had a great time.

2017:  Brooks Koepka won at Erin Hills with a score of 16 under par.  Koepka shot a 67 in the last round to win by four.  Mike Davis likes to experiment, and this was an experiment to see whether a new course was worthy of hosting the U.S. Open.  It was not -- the low scores and lack of drama made it feel like you were watching the Greater Milwaukee Open.  Koepka was a worthy winner, however.

2019:  Gary Woodland won at Pebble Beach with a score of 13 under par, beating Koepka -- who was going for his third straight U.S. Open -- by three shots.  Another failed experiment by Davis, who left Pebble Beach too defenseless for a National Open.  Koepka tried to charge on the last day, but Woodland held him off without too much trouble.

2012:  Webb Simpson won at the Olympic Club with a score of 1 over par.  On the last day, Simpson shot a 68, while the two leaders -- Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk -- faded with a 73 and 74 respectively.  Olympic Club continued its tradition of upset winners in the National Open -- and if it were up to me, it would never host another one.

2010: Graeme McDowell (NIR) won at Pebble Beach with a score of even par.  On the last day, Dustin Johnson started at 6-under par and a three-shot lead.  He shot an 82.  Tiger started at even.  He shot a 75.  McDowell actually shot a 74, but that was enough given the carnage all around him.  Davis was roundly criticized for the course set up, which made certain holes almost unplayable.  This fact explains why the scores were so low when the National Open returned to Pebble Beach last year.  I don't know how it's possible to mess up Pebble Beach, but then again I don't work for the USGA.

2016:  Dustin Johnson won at Oakmont with a score of 4 under par.  Shane Lowry had a four-shot lead going into the last round, but collapsed with a 76 as Johnson won his first (and so far only) major title.  Much of the drama in this tournament surrounded the fact that the USGA couldn't decide whether to punish Johnson for an incident on the fifth green where he may or may not have moved the ball.  So for much of Sunday we didn't know what his actual score was.  In the end, he played so well -- and Lowry played so poorly -- that it didn't matter.

2018:  Brooks Koepka won at Shinnecock Hills with a score of 1 over par.  Koepka began the day in a four-way tie for the lead, then shot a glorious 68 to become the first back-to-back winner of the National Open since Curtis Strange.  Tommy Fleetwood shot an amazing 63 on the last day, but came up one shot short.

2013:  Justin Rose (ENG) won at Merion with a score of 1 over par.  Mike Davis is a high-risk, high-reward guy.  We've outlined some of his problems above, but his decision to return the National Open to Merion -- a decision that no one else would have made -- was glorious.  Merion is one of the greatest courses in the world, and should be much more famous than it already is.  This tournament came down to a shootout between three of the best players in the world at the time -- Rose, Mickelson, and Jason Day.  In the end, Rose's steady play secured a two-shot victory over Day and Mickelson.

2015:  Jordan Spieth won at Chambers Bay with a score of 5-under par.  Someday, they will do a 30 for 30 on the year Jordan Spieth almost won the Grand Slam.  This was another Davis experiment -- hosting the National Open at a new course in the Northwest.  I thought then, and still believe, that Chambers Bay is the most hideous golf course I have ever seen.  But it produced a spectacular leaderboard and enormous drama.  Spieth went to the 17th hole with a 3-shot lead, but his double-bogey, followed by Johnson's birdie, left both men tied at 4 under.  Spieth then birdied the par-5 last to finish at 5 under.  Johnson came to the last and hit two booming shots that left him with a 12-foot putt for eagle -- and victory.  Amazingly, he missed the twelve footer -- and the three-footer for birdie, thus gifting Spieth the win.