Who's Next?

June 13, 2005

On the condition of anonymity a PGA Tour pro, who's playing at Pinehurst, ranked the 10 best players never to have won a major and rated their chances of breaking through at the U.S. Open

1 SERGIO GARCIA
AGE: 25
WORLD RANK: 7th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 15

Tee to green, Sergio is as strong as anyone other than the Big Five. He's one of the Tour's best drivers, and his swing changes in the last two years have made him one of the better iron players too. He's third in greens hit in regulation, which is crucial at the U.S. Open. The six-shot lead he blew at the Wachovia doesn't bother me. Those were the hardest fairways to hit on Tour all year. Sergio's biggest issue is putting--he ranks 172nd, and he's been missing some short ones. You can't scramble well if you're not making every six-footer, and Pinehurst is going to put a premium on that.

OPEN AND SHUT: Sergio will win a U.S. Open, but it'll be at Winged Foot in '06 or someplace with more traditional greens. Pinehurst will expose his one weakness.

2 CHRIS DIMARCO
AGE: 36
WORLD RANK: 8th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 3

He's a modern-day Corey Pavin, an absolute bulldog who loves to compete. Plus he's the flavor of the month because he was second in the last two majors and just missed winning in New Orleans. All three of those courses were supposedly too long for Chris, but he couldn't have played much better. Pinehurst doesn't seem to fit his game either, but Chris is so confident now that it doesn't matter what course you throw at him, he'll find a way to get in the mix. His driving is suspect, though, and he can't afford errant tee balls at Pinehurst because he's so short off the tee.

OPEN AND SHUT: I'm not a fan of his claw putting grip, but he leads the Tour in putting this year. I am a fan of the gritty way Chris plays. I guarantee that he'll be in contention.

3 LUKE DONALD
AGE: 27
WORLD RANK: 12TH
WORLDWIDE WINS: 3

What do you say about a guy who's so steady and consistent that he's boring? Get the trophy ready--boring golf is what wins U.S. Opens. Luke totally fits the Open champion profile. He drives it straight, keeps it in play, hits a lot of greens and is patient. It's Ben Hogan--style fairways-and-greens golf, which is why Luke tied for third at the Masters, tied for second at the Players and finished 13th or better in eight of his first nine starts this year. No Brit has won the Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970, but Luke is England's next great hope. I rate him a better putter than Nick Faldo or Colin Montgomerie.

OPEN AND SHUT: If one of the Big Five doesn't win this Open, Luke is my next best bet.

4 ADAM SCOTT
AGE: 24
WORLD RANK: 6TH
WORLDWIDE WINS: 9

His lack of consistency still baffles me. He has a game like the girl with the curl--when he's good, he's very good, and when he's bad, he's horrid. He might shoot 80--80 at Pinehurst (although I doubt it), or he might jump into contention. You never know which Adam will show up. With his hyperperfect posture and swing position he looks more like a David Leadbetter pupil than a Butch Harmon project. I don't consider Adam a feel player. He seems very mechanical. He's a bomber and a ball striker who has weeks when his putter gets hot. He's been a startling nonfactor in majors thus far, missing the cut in half of the 16 he's played.

OPEN AND SHUT: Adam lacks the imagination and the short game that Pinehurst will demand. Add him to the list of those who'll leave Pinehurst cursing Donald Ross.

5 PADRAIG HARRINGTON
AGE: 33
WORLD RANK: 9TH
WORLDWIDE WINS: 10

Here's a guy who has the talent to win the Open by five shots, but this has been a trying year. His father is seriously ill with cancer, and Padraig has been flying back and forth to Ireland to spend time with him. All that travel and worrying has got to take a mental and physical toll. Padraig is as analytical as anyone I know and has been working with sports psychologist Bob Rotella to play the game with more feel, but it's tough for a leopard to change his spots. His ball striking is good enough for any major, but like a lot of other players his short game may not be ready for Pinehurst.

OPEN AND SHUT: The odds are against him, but what a magical Father's Day gift it would be if he won.

6 STEWART CINK
AGE: 32
WORLD RANK: 13th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 6

There aren't many better putters (he ranked first in putting last year) or ball strikers than Stewart. Plus he has a patient, meticulous, unflappable personality that serves him well in Opens. He's longer off the tee than people realize, and he has good trajectory on his iron shots--plenty high and pretty straight. Stewart's belly putter will be effective because there won't be many 50- and 60-foot putts at Pinehurst; any approach hit more than 25 feet from the pin will roll into a chipping area.

OPEN AND SHUT: His game is the prototype of a U.S. Open champion's. He's on my short list of favorites.

7 FRED FUNK
AGE: 48
WORLD RANK: 24TH
WORLDWIDE WINS: 8

The Funkmeister won the first near-major of the year, the Players Championship, in a week when the course was so tricked up and the weather so goofy that anyone could have won. You can't give him enough credit for that gutsy performance, though. Nobody hits more fairways than Fred, but Pinehurst's succession of 465- to 480-yard par-4s and brick-hard greens may be too much for him to overcome. Long-iron shots simply are not going to stay on those upside-down bowls they call greens, so Fred will be chipping all day long.

OPEN AND SHUT: He's going to need a parachute for his frequent long-iron approach shots. I like his chances of winning a couple of Opens--Senior U.S. Opens.

8 SCOTT VERPLANK
AGE: 40
WORLD RANK: 21ST
WORLDWIDE WINS: 5

Scott has been playing well--he tied for second at the Players but could have won. He's feisty, doesn't beat himself, puts his ball in play off the tee and putts like a demon. His lack of length (he ranks 155th in driving distance) is a concern. He seems more comfortable in his skin than he's ever been, and he has enough ego to think he should win, which is an asset.

OPEN AND SHUT: I have a feeling that this may be Scotty V's year.

9 KENNY PERRY
AGE: 44
WORLD RANK: 11th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 9

A lot of his wins have been wire-to-wire, so he knows how to hang in there. He has power off the tee and accuracy with his irons. He won at Bay Hill, a tough course that could probably host a U.S. Open, staring down Vijay Singh at the finish. He knows he can win. Chipping is the only question mark.

OPEN AND SHUT: He would be a popular winner--Kenny and Joey Sindelar are the nicest guys on Tour.

DARREN CLARKE
AGE: 36
WORLD RANK: 16th
WORLDWIDE WINS: 13

Clarkie has a big game and makes enough birdies to win anywhere, but to be honest, he makes too many sloppy bogeys. You can't get greedy at an Open, and at times Darren is his own worst enemy. He showed that during his back-nine meltdown at Hilton Head. On the final hole I bet he was trying to dunk that last iron shot. He went for broke and gave the title away.

OPEN AND SHUT: He's a good putter and chipper. If he can keep his emotions in check, Darren could make a run at this Open.

And the winner is ...

PHIL MICKELSON

The winner of next week's U.S. Open will be one of the Big Five--Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson or Retief Goosen. Their length off the tee gives them a crucial advantage: They'll hit shorter irons into Pinehurst No. 2's notorious humpbacked greens. Those putting surfaces can really make you look foolish. Barring three inches of rain or a coup at the USGA, no one will hit 14 greens a round. I played well during a recent practice round at No. 2 and hit six greens.

This isn't going to be a normal Open--the winner will be a guy who is particularly good around the greens. Does that sound like Tiger? He's an absolute genius with chip shots and maybe the best ever at making putts that matter. Tiger is the most talented player out here, no question, but he isn't even close to being as accurate or consistent as he was a few years ago. You can hit it anywhere at Augusta and get away with it, but that won't be the case at Pinehurst. Vijay is a strong player, but I'm not sold on his putting. Ernie and Retief also have great short games. I'll be amazed if they aren't on the leader board.

The winner, though, will be Mickelson. You need imagination and tremendous feel around these greens--we'll have lots of tight lies and will be putting from off the green and up banks. Those kind of shots are Phil's strength. There wasn't much rough at No. 2 when I played it, which is another plus for Phil. Finally, I think Mickelson is hungry for another major, especially after last year's stunning loss at Shinnecock. He has one coming.

COLOR PHOTODAVID BERGMAN (GARCIA) WAITING GAME García, 25, will win a U.S. Open but not this one at Pinehurst, where his inconsistent putting will be exposed. FOUR COLOR PHOTOSROBERT BECK (DIMARCO, DONALD, SCOTT, HARRINGTON) COLOR PHOTO DAVID BERGMAN (CINK) COLOR PHOTODARREN CARROLL (VERPLANK) TWO COLOR PHOTOSSIMON BRUTY (FUNK, PERRY) COLOR PHOTODAVID WALBERG (CLARKE) COLOR PHOTO ROBERT BECK (MICKELSON) TEED FOR TWO A fellow player thinks Mickelson will win his second major at Pinehurst.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)