Sen­ti­men­tal U.S. Open fa­vorites

Bren­nan: Root for Phil or Tiger?

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Chris­tine Bren­nan Colum­nist

Golf ’s U.S. Open is upon us once again, bring­ing with it the most de­light­ful of pos­si­bil­i­ties: Tiger wins. Or Phil does.

The law of av­er­ages says nei­ther will hap­pen, but we can dream, can’t we?

While the sym­met­ri­cal per­fec­tion of Tiger Woods win­ning the U.S. Open 10 years after he last won it or any ma­jor ti­tle would be some­thing to be­hold, I’m all in for Phil Mick­el­son.

If there ever were a golfer who de­served to win one par­tic­u­lar tour­na­ment, it would be Phil and the U.S. Open. It’s the one ma­jor tour­na­ment he has never won. Tiger has won it three times: 2000, 2002 and 2008. Phil has fin­ished sec­ond a crush­ing six times, which is a record no­body wants but he un­en­vi­ably holds.

This is his 27th U.S. Open, the most of any­one in the field. Were he to win it, he would com­plete the ca­reer Grand Slam, be­com­ing just the sixth male golfer to do so. (He has won three Masters, one British Open and one PGA Cham­pi­onship.)

He turns 48 on Satur­day dur­ing the third round. If he wins, he would be the old­est man to ever win a U.S. Open. Since his last sec­ond-place fin­ish in a U.S. Open in 2013, he has tied for 28th, tied for 64th, missed the cut and missed the tour­na­ment for his daugh­ter’s high school grad­u­a­tion.

Need I go on?

The story line is set. You can see the Sun­day cel­e­bra­tion on the 18th green even now, can’t you? Amy, the kids, the hug­ging that could go on un­til Tues­day.

If you’re cheer­ing for Tiger, you’re all about the come­back. Hav­ing al­ready lived a life­time or two or seven at the age of 42, he has teased us with those ex­cel- lent rounds the past few months, only to not be able to quite close the deal on Sun­day. If we were to get in a time ma­chine and go back to Tor­rey Pines to tell the 2008 ver­sion of our­selves that Tiger would go ma­jor-less for the next 10 years, our younger selves would be in­cred­u­lous. But here we are. That, too, is a story line for the ages.

“Un­fin­ished busi­ness” was the topic of a ques­tion or two for Mick­el­son in a news con­fer­ence at Shin­necock Hills this week. As in, all those sec­ond-place fin­ishes, in­clud­ing one at the windswept Long Is­land course in 2004.

“I can say that a few times in this tour­na­ment,” Mick­el­son said. “I love the chal­lenge. I mean, I re­ally love the chal- lenge, and I love that I have an­other op­por­tu­nity to try and com­plete the ca­reer Grand Slam.”

In his two pre­vi­ous U.S. Opens at Shin­necock, he was close: a tie for fourth in 1995 and that sec­ond-place fin­ish in 2004, un­done by dou­ble-bo­geys near the end both times, most no­tably an ex­cru­ci­at­ing three-putt from 5 feet on the par-3 17th dur­ing dif­fi­cult, dry con­di­tions to lose to Retief Goosen by two strokes 14 years ago.

But such heartache also gives Mick­el­son hope.

“I think that this is cer­tainly one of my fa­vorite cour­ses,” he said of Shin­necock. “It’s the best setup in my opin­ion that we’ve seen, and the rea­son I say that is all ar­eas of your game are be­ing tested. … Cer­tainly, with the way I’ve been play­ing this year and at the con­sis­tency level, as well as at a much higher level than I’ve played the last few years, gives me a great op­por­tu­nity.

“But the last thing I’m think­ing about right now is try­ing to win. I’m try­ing to get my­self in po­si­tion for the week­end be­cause, when you try to go out and win a U.S. Open, you will lose it quick.”

He knows. We all know. Tiger com­ing back to win a U.S. Open would be one of the sports sto­ries of the cen­tury. But a Hall of Famer near­ing 50 who has never won his na­tional cham­pi­onship fi­nally win­ning it?

I’ll take that one.


Tiger Woods and Phil Mick­el­son are the sen­ti­men­tal fa­vorites at the U.S. Open this week.

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