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AS USUAL, there's only one topic of conversation going into a major championship: Tiger Woods . For a change, we're not talking about how much he's going to win by—we're talking about what's up with his left knee. The vibe on Tour is that his knee isn't as far along as he's been letting on. He's Tiger Woods and he can surprise everybody, but this time it's different. When he bagged the Memorial, his agent told Jack Nicklaus that Tiger couldn't put as much weight on his knee as he wanted when he swung. That can't be good. He'll have been out for almost eight weeks. I don't see him being Tiger sharp. And you know what? If he's not 100% sure that he can win, I don't think he'll play. That would buy him a few more weeks before the British Open.
If a U.S. Open is ever going to fall into Phil Mickelson 's lap (usually they seem to fall out of his lap), this is the one. Phil (below) has to be the favorite. He's playing with confidence, and he just won at Colonial. His putting got off track for a while, and now he has it straightened out. He grew up in San Diego, and now he lives there again, so this is a home game for Phil. With Tiger less than 100%, I see a Phil week.
I'm sure he and Dave Pelz, his short-game guru, have already been out on Torrey Pines with NORAD radar checking to see how much moisture stays in the greens. Plus, now that Phil is an inch taller, he's even more formidable. Yeah, the other players were laughing last month when Phil said he went to a longer putter because all the stretching and workouts he's been doing caused him to grow an inch. That's Phil being Phil. First of all, who's even measuring himself at age 37? Are his pants suddenly an inch short? Nobody has a problem with him, but other players simply can't relate. He's eccentric and plays the game a different way. He had five wedges in his bag when he won at Colonial. Five wedges? Good Lord. I guess that's why he didn't play safe and hit three-wood on 18, where he lost another drive to the left on the final hole (a trend I've noticed with him). With all those wedges taking up space in his bag, he didn't have a three-wood to hit.
I'm really curious to see how well Sergio Garc�a (left) plays. He looks better with the putter, and he's always been a good ball striker. I thought winning the Players would get the media off his back, but I just watched two guys on Golf Channel saying it's time for Sergio to step up and win a major, so I guess it didn't. Sergio's putting is mental. I feel that 90% of putting is mental, and the other 10% is mental too. You can have the worst stroke, but if you believe you can make it, you can make it. We'll know by Saturday whether Garc�a's revamped stroke is up to handling U.S. Open speeds.
A guy no one will be talking about is Angel Cabrera , even though he's the defending champ. He's off the radar for two reasons—the language barrier, since he's from Argentina and speaks limited English, and the fact that his best finish this year is 25th at the Masters. The Gorilla, as I call him, has been missing in action for a while. His putting hasn't been good, and he's been spotty with his wedge game. Still, this course is made for him.
Another guy whose name isn't coming up much is Vijay Singh . The big Fijian, as they say in a TV commercial that I'm tired of watching, has a bad rib. I don't know if he'll even be able to tee it up. He'd better be 100% because a couple of slashes out of Torrey's rough and that rib will be well done.
My U.S. Open dance card is filled with long hitters. Torrey Pines is just damn long. Even without any rough, it's long. Haven't Phil and Tiger won seven of the last nine times at Torrey? Who else won there? John Daly was one. He's long. Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal was the other. O.K., he's not long. I think this course is a bomber's paradise. The holes are wide (the fairways aren't) and are not tree-lined. Geoff Ogilvy (left) fits the profile. He's long, he's been playing well—I liked the way he finished in winning at Doral—and he's a former U.S. Open champion. That's all I need to know. Adam Scott (far left), even though he's mysteriously been a nonfactor in majors, fits the profile and he's also coming off a win, at the Nelson.
I wanted to say something about Andr�s Romero (right), the young Argentine who won in New Orleans, but I still don't know him. Same with Masters champ Trevor Immelman , but I do know that he's been in a funk since Augusta.
Jim Furyk (below) is usually one of my favorites to win majors, but this course is way too much for him. It's going to be too much for every shortish hitter, like Luke Donald and Zach Johnson and the rest.
The 18-hole playoff is obsolete, not to mention anticlimactic. Times have changed, but the USGA hasn't. They need to quit being so obsessed with tradition. The four-hole playoff used at the British Open is genius. I don't like sudden death, but I like the four-hole format. That's what they should use at the Players too—play 15, 16, 17 and 18 instead of going to sudden death and letting a gust of wind decide the winner, as it did with Garc�a and Paul Goydos last month.