DUBLIN, Ohio – What we learned at the Memorial Tournament over the weekend was less important than what we didn’t learn.
Which is, who should be the favorite for next week’s U.S. Open? Who’s the man to beat going into Shinnecock Hills?
The correct answer is 1) I don’t know; 2) There isn’t one; or 3) I forgot the question.
None of golf’s big names was on top of his game for all four rounds at Muirfield Village. The Memorial turned into a Sunday shootout, won by Bryson DeChambeau in a tense playoff with Ben An and Kyle Stanley, but it didn’t provide much insight into the Open (scores).
© GOLFFILE/BRIAN SPURLOCK
Bryson DeChambeau celebrates his victory Sunday at the Memorial Tournament, but how much insight does it provide for next week’s U.S. Open?
Maybe it shouldn’t have, anyway, because Shinnecock’s links-like style is nothing like the rolling terrain and tree-lined (but ample) fairways at Muirfield Village. Plus, the Memorial chalked up more points for its Frequent Raindrops Account and played soft and scoreable after heavy showers. Shinnecock Hills on Long Island typically is firm, fast and windy, pretty much the opposite.
Still, most of the usual suspects who have either won major championships or might win an Open didn’t exactly sell me on where their games are right now.
Justin Thomas. He’s No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and I’ll give him a pass for being a little off. An even-par opening round on an easy scoring day put him behind the 8-ball before good friend Bud Cauley, a Tour player, was seriously injured in a car accident late Friday after missing the cut. Thomas understandably didn’t have his heart in it on the weekend, when he nonetheless made five birdies and an eagle in each round, posted 68s and tied for eighth. Not bad. His game travels well to any course. I’ll make him my default favorite.
Rory McIlroy. Other than a third-round 64, McIlroy didn’t do anything spectacular. He had another slow start to a tournament and a closing 36, when he needed a 32, didn’t help. He said he will need to drive the ball a little better at Shinnecock to compete, but if he does, he’s confident. I like the fact that he has rented a house there for two weeks and is going to spend this week playing and practicing at Shinnecock and a few other area courses: National Golf Links, Friar’s Head and Maidstone come to mind. That’s brilliant preparation, even above and beyond the prep usually done by Jordan Spieth, who is typically the best-prepared player for majors these days. I’m not sure how often McIlroy will use driver at the Open, so maybe he doesn’t really have to drive it better, but I am impressed by his renewed dedication.
Tiger Woods. He’s the guy who provided the undercurrent of energy all week at Memorial. He was always on the cusp of great things, it seemed. He had a second-round 67 with an eagle, a third-round 68 with another eagle – but he three-putted two of the last three greens to take himself out of serious contention. When he birdied the opening hole Sunday morning, the electricity in the air was palpable, and then he birdied the par-5 fifth, too. And then … nothing. His putting is barely average. I’m not used to seeing him miss this many putts inside 6 feet. Tournament host Jack Nicklaus said Woods is close, and Woods agreed. All right, he’s close … but he’s still not there.
Jordan Spieth. Assorted experts, players and caddies are quietly whispering that there’s something amiss with Spieth’s putting – more than just his setup, as Spieth keeps saying – such as, perhaps, the dreaded y-word that should not be spoken aloud. He ranked 186th in strokes gained putting and had another dismal week on the Muirfield Village greens, missing the cut. The confidence from that final-round charge in Augusta is definitely absent. Spieth is a work in progress, maybe even a full-fledged construction zone.
Dustin Johnson. Like Thomas, he can play well anywhere. He had a mix of good and bad rounds (72-66-72-67) and tied for eighth. With seven birdies in the last round, Johnson posted a classic backdoor top-10 finish. But this big hitter didn’t eat up Muirfield Village, a big-hitter’s course. He played the par 5s even par on the weekend, when he still had an outside chance. Not inspiring.
Phil Mickelson. Getting Mickelson into contention at Shinnecock is almost too much to hope for, but he actually did a lot of good things at the Memorial, finishing tied for 13th. I like that in the last three rounds at Muirfield Village, he racked up eight, six and six birdies, respectively. That’s vintage Mickelson and encouraging.
Justin Rose. Your Olympic gold medalist and former U.S. Open champ from Merion was in the mix for most of the week but just didn’t play the back nine as well as he would’ve liked: even par for the week. He tied for sixth with Joaquin Niemann, the 19-year-old from Chile, but Rose will have to putt better to snag a second Open. Pretty good, just not great.
Jason Day. The home-course advantage for Muirfield Village’s second-most famous member (all hail Nicklaus) didn’t help. Day shot a pair of 74s on the weekend and disappeared from contention. Not the pre-Open morale boost that he wanted.
Patrick Reed. Your Masters champion played a little sloppily at times. He had a third-round 73 with five bogeys and a closing 68 despite a double bogey at the par-5 15th. The bigger the stage, though, the more likely he is to perform. Never discount him in a major championship.
Rickie Fowler. A good weekend – a pair of 68s – didn’t totally make up for a slow start (opening 72), but Fowler rose to tie for eighth. He hasn’t won a major yet, but he’s got the game. Shinnecock is often windy, and Fowler, who played college golf at Oklahoma State in windswept Stillwater, is pretty good in a stiff breeze. He hasn’t quite been on his game since his Masters runner-up, but maybe he’s peaking again if his weekend rounds are an indication.
So, if golf’s biggest names aren’t necessarily playing their best at the moment, what’s that mean for the U.S. Open?
They’ve got the whole week to get ready. And right now, this Open looks wide open.