IT IS very difficult to know what to expect from a golf course yet to host its first Major, which makes predicting a winner for this week’s US Open at the extraordinary Chambers Bay even trickier than usual.
None of the players seem to want to comment on the setting, near Seattle in Washington state, which means it may not be until the first players tee off on Thursday that we get a better idea of how it plays.
The first and 18th holes will be par fours some days and par fives on others. The par-three ninth can play uphill or downhill. Par fours can change from 460 to 290 yards. So we know it is unusual.
It has also been controversial, but while it might sound Mickey Mouse now, I think we’ll find that it turns into a great US Open. I always found the US Open the fairest of the Majors, so I’d be surprised if that tradition is suddenly discarded.
Rory McIlroy, who will start as the joint-favourite, together with Masters winner Jordan Spieth, has had a little spell off the boil, with two missed cuts in a row.
If the world No1 is to challenge he’ll need to step up again, and of course he has got the best game out there to cope with any course, so that’s always possible.
But the man I think might just be ideally suited is Phil Mickelson – and what a great sight it would be to see him finally win this tournament, after finishing runner-up six times, and complete the career grand slam.
Mickelson can hit it long if that is what the course requires, but he has much more to his game than that. His preparation has been good: he is one of the few players who prefer to play the week before a Major, and that went perfectly as he came tied for third at the St Jude Classic. You don’t really want to win a few days before the US Open as it’s very difficult to do it two weeks running.
Personally, I’d love to see him make it seventh time lucky, and at 44, he probably knows he won’t have dozens more attempts at the title that has repeatedly eluded him.
Mickelson aside, another I’d look out for on the basis of form is fellow American Jim Furyk. He’s also hugely experienced and has been playing brilliantly all year. You can’t discount Spieth, Rickie Fowler, who was superb at The Players Championship last month, defending champion Martin Kaymer and, if it plays like a links course, Graeme McDowell.
While Mickelson came up just short at the St Jude Classic, it was a fantastic win for Argentina’s Fabian Gomez and a strong second place for England’s Greg Owen.
Stories like Gomez’s are great. He was ranked 290 in the world before the event but a first PGA Tour title at the age of 36 has put him firmly in the top 150. Owen has had a rollercoaster few years so I’m pleased to see him back near the top of a leaderboard.
It was an even better week for his compatriot Chris Wood. The man who bagged himself a sports car by landing a hole in one at the PGA Championship at Wentworth last month did even better at the Lyoness Open in Austria, where he won his second European Tour title on Sunday.
I’ve known Chris, 27, for some time as he was friends with my son. He is a beautiful player, a very good swinger of a golf club and a hard worker, so he deserves this.
As I write this, I’m sitting by the first tee at Sunningdale, venue for next month’s Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex, and the course has never looked better.
It’s my favourite in the world, for its ambiance and quality. It is a gentleman’s course, has stood the test of time and is popular with players on both sides of the Atlantic.
The field for the tournament is shaping up to be top class. Defending champion Bernhard Langer, a winner last week on the Champions Tour in the US, is top of the bill, but with Colin Montgomerie, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ian Woosnam all set to play there is quality throughout.
Discounted advanced tickets to see the legends of the game in action are on sale at www.senioropengolf.com
Season tickets cost just £70, one-day tickets are £25 and Wednesday practice day tickets are only £12. Under-16s are admitted free of charge when accompanied by an adult and parking is also free.