Who’s the Favorite

By Peter Aviles
Updated: June 15, 2005

Tiger and VijayMAPLEWOOD, N.J—The one question heading into the 105th U.S. Open is who’s the favorite? We all know the names. Many are so famous that like rock starts they are simply known by their first name or moniker; Tiger, Vijay, Phil, Ernie, and now add Sergio. These one-name wonders, among others, have the game to win, but for the first time in a long time, there is no clear-cut favorite.

Heading into any tournament, Tiger is generally acknowledged as the one to beat. His recent performance at the Memorial (tied for 3rd after shooting a final round of 68) served to let world know that he is always in the hunt. He hit great shots but was not able to overcome the Bart Bryant and Fred Couples who both fired 66’s on Saturday compared to his 71 to finish four and three strokes ahead respectively. Too often Tiger had to scramble, something that he does better than most, but this takes a toll. Such was the case on Sunday when he had a double bogey five on the 8th hole after he pulled his tee shot left, failed to reach the green with his second shot and then watched as his putt lipped out.

Interestingly, he led the field in driving distance at 320.6, but was erratic at times off the tee. After Saturday’s round he stated “I hit it good all week…I just didn’t putt well early in the week. I started putting better on the weekend but it was a little too late.” And while many of the other top ranked golfers opted to play the Booz Allen Classic at Congressional Country Club, Tiger pulled a Phil and went to Pinehurst to get in a few practice rounds prior to the tournament.

As for Vijay, you know his game, and when he is on he is as formidable as anyone in the tournament. There is some concern given his last few finishes. He finished tied for 30th place with Fred Funk in the Booz Allen; nine strokes behind the eventual winner Sergio. Since the Masters, Vijay has had two first place finishes, the Shell Houston Open on April 24, and the Wachovia Championship on May 8th, one 3rd place finish in the EDS Bryon Nelson Championship; and more recently, he tied for 30th place in the Booz Allen after missing the cut at the Memorial two weeks ago. This is not a good way to head into the Open. Uncharacteristically, he took two weeks off after the Bryon Nelson. This change in routine might have contributed to his recent poor showings, but this is speculation on my part. One thing that is not speculative is that he does not seem to be as dialed in as he was; but his work ethic is such that he will work-and work some more-as part of his preparation.

Among the other primary contenders, Sergio, with his win, must be considered as a favorite as he held on at the Booz Allen to win and avoid the collapse he suffered at the Wachovia when he had a six shot lead to finish in a playoff before being ousted by Vijay. He said he learned from that experience, and you have to think that he is primed to make a run.

As for Phil, who in 2004 was in contention with Ernie until faltering at the end to Retief, cannot be dismissed, but their recent play at the Booz Allen (Ernie finishing tied for 7th after starting the day tied for 2nd and Phil finishing tied for 29 after starting the final day tied for eight place and Retief never in contention finishing in 59th place) says they have a chance as anyone else but they will need to significantly lift their game to be serious contenders.

Ironically, in 1999 when the Open was last played at Pinehurst, both Vijay and Tiger finished tied for third behind winner Payne Stewart who died tragically in a plane crash later that year.

The question heading into the tournament is “Who is the favorite?” Who’s your pick? As I think of that question perhaps a better question is “Who will be the winner?”

If you ask me, I’m betting my money on ….