After Rory Mcilroy decimated the field last year and set countless US Open records in the process, the USGA was determined the 2012 US Open at Olympic Country Club in San Francisco would be very different. They succeeded. Mcilroy was 16-under par last year. Webb Simpson emerged from the carnage this year with a four round total of 1-over. But that was only part of the story. Here are ten things we learned from this year’s event.
1) Tiger Woods is not back yet
Yes, he won his last tournament in Tiger-esque fashion but the pre-lamppost Woods does not go from the 36-hole lead at the US Open to finishing tied for 21st. Is his game getting better? Yes. Will he win another major or two? Most likely. But he is not there yet. In the past, Woods has only had to deal with the difficulties of remodelling his swing. This time he is fighting injuries, emotional and psychological damage and age. What comes easily at 26 takes a lot longer at 36, even without his other problems.
2)And he may have lost his aura for good
Guys named Woods don’t play the weekend in 8-over par at the US open. Guys named Woods aren’t six over after six holes on a US Open Sunday when they have an outside shot at victory. When Woods held the lead at the half-way stage, writers everywhere were polishing their “he’s back” storylines. Instead, he collapsed in a manner we have never seen before. Its clear Woods doesn’t have the confidence to control tournaments the way he used to and the rest of the field would have taken note.
3) Rory Mcilroy is struggling mentally
The US Open was McIlroy’s third missed cut in four events. There was no sign of the player who romped to victory last year. More significantly, his inability to cope with Olympic’s rigid test is further proof that he is unable to adapt to difficult conditions that don’t suit his natural game. He was rightly criticised at the British Open last year, when he said he’d “rather play when it’s 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind,”’(can you imagine Woods ever saying something like that?), but now it’s clear that wasn’t a one-off incident. There is no doubting his talent, but if Mcilroy wants to be the dominant figure in golf, he needs to find a way to emulate Woods’s single-minded focus to be the best in all conditions.
4) The age of one dominant player is over
Webb Simpson’s win made him the ninth first-time major champion in succession and the 15th different winner of a major over the last four years. Luke Donald, the World No. 1, has yet to win a major. The top three players in the world rankings have won just one between them. The trend is unmistakable. The days of one player dominating the game a la Woods are over.
5) Phil Mickelson is not going to win a US Open
Mickelson ended his US Open nightmare with a 79, his worst round in the event since 1994. His game still remains suited to the Masters – he was one poor tee shot away from winning this year – but at 40, Mickelson’s window to win majors is closing fast. It’s likely the Hall-of-Famer will have to be content with his five runner-up medals at the tournament he most wanted to win.
6) American golf is in good hands
When international players were winning seven major championships in a row between 2010 and 2011, there was lots of talk about a crisis in American golf. With Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson winning the last three, we can put that notion to bed. Throw in the likes of Ricky Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Bill Haas, and its clear there is no reason to worry.
7) Luke Donald needs a different approach
The US Open is probably Donald’s best chance at winning a major. He drives it straight and has a great short game but strangely it’s the only major where he has yet to register a top-10 finish. Sometimes you want something too much and it gets in the way. Donald admitted he might be putting too much pressure on himself after missing the cut. He needs to learn to enjoy himself in these events and not worry about the results
8) Lee Westwood is this generation’s Colin Montgomerie
It was another top-five finish in a major for Westwood but that will be no consolation for the Englishman who is desperate to win one of golf’s big four championships. Sadly, that is looking less and less realistic. The theory is the more often you find yourself in contention, the better your chances of winning. Unfortunately for Westwood, no matter how often he is in contention, someone else always ends up with trophy.
9) US Open a boon for first-time major winners
Since 2000, only Woods and Rietef Goosen have repeated as US Open champions and only Woods had won a major before he won in record fashion at Pebble Beach. Nine of the last 13 US Opens have seen first-time major winners. A tournament that the USGA deliberately sets up to identify the best player in the game somehow ends up evening out the field instead.
10) Still, no Indian will win a US Open in the near future
If an Indian is going to break through and win the country’s first major championship, it won’t be this one. The fairways are too narrow. The rough is too thick. The greens are too fast. The penalties are too severe.