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Dermot's US Open Predictions

How Imagine Golf Club's correspondent saw things panning out on Sunday

Posted Jun 21, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

pebble beach 4

Looking at the leaderboard on Sunday morning here at Pebble Beach, a memorable quote from Jack Nicklaus comes to mind.  "The US Open flag eliminates a lot of players," said the Bear.  "Some players just weren't meant to win the US Open.  Quite often, a lot of them know it."

Which leads to an assessment of the leading challengers going into the final round this afternoon. This is my way of scorning the smug, I-told-you-so waffling after the event.  For a change, we will do it in advance (and you have my word that this is so).

The only realistic challengers in my view, range from Dustin Johnson at six under par, down to Phil Mickelson in sixth position on one over.  This is what I figure.

Johnson will probably win, because of the lead of five strokes he managed to open up over Tiger Woods, unquestionably the most menacing of his rivals.  I expect the 24-year-old to make a few stumbles, betraying his lack of experience at this level.  But he can afford to do so because of that precious cushion achieved through birdies at the 17th and 18th on Saturday.  And his victories in the AT&T here for the last two years has to be another serious consideration.

Graeme McDowell is strong enough mentally to maintain the fight.  A three-stroke gap behind Johnson, however, poses the obvious problem for the Ulsterman of having to be sufficiently aggressive to make some birdies.  And this can be a very dangerous strategy on fast, firm greens brushed by ocean breezes and deprived of water since last Friday.

This will be an even greater issue for Woods, two strokes further back.  Is it possible to close the gap?  Absolutely, though he has not previously done so to win a major.  The most celebrated comeback by a quality player was that of Arnold Palmer at Cherry Hills in 1960, where he trailed the 54-hole leader, Mike Souchak, by seven strokes.  While Palmer closed with a stunning 65 on that occasion, however, Souchak gave him considerable help with a mediocre 75.

If Johnson cards level par, Woods will need to shoot 65 to win.  This has to be viewed as an extremely tall order, given his 66 on Saturday.  And gifted and all as he is, El Tigre is bound to find the pursuit of birdies much more difficult on Sunday's greens.

Next comes the experienced Ernie Els on level par - six strokes back.  Though he has been playing better this season than in recent years, the South African's putting remains some way adrift of the irresistible standard of his US Open successes of 1994 and 1997, when young nerves delivered a rich dividend.  Still, he will probably hang in for a creditable finish, possibly in the top four.

My feeling about Gregory Havret, however, is that he has already had his day in the sun, even if the terms seems hardly applicable to the chilliest, most overcast conditions I've experienced at this event in recent years.  My expectation is that the Frenchman, on level par after 54 holes, will probably drift into the pack with a closing round of about 77 or 78.

Last of the six comes Mickelson.  And my thinking here was similar to that regarding Woods, except perhaps that Leftie's superior short game could give him a better chance of keeping bogeys off his card.  This can be more than offset, however, by Mickelson the gambler, whose inability to resist a challenge often leads to amazing deeds of self-destruction.

So there you have it.  Sitting here at my desk a few hours before the final pairing are due to tee off, I'm fully convinced Johnson will take a very significant step towards becoming one of the outstanding players of the modern era.  And his score?  While I suspect a closing 71 will be enough, I think he might do one or two better than that, simply because of how comfortable he is with the course.  I expect him to be followed home by Woods, McDowell and Els in that order.

As you read this about 24 hours later, please think kindly of your humble scribe.  Remember that if I could forecast the winner of these things with any degree of certainty, I wouldn't be scribbling for a living.  I'd be a sometime resident of one of the $12 million mansions, a short distance here on 17 Mile Drive. 

And remember, if the thing ended in a tie, I'm stuck here for another day.

- Dermot Gilleece

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