by Jeff Skinner
Everyone has their favorites to win at Bethpage this week. Tiger Woods is again the favorite and if he can perform like he did at The Memorial everyone else will be playing for second place. It is said that because of the difficulty of a US Open course there are only a few golfers that can win. That may be true and it seems that the USGA has made it impossible for a certain type of golfer to win. That “type of golfer” is not a short hitter or a long hitter or a power player or a finesse player. That type of golfer is a European player. It has been an astonishing thirty nine years since a European golfer has won the US Open. You have to go back all the way to 1970 and Tony Jacklin’s victory at Hazeltine National Golf Club. What makes the US Open so elusive for the Europeans is anyone’s guess, but it is bizarre that it has been so long since a European has won America’s National Championship.
The other majors all have had recent European winners and The British Open has had many American winners. This year there are several players from Europe that could try and break the curse. Padraig Harrington had won both his second consecutive Open Championship and the US PGA Championship in 2008. He has won three majors in two years. He was the undisputed, best European golfer last year, no questions asked. This year has been quite different. He has yet to win this year on either the European Tour or the PGA Tour and has fallen to eleventh in the World Golf Rankings. His slump shows no signs of disappearing since he has missed the cut in his last two tournaments. He will have to find his game quickly if he wishes to contend. With two near misses in major championships in the past two years, both second place finishes to Harrington, at the 2007 Open Championship and the 2008 PGA, Sergio Garcia appeared to have found his game. Wins in the 2008 Players Championship and the HSBC Champions shot Garcia to number two in the world behind Tiger Woods. So far Garcia has yet to win in 2009 on either tour. He has been the subject of much criticism for his whining and complaining over everything from the condition of Augusta National, his breakup with his girlfriend and the golfing gods not showing him any favor. He currently sits at number four in the world Golf Rankings and is heading downward. Henrik Stenson has moved up to number six in the world with his 2009 Players Championship win. In 2008 he finished tied for third at The Open and tied for fourth at the PGA Championship. Stenson is having a much better 2009 than both Harrington and Garcia. The European player who is having the most successful 2009 is Englishman Paul Casey. Casey has seen his World Ranking jump to number three in the world. Three world wide wins have put him at number nine on the PGA Tour money list and number one on the European Tour Race to Dubai. His win at the Shell Houston Open and the premier event on the European Tour, The BMW PGA Championship have placed him among the elite golfers on both tours. He has played well in recent majors. In 2008 he was tied for eleventh at The Masters, tied for seventh at The Open and tied for fifteenth at The PGA Championship. He is undoubtedly the top European golfer. Other Europeans whose names come up in the Open challenge discussion are: Robert Karlsson, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. Of the nine golfers mentioned here only Harrington has won a major before. It remains to be seen if this will be the year to break the European curse. It is a strange phenomenon and all these golfers hope to finally put an end to it.