Golf Tidbits: Who is prepared for Pinehurst?

The Sports NetworkJune 9, 2014 

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - There is an age old debate among professional golfers about which way is better when preparing for a major championship.

Do they play the week before the major or do they rest that week?

Forty-one players who had qualified for the U.S. Open played in Memphis, Tenn., this past weekend as they prepared for the season's second major. Did it help any of them?

Based on the results, the overwhelming answer is no. Of the 41 who started the St. Jude Classic, 21 missed the cut, four posted top-10 finishes and seven finished inside the top 20. The average finish for the 20 who made the cut was 30th place.

No one from the group of 41 won the St. Jude Classic, but Matt Every and 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson shared third place. They may have gained a little momentum heading to Pinehurst, but few had the results they were looking for over the weekend.

Phil Mickelson was able to get inside the ropes and away from the distraction surrounding an insider trading investigation that he was tied to last week. He tied for 11th, which matched his best finish of the year on the PGA Tour.

Mickelson finished second at the U.S. Open at Merion last year. That was his record sixth U.S. Open runner-up finish. There will be other things for Lefty to talk about this week at Pinehurst.

The five-time major champion finished second to Payne Stewart at Pinehurst in 1999. This year marks the 15th anniversary of that championship, and in October, we will mark the same anniversary of Stewart's untimely death in a plane crash.

Everyone will want to talk to Mickelson about his thoughts on Stewart and what Stewart said to him on the 18th green. After celebrating the win with his caddie, Stewart grabbed Mickelson by the face and said, "You're going to be a father."

That was Stewart's way of telling Mickelson not to worry about the loss because he would be there again, and that being there for the birth of his child, as Mickelson was the next day, was a special thing.

In recent interviews, Mickelson has said he won't remember anything negative from that week, but he'll remember what Stewart said and how profound it was that Stewart took the time to acknowledge the pending birth of the Mickelsons' first child as he was celebrating his own accomplishment.

Talking about that may cause more distraction for Mickelson than he wants in an important week like this. If he can focus on the task at hand, he'll look to close out the career Grand Slam at the site of his first U.S. Open runner- up finish.

Across the pond, Bernd Wiesberger played his way into a playoff at the European Tour's Lyoness Open. He needed a solo second-place finish or better to get into the field at Pinehurst. He lost on the first extra hole, but moved to 60th in the world rankings and gained a spot in the field this week.

It will be Wiesberger's first U.S. Open appearance. He gained some momentum from that, but will his inexperience costs him this week?

Among the rest of the field, no one player is hotter than another, which should make for a close. hard-fought U.S. Open.

Pinehurst will be set up differently than most Open courses with much-wider- than-normal fairways, and no rough. Off the fairway will be waste areas with wire grass and fescue.

Look for a long hitter with a good short game to be the winner this weekend. It could Dustin Johnson or Sergio Garcia or maybe it is Mickelson's time.

PARK WANTS THE TOP RANKING BACK

Inbee Park didn't take well to losing the top spot in the world rankings to Stacy Lewis last week. Park responded with a dominating Sunday performance at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic.

Park, who started the event with three rounds in the 60s, fired a 10-under 61 in the final round to win by two strokes over Cristie Kerr. The final margin was only that close because Kerr fired a 63 of her own.

The 10-time winner on the LPGA Tour matched the course record, but missed the tournament's 72-hole scoring mark by three strokes. Park moved within 0.30 average points of Lewis, who kept the No. 1 ranking thanks in part to her tie for sixth place at the same event.

The LPGA is off this week, but they will resume their battle next week at the U.S. Women's Open, which also will be played at Pinehurst No. 2.

Park will look to add to her total of 59 weeks atop those rankings. If she wins the Women's Open, it will be her fifth major championship.

MINI-TIDBITS

- Ben Crane won the St. Jude Classic on Sunday, but was so far down the world rankings that he failed to qualify for the U.S. Open this week. However, he will be at the PGA Championship later this year and at Augusta National for the Masters next year.

- It might be a little early to be thinking about Player of the Year awards, but there is a pretty tight race on the Champions Tour. Bernhard Langer has two wins among his 10 top-10 finishes in 10 starts, while Jay Haas has 10 top-10s in 11 starts. Haas hasn't won, but has finished third five times. Not far behind them is Colin Montgomerie, who has seven top-10s in eight starts. Monty has a win and a runner-up finish among those seven top-10s.

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