Open winner most likely will surprise

Webb Simpson jots down notes during a practice round. He won last year's Open. DAVID SWANSON / Staff
Webb Simpson jots down notes during a practice round. He won last year's Open. DAVID SWANSON / Staff
Posted: June 14, 2013

The Monday-to-Wednesday story lines have all been covered, some past the point of excess.

Can Tiger win his first major in five years? Can Phil Mickelson finally win his first U.S. Open? Will Sergio Garcia say something crazy? How will venerable Merion handle the marauding modern athletes with their space-age equipment?

Those Thursday through Sunday story lines, which finally begin writing themselves, determine whether this will be a classic tournament or just another stop on the tour.

One Monday-to-Wednesday story was about Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Adam Scott teeing off in the same threesome at 1:14 Thursday afternoon (fickle weather gods permitting, of course).

But Thursday-Sunday could easily be about another threesome, which begins play 33 minutes earlier. Angel Cabrera, Geoff Ogilvy, and Paul Lawrie won't draw the same size gallery, but that group also boasts two former U.S. Open champions. Ogilvy won it in 2006, Cabrera in 2007.

The fans, the U.S. Golf Association, and NBC will all be thrilled if Woods is in contention Sunday - even better if he's in a showdown with his nemesis Garcia, his rival Mickelson, or young turk McIlroy.

But history tells us we're more likely to be watching Graeme McDowell (2010), Lucas Glover (2009), and Michael Campbell (2005) stroll down the 18th fairway with the lead.

During the Monday-to-Wednesday stretch last June at Olympic in Northern California, Webb Simpson was one of the dozens of young, generic pros playing practice rounds. He had two decidedly unglamorous PGA Tour wins on his resumé.

On Sunday, Simpson won the U.S. Open by 1 stroke.

"I haven't won a tournament since," Simpson said. "But I'm always saying, all I care about is getting better and all I care about is the process. . . . I think it's just so hard to get everything - there's so many factors that have to be going well for you to compete and even get in contention on a week like this."

In the build-up to this week at Merion, there was a lot of talk about Ben Hogan's winning the Open here in 1950, but very little about the men he beat in the 18-hole playoff. Lloyd Mangrum may not be a household name - Byron Nelson called him the "best player who's been forgotten" - but he was the 1946 Open champion. George Fazio was born in Norristown and went on to design courses in the Philadelphia area, at Hilton Head, and points beyond.

There was a lot of talk about Lee Trevino's winning an Open title here in 1971. There was very little about David Graham, who won the tournament the last time it was here.

Hogan and Trevino were the Monday-to-Wednesday guys of their day. In 1981, Masters champion Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman were the big names. Graham, an Australian with one previous major victory, stole the show on Sunday.

That earned him a seat at the champions dinner this week.

"I think it's great that you have a Tiger Woods walking the same fairways that a Hogan walked," Graham said. "What's that, 70 years ago? So here you've got the greatest player in modern-day golf playing a golf course that Hogan played. I think that's fantastic."

It truly is. The spectacle of Woods and McIlroy, Mickelson and Scott, Ernie Els and Bubba Watson really is worth the price of admission. Heck, getting anyone named Bubba on the exclusive Merion grounds is an admirable feat.

But even more fantastic than that is the story line that none of us can predict, the one that will begin Thursday, weather storms both literal and figurative, and end with that silver trophy being raised Sunday afternoon.

As Simpson said, it takes a combination of skill, momentum, luck, and mental toughness to win a major.

"It's a complete test of golf," USGA executive director Michael Davis said. "Whether it's the actual shot-making, whether it's the mental test, whether it's the course management - come Sunday afternoon for the leaders, maybe it's nerves. It's all part of the U.S. Open test."

It will be great theater, and superb television, if Woods or Mickelson or McIlroy is the man raising it. But history tells us the topics of the Monday-to-Wednesday story lines aren't usually the ones left standing Sunday afternoon.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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