With another week at the National Open in the books, CBSSports.com senior writer Steve Elling and Augusta Chronicle columnist and golf writer Scott Michaux, two guys who had boots on the ground at the Pebble Beach war zone, offer their thoughts on the carnage of Sunday, the venue itself and the 110th U.S. Open in general.
Will this U.S. Open be fondly remembered?
ELLING: Well, I will go halfway on that notion -- because it's the Open and was staged at iconic Pebble Beach, so it will be remembered for sure. But not fondly. In no way should this be interpreted as a slap at winner Graeme McDowell, a fine player whose career is still in ascent, but ask yourself this question: What was the most memorable shot at Pebble Beach, the defining moment, the place where the tournament was won or lost? Go ahead, discuss. Trouble is, there really wasn't one, because the tournament became a confluence of agony, not ecstasy. The three marquee players, with as many or more major championships to their individual credit than any active players in the game -- 21 combined -- failed to produce a charge, and in truth, went backward. The U.S. Open often becomes a battle of attrition, like on the 18th hole at Winged Foot in 2006, when a slew of top players bungled away the title, including Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie. But the last two hours at Pebble Beach was difficult to enjoy or digest, the sadist audience notwithstanding. The top five on the final leaderboard played the last nine holes a combined 13 over and mustered two birdies between them. I'd wager that most casual fans have forgotten this tournament already. The diehards are soon to follow.
MICHAUX: It will certainly be fondly remembered in Europe. We tend to get a little Amero-centric in our analysis of all things rated, and the Americans suffered a collective nightmare Sunday from Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to Dustin Johnson. But there was some pretty fine play under trying circumstances from Europeans Graeme McDowell and Gregory Havret. They outplayed the heck out of the dead Yanks alongside of them. You're correct that there was no one defining heroic moment like Tom Watson's chip-in on 17 or Jack Nicklaus' laser-guided 1-iron on the same hole or Tiger's exclamation point putt on 16. But what made this final round any different than 1992, when Tom Kite survived perhaps the most brutal final round in history? Only one guy in the top 17 broke what would be considered par now at Pebble. Did that in any way diminish the event or Kite's remarkable round (he shot 72)? Is the massacre at Winged Foot remembered? The U.S. Open is supposed to be hard, and just because one of the superstars we presume will prevail succumbed to the difficulties of the moment doesn't make it any less of an achievement. I don't think we'll ever forget Johnson's instantaneous implosion or Woods and Els climbing around the cliffs. Whether we feel fondly about it is irrelevant. We'll certainly remember it.
Is it possible that, as a championship venue, Pebble Beach is overrated?
ELLING: From a fan standpoint, absolutely yes. The logistics last week were abysmal and fans rightly complained of three-hour waits for shuttle buses to very remote parking lots, lodging charges ($400 per night at drive-up motels), merchandise costs ($34 for a logo cap) and concessions ($4 for a soda). From a player's standpoint, you could certainly make that case that Pebble is mostly about image, not playability. The course features some of the most spectacular vistas in the game, some truly jaw-dropping views, but those inherently bumpy greens are always going to cause complaints when so much is on the line. Even Phil Mickelson, who went out of his way to avoid sounding like a whiner, was politely grousing Sunday about how it was impossible to make any putt from above the hole. Using Pebble Beach as an Open venue every 10th year was always defensible because of the four previous winners, all Hall of Famers present or future. Now I am wondering if it's really worth the incredible hassle for those in attendance to visit Pebble Beach -- due to host again in 2019 -- so frequently. It achieved the impossible by making last year's water-logged debacle at Bethpage seem enjoyable by comparison.
MICHAUX: Absolutely not. Pebble Beach is perhaps the greatest American Open venue. I have no real explanation as to why the players fell apart on Sunday. The conditions were little changed from the previous days when guys were posting red numbers as low as 66. Every mistake those guys made on Sunday was self-inflicted damage. Yes, the greens get bumpy late in the day. They get bumpy at Torrey Pines, too. They get bumpy at Olympic. They get bumpy at Riviera. Are these courses overrated, too? Tiger Woods was the most vocal opponent, and the guy has won more events on poa greens than any person alive. Funny how he was in such a great mood after Saturday's 66 and surly every other day. If you couldn't make any putts from above the hole, don't hit it above the hole. Since when is that strategy different from anywhere else? The only legitimate complaint was that the 17th green couldn't be held because it was too firm to accept the long-iron shots guys were hitting into it. The 14th green made guys look silly, but that's because they all tried to get too cute instead of hitting the recovery shot toward the bunker-mound backstop that every single one of them knows is available but they were too stubborn to settle for. Pebble is a beautiful and thrilling place to hold a major and worth all of the hassles.
We're halfway through the 2010 season. Who is the PGA Tour Player of the Year if the ballots were mailed to players tomorrow?
ELLING: In my mind, that question could nearly have been settled Sunday had Ernie Els taken care of business. He's already won two prominent events, at Doral and Bay Hill, against stellar fields. A major championship would have given him three wins and a major while only one other player this season, Jim Furyk, has two victories, period. The crazy thing is, Tiger Woods hasn't done anything yet and the award is still within reach with two more majors and a slew of WGC and FedEx Cup events left on the table. In fact, and this will surely titillate the brass at tour headquarters, it's looking increasingly likely that the POY won't be settled until the FedEx finale in September. Els left Pebble Beach without consenting to interviews Sunday, gutted by his loss. He held a share of the lead early, double-bogeyed the 10th and then missed a crucial 4-foot birdie putt coming home. Poised to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame in the spring, it would have been Els' third Open title. Good news is, there are plenty of hosannas left for the taking. Be it for Els or somebody else.
MICHAUX: I'm glad we don't have to vote tomorrow. It's wide open, and that's how it should be. In addition to multiple winners Els and Furyk, my short list of current contenders would include Phil Mickelson. Candidates with opportunity to climb into the picture with another victory (especially a major) are Ian Poulter, Camilo Villegas, Rory McIlroy, Ben Crane ... really just about anyone is eligible and within striking distance with a few good weeks. Isn't this as it should be? Should we really be defining favorites at midseason? Would we have picked Tiger Woods at this point last year before he won three of his five events in the second half? It's called Player of the Year, not player of the first half. We should all withhold judgment. Preconceived biases only cloud the process.