The U.S. Open begins Thursday at Pebble Beach, in case you'd forgotten and Tiger Woods is not the overwhelming pre-tournament favorite. That's a switch. I still think he'll factor into the weekend storyline, though.
Here are my five favorites to win at Pebble Beach. Not exactly shockers, I know, but the U.S. Open is a tough guy's tournament.
1. Phil Mickleson
He's the favorite, pure and simple. He loves Pebble Beach, he's playing the best golf of his life, he's finished second five times in the Open and he's due. Imagine if Phil wins the first two majors this year and takes that good vibe across the pond to the Auld Grey Toon for the British Open.
A couple of things have to happen for Lefty to win: He needs to keep his tee shots in the fairway, which means backing off the driver from time to time and he needs a little luck, meaning he doesn't need someone else to do something crazy like Payne Stewart did when he started holing all those putts in '99 or when Retief Goosen did the same thing at Shinnecock in '04.
I know, he did it to himself at Winged Foot in '06 but just being in that position with a game that was as scratchy as a week-old beard was a testament to his toughness. If Phil's in the chase on the weekend, there could be a serious California lovefest going on at Pebble Beach.
2. Lee Westwood
Sooner or later, he's going to win a major. He's been on more leader boards the last year than the FedEx Cup logo and there's no reason to think he won't be there at Pebble Beach. Westwood seems to be in a good place with his game, his mental approach and his physical conditioning.
He won't let a mistake bother him the way Ernie Els seemed to melt after a late double-bogey in the first round of the Masters seemed to undo him. You're going to make bogeys at the Open. The key is limiting the damage. Westwood is good at that.
3. Padraig Harrington
He's the game's best grinder and the Open is the ultimate grinder's test. Right now, the weather forecast looks ideal but Harrington's chances would increase if the wind kicks up off Carmel Bay. He has a great temperament for the Open so it wouldn't be a surprise if he wins one.
4. Tiger Woods
He finished fourth at the Masters on will and emotion and he'll be ready for Pebble Beach. His swing has been analyzed more than the Zabruder film and everybody who's ever swung a club has offered a thought on how to make it better. But he's not that far off.
I'm as guilty as anyone of expecting too much from Woods this year but I think the Open is different. He's the best ever at shooting a good score when his game isn't razor sharp and that's part of what the Open asks. A big number can cripple a player in the Open so Woods needs control of his driver but if he can find a way to hole some putts, something that's been missing, he can win at Pebble Beach.
5. Ryan Moore
He finished tied for 10th in the mudbath at Bethpage last year and he's proving there's more to him than an unconventional sense of style. I like Moore's personality and his game. The question is whether he's mean enough to win a tough tournament like the Open.
I think he is. He's due for a big moment. This could be the one.