Whistling and Straits barely rank among the popular buzzwords this week.
Getting far more play: “mosquitoes,” “arthritis,” “Jim Gray” and “wide open.”
The “wide open” part reflects the winners of the last two majors — U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell arrived at Pebble Beach ranked 37th in the world and Louis Oosthuizen was 54th on the eve of the British Open — and the state of the world’s top three.
Tiger Woods made 25 bogeys (or worse) over 72 holes last week at Firestone.
Phil Mickelson has played sparingly (and not well) since being diagnosed with a crippling form of arthritis in June.
Lee Westwood won’t win the PGA Championship because he is not at Whistling Straits, felled by a calf injury.
“I’ll be honest,” said England’s Paul Casey, ranked ninth, “the feeling in the locker room is slightly different. I think guys feel this tournament is wide open, and that’s not a feeling that a lot of guys have had before.”
Said Steve Stricker, the fourth-ranked Wisconsin native and sentimental favorite this week: “There’s no doubt about it: This is probably as wide open a major as we have seen in a long time.”
Asked to predict a surprise winner this week, Padraig Harrington replied: “I don’t know. Just go to the bookies and you’ll see the list of names and the odds.”
In past majors, Woods has been 2-1 or as low as even-money in some Las Vegas ripoff parlors. This week, according to bodog.com, no player is better than an 11-1 choice (Mickelson and Woods).
Think about it: Rory McIlroy (16-1), Stricker (22-1) and Casey (40-1) have never won a major, Harrington (18-1) missed the cut in the Masters and British Open, Ernie Els (30-1) has been erratic since winning Bay Hill, Jim Furyk (33-1) has made one of three major cuts in 2010, Sergio Garcia (66-1) has mastered the art of sleepwalking through tournaments and Dustin Johnson (40-1) threw up in the final round of the U.S. Open, carding an 82.
Now looking on the bright side …
“At the moment, anyone that tees off in any of these events can win it,” Oosthuizen said. “You have such strong fields. It’s not just three or four guys that stand out every week; it’s probably 50 guys.”
Oosthuizen, who toyed with the field at St. Andrews, winning by seven strokes, said he was motivated by watching fellow South African Trevor Immelman win the 2008 Masters. Oosthuizen had played and competed against Immelman and thought to himself: If he can win a major, so can I.
Now the same is happening with those who tee it up with Oosthuizen and McDowell.
“Guys who play practice rounds with Graeme McDowell, and the South African guys who play with Louis Oosthuizen now know what it takes to be major champion,” Harrington said. “It’s more tangible.”
They also no longer fear Woods, whom Y.E. Yang took down at last year’s PGA Championship at Hazeltine. Woods won six majors from 2005 to 2008; since then, nada.
“I honestly think a lot of guys are feeding into the idea that Tiger might be done,” former PGA Tour player Arron Oberholser told the San Francisco Chronicle. “There’s a lot of blood in the water, and guys are circling the boat. They know more than ever they have a chance to win.”
Harrington put it more gently: “One [major] a year was being taken by one individual player for the last 14 years, so [now] there’s more opportunity.”