In a very different year for golf, with Covid protocols everywhere, a group of veterans are enjoying a kind of fountain of youth. Mickelson, who just turned 51, became the oldest major champion. Stewart Cink, 48, won two tournaments this year on the PGA Tour. Lee Westwood, also 48, had two second places in a row at Arnold Palmer and Players.
And now appears the Englishman Richard Bland, 48, whose perseverance finally paid its prize on May 15 when, after a 20-year career on the European Tour and having played 477 tournaments without victories, he won in a playoff at Betfred. Masters. Now, after 36 holes and a total of -5 (70-67) he is the surprising leader of the US Open, along with the American Rusell Henley. Quite an achievement for Bland, taking into account that he started the year 2019 located in position 700 of the World Ranking.
But he is not surprised and said this after his great second round: “Playing golf is the only thing I know how to do. Every time things got difficult in my career, and they were many times, I thought that I could not work in an office, I am not good for that. I always knew that I had what it took to win. That’s why every time I fell I decided to work hard and improve. When I got to Torrey Pines last Monday and saw the court, I liked it. I said to myself: I can play well here ”. No sooner said than done.
At the beginning of this US Open all eyes were on Phil Mickelson. That always happens at the US Open. The southpaw finished second six times but never won, a deficit that separates him from being the sixth player in history to complete all four majors in his career. But now everyone was looking at him because this is Phil’s year. It is that after his triumph in the PGA Championship, he convinced the world of golf that anything is possible. Like little, Torrey Pines was the court he learned to play on in his native San Diego. The bad news is that the southpaw was always lousy at meeting high expectations. No sooner said than done. Mickelson was not the same as Kiawah in the first round. He didn’t walk that slow or take the same time to prepare each shot. 75 strokes (+4) were another disappointment for the southpaw and for the optimists who bet on him. But Phil is good at surprising. Or maybe someone expected a lot from him in Kiawah when, at 50 years old, they paid 250 to 1 for him in the bets. In the second round, when everyone already imagined him watching the tournament on TV from his home, there, very close to the court, Mickelson, between bogeys and birdies, was one of the biggest attractions of the tournament, and managed to score a 69 (-2). He came in 30th with +2.
Torrey Pines hosts the US Open for the second time. The first was the scene of that famous epic when Tiger Woods when he won his last US Open in 2008, with his knee injured and his back battered. The tough Rocco Mediate was a great rival for a Tiger who could not have finished in any other way than lifting the trophy after a grueling 19-hole playoff. It is worth remembering at this time that the defender of the title that year was the Argentine Ángel Cabrera, who had won it in 2007 at Oakmont.
Another much expected was Jon Rahm, first in the betting to start and favorite to win this week. Yes !, Jon Rahm the protagonist a couple of weeks ago at the Memorial, of one of the most unusual sitcoms that have been seen in golf when, with a landslide leadership of six shots and only 18 holes remaining, he had to abandon for testing positive for Covid. Many believed that Rahm came to Torrey Pines to take revenge, as if he had put a pause and this talented 26-year-old Spaniard, was going to stand on the tee of hole 1, with the same finesse and inspiration that he had in that magical third 64-stroke lap (-8) at Muirfield Village and forget this is a Major, no less than the US Open. They weren’t so wrong. With laps of 69 and 70 and a total of -3 the Spaniard is in fifth place just two strokes behind the leaders.
Brooks Koepka, two-time US Open champion in 2017 and 2018, who along with his two PGA Championships (2018 and 2019) accumulates four Majors, is the candidate for many. It must be said, however, that his weak performance at the last PGA, in Kiawah, somewhat diluted his image as a relentless Majors winner. His unconscious may have betrayed him and he didn’t want to spoil Mickelson’s party. The truth is that his game, perhaps due to his recently operated knee, did not live up to expectations. At Torrey Pines Koepka started very well. It got to -4 on Thursday in anticipation of a repeat movie. But it was diluted to finish it with -2. In the second he also started intoned but immediately made mistakes and signed a 73 (+2) for a total of court par for the tournament that left him tied for 13th place.
Bryson DeChambeau, the defending champion and always a heavyweight contender in the big tournaments, got off to a bad start scoring 73 hits (+2) but in the second round he seemed to have found something and bounced back with a 69 (-2) round. and is in par on the court. “I had a dream and discovered something important” said ‘the scientist’ at the end of his round. “I feel like my game is between 9 and 9.5. I can win here” he ended.
But high up just one hit from the unexpected pointers are fearsome players. South African Louis Oosthuizen and American Mathew Wolff are just one hit at -4. The Oosthuizen experience and the Wolff explosion. Joining Rahm at -3 is two-time Augusta winner Bubba Watson. The southpaw had started weak with a first round of 72 (+1) but he rebuilt and achieved a 67 (-4) in the second to ascend to the top of the board.
Ten Latin Americans in Torrey Pines in the beginning. Only Niemann, Gomez and Vegas made the cut.
Yes, how they read it! The great moment of golf in the region was made explicit with this multitude of players. Mexico in front with four: Abraham Ancer, Carlos and Álvaro Ortíz and Mario Carmona. Argentina with Fabián Gómez. Chile with Joaquín Niemann. Colombia with Sebastián Muñoz. Costa Rica with Luis Gagne. Peru with Luis Barco. Venezuela with Jhonattan Vegas. A clear sign of the good path that sports travels. With varied chances, as is logical in these cases, the large Latin American squad represents the impact that the promotion policies of the organizations have. From the PGA Tour Latin America and the Latin American Amateur Championship (LAAC), added to all the actions of the federations of each country combined to promote development at all levels. Another huge news came last weekend, with the heroic entry to the PGA Tour of the young Chilean Mito Pereira, after obtaining his third victory in the Korn Ferry Tour.
Unfortunately, Torrey Pines decimated the Latin Americans with their difficulties, eliminating seven of them. Only the Chilean Joaquín Niemann with +2 (75-69), the Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas with +2 (75-69) and the Argentine Fabián Gómez got their pass to the weekend in San Diego. Gomez shone in the first round with a great score of 70 strokes (-1) but in the second round he suffered punishment and finished with a 76 (+5), passing the cut with just enough (+4).
Heading into the weekend there are a good number of players who can win. A salient feature of today’s times in the highest category of world golf. The US Open is known as the toughest test in golf. One that demands all the skills at the highest level. The setting where the gods of sport are seen as mere mortals in an uneven fight against the worst obstacles. But above all, a great sports spectacle that attracts fans who will have fun watching the misadventures that will define the third Major of the year 2021, the 121st edition of the US Open in Torrey Pines, San Diego, California. Enjoy!