MAIN CANDIDATES

TIGER WOODS
 
When advising our long-term positions on Tiger’s performance in the Majors, I had Pebble Beach firmly in mind. His performance here when winning by 15 shots in the 2000 US Open remains the greatest ever in my view, unlikely to ever be bettered. I will not insult the intelligence of readers, however, by pretending that I retain anything other than the faintest hopes for those positions.
 
Quite simply, Tiger hasn’t shown even a glimpse of his best during this troubled year, and is only even close to favouritism on the basis of his reputation. Even before personal problems derailed his career, Tiger’s driving had become unrecognisable from the near-perfect displays we were used to 2000. He ranked last for driving accuracy last time out at Memorial, and without substantially improving in that department, will suffer badly at Pebble Beach as he would at any penal US Open venue. In fact, don’t be surprised if he misses the cut.
 
PHIL MICKELSON
 
At the time of writing, Mickelson is sharing favouritism with Woods, though I suspect by Thursday morning, Tiger will have been headed as market leader for the first time in well over a decade. As a three-time winner of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Mickelson certainly warrants the utmost respect as he bids for the second leg of a Grand Slam, but I am not convinced by any means. For while Tiger was finishing 70th and last for driving accuracy at Memorial, Phil was barely any better in 68th. Pebble Beach will be nothing like Augusta, where Mickelson was capable of overcoming this weakness off the tee. Nor has he ever struck me as a particularly good exponent of windy conditions.
 
ERNIE ELS
 
Perhaps this says more about my hero-worship of the ‘Big Easy’, but my most abiding memory of that 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach wasn’t anything done by Tiger on the course. Instead, it was Ernie’s remarkable third round 68 in the toughest of conditions, that propelled him from outside the top 40 into second place. It was more evidence of something I’ve long believed; that Ernie is the finest links, or wind, player of his generation bar none. Given that he currently heads the Fedex Cup standings, he must be considered a live candidate for a third US Open title.
 
PADRAIG HARRINGTON
 
Harrington made the top five here in 2000, which at the time was by far his best effort in the US. It goes without saying that with three Majors to his name, including two British Opens, he is far more accomplished on the world stage nowadays. Had Pod offered anything in the way of encouragement last week, he probably would have made the staking plan, but his efforts at Southwind left much to be desired.
 
RORY MCILROY
 
This could very plausibly be the week in which Rory truly arrives centre stage in the British public’s conciousness, and I suggest a small wager on him to win Sports Personality of the Year just in case. After all, we’ve got St Andrews to look forward to next month as well. With its linksy nature, and small greens that place such an emphasis on quality iron play, this set-up is absolutely perfect for McIlroy. He’s already won the ‘Sixth Major’ at Quail Hollow, and enjoyed a highly promising US Open debut last year, finishing tenth.