(Belated) Balls in the Air: US Open Pebble Beach
By Stephanie Wei under Balls in the Air

Welcome to Balls in the Air, where I size up my Fantasy Golf picks of the week, featuring guys to watch (or not) and interesting story lines. Disclaimer: Don’t yell at my if my picks suck. There’s no mathematical formula to my attempt at predicting something as random as golf scores.

Yes, obviously this is 24 hours late, but I didn’t have a chance to post it last night because I got kicked out of the media center (it was closing and Internet at the Bates Motel sucks). And I forgot about it this morning and just remembered now. Intern Kevin actually stepped in and did it for me because I was a little boggled down. So here are his fantasy picks — which turned out a little different than mine, but close enough (his are doing better so far).

My top picks were Lee Westwood and Jim Furyk. I was watching Furyk on the practice green on Wednesday and I heard him say confidently but calmly to his caddie, Fluff, something like, “I’m not going to hit it off the toe this week. I’m just going to focus on stroking it right down the center.” Fluff nodded in agreement.

By the way, how sweet is that picture of 18 (from Wednesday)? God, I’m glad I have non-crappy non-phone camera. Okay, here we go, Intern Kevin:


Phil Mickelson: I debated long and hard about this particular pick. Both Tiger and Phil scare me for various reasons, but they are too good to avoid all together. Phil’s 5 second place finishes in the US Open give him the best record of a non-winner in this Championship. I think he will work his way in to contention and remain a factor all weekend. [Ed. note: Wrong! Okay, it’s still early.]


Luke Donald: The pick here was between Zach Johnson and Luke. I went with Luke based on current form. Has been red hot in Europe and finally appears to be over his nagging injuries.  His US Open record is relatively poor, but his game should be suited to a firm and fast Pebble.  His medium length won’t hinder him here like it would at other US Open venues.


Lee Westwood: Completely obvious choice here. This guy contends in every big event these days. Clearly the best player in the world at this time. His US Open record in California is tremendous (t5 here in 2000, 3rd at Torrey in 08).  It will be interesting to see how he reacts to finally winning in the States last week. Hopefully he avoids hazards so he doesn’t have to drop a ball like his compatriot Robert Green (USA!!!!!!!!!).

Jim Furyk: Two-time winner this year.  Talked about how his swing got out of whack at Augusta because he tries to hit it too far.  Won’t be a problem here due to the shortish length and firm conditions.  Won his US Open at a course that wasn’t long by normal standards and could do it again here.  Furyk has bad memories of an 84 in the 3rd round in 2000 but has often shown he is mentally strong enough to compete on the toughest of courses.


Padraig Harrington: Current form is mediocre and recently had a procedure done on his knee.  If he was playing better I would have him starting, but I still want him on my team.  Decent US Open record (4 top 10’s including a t5 here in 2000).  Being of Irish descent I can stereotype and say that the weather conditions and seaside course should suit him.  I will refrain from saying that if he wins the entire country will be celebrating in the pubs because I find that stereotype tired and demeaning.

Hunter Mahan: For a young player he has a good record in majors.  Has missed a few cuts but if he makes it to the weekend he always finishes in the top 20.  I think it is about time that he fully throws his hat in to the ring.  Played very well last year at Bethpage and sort of had a chance until he got a bad break by hitting the stick on 16 in the final round.  So far my picks have been focused on veterans so I figured it was time to mix in a youngster.

[Ed. note: I went with Dustin Johnson and Bo Van Pelt on the bench.]


Tim Clark: Much like Donald and Furyk in that this appears to be the best US Open set up for his game.  Reminds me of Tom Kite, the 1992 winner at Pebble, in many ways.  He is tremendous from 80 to 120 yards so he should be able to work his way out of trouble if he finds the rough.  I worry a little bit about his chipping and pitching, but feel that he will ride the momentum of the Players Championship win (5th major. Suck it Shipnuck!) to a strong finish here. The boss thinks he looks like a gnome, I think he is a legend.

[Ed. note: I picked Charl Schwartzel instead.]


Mike Weir: Quietly compiling a very strong US Open resume.  4 straight top 20’s in the event.  I was tempted to go with a Molinari brother in this spot as I am convinced one is going to do great this week…..but I’d kick myself if I picked the wrong one.

[Ed. note: Nice call, Intern Kevin!]