Wednesday, June 17, 2009

U.S. Open Time

We're on the eve of one of my favorite sporting events in the year: The U.S. Open in golf. This year the PGA returns to the Black course at Bethpage, which was the site of one of the most memorable Opens in recent years in 2002. Tiger Woods held off Phil Mickelson, winning the tournament at -3. He was the only player under par, while Mickelson shot even par. Add in the fact that your typical raucous New York crowd was into every shot all four days, and this was a site to behold. So what's going to happen this year? Well, here's one hack's answer to a few questions:

1. Tiger or the field? Anyone who answers Tiger would likely lose a bunch of money in mere minutes in Vegas. Obviously, if the question were "Who would you bet would win the Open?" the answer would be Tiger. But the question, as posed, is "Tiger Woods or any of the other 154 golfers in the field this weekend whose name isn't Tiger Woods." Vegas currently has Tiger at 5/2 odds, meaning they give him a 28.6% chance of winning. This is by far the best chance for an individual player, but that means the field would have a 71.4% chance.

Not only does Vegas say the field is favored, but so does history. Tiger has won 14 majors in his career. He has started 47 majors since turning pro in August, 1996. That means he wins about 30% of the majors he starts. That is a phenomenal number, but that doesn't mean he's favored over everyone else. In fact, starting at the 1999 PGA Championship, when he went on his roll of 4 straight major titles, he's gone 13-for-36, a 36.1% winning percentage. Again, mind-boggling, but not 50+%. Looking just at U.S. Opens since Tiger turned pro, he's 3-for-12, a 25% winning percentage. Phil's jealous, but the field isn't.

Hopefully these little math/history lessons have helped you understand why it's not wise to pick Tiger against the field. If your friend says "I'll bet you $20 that Tiger wins the Open," you take that bet every time. If your friend says "Let's each pick one golfer in the Open; whoever's golfer finishes higher, wins $20. I pick Tiger Woods." You don't take that bet. Unless he lets you pick first, then you take Tiger.

2. What will the winning final score be? Last time they played here it was -3. One guy was under par. That same guy is back, but he's still recovering from knee surgery. He says it's harder this time around. I'm going with +4, 284. Call it a hunch.

3. Who will be the winner? After I just told you to bet on Tiger over every other individual golfer (not the field, remember!), I'm not going to pick him. He's had flashes of absolutely brilliant golf since coming back from his knee injury, but he's not totally there. He just hasn't been (FJM (RIP) alert) consistent enough. Bethpage Black is a beast of a course. He can't afford to be inconsistent. Just like with my final winning score, I'm going from the gut. I'm taking young Anthony Kim to come out on top this weekend. A complete hunch. We'll see how it turns out.

Other possibilities? Stewart Cink (finished well last time it was there, time's running out for him to win the big one), Geoff Ogilvy (Open winner 3 years ago) and Padraig Harrington (he's been the best golfer in the world for the past 12 months). Don't bet on: Phil Mickelson (his mind will be elsewhere, and rightfully so) and Sergio Garcia (New York fans really let him have it last time he was at this course).

Enjoy the Open!

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