Will Tiger, Phil, and Lee step up?

On the attention-meter coming into this U.S. Open, you had Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, and…absolutely nobody else (except for heartwarming qualifier stories like Erik Compton and Ty Tryon.)

The PGA Tour has had a fairly interesting year so far, and some promising showings by players in their 20s. But with Tiger’s tabloid-fodder foibles and Phil’s Masters win, that duo has become so compelling that everyone else is left in their wake, with Westwood entering the Open conversation only because he was coming off a win in Memphis on top of his near miss at Augusta.

Not that a star-driven Tour is a bad thing. It’s better than having no stars at all. But what happens if neither of the Big Two nor the main supporting actor are in the main part of the plot coming down the stretch? Well, at least we’ve got Pebble Beach, the best stage we have for a U.S. Open.

Can a course be the star? Well, maybe, in the case of Pebble Beach. Although in the four previous Opens at Pebble, the course has brought the best players to the forefront.

That didn’t happen in the first round, where Woods and Westwood shot 3-over 74s and Mickelson a 75. There’s still plenty of time for them to get back in the hunt, especially on a course where it looks like the winning score will be over par.

But a shootout among those three was never a sure thing in any case. Woods still has the No. 1 ranking and he’s the biggest story in the game, but he’s not playing like a No. 1 right now, so it’s not a lock that he’ll be on the leaderboard. As for Phil, well, we all know that you never quite know what you’re going to get from him. And how long can Westwood keep up the streak of contending in every major?

There were actually encouraging signs for Woods in the first round. He wasn’t all over the golf course as he had been in his last three tournaments. If he can maintain that control over his long game, he’s got a chance.

But Woods didn’t do himself any favors with his complaints after the round about the “awful” greens. Other players mentioned that the greens were bumpy, but none came across as petulant about it as Woods did. Nor did he help his case by saying that nobody in the afternoon shot low, when actually the three lowest scores came in the afternoon—and Shaun Micheel had 22 putts and Paul Casey 23 on those same “awful” greens!

Like Woods, Mickelson couldn’t make any putts on Thursday. Neither of them made a birdie, and what kind of odds would you have gotten on that happening? For Mickelson, the question is not only whether he can get his putting stroke back but also whether he can refrain from being too aggressive in trying to shoot himself back into the championship. That’s dangerous in a U.S. Open.

What we could be left with is a wide-open Open. Not that there’s anything wrong with that for the hard-core golf fan. As for the casual fan, there will still be plenty of beauty shots of Pebble Beach and the Pacific Ocean whether Tiger, Phil, and Lee are in the picture or not.

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