The Reuters global sports blog
Europeans seek breakthrough at U.S. Open
Europe’s undistinguished record at the U.S. Open over the last 40 years has been puzzling to say the very least but several signs indicate it could change for the better at Pebble Beach this week.
Seven Europeans lie in the world’s top 14 for the year’s second major where the spectacular par-71 layout on California’s Monterey Peninsula is running fast and firm in the style of a British Open links course.
While American world number two Phil Mickelson was regarded by several leading bookmakers as the tournament favourite before struggling in the first round, third-ranked Briton Lee Westwood has attracted strong backing.
The Englishman is arguably the best player in the game from tee to green, has recorded top-three finishes in the last three majors and arrived at Pebble Beach fresh from a playoff victory at the PGA Tour’s St. Jude Classic on Sunday.
Other Europeans expected to flourish this week include British world number eight Ian Poulter, 10th-ranked Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy and three-times major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland. No European has won the U.S. Open since Britain’s Tony Jacklin at Hazeltine in 1970 but Harrington regards this simply as a coincidence.
“That’s all it is,” the Irishman said before Thursday’s opening round. “There’s nothing more to it. The U.S. Open is no more tougher a major to win.
“If Europeans had won the last 39 U.S. Opens, would it be that Europeans are going to win this week? No. It doesn’t. It’s the best player going out this week, regardless of where he’s from.”
Westwood, who finished third in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines just one stroke shy of making the playoff, agreed Europe’s lengthy title drought was merely coincidental.
“I don’t think there’s more to it than that,” he said. “We have not played well enough but we have had a lot of good chances recently.
“(Nick) Faldo had a couple of good chances and Monty’s (Colin Montgomerie’s) had a couple of decent chances. I did, I had a decent chance at Torrey Pines. “But we have not finished it off and if you don’t finish it off, you don’t deserve to win.”