Pablo Larrazabal at Wentworth and Brendon Todd at Colonial played well enough to move into the top 60 in the world ranking this week and avoided having to qualify for the U.S. Open. That could go a long way. The first step toward winning the U.S. Open is securing a tee time.
Angel Cabrera is a good example of that.
The Argentine described the first of his two majors as a “bit of a shock” when he won the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
“Because when I arrived at the U.S. Open, I wasn’t playing great,” he said. “My game was a little bit … I wasn’t playing really pure at the time.”
Larrazabal and Todd are different in that respect. Todd is coming off his first win at the Byron Nelson. Larrazabal won earlier this year in Abu Dhabi.
Seven years ago, only the top 50 were exempt from qualifying. In the final event before the cutoff, Cabrera was outside the top 50 when he closed with a 70 at the BMW PGA Championship and tied for fifth to sneak into the top 50. A month later, he was the toast of Pittsburgh as the first South American to win the U.S. Open.
A long shot? He sure looked like one to Graeme McDowell.
McDowell recalled playing a nine-hole practice round with Cabrera on the eve of that U.S. Open. He never would have guessed the Argentine would be posing with the trophy at the end of the week.
“I’m out there doing my thing, looking at lines, chipping, grinding, signing autographs,” McDowell said. “Angel stepped up on every tee, flushed it down the middle, hit onto the green, whiffed at a putt near the hole and scooped it up. Every time I got to the tee, he’d be waiting for me for 15 minutes. He chain-smoked three cigarettes and was just looking at me. He just seemed miserable.
“I said, ‘That’s OK. This guy doesn’t want to be here.’”
That Cabrera would go on to win by one shot over Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk is still amazing to McDowell when he looks back on that practice round.
“I’m grinding away. I thought, ‘This place is brutal.’ And he literally did not chip or putt,” McDowell said. “All he did was chain smoke at the back of the tee box waiting on me.”
A HELPING TIGER
During his most dominant years, Tiger Woods did plenty to help the cause of the U.S. Open qualifier.
He was winning so many majors and was a perennial No. 1 in the ranking and money lists that he effectively created extra spots that were awarded to sectional qualifying sites. The U.S. Open reserves spots for the previous five winners of the Masters, British Open and PGA Championship, and the 10 previous winners of the U.S. Open.
For the 2009 tournament, as an example, Woods had won three of the last 10 U.S. Opens, one of the last five Masters, and two each of the previous five British Opens and PGAs. Throw in the other criteria (top 30 on the money list, multiple winners, world ranking) and Woods created an additional 12 spots in qualifying.
This year, mainly because of his drought in the majors, Woods has created an additional four spots. He likely could create a fifth spot if he’s not healthy enough to play.
For those players who withdraw after a big score in the opening round, Brendon de Jonge showed what’s possible at the Wells Fargo Championship. He opened with an 80, followed with a 62 to tie the course record at Quail Hollow, and at one point was only two shots out of the lead on Sunday.
He wound up in a tie for sixth, worth $239,775 and 95 points toward the FedEx Cup. That could go a long way.
“Curtis Strange nearly won the Masters after shooting 80, didn’t he?” Geoff Ogilvy said, correctly remembering 1985. “Guys will remember it for a week or two. I don’t think they’ll remember it forever.”
De Jonge is not one to WD, though it helped that he lives in Charlotte.
“But to shoot 62? That’s ridiculous,” Jimmy Walker said. “How can you do that? It’s golf, that’s how you can. I’ve always felt like there’s a chance. If I ever withdraw, it’s because I’m legitimately hurt. I did that in the final round at Tampa one year because my neck went out. It’s got to be really bad for me to quit.”
Ogilvy recalls being inspired by Tiger Woods in his pro debut at the Masters. Woods started the tournament with a 40 on the front nine. By Sunday, he had set the tournament record at 18-under 270 and won by a record 12 shots.
“For a few years post-‘97 Masters, if I shot 40 on the front nine and I would say, ‘Tiger shot 18 under after a 40 on the front nine.’ I definitely thought about that when I was over par in early. You’re never out of it. There’s rarely an excuse to not play the next 18 if you can function.”
CVS CHARITY CLASSIC
Steve Stricker returns to defend the only title he won last year in the CVS Charity Classic.
The 36-hole event hosted by Brad Faxon and Billy Andrade is at Rhode Island Country Club on June 23-24, right after the U.S. Women’s Open. Stricker won last year with Bo Van Pelt. They will be joined by Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner, along with Juli Inkster and Lexi Thompson from the LPGA Tour. Inkster was the first female to play and is competing for the seventh year. Peter Jacobsen will be playing for the 16th straight time.
The event has raised more than $17 million for New England charities.