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Tiger still the man to beat says Ernie

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Iain Carter | 22:21 UK time, Tuesday, 15 June 2010

You would have found long odds on this statement before November last year, but for the first time in 12 years Tiger Woods is not the outright bookmakers' favourite ahead of a major.

The odds on him repeating his US Open victory of a decade ago here at Pebble Beach have lengthened as a result of the turbulent background in his private life; this year Phil Mickelson is equally fancied by the bookies to win his first title in the event.

But players remain reluctant, publicly at least, to write off the winner of 14 majors. Two-time US Open champion Ernie Els, who plays with Woods in the first two rounds, still believes the American is the man to beat.

Furthermore, as far as the South African is concerned, he remains the main man in their three-ball, which also includes the in-form Briton Lee Westwood.

"You've got to give that nod still a little bit more to Tiger," said Els. "Lee has been playing some of the best golf in the world over the last two years but you have a guy that wins 14 majors and has a win record percentage of 30-40%.

"Talent doesn't go away. Obviously Tiger has had to deal with a lot of other issues outside of golf. It's been affecting him a bit on the course but it'll just be a matter of time before he is the old Tiger again.

World number one Tiger WoodsWoods can fall back on his previous success at Pebble Beach. Photo: Getty

"He's been working hard on his game, I know that, and he's the guy who won here the last time so he still has all the boxes ticked in his favour. He's the guy who won here by 15 shots 10 years ago and you can't take that away from him," Els added.

Westwood is brimming with confidence after his victory in Memphis at the weekend and feels he has plenty still in the tank despite the draining effects of a win completed in stifling heat.

"You can wear yourself out a bit after a win, but I'd like to think I've won enough events now that I know how to get back on the bike and back into tournament mode to focus on the job in hand which is obviously the US Open this week," Westwood said.

Crucially the Englishman has already done the Pebble Beach reconnaissance work here ahead of playing in Memphis. He even used a local caddie to acquire additional inside knowledge of the place.

Off the back of a victory, Westwood is entitled to feel full of confidence, though one wonders how his attitude might have shifted had Robert Garrigus made double bogey or better on the 72nd hole at the St Jude Classic.

Then the world number three would have suffered another frustrating near miss. Predictably Westwood insists it would have made little difference had the day belonged to the unheralded American. "I was using Memphis as a prep for this week, to be competitive and to get in there and have a chance," Westwood said.

"Obviously it was a massive boost to win the tournament and be given the chance to win it. I've given away tournaments before on the last hole and it was nice for one to fall my way for a change."

The most striking aspect of Pebble Beach for the 2010 US Open is the mowing of the fairways on holes 6, 8, 9 and 10 that take them to the cliff edge, opening up the prospect of shots being played from the beach.

Els hit one on to the sand at the 10th in practice. "I could have got down there to play it, but I'm not sure how I would have got back. Maybe I would have needed a rope or something," he smiled.

Despite winning twice this season, the South African wishes he was bringing more current form into the second major of the year and is hoping that playing with Woods and Westwood at such an iconic venue will inspire him this week.

Els is also tipping compatriot Tim Clark, the winner of last month's Players Championship, for a big week. "He knows how to play in the wind and he's one of the better drivers and iron players on Tour - and that's what you're going to have to do here this week," Els said.

Sergio Garcia's "pep talk" from European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie will have to wait. Monty, who was recently the subject of tabloid revelations about his private life, has not made his promised journey to the US Open so that he can spend more time with his family.

The Scot had made great play that he was coming out to Pebble Beach to keep tabs on prospective members of his team to face the US at Celtic Manor in October. He was planning to meet the out-of-form Garcia and hoping to inspire an upturn in the Spaniard's fortunes.

Montgomerie failed to qualify for this US Open, but faces a heavy playing schedule which includes the BMW International, French and Scottish Opens, as well as the Open Championship at St Andrews, in the coming weeks.

Padraig Harrington has shelved plans to put on his own event as a links tune-up the week before the Open. In recent years he has played the Irish PGA at the European Club in Wicklow to gain competitive golf in a seaside environment, but that event has been moved to September.

Last month the Irishman was mulling over staging his own tournament but this idea has not come to fruition. Instead he plans to use the JP McManus charity pro-am at Adare Manor on 5 and 6 July to provide the element of competition in his build up to the Open.

Harrington will then travel early to St Andrews and play the weekend before Open week to acclimatise to links golf.

So as the big guns seach for form and fine tune their preparation, who do you fancy to come out on top come the end of Sunday?

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    i will be betting on woods to win as i would love to see him bounce back. however you have got to fancy westwood and mickelson. both in flying form and crucually proven major form both contesting the masters. however with the big field at the us open, its not uncommon for a complete outsider to win e.g. lucas glover

  • Comment number 2.

    I think that it's right that Tiger is not the out and out favourite, his form in recent tournaments just hasn't been his usual but I expect him to be in the mix come Sunday.

    I'd give Graeme McDowell or Rory McIlroy a good chance. Both excellent links players and both in pretty good form.

  • Comment number 3.

    Form never matters for Woods. Foolish odds.

    Not played in a tournament in 5 months, came to Augusta and hit 4th place. Ridiculous. I hope he does well.

  • Comment number 4.

    I can't beleive so many people are writing Tiger Woods off. OK he has not been playing alot of golf of late and has had other more important issues to deal with, but I have no doubt he will still beat Jack Nicklaus record of 18 majors. Have you not been watching him over the last 13 years? People need to realise that in 50 years time we will be telling our grandkids about the greatest player to ever play golf.

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm writing Woods off.

    He has been poor since Augusta - and his putting, once the bedrock of his game, is his now Achilles Heel. And in a US Open, if you can't putt convincingly, then you've got next to no hope of winning.

    Woods no longer intimidates players like he used to. The intimidation factor helped him win many of his major triumphs and if this has diminished, then so has his chances. Put it this way, if Woods is on the leaderboard on the final day, players will not fall away like they used to.

    Additionally, there is so much strength in depth on both US and European tours that picking a winner on is virtually impossible.

    Strong Si - yes, I have been watching over the last 13 years, more closely than all but those who make a living out of the game. I can confidently say that Woods' feat of winning one or two majors a year is over. I will be very surprised if he wins any this year, despite them being held at his favoured venues of Pebble & St. Andrews.

    Whether he will equal of beat Nicklaus' record of 18 is another topic entirely. Personally, I hope he doesn't.

  • Comment number 6.

    Tiger Woods put in a strong performance at the Masters this year and will be back to his best at Pebble Beach. He may not intimidate players as he used to, but the course will help him out there as will the occasion. There is a big difference between the likes of Quail Hollow etc and Pebble Beach and other players will struggle with getting to grips with the course itself. This is where Woods has the advantage along with Mickelson and a few others.

    If Tiger gets a good start then I expect him to leave the field in his wake. Then the media will backtrack and overnight all the performances of the last few months will be forgotten. Players will once again crumble when they see his name on the scoreboard and all will be as it should.

    Good luck with getting decent odds at St Andrews if Woods wins this weekend. I for one am glad that I got my bet in for the British Open while the odds are still respectable.

  • Comment number 7.

    See there's an air of prickliness out there for Monty....

    TW - nope. Was wrong about Augusta where i said he'd be closer to the cut than the title but he started well there then just fell back. i'm more concerned about how the TW circus will affect LW!

    And Memphis should be seen as more than a tune up for Lee. Garrigus reminded him how, like Ricky Barnes last year, it is easy to lose your way and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. So a good reminder on not giving up until its over and how to be the last man standing.

    Lee or lefty to win, TW top 20.

  • Comment number 8.

    TW has won his last major.

  • Comment number 9.

    Good luck to Tiger, Lee Westwood and all the British and Irish folk taking part in this week's US Open. After all Colin M's press quotes/TV interviews about Tiger's personal life it would appear fate (or karma call it what you will) has proved his undoing too. Word to the wise, those who live in glasshouses should never throw stones or better still "he who is without sin let him cast the first stone". We've witnessed the rise and fall of the King, awaited his return to the game, now we seek the comeback of all comebacks. It may be too soon for it to happen here, but when it does happen, the wait will be worth it.

  • Comment number 10.

    At 00:16am on 16 Jun 2010, Exotic Dancer wrote:
    i will be betting on woods to win as i would love to see him bounce back. however you have got to fancy westwood and mickelson. both in flying form and crucually proven major form both contesting the masters. however with the big field at the us open, its not uncommon for a complete outsider to win e.g. lucas glover

    Have you heard of capital letters? - Thought not

  • Comment number 11.

    I really hope Tiger one day gets "It" back. He may or may not - I can easily see him blitzing past the Nicklaus 18, and I can just as easily see 14 majors as being his lot. This week, however, I'd price him as 20/1 4th or 5th favourite, that sort of thing. Course, 20/1 4th or 5th favourites often win. I fancy both Mickelson and Westwood more than him, for this one, and I fancy Mickelson over Westwood. Half the calendar slam - would be great, not seen since The Man in 2002, think that's right. No question in my mind, BTW, that Woods' 15 stroke win at Pebble in 2000 was the greatest individual performance in sporting history - any sport, any time. I rate it just a touch higher then Bolt in Bejing.

  • Comment number 12.

    I think Dustin Johnson should have a great chance this week. He's won twice at Pebble Beach and has been in pretty solid form this year.

    My heart says Tiger though - I'd love him to do it.

 

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