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Second Major of 2004 - 104th U.S. Open
by Andy Smith, Editor -

The PGA Tour and the European Tour International Schedule both have the same event on the calendar this week, the 104th U.S. Open. Naturally, the best players from all the professional Tours will be there, competing with a host of qualifiers. This will include eight amateurs, the favorite being Casey Wittenberg, who was top amateur at the Masters in April.

Jim Furyk on the ninth tee during the first day of practice at the 104th U.S. Open, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, New York.
(Getty Images)

2003 champion Jim Furyk has finally committed to return and defend his title despite surgery to his left wrist which put him in doubt until the last minute. With only one charity event a week ago as a warm up, it is unlikely that Furyk will be firing on all cylinders, and if his injury gives him any discomfort he is likely to withdraw from the event. Perhaps he will benefit from being under a little less pressure than most defending champions. And since expectations of a repeat performance are not too high, he could surprise a more than a few people.
As usual, the pundits are favoring the chances of the home contingent and the top ranked players. I'm not one to say that they are wrong. It's obvious that the likes of Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III all have a lot going for them. But I do think there are a few other players who deserve a mention. Not least of them is last week's Buick Classic winner Sergio Garcia.

For his 24 years, this young man has a very old head on his shoulders. He is already no stranger to winning, and has a determination and calmness under pressure rarely seen in one so young. Forget last year when he was remanufacturing his swing, and go back to 2002 when he won one event and had nine top ten finishes, including all four majors. He missed only 2 cuts from 21 starts in 2002, and so far this year has not missed any. From his 12 starts in 2004 he has 4 top tens including T4 in the Masters, and two victories in the last five weeks. Unless he has any problems getting comfortable with the Shinnecock Hills course, I would expect Garcia to finish in the top five.

Justin Rose got off to a blazing start in the Masters, only to falter at the finish line, ending up with a share of 22nd place. He led the field in the early stages of the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth, but dropped to T11. At the Memorial Tournament a couple of weeks ago, he played four solid rounds, staying on the leaderboard all week, to finish 4th. I expect a good start from this young Englishman, and if he has learned anything from recent experiences, he could still be thereabouts at the end.

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Justin Rose & Ian Poulter at Monday practice for 104th U.S. Open. (Getty Images)

Nick Faldo is no stranger to winning majors, albeit the last was some time ago. This year he did not have an exemption for the U.S. Open and made the effort to qualify. His recent form has been good. So, I would anticipate a steady performance from him, with at least a top twenty finish.

Another player of the same generation, who has every chance of bringing experience to bear, is Fred Couples. In the last two weeks, he has shown that he can still turn it on when he needs to and has come into form again just at the right time. If he is involved in the finish, you can guarantee he'll be getting a boost from the crowd, and I will be cheering him along from my home in Spain.

Whatever the outcome, it is sure to be an exciting four days of golf, and we'll have a full report for you in next week's issue.



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