Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Padraig Harrington  (Getty Images)
Padraig Harrington (Getty Images)
Europe's top players will go into the US Open Championship believing they can vie with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to break a 40-year title drought in America's national championship.

World Numbers One and Two Woods and Mickelson are set to start as joint favourites with many bookmakers for victory at Pebble Beach and between them the Californian rivals have plenty of credentials to back their short odds.

Woods ran riot at the California links when the US Open Championship last visited Pebble Beach in 2000, winning by 15 strokes at 12 under par - the largest margin of victory in a Major - while Mickelson comes in as a five-time runner up in the event and as reigning Masters Tournament champion.

Yet while there have been plenty of near misses since Tony Jacklin of England won the 1970 US Open Championship at Hazeltine in Minnesota, including runner-up finishes for Nick Faldo (1988), Ian Woosnam (1989), Colin Montgomerie (1994, 1997 and 2006) and Miguel Angel Jiménez (2000), the present crop of European big guns does not believe in curses or any other type of conspiracy.

"That's a coincidence. That's all it is, there's nothing more to it," said three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington, who ended a 78-year barren run for Europe when he won the 2008 US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.

"The US Open is no tougher a major to win. Why are so many US guys winning The Open?

"It's just a coincidence. It's the way things have run. I don't read anything into it.

"If Europeans had won the last 39 US Opens, would it mean 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.

"There's a lot of good European players. One of them is going to win a US Open pretty soon."

European Number One and World Number Three Lee Westwood and World Number Ten Rory McIlroy agreed with Ireland's Harrington.

Both have won on US soil this year, Westwood at the St Jude Classic last Sunday and McIlroy at last month's Quail Hollow Championship.

"I don't think there's more to it than that," said Englishman Westwood, who was third at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.

"I think it's coincidence and we have not played well enough.

"We've had a lot of good chances recently. Obviously Faldo had a couple of good chances and Monty's had a couple of decent chances.

"I did, I had a decent chance at Torrey Pines. I'm sure there's more that I've forgotten, but we have not finished it off and if you don't finish it off, you don't deserve to win.

"So we've got a record number of competitors in the field this week and 59 or 60 or so seems like a good percentage to have a decent chance."

Northern Ireland's McIlroy was certainly very bullish about European chances at Pebble Beach.

"I don't think Europeans are going into this event thinking 'oh, we've got to win, it's 40 years or whatever since Tony Jacklin won'," said the 21 year old.

"I think this year there's a great chance that a European could win.

"Especially the way the golf course is set up. If it continues to get as firm as it has been the last couple of days, it's playing like a links out there.

"Lee and Robert (Karlsson of Sweden) were in the play-off last week, so they're playing pretty good. There's so many others as well.

"You never know. Hopefully if it isn't myself it can be one of the other Europeans."

Whoever wins will be joining a cast of previous Pebble Beach winners that features some of golf's greatest names, from Jack Nicklaus in 1972, Tom Watson in 1982 and Tom Kite in 1992 to Tiger Woods in 2000.

Westwood is paired with three-time champion Woods and South African Ernie Els for the first two rounds while Harrington is in a group with Mickelson and his successor as US PGA Champion Y E Yang of Korea.

McIlroy finds himself paired with fellow young gun Ryo Ishikawa of Japan alongside 60 year old Watson, who proved last year at the age of 59 when he finished runner-up at The Open Championship at Turnberry that he is still a force to be reckoned with, confirming the wide-open nature of the tournament.

 

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