Missing Tiger

Our experts consider Tiger's impact past and present...

Last Updated: 14/06/11 3:22pm

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The year's second golf major is coming your way on Sky Sports this week.

We'll bring you comprehensive coverage of the 111th US Open with more than 30 hours of live golf from the Congressional Country Club in Maryland, Bethesda.

As Graeme McDowell prepares to defend the title he won at Pebble Beach last year, we caught up with two of the faces of the Sky Sports golf team, Mark Roe and Howard Clark, to get their thoughts and memories on this famous event.

And after Tiger Woods was forced to withdraw from the tournament through injury, they also discuss what impact his absence will have...

What does the US Open mean to you?
I have good memories of the US Open Championship. I played in it once at Shinnecock Hills and was the leading European that year, with Corey Pavin winning the trophy. That top-15 finish got me in The Masters the next year so I have every fond memories.

HOWARD CLARK: The US Open means about 30 hours of work for me! Having to walk such a long way in the heat is going to make it tough. I'm not moaning about that because I know what to expect, but physically and mentally it's draining because of the heat and the humidity, which is usually very high wherever they put the US Open. Pebble Beach was pretty special because it was a 'fresh' heat by the sea, but Washington will be humid. It will be difficult for me, but it will also be difficult for the players and they'll be very stressed by the conditions. That's an added pressure for them.

How does the US Open compare to the other majors?
For me, the US Open is second only to The Open Championship. My order of preference would go: The Open, the US Open, The Masters and The USPGA. I would rather win the US Open than The Masters to be honest with you. It's more historic for me; The Masters only started in 1934, whereas the US Open goes back to the turn of the century so there's more history there. It's certainly historic when you think of the players that travelled to play in it and that's why I rate it as second on the list of majors I would have liked to have won if I'd ever been good enough!

HOWARD: I wouldn't put them in any order really. They are four majors that all stand alone and for me they're all different tests. The Masters is an invitation - they only invite around 90 players - so that makes it unique; the US Open is probably the most demanding test of every shot in the game; The Open, a lot of the time, is down to elements - you can get blown away at Sandwich as we saw the last time it was there, so you have to be very creative in your shot-making; and the USPGA is usually in a hot, almost resort-type golf course, very close to the US Open but not as severe. They are different types of tests.

What are your stand-out memories of watching the US Open in years gone by?
I've been watching the US Open for many years and my favourite moment would have to be Tiger Woods playing on one leg at Torrey Pines in 2008. I was coaching Lee Westwood at the time and he was in the frame so it was exciting for that reason, but it was exhilarating to see Tiger's resolve and determination that week. He had an unshaking desire to win against all odds because he was playing on a knee that was breaking down completely. He was in a condition whereby most people wouldn't be able to get around a golf course and he proved how strong he was mentally - and physically - to be able to carry himself. His reaction to holing the putt at 18 made it one of the great US Opens.

HOWARD: I think the most vivid recollection I have is of Pebble Beach and Tiger Woods winning by 15 shots in 2000 - and he even had a triple-bogey to count in the third hole of the third round! Also, going back to Pebble Beach last year, watching McDowell win in a slightly different way, where everyone was struggling on that course. The greens looked bad, but actually putted very well and I think the conditions for the players is something that stands out when it comes to the US Open.

MARK: I also remember when Tom Watson won at Pebble Beach. I remember very clearly when he chipped in at 17, made a little point to his caddie and did a lap of the green. That was just magic. I also remember the last time the US Open was held at Congressional because Monty had a great chance to win. He and Ernie Els were head to head coming down the last few holes, but Ernie hit that magnificent shot into 17 which set him up for a fabulous win. That was his second US Open win and it will be interesting for me to go back to that golf course this week with those memories in my mind.

Both of you mentioned the impact that Tiger Woods has had on the US Open. Do you think this year's tournament will suffer in his absence?
Not at all. Right now we have the most magnificent set of talent at the top of the world rankings with the likes of Luke Donald and Lee Westwood - the world numbers one and two - both looking to win their first major. Times have changed a huge amount in terms of the world game and you wouldn't have Tiger down as one of the favourites any more. If you look at his form, then even if he wasn't injured then he still wouldn't be able to justify being down as a favourite in my mind. There's too many other players doing well at the moment. Gone are the days when he was so dominant that you had him down as odds-on favourite each time he played.

HOWARD: I think any tournament without Tiger Woods in the field has lost potentially the best, if not the best player in the world. Arguably he would, on form, be one of the contenders, but at the moment he's not in the top 10. I don't think his absence is in detriment to the tournament, but he's a player who could go out and win the event if he was fit.

MARK: There were signs of form in the last round of The Masters, which was great. He illuminated the last day with that sudden charge, but a missed putt at 12 and missed eagle putt at 15 showed he's not the Tiger that we used to see. In the past he would have made those two putts - and if he had then it might have proved to be good enough to win. Yet he couldn't get the job finished and people are no longer as afraid of Tiger as they were. Everybody wants to see him back, producing those great charges, but right now his form isn't frequent enough. The US Open will go ahead without him and it will be just as exciting.

HOWARD: A lot of people won't go to the tournament because Tiger's not playing and security might be a little easier if he's not there! From my point of view, I would normally be following Woods on two or three days out of the four, we know that the US TV companies follow his every move. With him not playing this year, I could be following anybody - but those anybodys will certainly be in the top 20 of the world rankings.

In the absence of Woods, does that mean all eyes will be on Phil Mickelson instead?
HOWARD: I agree Mickelson would be the big draw for the crowds and he's always exciting to watch. They always want him to win the US Open and anybody with a short game like his has got a chance to win. He needs to find the fairways, that's the test for him. Once he gets on the fairways then he's always dangerous. I hope that our eyes can be firmly set on Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, to name just two, I hope they get a lot of airtime next week. If they do, it means they're playing well.

MARK: Mickelson's form is erratic and inconsistent. Apart from the Shell Houston Open when he had a brilliant weekend, he has been too inconsistent to back him confidently. It's hard to say which Phil Mickelson will turn up, but of course he can do it. He's a potential winner every time he tees up and he's got to be in the top 10 when you make a list of favourites because of his record, but I'm not sure he'll win this week.

Check back later in the week when Howard and Mark will give their views on the main contenders for this year's title.

And don't forget to tune in to the 111th US Open. Our coverage starts from 3pm, Thursday on Sky Sports HD2.

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