Young Upstarts Lead U.S. Open

This year's U.S. Open hasn't exactly been par for the course. Instead of the big names in golf dominating the leaderboard, a couple young breakout stars have been tearing up the green. Guest host Jacki Lyden talks with Ron Sirak, senior writer at Golf Digest to preview the final day of the tournament.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

It's the final day of the U.S. Open and this year's championship hasn't exactly been par for the course. Tiger Woods is sitting the tournament out for the first time since 1995. With his star beginning to fade, there are a couple new breakout players on the green this year. Joining us from the golf course of the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland is Ron Sirak. He's a senior writer at Golf Digest. Welcome, Ron.

Mr. RON SIRAK (Senior Writer, Golf Digest): Good morning. How are you doing?

LYDEN: Just fine. Let's start with a golfer who's been getting the most attention - 22-year-old Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland. He's competing with legends like Phil Mickelson, who's twice his age, and he's just blowing people away. Tell us about him.

Mr. SIRAK: Yeah. You know, he's on the verge of recording a historic performance here. He is through 54 holes. He's got the lowest score ever in a U.S. Open by two strokes. He has an eight-stroke lead going into the final round. And, of course, he's also taking into the final round the legacy that he had a four-stroke lead in the first major championship this year, The Masters, going into Sunday and he shot a very painful 80 that day.

But the young man really seems to have learned. He's matured beyond his years and is just blowing the field away.

LYDEN: Now, another young player making waves is the 19-year-old UCLA freshman, Patrick Cantlay. He also just won the Phil Mickelson award. How's he been doing?

Mr. SIRAK: Yeah. He was the player of the year in college golf. He's tied for 15th place right now. He's at one-under-par. There hasn't been an amateur finish under par in a U.S. Open since a guy named Jack Nicklaus did it in 1960. So, he's got a chance to make a little bit of history himself today.

LYDEN: Pretty exciting Open. Just looking at the leader board; there are more than a handful of players from Sweden and Australia and even South Korea. Do you think we're starting to see a more international golf community?

Mr. SIRAK: Yeah, you know, I think part of the Tiger Woods's legacy is going to be that he's expanded the game globally. He's really just pushed the borders to every corner of the planet. And right now we're seeing golfers coming from all the continents. If McIlroy wins here today - and he almost certainly will -that will be the fifth consecutive major championship won by an international player. We've never in the history of the majors - four majors gone - five consecutive tournaments with an American at least one.

And that's the impact that Tiger's had on the game. He's made the game cool to play, he's made it possible to get rich playing the game, has attracted a better quality of athletes to the game and it's attracted an international field.

LYDEN: Any speculations, Ron, about how this U.S. Open is going to end?

Mr. SIRAK: I fully expect young Rory to hang in there today. I think he learned from the mistakes he made at Augusta. He's a baby-faced kid with a mop of curly hair. He plays very passionate golf, and they've embraced him here as one of their own.

LYDEN: That's Ron Sirak. He's a senior writer for Golf Digest and he talked to us from the golf course of Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. The U.S. Open ends today. Ron, thanks so much.

Mr. SIRAK: Thank you, Jacki. Thanks for having me.

LYDEN: This is NPR News.

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