U.S. Open Tees Off In San Francisco

David Greene talks with Christine Brennan of USA Today for a preview of the tournament. Brennan weighs in on the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson rivalry, Masters champ Bubba Watson and a 14-year-old qualifier.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The U.S. Open golf championship is teeing off today in San Francisco. And one person who'll be watching the tournament very closely is Christine Brennan from USA Today. We've reached her to give us a preview.

Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Hey, David.

GREENE: So we're talking U.S. Open at a time when Tiger Woods seems to maybe be on the cusp of a comeback. He wins Jack Nicklaus's Memorial Tournament in Ohio. Is he playing well enough to win here?

BRENNAN: I think he might be, although with Tiger, David, you're never sure. The new Tiger, I mean, get a load of this. He won Arnold Palmer's tournament back in March. Then he tied for 40th at the Masters, just as we thought he might be coming back. He surprised us. He wasn't ready. Then he missed the cut at a tournament. Then he tied for 40th at the Players Tournament. And then he won, as you mentioned, in Ohio a week and a half ago.

So what Tiger is it that we're going to see? The interesting thing is it has been four years exactly since he won a major. It was the U.S. Open in 2008. Who would've ever thought that he would go four years without winning a major? So I think the pressure is on. And he's a three-time U.S. Open winner. So this is a tournament that he would probably like to win more than any other and tell everybody he is back in a big way.

GREENE: You know, one of the interesting narratives among many is that he's going to be playing alongside Phil Mickelson, a long-time rival. They'll be playing together, at least the first two days. Give us a refresher. Remind us about that rivalry.

BRENNAN: Well, it's quite a rivalry. And they've played together, they figure, 31 times in their careers. So this is a long, storied rivalry in the game of golf. As both have said, they're probably not going to be doing a lot of talking. They're going to be grinding on this golf course at the Olympic Club. It's a tough, tough golf course. So this isn't going to be a social outing for either of them.

And Phil has never won a U.S. Open. And, as he's turning 42, you wonder how many more chances he's going to have. He has been second or tied for second five times in the U.S. Open, the national championship, has never won it. And that is a gaping hole in his resume.

GREENE: Well, adding to that drama, you have Bubba Watson playing alongside the two of them, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. And Bubba Watson, of course, I mean a lot of people just fell in love with him when he donned the green jacket at the Masters and won his first championship. I mean, what are his chances in San Francisco at the U.S. Open?

BRENNAN: I'm not so sure about Bubba. He's had a really good time since he won the Masters. And that's fine. It's appropriate. He's living life. He and his wife have a newly adopted son, and he's been spending a lot of time with him and not playing much golf. And it's his own admission that he has not been practicing and playing a lot. He calls himself a New Age redneck, which you have to love a guy who says that.

I think Bubba's going to be the one probably doing a lot of the chatting and talking and having a lot of the laughs, as Phil and Tiger and Bubba play those first two rounds. It's going to be fascinating to watch.

GREENE: Bubba, the potential distraction on the course.

BRENNAN: Exactly.

GREENE: Who else do you expect might contend? I mean, I understand there's a 14-year-old who qualified for the tournament, the youngest ever to qualify?

BRENNAN: That's right. He got in. Andy Zhang, he got in when two players withdrew. So 14 years old, the youngest ever to make the U.S. Men's Open. There actually have been younger girls who have made the U.S. Women's Open - a 10-and-a-half-year-old back in 1967, and a 12-year-old a few years ago. But that's going to be fun to watch.

And then Rory McIlroy, who's a little bit older than that youngster - Rory, of course, is 23, the defending champion from last year. He's had a bit of an uneven run the last few weeks. He's missed three cuts in a row before having a good finish last week. And the question is, can Rory get his game back, because he certainly was a popular champion last year.

GREENE: A lot of golf to watch. Enjoy it.

BRENNAN: Thank you, David.

GREENE: All right. That's Christine Brennan. She's a columnist for USA Today, talking to us about the beginning of the U.S. Open, which is teeing off today in San Francisco.

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