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Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson
Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson

Rubenstein: Golf's underrated players Add to ...

Bubba Watson was one of golf’s most underrated players, and then, after winning the Masters, he wasn’t. Louis Oosthuizen was in that category, even after he whipped the field by seven shots to win the 2010 Open Championship at the Old Course. Far too many golf people don’t include Yani Tseng in their conversations about the top players, even though she’s won five majors at a younger age than anybody, and has already won three LPGA Tour events this year.

Here’s something else. The odds makers had Watson at 30-1 to win June’s U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco the last time I looked, presumably because they don’t think he can handle a tight course. Maybe they’re right. Maybe they’re not. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who were nowhere men in the Masters, are the favourites. Are they overrated at the moment? Just asking.

It’s interesting to watch what happens to players who win their first majors, when not many people expected them to grab one of the Grand Slam events. Suddenly they have backstories. Suddenly golf watchers realize they’d overlooked what a player had done and might yet do. Nobody believed Oosthuizen could really win the Open, and after he won it, there was this notion that, well, maybe it was a fluke.

Granted, as my colleague Jeff Brooke pointed out to me, there was a legitimate question as to why Oosthuizen hadn’t followed up his Open championship with more big wins. He lost the Masters playoff to Watson, which did show he was a major player. And his swing has been one of the best in the game for a long time. It’s balanced, smooth, and powerful. And he just won the Maybank Malaysian Open by three shots, the Sunday after losing to Watson.

I still don’t think many people will be thinking seriously of him as one of the favourites for the U.S. Open, though. Still, he tied for ninth last year. But maybe he’s just too polished a player. Nothing he does stands out. He’s excellent at everything. Watson, meanwhile, has said himself that certain courses don’t set up well for him. Maybe he won’t be that confident going into Olympic. At the same time, he’s said that if he has a swing, he has a shot.

If Watson doesn’t back up his Masters win, though, I’d say that a lot of folks will still think of him as an overachiever. That’s another way of thinking of him as underrated, isn’t it? By the way, here’s a piece I wrote about Watson a month ago. I was arguing that he was the most entertaining player in the game. That’s even more apparent now.

Meanwhile, think about Mike Weir, and if you’re a Canadian reader, well, I know you do think about him. He’s going through golfing purgatory right now, and just shot 76-81 to miss the cut by a street at the RBC Heritage that was played at the classy Harbour Town Links in Hilton Head Island, S.C. But go back nine years, to just before the 2003 Masters. Weir had won twice on the PGA Tour. Still, he was vastly underrated and came into the Masters at 40-1 odds. Then he won, and in looks back at him, there was the feeling he’d been overlooked.

Speaking of the RBC Heritage, what about Carl Pettersson? He won the tournament by five shots over Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion and another underrated player. It was the Swede’s fifth PGA Tour win. He took the 2010 RBC Canadian Open. I guarantee that hardly anybody will consider him a contender for the U.S. Open, or even next month’s Players Championship. He, like Watson, also isn’t using a swing coach now, although he has before. He won’t be much of a story, until he is. Yet he’s won five times. That’s not nothing.

A final look at a list of underrated players: Of course, there’s Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion; Lee Westwood, because he’s yet to win a major; Matt Kuchar; Nick Watney; Bo Van Pelt; Mark Wilson; John Senden.

It wouldn’t be surprising if any of these players wins the U.S. Open. They, and others, remain underrated, very much so.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at rube@sympatico.ca . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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