Pablo Larrazabal at Wentworth and Brendon Todd at Colonial played well enough to move into the top 60 in the world ranking this week and avoided having to qualify for the U.S. Open. That could go a long way. The first step toward winning the U.S. Open is securing a tee time.
Angel Cabrera is a good example of that.
The Argentine described the first of his two majors as a "bit of a shock" when he won the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
"Because when I arrived at the U.S. Open, I wasn't playing great," he said. "My game was a little bit ... I wasn't playing really pure at the time."
Larrazabal and Todd are different in that respect. Todd is coming off his first win at the Byron Nelson. Larrazabal won earlier this year in Abu Dhabi.
Seven years ago, only the top 50 were exempt from qualifying. In the final event before the cutoff, Cabrera was outside the top 50 when he closed with a 70 at the BMW PGA Championship and tied for fifth to sneak into the top 50. A month later, he was the toast of Pittsburgh as the first South American to win the U.S. Open.
A long shot? He sure looked like one to Graeme McDowell.
McDowell recalled playing a nine-hole practice round with Cabrera on the eve of that U.S. Open. He never would have guessed the Argentine would be posing with the trophy at the end of the week.
"I'm out there doing my thing, looking at lines, chipping, grinding, signing autographs," McDowell said. "Angel stepped up on every tee, flushed it down the middle, hit onto the green, whiffed at a putt near the hole and scooped it up. Every time I got to the tee, he'd be waiting for me for 15 minutes. He chain-smoked three cigarettes and was just looking at me. He just seemed miserable.
"I said, 'That's OK. This guy doesn't want to be here.'"
That Cabrera would go on to win by one shot over Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk is still amazing to McDowell when he looks back on that practice round.
"I'm grinding away. I thought, 'This place is brutal.' And he literally did not chip or putt," McDowell said. "All he did was chain smoke at the back of the tee box waiting on me."
A HELPING TIGER: During his most dominant years, Tiger Woods did plenty to help the cause of the U.S. Open qualifier.
He was winning so many majors and was a perennial No. 1 in the ranking and money lists that he effectively created extra spots that were awarded to sectional qualifying sites. The U.S. Open reserves spots for the previous five winners of the Masters, British Open and PGA Championship, and the 10 previous winners of the U.S. Open.
For the 2009 tournament, as an example, Woods had won three of the last 10 U.S. Opens, one of the last five Masters, and two each of the previous five British Opens and PGAs. Throw in the other criteria (top 30 on the money list, multiple winners, world ranking) and Woods created an additional 12 spots in qualifying.
This year, mainly because of his drought in the majors, Woods has created an additional four spots. He likely could create a fifth spot if he's not healthy enough to play.
DeJONGE INSPIRATION: For those players who withdraw after a big score in the opening round, Brendon de Jonge showed what's possible at the Wells Fargo Championship. He opened with an 80, followed with a 62 to tie the course record at Quail Hollow, and at one point was only two shots out of the lead on Sunday.
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