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Injured Tiger Woods Won't Play At U.S. Open

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The United States Open golf tournament begins today at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. The defending champion is Irishman Graeme McDowell. He returns ranked number seven. He has yet to win a tournament this year. Tiger Woods will not be playing at the U.S. Open. He's been suffering from a bad knee, we're told, as well as an Achilles tendon that's giving him problems. We're going to preview the tournament this morning with USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan.

Hi, Christine. Good to see you again.

Ms. CHRISTINE BRENNAN (USA Today): Hey, Steve. Great to see you.

INSKEEP: So Tiger Woods' Achilles heel is actually his Achilles heel this time.

Ms. BRENNAN: Exactly. And that means that the U.S. Open is wide open in a way we haven't seen maybe since Tiger first played in the Open. It's been 1994 since he's missed a U.S. Open. Tiger Woods has won three of these. He's got 14 majors.

But we haven't seen much of him. He had the fourth place finish at the Masters. That's more than two months ago. He played nine holes, tried to play in the Tournament Players Championship in May and withdrew. And he's got his foot in a boot. He's on crutches. And I don't even know if he'll be back at all this summer.

INSKEEP: So whoever wins, it's not going to be Tiger Woods. Could it be Phil Mickelson?

Ms. BRENNAN: Well, Phil Mickelson is certainly hoping for that, Steve. He's five-time runner up. He turns 41 today. And the best birthday present he thinks he could have would be to finally win this thing.

He is the ultimate gambler. Maybe folks recall in 2006 he could've won the U.S. Open easily. Well, nothing's easy, but he had it in the bag. And his tee shots and golf balls ended up in trashcans and bouncing off the corporate hospitality tent with bad decision-making from the standpoint of using drivers when he should've been using a lesser club.

INSKEEP: Does he not win the U.S. Open - and of course he's been so close, some of those runner-up finishes should've been wins or so it seemed watching on television - is it because of the nature of the U.S. Open? The rough is very thick. They're very hard courses. They're set up to be even harder than they normally would be, and so your gambles don't pay off as often.

Ms. BRENNAN: Exactly. He's won the Masters several times. And there's a reason for that. You can gamble and there's no penalty. The U.S. Open is the complete opposite. And Phil said something the other day in his press conference. You've got to minimize the miss. Now, I don't see minimize the miss becoming Phil Mickelson's slogan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRENNAN: But if he can do that over the next four days, he could finally win the U.S. Open.

INSKEEP: So who is in position actually to play well with this course the way that it is?

Ms. BRENNAN: Martin Kaymer says there are 30 to 40 guys could win. Now, Martin Kaymer won the PGA championship. Most folks haven't even heard of him.

But I would look for a couple Englishmen - Luke Donald, Lee Westwood. Both of them never have won a major. Luke Donald's 33. Lee Westwood's 38. And they both played very well recently. Luke Donald and all the tournaments he's been in, top 10 finishes galore. And Lee Westwood has had two second places, two third places in his last six majors. So those two guys I think are right there.

But the last 10 men's majors there've been 10 different winners. As Kaymer said, wide open.

INSKEEP: We should mention, I suppose, the pros are not the only ones who are going to be playing golf around the Washington area this weekend. President Obama is supposed to play golf with the House speaker, John Boehner, as they try to work out a budget.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRENNAN: Well, I don't think they're going to get anywhere near Congressional - literally or figuratively. But they are playing golf this week. And they're not playing at Burning Tree - John Boehner's course, of course, that doesn't allow women members, which is kind of hard to believe that the Speaker of the House is a member of a golf course that doesn't allow women.

There's that great - and Burning Tree's just down the street from Congressional but worlds away in terms of that part of it. But a great story about Burning Tree. Years ago, a small plane, light plane crashed on one of the fairways of the golf course. When they realized that a - the members realized a woman was on that plane - everyone just had minor injuries - they escorted the woman to the front gate and called her a taxi cab.

INSKEEP: Well, fortunately, women are allowed at Congressional, so Christine Brennan will be covering the U.S. Open.

Christine, good to talk with you.

Ms. BRENNAN: Thank you very much, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.