Championship Sunday Arrives At Olympic Club
By Dave Shedloski
San Francisco – This is no day for the faint of heart or for false bravado.
Today’s final round of the 112th U.S. Open is going to require someone’s personal signature of authenticity. Quality shots. Clear thinking. Fortitude. Purpose.
The residue of design that should bring fortune.
The Lake Course at proud Olympic Club has but one more day to offer a defense in the honor of the national championship, and Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA and the individual in charge of cooking up a suitable golfing recipe on this San Francisco treat, believes it will be up to the task.
Just to be sure, he will assist in making it so.
“We couldn’t be more happy with the challenge we have presented the players,” Davis said as the sun set Saturday with just two men, past U.S. Open champions Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell, under par, barely, at 1-under 209. “I think what we’ve seen is a test of golf in line with other U.S. Opens here at Olympic.”
Four previous U.S. Opens at Olympic ended in dramatic fashion. Two were decided by a single stroke over 72 holes, and the other two required an 18-hole playoff to settle the matter.
Like 1966, when U.S. Open champions Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper squared off in the final pairing – a championship eventually won in dramatic fashion by Casper in a playoff after rallying from seven strokes down in the final nine of regulation to catch a faltering Palmer – this afternoon’s final twosome has pedigree in Furyk, the 2003 champion, and McDowell, who won two hours down the coast at Pebble Beach Golf Links in 2010.
Last year, Rory McIlroy led by eight strokes after 54 holes. Today, there are 46 players within eight. In 1998, Lee Janzen trailed by five at the start of the final round and drifted seven back before passing Payne Stewart.
Three-time champion Tiger Woods happens to be five behind after a sloppy 75 Saturday, in case you were wondering.
Also in pursuit are Ernie Els (1994 and 1997) and Lee Westwood. The former shot 68 with a chip-in eagle at the 17th Saturday and the latter fired a 67, tied for low round of the day, to lurk just three shots back. They will curry some sentimental favor today; Els, a two-time U.S. Open champion, won his last major, the British Open, in 2002. He finished third just two years ago at Pebble. Westwood has never won a major and is known as the guy who has a record seven top-3 finishes without winning one of the four grand slam events. He tied for third last year at Congressional.
There are other quality names in the hunt, too, plus a Cinderella story in 17-year-old amateur Beau Hossler, a California high school interloper who shot his second 70 Saturday and stands four behind at 213. An amateur hasn’t won the U.S. Open in 79 years.
But for now the showdown is at the top, with Furyk, a Pennsylvania native who lives in Florida, and McDowell, from Northern Ireland – two gutsy golfers with homemade swings who played the first two rounds together.
“Graeme and I are tied for the lead, but there's a bunch of people piled up and close to it,” noted the 42-year-old Furyk, who came close to another title in 2006 and ’07 when he finished tied for second in each. “Obviously I like being up front in the position I'm in. The golf course will take its effect on a bunch of people. And the guys that go out there and deal with the conditions and find a way to get through those difficult [opening] holes with par and limit their bogeys and take advantage of some situations where you can make birdie, those are the guys that are going to have an opportunity to win [over] the last few holes.”
“What do I expect from tomorrow?” said McDowell. “I expect a great atmosphere on this golf course. Just the way it's set up, it's like a one-sided amphitheater going down to that slope. I'll expect there to be large cheers going off. Maybe kind of a Sunday afternoon at Augusta, the way the cheers go around that place. All I can ask to give myself a chance down the stretch. I've enjoyed the buzz of it all.”
McDowell also seems to enjoy Northern California. A lot. “There's something about this kind of sea air coming off the Pacific [Ocean] that feels a little bit like home to me,” he said. “If this continues, I may have to be getting a little real estate out here.”
Today, however, the only real estate that matters is the treacherous, tilting expanses of Olympic Club and that tiny expanse between the temples.
“Experience helps around here,” said Els, 42, of South Africa. “For some reason I'm patient again this week and that's been kind of my virtue in major championship golf has been the ability to be patient and wait it out. And I think you're going to have to do that tomorrow. If you have a little bit of a flier somewhere in the round take it and then protect it.”
Furyk said he expected today’s setup to be a touch faster and firmer. Davis confirmed that a few sips of water were to be applied overnight, strategically, and there’s irony in that a layout called the Lake Course might go thirsty today for the sake of helping decide the next national champion and the first recipient of the new Jack Nicklaus Medal.
There are numerous storylines intertwined in this final day, many men with aspirations unmet or seeking embellishment.
Harsh though it might be, they play knowing its either scars or souvenirs that await them at day’s end.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.