San Francisco, CA (Sports Network) - Let this serve not just as a warning to
second-round leaders Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and David Toms, but as a reminder
to those who barely made the cut on Friday at the U.S. Open.
Strange things happen at U.S. Opens at Olympic Club.
It all started in 1955 when Ben Hogan had finished his 36-hole day at 287. The
only player with a chance to catch one of the game's all-time greats was an
Iowa club pro named Jack Fleck.
Down two, Fleck birdied the 15th, parred the next two, then made an 8-foot
birdie on the 18th to force a playoff. The two went to an 18-hole playoff and
the club pro beat the four-time U.S. Open champion 69-72 to complete the
Eleven years later, Arnold Palmer built a 3-shot cushion heading into the
final round. "The King" went out in 32, amassed a 7-shot margin and appeared
destined to win another U.S. Open title.
On the back nine things changed, and quickly.
Palmer made bogeys in bunches and Billy Casper knocked in a couple of birdies
and all of a sudden, it was a tournament. Palmer had a 39 on the back and it
was another 18-hole playoff.
Casper won that by four, and, much like Hogan before him, Palmer never won
another major title.
In 1987, Tom Watson, winless in the three years before his trip to Olympic
Club, took a 1-shot edge into the final round. He shot a more-than-respectable
70 on Sunday.
Scott Simpson, a three-time winner on tour, managed a 2-under 68 and made a 6-
foot par save on 18. Watson needed a long birdie putt to fall at the last to
force a playoff and came up narrowly short.
Watson joined Hogan and Palmer as icons who got trumped at Olympic Club and
icons who never again tasted major glory.
Payne Stewart wasn't immune in 1998.
The late Stewart held sole possession of the lead after each of the first
three rounds and was five ahead of Lee Janzen, the 1993 U.S. Open winner, with
one round to go.
After some early hiccups, Janzen was seven behind.
Stewart stumbled on the back, Janzen shot a spectacular Sunday 68 and he
earned his second U.S. Open title.
Stewart got his redemption one year later with a gutsy U.S. Open win at
Pinehurst No. 2.
Four Hall of Famers coughed up third-round leads. Some were large and some
lost to legit contenders. (Casper is also in the Hall of Fame.)
But the lesson is that if you believe history to be a barometer, all 72
players who made the weekend at Olympic Club are still in it.
The leaders are certainly strong. They have 16 major championships between
them, although 14 belong to Woods.
He seems to be in control of his game in a way we haven't seen since the
scandal. Woods has played the course brilliantly through two days, but it's by
no means a lock that he will get his first major win since his epic playoff
victory in this championship four years ago at Torrey Pines.
We all thought he was back after his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational
earlier this year. That was two weeks before the Masters and Woods tied for
You can't unconditionally trust that Woods will walk away with this title,
which would be his fourth. Until his game holds up to major weekend pressure,
it's fair to question Woods' chances to romp to victory.
Furyk and Toms aren't bums, either.
Furyk won this title in 2003 and Toms captured the PGA two years before that.
Both fit the bill of a successful U.S. Open player. Neither is long, but both
are straight. They are above-average putters and can move the ball easily.
As documented, no one is out of it.
Phil Mickelson, the record-holder for being a bridesmaid with five runner-up
finishes, is eight back. Sounds like a lot until you think back to Janzen or
Lee Westwood, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar and Jason Dufner are much
closer to the top trio.
No player, no matter their pedigree or form, is immune from the potential
danger that lurks on the hilly terrain of Olympic Club. No lead is safe here.
No player is totally out of it.
At least that's what history has told us.
The Sports Network