SAN FRANSICO - Reuters
A host of other in-form players can lay claim to being genuine contenders for the year’s second major, though an unpredictable winner is also likely given Olympic’s uncanny habit of delivering the unexpected in past Opens staged
Tiger Woods hits a tee shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 112th U.S. Open at Olympic Club. AFP photo
With former world number one Tiger Woods seemingly back to his best, and defending champion Rory McIlroy not far off, the 112th U.S. Open teeing off today at the Olympic Club has whetted the appetite of fans and players alike.
A host of other in-form players can lay claim to being genuine contenders for the year’s second major, though an unpredictable winner is also likely given Olympic’s uncanny habit of delivering the unexpected in past Opens staged here.
Jack Fleck, ironically using Hogan clubs, upstaged tournament favorite Ben Hogan in 1955, Billy Casper prospered from Arnold Palmer’s late collapse in 1966 and the plodding Scott Simpson dashed Tom Watson’s hopes by one shot in 1987.
In 1998, the popular Payne Stewart seemed to be on track for a third major title when leading by four strokes going into the final round but his bid was derailed as Lee Janzen stormed back to victory after falling seven behind.
On all four occasions, the third-round leader at Olympic was denied and there is every chance history could repeat itself this week as the game’s leading players vie for supremacy.
Woods and McIlroy are capable of electrifying the galleries with their power and precision and both are itching to return to the major winner’s circle in the championship widely accepted as the most grueling of all.
Dustin Johnson completed his U.S. Open preparations by winning his sixth PGA Tour title at the St. Jude Classic on Sunday, a day after Briton Lee Westwood had clinched his 22nd European Tour victory at the Scandinavian Masters.
Other likely candidates for success this week include world number one Luke Donald, fellow Briton Justin Rose and Americans Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar and Masters champion Bubba Watson. Precise demands
It has been four long years since Woods won the most recent of his 14 majors, in a playoff for the 2008 U.S. Open, and he knows time is perhaps not on his side as he tries to hunt down the record 18 piled up by golfing great Jack Nicklaus.
While his form has come in fits and starts this year, Woods issued a timely U.S. Open warning to his rivals with his remarkable two-shot victory at the Memorial tournament two weeks ago in Dublin, Ohio.
“I’m excited because of the way I hit the golf ball,” a smiling Woods told reporters after sealing the win with three birdies in the last four holes, one of them an astonishing chip-in.
“Every shot was exactly the shape, the trajectory, the distance control. I had it all, shape off tees, whatever club I wanted to hit, I could hit. That was fun to have it when I needed it.”
Woods, who tied for 18th at the 1998 U.S. Open, is well aware of the demands on precise ball-striking made by Olympic’s heavily tree-lined Lake Course and its tilting dogleg fairways.
“You can look at the history of guys who were in contention or who ended up winning there, all were wonderful drivers of the golf ball and good, solid iron players,” he said.
“That’s what it’s going to take at Olympic, more so than most U.S. Open sites.”