In the first four U.S. Opens held at the Olympic Club’s Lake Course, the final rounds were filled with unpredictable and riveting moments.
And if that history, coupled with Saturday’s third round of the fifth Open held in San Francisco, is any indication of what’s to come today, it could be another frantic finish.
As Tiger Woods’ name quickly slipped from the top of the leaderboard, Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk’s steady and solid play pushed the pair into a share of the lead at 1 under par heading into the final day.
McDowell fired a 2-under 68 on Saturday and Furyk carded an ever-par 70. Both sit two shots clear of Fredrick Jacobson, who is alone in third at 1 over. Another past Open winner, Ernie Els, who has won the event twice, joins Lee Westwood, Blake Adams and Nicolas Colsaerts in a cluster at 2 over par.
“Graeme and I are tied for the lead, but there’s a bunch of people piled up and close to it,” said Furyk, who played the first two rounds of the Open in the same group as McDowell. “Obviously I like being up front in the position I’m in.”
With McDowell and Furyk in the final pair, it marks the first time since 2004 (Els and Retief Goosen) that former U.S. Open champs make up the final twosome. Goosen beat Phil Mickelson by two shots in that event.
As for McDowell, it appears he has an affinity for the Pacific Ocean air, as his Open title came two years ago at Pebble Beach. That experience, and the backing of some loyal countrymen, has the Northern Irishman feeling confident.
“There might be more Irishmen out here than there are in Ireland,” McDowell said. “I enjoyed interacting with them today and having a bit of fun. And I felt they kept me relaxed out there today.”
While McDowell found success, Woods, who had a share of the lead after 36 holes, scuffled around the Lake Course on Saturday and finished with a round of 5-over 75, pushing him five back of the leaders.
His conservative game plan of hitting mostly irons and a 3-wood off the tee worked to perfection the first two days as he hit more than 70 percent of the fairways each round, but Saturday, he only found seven of 14. He bogeyed four of his first eight holes, but doesn’t feel he’s out of it yet.
“I’m definitely still in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I’m only five back and that’s certainly doable on this golf course for sure.”
The rugged Olympic Course was a bit tamer on Saturday than it had been the first two rounds. The average score in the third round was 72, while average scores the first days exceeded 74. And has history has shown, it’s anyone’s ballgame on a U.S. Open Sunday in The City.
“It’s wide open,” McDowell said. “I look at guys at 2 and 3 and 4 over par in this tournament, [and] I really think they have a realistic shot to win.”
NOTES: The first hole, a par 4, played 509 yards on Saturday, while the 17th hole, a par 5, played only 502 yards. ... Among those following Woods on Saturday were San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and golfer Fred Couples. Giants general manager Brian Sabean was also spotted at the course. ... 23-year-old American John Peterson, playing in his first U.S. Open, aced the par-3 13th hole.