U.S. Open: Stars miss the cut, “Old Tiger” and braces
By Pete Pappas
GolfWRX Staff Writer
If the history of U.S. Open competition tells us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.
And through the first two days at The Olympic Club in San Francisco there was plenty of intrigue, surprise, and downright marvel — of both the spectacular and horrifying kind.
Luke Donald? What’s the excuse this time “Mr. I’m World No. 1 But Never Won A Major” (11-over). Donald’s the best player to never win a major many people say (including yours truly). I’m beginning to wonder if I belong in that camp anymore.
Couldn’t we even get a Rocco Mediate impression from you this week?
And how about Rory McIlroy? Well, at least he can spend more quality time with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki (10-over).
Please tell me, really, please, please tell me those of you who are the most die-hard McIlroy fans can finally admit your young Irishman phenomenon is officially in a (euphemism) “slump” (four missed cuts in his last five events)?
Before the Open began McIlroy said, “I feel like I’m well prepared going into the U.S. Open.”
Hey, it doesn’t mean the Emerald Isle champion will only end up with as many career U.S. Open wins as Fred Daly, OK? But there’s obviously a bit of a problem here for Rors.
2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson? At least he showed some fight the final few holes on Friday. But Bubba’s game was far from “awesome” this time around (nine-over). I’m not sure Watson liked being on “The Letterman Show” anyway.
The world’s No. 1, No. 2, and No. 5 respectively all missed the cut. And quite frankly they did so in embarrassing fashion. Olympic chewed them up and spit them out.
A cumulative 30-over among them is not what you’d expect from three of the top five players in the world (and Donald and McIlroy were actually favorites to win only behind Woods and Lee Westwood).
Player of the month for May Ricky Fowler snuck in by a whisker with cut line movement at the 11th hour of Friday evening play, finishing right on the cut line at eight-over after a performance that included three bogeys and two double-bogeys.
Maybe Rickie is saving “Go Time” for the weekend. We’ll see.
Love you Ricky but it’s going to take me awhile to get used to that “Sing Sing Correctional Facility” prison orange jumpsuit you wear on Sundays.
And I “mustache” you, do you really think the orange cone look is a good one? On the other hand that exploding oranges commercial of yours is sorta cool.
32-year-old Sergio Garcia went “El Loco” on Friday after a bad tee shot by on the par 3 No. 3 caused “El Nino” to smash a tee-box microphone.
You may not be good enough to win a major (in your own words after this years Masters) Sergio, but this latest impressive display of emotion might hook you up with a sweet Gerber’s Baby Food endorsement.
The enigmatic Spaniard is just five shots off the lead heading into Saturday.
Quick someone send Garcia a Tony Robbins “Awaken The Giant Within” e-book to his Kindle. You’re not out of it (yet) Sergio.
Phil Mickelson, who celebrates his 42d birthday on Saturday, came back from the dead after an opening day six-over 76 on Thursday — his highest first round score in 22 U.S. Open starts. Lefty recorded two birdies on Friday however to finish seven-over, eight shots back. The biggest being his clutch slow rolling putt at No. 18 that pumped a little life back into the tired-looking Hall Of Fame and four-time major winner. But yes Mickelson came that close to being yet another big name cut line casualty like the other Open favorites.
And oh by the way?
How about a vintage performance from one Mr. Tiger Eldrick Woods playing his way into a three-way tie for the lead at one-under with two other major champions, “Mr. Five Hour Energy” Jim Furyk and 45 year-old David Toms.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a U.S. Open.
It’s way too early, let me repeat, WAY TOO EARLY to say this is Tiger’s tournament to win. And a bit disrespectful to the other champions Furyk and Toms to say so as well.
“I just hung in there,” the 45-year old Toms said. The oldest player to ever win the U.S. Open was coincidentally also 45 years-old. Hale Irwin did it back in 1990. A good omen?
“I expect to be in control of my emotions and be into every shot,” said Toms.
Even if you don’t win David you’re less than five years from dominating on the Champions Tour. Silver lining – all I’m saying.
“Set up the way it is, it’s draining,” Furyk said of the course design. “[But] today I feel good about the score.”
If Furyk somehow wins this thing I promise to stop sneering at those “Five Hour Energy” commercials.
But Jim it shouldn’t be draining if you’re drinking your “Fire Hour Energy” right?
Back to Tiger.
This was a different looking Woods than maybe I’ve seen anytime all year. Three consecutive bogeys on No. 5, No. 6, and No. 7 could have easily rattled him. He’s been derailed by far less sinister things this season.
This time Woods kept his composure, his focus.
In fact he had a steely-eyed focus I don’t recall him having anytime this season, even in victories earlier this season at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and more recently at The Memorial.
Tiger understands the sadistic challenge Olympic presents and the reality of those consequences as it relates to the state of his game.
“It’s so difficult. That golf course is some kind of fast,” Woods said. “[But] I understand what I’m doing. I like my game plan.”
This was a different sounding Tiger to me as well.
Still confident. Maybe even still cocky. But most importantly maybe finally accepting (or realizing) that perfection isn’t necessary to win. That’s an old-school Tiger belief. A thing of the past.
Tiger sounds and looks like a player who still believes he’s better than anyone else on the planet, but also like a player who understands the way he wins now is and will be different than the way he used to win.
Breathing down Woods’ neck is 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. And listening to G-Mac after the second round you’d think he was the tournament leader.
“I’m happy to be where I am. I think I played some really nice golf the last two days,” McDowell said.
McDowell is actually two shots back at one-over tied with three other players, John Peterson, Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, and first round leader Michael Thompson.
“If you had offered me one-over on the first tee Thursday I would probably have snapped your arm off for it,” McDowell said after Friday’s round. “It’s tough to have fun out there … [but you] have to respect the word par.”
A host of other winners this season including Matt Kuchar, and two-time winners Hunter Mahan and Jason Dufner are all in position to strike at three-over.
Steve Stricker and Justin Rose are at plus-four, and Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter at plus-five also are in the mix.
And of course there’s the 17-year-old high school amateur Beau Hossler attempting to become the first amateur to win the U.S. Open since Francis Ouimet did it in 1913.
A birdie to start the day gave Hossler the U.S. Open lead (albeit a short-lived one).
“My goal is to be the low amateur,” Hossler said afterwards.
If golf doesn’t work out for Hossler I’m pretty sure he might have a career on the World Poker Tour because his poker face is champion.
Low-am? The kid showed a volcanic passion with a fist pump of his own after a chip in on No. 7. He knows he can win this thing. And he wants to win this thing. Hossler is tied for fourth place along with Kuchar, Mahan, and Dufner.
NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller said this week of the first six holes at Olympic, “I’ve never seen a tougher opening stretch of holes anywhere in the history of major championships.” And it’s going to be even tougher come Saturday and Sunday. Here are a couple of things to think about as the weekend takes off.
Tiger has won eight of nine majors when he’s held the 36-hole lead. On the surface that seems to be a bit of history that you can bank on.
Olympic is called the “Graveyard of Legends” because in each of the previous four times the U.S. Open was held here the heavily favorite big name players lost. And each of the previous four Open winners at Olympic trailed after 54 holes. In 1998 Lee Janzen defeated Payne Stewart making up seven strokes with four birdies and no bogeys in the final 15 holes to record the largest come from behind victory after 54 holes in 25 years. Tom Watson lost to Scott Simpson in 1987 after Simpson overcame Watson with birdies on No. 14, No. 15, and No. 16. Billy Casper defeated Arnold Palmer in 1966 after Palmer lost a seven shot lead with none holes to play forcing a playoff. And in the playoff Casper again erased a deficit, this time a Palmer two shot lead after nine holes to earn the upset victory.
And finally in perhaps the most famous event at Olympic in 1955 Ben Hogan lost his lead in the final four holes and unknown Jack Fleck went on to defeat Hogan in a playoff (ironically Fleck used clubs Hogan gave him).
“Hold a U.S. Open at Olympic and the wrong guy will win it every time,” famed golf writer Dan Jenkins once wrote.
So there you have it. Woods “36-hole lead” history versus Olympic’s “Graveyard of Legends” history.
One thing is certain. History will repeat itself.
You can follow Pete on Twitter @TheGreekGrind