Don’t assume that co-leaders Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell, past winners of this championship and prototypical grinders, will hoist the U.S. Open trophy.
Don’t think that Tiger Woods, stuck on 14 majors for the past four years, can’t win because he’s never won a Big One coming from behind in the final round.
Don’t believe that The Olympic Club - which over the years has produced such champions as Fleck and Simpson and Janzen - can’t produce more underdog magic, what with Fredrik Jacobson, Nicolas Colsaerts and Blake Adams all in contention.
Heck, it’s not even out of the realm of possibilities that in the gloaming Sunday, a guy in a blue blazer will announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your 2012 U.S. Open champion . . . Beau Hossler!”
A 17-year-old major winner with braces and pimples. At this U.S. Open, it certainly could happen.
And so could a number of other improbable scenarios.
Seventeen players are within five shots of Furyk and McDowell’s lead heading into the final round at Olympic Club, which for the first time this week was reasonably scoreable on Saturday. No longer did landing fairways and greens resemble firing a shot into a Bounce House.
The Lake Course certainly was accommodating to those in pursuit, as 13 players shot a round in the 60s, matching the total from the first two rounds combined. Climbing the ’board were relative no-names and major champions alike, such as two-time U.S. Open winner Ernie Els, who shot 68, the same score turned in by McDowell.
The affable Northern Irishman joked Saturday night that “there’s something in the air” here, and was considering purchasing real estate in Northern California, given his star-making triumph two years ago at Pebble Beach.
That year, McDowell held the 36-hole lead but admittedly was too anxious to handle the situation. He dropped behind Dustin Johnson - perhaps a blessing, given his nerves - and the next day G-Mac survived a final-round 74 to win his first major title. Guinness for everyone.
Warming up Saturday at Olympic, McDowell felt that same uneasiness arise, even though he began the day two shots behind the leaders. He talked with his caddie, Ken Convoy, and his management team. For “60 seconds” on the practice putting green, he conversed with noted sports psychologist Bob Rotella. It was a mostly one-sided conversation.
“I’ve gone through these emotions all the time,” McDowell said. “It’s basic stuff. It’s basically fear - fear of going out there and messing it all up. . . . You’ve just got to kind of get the mind in the right place and realize that we’re all scared of messing it up. You might as well go and try to do well.”
Besides, there was more pressure on one member of the final pairing.
With Woods in a three-way tie for the lead after 36 holes, it seemed inevitable that - if he were following his usual pattern - Tiger would post something in the 60s Saturday, pull ahead by a few shots, then clinically manage his way around Olympic on the final day, winning a 15th major, and thus resuming his climb up Mount Nicklaus.
A strange thing happened on the way to the trophy presentation, though. Woods found the rough with his tee shots and missed five putts inside 15 feet - on his front nine alone. Eventually, only eight players posted a score worse than Woods’ third-round 75, dropping him from T-1 to T-14, and turning what some suggested was a mere formality into a Sunday stress-fest . . . for everyone involved.
Said Woods, ever the optimist, “I’m definitely still in the ballgame.”
Realistically, so is everyone else within five shots of the lead.
Is this the week World No. 3 Lee Westwood (67) silences the critics and finally picks off his first major?
Can Hossler (70) continue this magical run and post the best finish by an amateur at the Open in more than 40 years?
Is it Junkman’s turn, or long-hitting Colsaerts’ time, or Els’ last shot?
Share some of that 5-Hour Energy, Furyk.
It’s going to be an exhilarating - and unpredictable - final day.
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