by Jeff Skinner
For three days The Lake Course at The Olympic Club teased us. With sunny, clear and comfortable weather that sent players reaching for sunscreen instead of sweaters Olympic had the feel of a new and different course. Stripped of hundreds of trees and its greens reworked to insure there would be no repeat of the putting massacre of ’98, Olympic had been tweaked to perfection and the stage was set for the tragic history of Olympic to be changed.
In all four U.S. Opens held over these slanted hills and contorted fairways the 54 hole leader had never been able to hold the lead. The likes of Hogan, Palmer, Watson and Stewart had all fallen on the final day at Olympic but yesterday there was hope that the curse may be vanquished. But Olympic would not allow its cursed to be exorcised, not on this day.
For the first and only day of the week the San Francisco weather was classic Olympic: damp, cool and a layer of mist blowing over the course. Olympic was back, in all its overcast, gloomy glory and the final round leaders had better be ready to pay the price.
Former Open winners Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell spent their third day together and teed off with the lead. Furyk had spent three arduous days grinding his way to the top. With workmanlike rounds of 70-60-70 he had earned a shot at his second Open Championship.
McDowell had ridden a hot putter on Saturday to a 68 to go with rounds of 69 and 72 and he too was ready to claim his second U.S. Open title.
Furyk plodded his way around a very tough setup with only one bogey through his first eleven holes. McDowell had a tougher start playing the opening nine in four over par. His putter had failed him and he saw fewer and fewer fairways as the round wore on.
While Furyk and McDowell struggled to make a move from the pack a few players that had survived the difficult opening six holes had started to find ways to scrape out a few birdies from the stubborn Olympic Course.
Michael Thompson had fared well over the front nine at one under par and found two more birdies on the back to post as 67 and sit in the clubhouse at a very respectable and possible winning score of +2.
Webb Simpson and started the day four back of the leaders. A stellar 68 on Saturday after rounds of 72 and 73 had put Simpson in the mix and with the leaders backing up he was in perfect position to make a run. But Simpson felt the pain of Olympic with bogeys at two and five but at the sixth his fortunes changed.
The most difficult hole of the championship had been shortened by a hundred yards and Simpson took advantage of it. His first birdie of the day started him on a string of three straight birds and another at the tenth put him at plus one for the championship. But he still had a very long trek into the clubhouse.
McDowell finally got his game moving with consecutive birds at eleven and twelve but lost his momentum with a pair of bogeys. Furyk meanwhile was still plodding, until the thirteenth when he carded another bogey.
Olympic had risen up and snatched the games of the leaders once again and Furyk and McDowell seemed helpless to stop their freefall.
It got worse for Furyk as he hit the worst shot of his U.S. Open career with a snap hook off the tee at sixteen. With no chance at recovery he struggled to a bogey and Olympic had claimed another third round leader.
Simpson was now nervously watching from the clubhouse after parring the last eight holes which included a miraculous up and down from thick rough at eighteen. One over was his score and McDowell and Furyk both needed a closing birdie to tie and force a playoff.
Furyk couldn’t find the green and when his bunker shot squirted right his chance was done. But McDowell had hit a good approach from the first cut and faced a twenty-four foot down hill slider for birdie and a ticket to an eighteen hole playoff with Simpson.
The 2010 U.S. Open Champion and Ryder Cup hero summoned all his putting skill and tried to will his ball into the cup but he was no match for the history of Olympic. His ball stayed left and up and Simpson had joined the Official Olympic Come From Behind Champions Club.
Once again the leaders were sent wanting as another winner had come from behind to claim the U.S. Open. Webb Simpson had started the day four off the lead and ended the day watching the leaders squander their chance. That’s the way things happen at Olympic, always have and just maybe, always will.