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Unpredictable Olympic set to test the best

Rob Hodgetts | 19:46 UK time, Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Predicting major winners has become a very unpredictable business.
Throw in a course known as the "graveyard of legends" and the identity of the 112th US Open champion becomes as foggy as a San Francisco summer's day.

The Olympic Club, just south of the Golden Gate Bridge, hosts the year's second major with the potential for a 15th different winner in the last 15 of golf's big four tournaments, stretching back to Padraig Harrington's Open and US PGA double in 2008.

You have to go back to Lee Janzen's US Open triumph at, appropriately, Olympic Club in 1998 to find a similar streak without a repeat winner, a run that started with Nick Price's US PGA win in 1994.

Another run waiting to be halted in "San Fran" this week, is that of eight successive majors with first-time winners, beginning with Graeme McDowell's US Open victory down the Californian coast at Pebble Beach in 2010. Plus, six of the last seven US Opens have been won by players clinching their first - and, for five of them, only - major title.

The Olympic Club's reputation for throwing up funky winners further clouds the issue.

Unheralded Jack Fleck beat the great Ben Hogan in an 18-hole play-off in 1955; Arnold Palmer lost a seven-shot lead with nine holes to go as Billy Casper won in 1966; Scott Simpson pipped Tom Watson by a shot in 1987; and Payne Stewart squandered a four-stroke third-round lead to let in Janzen in 1998.

"In some ways you think, geez, you remember more about who didn't win - what great legend didn't win an Open here - versus who did win," said Mike Davis, executive director of US Open organisers the United States Golf Association (USGA). "There is something magical about it."

Tiger Woods

Olympic's roll of honour might be against them but the game's big names have their own motivation this week.

Tiger Woods is back in form and striving to get his scoreboard ticking again, four years after his last major title - the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.

Phil Mickelson continues to chase a first US Open victory after five runner-up spots. England - with Luke Donald and Lee Westwood ranked first and third in the world - is still without a major champion since 1996 and a US Open winner since 1970.

Then there's Rory McIlroy, bidding to become the first back-to-back winner since Curtis Strange in 1988 and 1989. Not only that, of course, he would become the third Northern Irish US Open champion in a row and take NI's tally to four majors in two years.

US Opens are noted for the difficulty of courses, traditionally featuring tight fairways, thick rough and fast greens. The USGA is also renowned for the difficulty of its set-ups, with courses often bordering on unplayable - which is either unfair or a great test of golf, depending on your point of view.

McIlroy's record-breaking 16-under total of 268 to win at Congressional last year, breaking Woods's previous finishing mark by four shots, was blamed on a rain-softened course in Maryland.

"Do we shoot for even par to win? No," said Davis. "But at the US Open, par should be a good score. We genuinely want the US Open to be the toughest test of the year.

"It didn't happen last year. I would say most of that was caused by Mother Nature."

The Olympic Club's Lake Course will play firm and fast this week, with little sign of rain. The hilly, heavily tree-lined venue, with small greens and tricky, reverse-camber fairways will also be exposed to Pacific winds and threatened by the city's famous fog.

According to Davis, the cold, moist air at sea level means it will play longer than the modest 7,170 yards (par 70) the scorecard suggests. And that's not taking into account the 520-yard par-four first and the longest par five in major history, the 670-yard 16th.

Not that it should be a factor, but the course is also right on top of the San Andreas fault, which might be handy for putts hanging over the lip.

"I am convinced that this will be the hardest start in a US Open," added Davis. "The first six holes are going to just be brutal. I would contend if you play the first six holes two over, I don't think you're giving up anything to the field."

McIlroy says attack is the best form of defence and hopes the birdies outnumber the bogeys. Masters champion Bubba Watson reckons there is an 80 lurking for him. Donald is relishing the need for a predominant left-to-right fade for a right-hander.

Woods, who played Olympic plenty of times while at college at nearby Stanford, is well aware of the challenge ahead.

"You have to curve it more off the tees here than any other golf course that we play," said the three-time US Open champion.

"You've got right-to-left slopes of fairways and greens, and you have to cut it, so you're going against the grain.

"We have to hit the ball high. We have to hit the ball low. Our short game's got to be dialled in.

"But I've always preferred it to be more difficult, there's no doubt. And I've always preferred it to be fast."

The graveyard of legends is about to come alive. But then again, even that is not guaranteed at Olympic.


  • Comment number 1.

    Interesting blog, covering all the main points. If this championship is anything near as exciting as the last few majors then we're set for plenty of entertainment. Really hope one of our boys wins it though!

    Would be good to see a piece with BBC's writers' predictions for the week
    too..... :)

  • Comment number 2.

    Think Tiger might do it this week. First time I've genuinely fancied him for a major for ages. He played great at the Memorial.

  • Comment number 3.

    Justin Rose to win.

  • Comment number 4.

    This will be a fascinating tournament I hope Tiger does win cause i think the golfing world wants to see him back on form and to show that he truly is and can be the greatest golfer of all time.

  • Comment number 5.

    I think it's good everyone is leaning towards Tiger, as it looks like people are quieter on the Donald front. If the greens are playing fast, as suggested, and a good short game is required, plus the course favouring a fade (RH), this could be Lukes week. Playing solid golf at the right time.

  • Comment number 6.

    as a bg Mclroy fan would love to see hm do well but with the need to cut a lot of tee shots fear for hm makng he cut.. hope i wrong.

  • Comment number 7.

    Interesting piece Rob. The course has a chilly story also.

    There may be a curse on the 54-hole leader at The Olympic Club. In each of the four previous U.S. Opens, the third-round leader finished the tournament in second place. Three of the four: Ben Hogan in 1955; Arnold Palmer in 1966; and Tom Watson in 1987; never won a major championship again. After finishing second at the Lake Course in 1998, Payne Stewart won the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, but died in a plane crash later in the same year. Spookey..!!

    My three for victory at massive odds are;
    Jason Day-----Keegan Bradley-------Louis Oosthuizen.

  • Comment number 8.

    like to see the English boys do well this week. Westwood would be a popular win.

  • Comment number 9.

    Duff man for the win.

  • Comment number 10.

    I'm not sure that setting up one of the hardest courses ever is all that attractive.

    If 2 over is a good score for the 1st 6 holes - surely they should be giving them another two strokes at them? It is only a par 70 afterall.

    I personally think the USGA have some kind of masochistic view to 'their' tournament and want it to be the hardest course of the year. They can get away with this because it is a major and people want / have to play the event- but clearly no regular tour event would have a set up like this as guys wouldn't enjoy playing there and wouldn't bother turning up again.

    Lets see how many 'good' tee shots don't leave guys with a look at the green, or how many 'good' approcahes don't hold the green. These are the things that frustrate players and generally they mean a poor set up, not a tough set up.

    A tough set up should require accurate, and perhaps long, shot making - but it should be fair and reward good shots and good decision making. Lets see if that is the case at Olympic.

    As for a winner. I think this could be Luke's event, if he gets himself involved in the 1st 2 days. Not a massive course and one that will require many up and downs over the week.

  • Comment number 11.

    This could finally be Westwoods week, purely for the fact that it's not a birdie filled course, his putting issues are well documented, but if the test of the course is to find fairways and greens in regulation, with par being a good score, then it could be setup for him.
    Think Tiger may struggle if the driver is needed, it can be his achilles, hope not as the game wants him in contention, always interesting if he's in the mix.
    Best of the americans could be Duffner, good luck to all though, would love to play this course.

  • Comment number 12.

    Is there any coverage on the BBC?

  • Comment number 13.

    Any chance of the BBC website showing the tee times? Only a simple request but can't find them anywhere. The BBC site really can make it hard to find what you want these days!

  • Comment number 14.

  • Comment number 15.

    a surprise here guys Laird to win get your money on before you regret it, he is well worth a punt and is knocking on the door.

  • Comment number 16.

    Gonna plump e/w for Kucher, Kaymer and Choi. But I really hope Westwood or Donald can do it. They still dont get the respect they deserve without that major throphy on the mantelpiece

  • Comment number 17.

    I think Tiger will be hard to beat this week but if anyone does beat him I think it will be another European. I have a feeling that Justin Rose could be one to watch this week...

    Who does everyone else think will come out on top this week?

  • Comment number 18.

    Good blog Rob, the only thing missing was the stat that the highest winning score for a US Open here is -3, and I believe the average works out around even par,

    Prior to the Masters I felt the Bubba Watson would have a good week based on his early season form and the fact he'd made the cut at Augusta on his previous 3 visits, this time round I have similar feelings about Lee Westwood (note that I started 2012 thinking he was destined for victory at Augusta) who came in the top 20 here in 1998 and will relish the test tie to green but I do worry about his putting, however the feeling won't leave me that he will get that major monkey off his back in the next three weeks, either this week or at Lytham or Kiwah.

    My other one's to watch would be Furyk & Stricker who, like Westwood, played well in 1998 here, and also Harrington, who I mentioned on Iain's blog mistakenly thinking his 5 year exemption was up this year, which it isn't, but it is next year so given his world ranking the next 14 month's are crucial to how his career moves on as he approach's his 40's. He will definitely like a tough test and he has played well this year without ever being a factor in tournaments.

  • Comment number 19.

    Pity we have to put up with the iousy american coverage.

  • Comment number 20.

    Not an interesting choice, but I just have a little feeling about the Brits on this one. Donald and Westwood - both accurate and in Donald's case, a strong scrambler. Good points made above about Westy's putting - I don't know enough about the course and layout to understand how big an achilles heel (or entire leg?) that might prove to be.

    On the masochism of the course @ 10 piehutt - I know what you mean and definitely agree to a fair degree, but the sadist in me likes the idea of watching these guys have to contend with conditions which are deliberately designed to be unreasonable - it's as much a test of mental strength as anything, which I think Majors need to be.

  • Comment number 21.

    There are at least 25 players that are all capable of winning this event so to pick a name is virtually impossible - but the over-riding factor is that it has to be a great putter which rules out Lee and probably Rory as he is too streaky - whose the best putter on the tour?

  • Comment number 22.

    I think an outsider will claim victory this week, maybe Rose, although a big-hitting American journeyman is probably a good bet. Is Branden Grace playing this week? If so I think Grace and Paul Lawrie could be high-placed Europeans.

  • Comment number 23.

    Best putters bring to mind players like Stricker and Furyk, although neither seem to have consistency needed to win around a course like Olympic.

  • Comment number 24.

    For US opens, the winner has to be a straight driver and great putter. Steve Stricker comes to mind.
    The heart says Westwood but I agree with others, will his putting and scrambling stand up to the test?
    It is going to be a fascinating tournament. +2 after 6 holes is a good score? What? Personally I like the worlds top players to be really tested, as long as it's fair. Makes us amateurs feel a lot better!
    Pity the tournament clashes with Euro 2012 but I don't think I'll cry into my pint(s) about it, spoilt for choice!

  • Comment number 25.


    Luke +18 after 1st round then shoots 3 rds in the 60s to finish in top ten.

    Lee best tee to green player in the field but takes 37 more putts then Phil.

    Garcia misses 1 inch putt on 18th to win.

    Padraig going well till he has a quintuple bogey on the par 3 15th.

    Rory on the cut mark with 2 holes to play in 2nd rd, decides he would prefer a game of tennis bogeys last 2 and jumps on plane to Denmark.

    Some barely known American leads after 3 rds is in last group on Sunday and shoots +8.

    American Tv shows 7 hrs coverage 6 hrs of which is on Tiger.Tiger then misses cut allowing us to see some coverage of rest of field.

    Phil gets into about 8 positions on golf course per round and manages to stick it to the flag everytime prompting everyone back in studio to say" no one else in the field could do that".

    Poulter shall complain about something.

    Duffner becomes the next 1st time winner of a major and I collect a few pound Monday.

  • Comment number 26.

    Is there any coverage on the BBC?


    The chances of the BBC having this on TV is like Hitler being welcomed back with open arms, in Poland....

  • Comment number 27.

    Have to say I was a little disappointed with the BBC website headline for Andy Zhang making the tournament:

    Boy, 14, in for injured Casey

    Couldn't they have put 'youth' or 'teenager'? Using the term 'boy' is very disrespectful for one who has attained such an achievement at his age.


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