Nothing turns out the way anyone expects when the U.S. Open goes to The Olympic Club.
Instead of a record fifth U.S. Open for Ben Hogan, Olympic delivered Jack Fleck in one of golf’s biggest upsets. Arnold Palmer turned his pursuit of a record score into a royal collapse. Tom Watson had his heart broken in San Francisco when Scott Simpson ran off a late string of birdies.
The way this year is unfolding, Olympic seems like the ideal location.
Hardly anything has gone according to plan.
Tiger Woods already has won twice this year, most recently last week at the Memorial with a ball-striking clinic and a chip shot that brought back some of that magic. That made him the betting favorite to end his four-year drought in the majors with a record-tying fourth U.S. Open.
Only it’s not that simple.
Two months ago, Woods won Bay Hill by five shots and became an instant favorite at the Masters. Instead of slipping on the green jacket, he turned in his worst performance as a pro at Augusta National, starting the worst three-tournament stretch of his career.
“He goes to the Masters and he fell apart because of nerves for the first time in his career,” Johnny Miller said. “So I don’t know what to think of Tiger Woods at the Open. I don’t know if that was learned from Augusta, or something he can’t control.”
Rory McIlroy, the defending champion, returned to No. 1 in the world just more than a month ago and looked like the player to beat until the 23-year-old missed three cuts, threw a club and suddenly looked lost.
Rickie Fowler, finally a winner on the PGA Tour, was poised to take his popularity to new heights until he shot 84 at Muirfield Village playing in the second-to-last group with Woods. Phil Mickelson played in the last group of the Masters and fell out of contention when Lefty hit consecutive shots from the right side. The green jacket went to another lefty, Bubba Watson, a big hitter who never liked the notion that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
Golf is difficult to predict even in steady times. There’s no telling what to expect when the 112th U.S. Open returns to The Olympic Club from Thursday through next Sunday for the fifth time. History would suggest there are more surprises in store on the golf course built on the side of a hill just south of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Adding to the intrigue is the parity that has taken over golf over the last few years – 14 players have won the last 14 majors.
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