Johnny Miller is unapologetically opinionated and wondered early on on NBC's telecast Saturday whether Tiger Woods had misplaced his magic. The answer came back emphatically with a back nine that Miller suggested might be Woods' best ever.
After Woods' lethargic start, including two bogeys in the first three holes, Miller said, "It seems like his game has became more normal. We're so spoiled for so many years. Now he does things like the rest of us. Poor chips or not getting it up and in."
Who could have argued otherwise at that point, when Woods seemed to have moved hopelessly out of contention. Then came a back nine in which Woods shot five-under 31 to move into third place. It included a tap-in birdie at 18 that was set up by a 3-wood second that defied logic, given the cypress tree around which Woods had to maneuver, with the ocean looming on the left.
"Knowing the feel and knowing human nature, this will probably be over cut to the right rough," Miller said. "Maybe I'm wrong. He might knock it right on the green. Maybe he's just going to nuke one. Maybe he's feeling his oats."
When Woods executed it perfectly, leaving him with an eagle putt, Miller called it possibly "the best nine holes Tiger Woods has ever played, considering what the field is doing."
-- On third-round leader Graeme McDowell: "His swing is awful quick. It's got a lot going on at the top of the back swing. Combine that with Great Britain not winning the U.S. Open since 1970, there's a lot of pressure on him...I'm not saying he can't do it, but I don't like his odds."
-- On Dustin Johnson's swing and talent: "What an arc. He just plays a game that's unfamiliar to a lot of people. He's got a lot of horsepower."
-- On Jerry Kelly and his gyrations and accompanying commentary: "Let's mic him up and we can go home."
-- On Ryo Ishikawa's misses: "He hits a lot of balls left of where he's aiming. He sometimes gets too upright going back and it puts him slightly over the top and you'll notice a lot of his misses will be left. He's been doing that ever since I've been watching him, a couple years now."
-- On Johnson, after he birdied the sixth to tie for the lead: "Could have a superstar in the making here."
Other highlights from the third round:
-- The camera and mic on the ground in front of the tee at the short par-3 seventh hole paid a dividend for NBC, after Ian Poulter bounced his tee shot through the green. "How on earth are you supposed to play to that?" a perplexed Poulter said, staring straight at the camera and holding his hands about two feet apart.
-- Brad Faxon noted that the last birdie made at the par-3 seventh, the shortest hole in U.S. Open history, post World War II, came at 1 p.m. (PDT). The next was Johnson's tap-in birdie four hours, 15 minutes later.
-- John Strege