The stars are aligned, ready to prove their Olympic mettle
A U.S. Open form chart in golf cannot account for the rub of the green or the diabolical hand of the USGA and accordingly renders the Open only marginally more predictable than an earthquake, which, incidentally, isn't out of the question at the Olympic Club. The San Andreas Fault runs beneath several of its early holes.
But a form chart that contains the following can heighten interest even beyond an Open's inherent hype:
-- Two weeks ago Luke Donald, No. 1 in the World Ranking, won the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship.
-- A week later, Tiger Woods, No. 4, won the Memorial.
(Photo by Chris Condon/Getty Images)
-- On Saturday, Lee Westwood, No. 3, won Europe's Nordea Masters by five shots.
-- On Sunday, Rory McIlory, No. 2, was tied for the lead at the FedEx St. Jude Classic before an errant tee shot and resultant double bogey at 18 toppled him.
-- And later on Sunday, Dustin Johnson, who possesses talent of a quantity sufficient to supplant any of the above, won the FedEx St. Jude Classic in only his second start in nearly three months, the result of a back injury.
Throw in Phil Mickelson, who is his own fault line, capable of shaking things up at any moment, and we have an Open potentially as memorable as any in recent memory.
Then again, Fleck beat Hogan, Casper beat Palmer, Simpson beat Watson and Janzen beat Stewart in the first four Opens at the Olympic Club, which coincidentally features three bunkers guarding the 18th green that loosely and mockingly spelling out I, O, U.
Yes it does, notwithstanding the fact that the Open is not a popularity contest. Still, on one of the game's great stages, aren't we entitled to a cast featuring its greatest performers?
The FedEx St. Jude Classic graciously provided a blueprint. In the end, Johnson, McIlroy and even Davis Love III, 48 and the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, all were threatening to win. Johnson prevailed with birdies on the 16th and 17th holes.
This was especially important for Johnson and McIlroy, who each required a boost of confidence on the eve of a tournament that will devour the uncertain. Of course, more is expected of McIlroy, the defending champion, who arrived in Memphis having missed three straight cuts (the Players Championship, the BMW PGA Championship and the Memorial).
McIlroy copped to having lost his focus. Some might argue that his focus had simply been re-directed toward his doubles partner, love interest Caroline Wozniacki, who has her own issues; recently the No. 1-ranked women's player, she bowed out of the French Open in the third round.
After missing the cut at the Memorial, McIlroy spent four days at the Olympic Club, then flew to Memphis and nearly won the tournament even without that having been his goal.
"The main thing this week is to just get some more competitive golf in because the last three tournaments I've played I've only played for two days and just haven't really felt like I've gotten into the tournaments," he said on Saturday. "So hopefully this is the week where I can turn that around, and as I said, get some momentum going into the U. S. Open."
Even his last-hole meltdown likely won't dampen the momentum he had built. Only moments earlier he had holed a 20-foot birdie putt to tie for the lead.
And now it's on to the Olympic Club, with all the pieces in place for a remarkable week, assuming, of course, that the tectonic plates don't suddenly shift and leave us with Jack Fleck redux.
-- John Strege