“The first six, if you play them for four straight days even par, you’re going to be picking up just a boatload of shots,” Woods said. “They’re just difficult.”
The U.S. Open annually bills itself as golf’s toughest test, and this year — particularly with the memory of soft and squishy Congressional Country Club rolling over for champion Rory McIlroy – it almost certainly will be. McIlroy set records of all manner, finishing 16 under par, shooting four rounds in the 60s, slaying Congressional and all but embarrassing the U.S. Golf Association. The USGA will protest, saying revenge won’t be a factor this week. Scarcely a player in the field believes that.
“With what happened last year, with Rory shooting a million under, they’re going to kind of torture us a little bit,” said Fairfax native Steve Marino, making his fourth Open appearance.
The most difficult U.S. Open in recent memory came in 2007 at Oakmont, Pa., where Angel Cabrera’s winning score was 5 over par. “I think here matches it,” Masters champion Bubba Watson said. “Maybe a little bit tougher.” That is not, however, a consensus. Olympic’s quirks — from that torturous opening stretch to a finish that could be relatively benign, with cantered fairways that require players to shape shots into them just to avoid the rough — will dictate how this plays out.
Start with the club’s résumé. Olympic, to this point, has produced upsets, not coronations. In 1955, a journeyman named Jack Fleck famously outdueled Ben Hogan, a legend, in a playoff. In 1966, Arnold Palmer held a seven-shot lead with nine holes to play and somehow fell back into a playoff, which he lost to Billy Casper. In 1987, Tom Watson, the premier player of his era, held a one-shot lead headed into the back nine on Sunday, yet lost by a shot to Scott Simpson. And in 1998, Payne Stewart owned a four-shot lead going into Sunday’s final round, shot 74, and lost to a blazing Lee Janzen, who closed with a 68 and won by one.
Since that last Open — when Stewart infamously hit a six-foot putt on the viciously sloped 18th green only to watch it roll 25 feet back down the hill — the greens at Olympic have been overhauled twice. Some of those slopes have been softened. Lifelong Olympic member Johnny Miller, who will call the tournament for NBC, said the layout is “the best it’s ever been.”