The five best U.S. Opens played in California

By Doug FergusonJune 11, 2012, 10:21 pm

SAN FRANCISCO – Of the states that have hosted the U.S. Open at least 10 times, California was the last to join the rotation, in 1948 at Riviera.

But the Golden State has delivered some golden moments over the years.

With the growing importance of television ratings and revenue, taking the U.S. Open to California means prime-time viewing for most of the country. Torrey Pines in 2008 was the first time the tee times were pushed back to allow for a prime-time finish on the East Coast, and Tiger Woods put on quite a show.

Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan were denied a record fifth U.S. Open in California.

Nicklaus had a signature moment on the 17th tee at Pebble Beach with a 1-iron that struck the pin, and 10 years later, Tom Watson had his signature moment behind the 17th green by chipping in for birdie.

Here are the top five U.S. Opens in California:


5. HOGAN'S ALLEY OFF SUNSET BOULEVARD.

Ben Hogan going to Riviera for the 1948 U.S. Open was similar to Tiger Woods going to Pebble Beach. Hogan won the Los Angeles Open in 1947 with a record-tying 66 in the second round. He defended his title at Riviera with a course-record 275. So when the U.S. Open rolled into town in June, all eyes were on Hogan, who had just won the PGA Championship. As usual, Hogan delivered.

Sam Snead, with yet another chance to finally win the U.S. Open, had the 36-hole lead going into the final day. Hogan closed with rounds of 68-69 to win by two strokes over Jimmy Demaret. Hogan broke the U.S. Open scoring record by five shots – a record that stood for nearly two decades – and he became the first player with three rounds in the 60s at a U.S. Open.

No wonder Riviera became known as ''Hogan's Alley.''

Hogan was not able to defend this title. Eight months after the first of his four U.S. Open titles, his car was struck by a bus in west Texas and he was nearly killed.


4. AN UPSET OF OLYMPIC PROPORTIONS

Not many paid attention to Jack Fleck, a club pro from Iowa, and some might not even have known he was in the field in 1955.

The first U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in 1955 was headed toward a record fifth title for Ben Hogan. When he finished late Saturday afternoon with a 70, Hogan was being congratulated in the clubhouse. The only player left on the course who could possibly stop him was Fleck, and he was two shots behind. Fleck, however, made birdie on the 15th and followed with pars on the 16th and 17th. He caught a decent lie in the right rough, and then hit 7-iron to 8 feet for birdie and a 67.

The news was relayed to Hogan, who knew he and his battered legs would have to play another 18 holes the next day.

Fleck wouldn't go away, holing key putts and seizing control around the turn. Hogan needed a birdie on the 18th to force extra holes, but he pulled his tee shot into rough deep enough to cover the cuffs of his pants. His first shot barely moved the ball a few feet, and his hopes were over.

Fleck wound up with a 69 to win by three shots for his first win in what many consider one of the greatest upsets in golf. But it was no fluke. Olympic was so tough that year it yielded only seven rounds under par. Fleck had three of them. Hogan never won another major, contributing to Olympic being known as a ''graveyard of champions.''


3. IN THE CLUTCH ON WOUNDED KNEE

Tiger Woods probably should not have played the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee just two days after the Masters, and weeks before the U.S. Open, discovered two stress fractures of the left tibia. Woods played anyway, and turned in one of his most memorable major performances.

Even as his knee began to buckle, he surged into contention with a six-hole stretch late in the third round that was pure theater – a 70-foot eagle putt from the back of the 13th green, a chip that one-hopped into the hole for birdie on the 17th, and a 30-foot eagle putt on the final hole for a one-shot lead going into the final round. But when he came to the 18th hole Sunday, he was one shot behind Rocco Mediate. Woods laid up into the right rough and hit a sand wedge to 12 feet.

His putt bumped along and caught the right edge of the cup, dropping for birdie to force a Monday playoff against Mediate.

Woods again fell behind in the playoff, and he had to two-putt for birdie on the 18th to extend the playoff. On the first extra hole, Mediate ran into trouble off the tee at No. 7 and Woods won with a par. It was his 14th major championship, and his seventh win at Torrey Pines.

Two days later, Woods had reconstructive surgery on his left knee and was out the rest of the year.


2. A CHIP THAT WAS ANYTHING BUT ELEMENTARY

Jack Nicklaus was going for a fifth U.S. Open title at Pebble Beach, where he won the Open in 1972 that was remembered for his 1-iron that struck the pin on the 17th. The same hole proved pivotal 10 years later, only for Tom Watson.

The final round turned into a duel between Nicklaus and Watson, and Nicklaus was in the clubhouse at 4-under 284. Watson had a one-shot lead until he three-putted the 16th hole from about 70 feet to fall back into a tie. Then, Watson slightly pulled a 2-iron on the par-3 17th and went just over the back of the green. It looked to be impossible. The ball was nestled in thick grass, but the pin was toward the back of a green that ran away from him.

Watson needed a par so that he could go to the par-5 18th with a chance to force a playoff, or perhaps win with a birdie. His caddie, Bruce Edwards, urged him to get the chip close. Watson had other ideas. ''To hell with getting it close,'' he replied. ''I'm going to make it.''

The shot came off perfectly, ran into the pin and dropped for a birdie. Watson needed only to par the 18th to win his first U.S. Open, and he made birdie to win by two.


1. PERFECTION AT PEBBLE BEACH

Mark O'Meara and Paul Goydos played practice rounds with Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000, and both knew what was coming.

O'Meara told his wife that it didn't matter how well he played because Woods was going to win, ''and not only is he going to win, he's going to blow away the field.'' Goydos saw two reporters behind the 18th green on Tuesday and said the tournament ended that day. ''He's going to win by 10.''

He was wrong. Woods won by 15.

Not only was it a record margin in 140 years of major championships, it was as close to perfection as golf allows in a U.S. Open. Woods opened with a 65, the lowest score ever at Pebble in a U.S. Open. After two rounds, he stretched his lead to six shots, and to 10 shots after 54 holes. Both were U.S. Open records. As Goydos had predicted earlier in the week, Woods only needed to stay upright to win.

So dominant was his performance that he didn't make a bogey over the final 26 holes. He finished on 12-under par – the first player to finish at double figures under par in U.S. Open history. No one else finished under par that week, leading Thomas Bjorn to say years later, ''It was literally perfection. I don't think we've ever seen anything like it before, and I find it difficult to believe we'll ever find anybody doing it again.''

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''


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Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.


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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.