The Olympic Club primed for difficult U.S. Open

By Jason SobelJune 13, 2012, 10:52 pm

SAN FRANCISCO – Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me right around this time every year, shame on the world's best golfers.

There is a U.S. Open Championship taking place this week, which means there is already major championship-level grousing about just how difficult the conditions are going to be.

Without fail, it happens in the days prior to every edition of the game’s greatest annual four-day grind. Competitors are asked their thoughts on everything from the severity of the setup to what the winning score will be. Almost instinctually, their brows become furrowed and their noses scrunched as if they just a sucked a bag of lemons. Like patients being interviewed before a root canal, one-by-one they proffer the cloudiest of gloom-and-doom scenarios.

The glass isn’t half-empty. It’s leaking from all sides.

“There's something on every hole that can get you,” Bubba Watson explained. “It makes it very difficult.”


Programming: Golf Channel's U.S. Open lineup

Photo gallery: 112th U.S. Open


“I think this probably tests the player,” Tiger Woods said, “more than any other championship.”

“Most of the time par is a good score and it's a grind out there,” Luke Donald added. “They make it tough on us.”

The “they” in question is the USGA, which to its own admission isn’t running a daycare center for the world’s best golfers. When asked after the appropriately nicknamed “Massacre at Winged Foot” in 1974 whether the organization was trying to embarrass competitors, executive director Sandy Tatum famously responded, “No, we're trying to identify them.'

And boy, have they identified them. Shaking their heads and shaking their fists. Muttering and shuddering. Psyched out instead of psyched up.

It’s one reason that Jack Nicklaus – winner of four of these tournaments in his career – once said, “A lot of players are eliminated the moment the tournament starts.”

Prior to Rory McIlroy winning last year’s edition of the event with a 16-under-par score on a soggy Congressional Country Club, the previous 10 champions had combined for just a 14-under-par total, with two winners at over par and two others at even.

To most competitors, that’s scarier than tight-roping across the Golden Gate Bridge.

“It's going to be all about mental,” said Watson, who won the Masters two months ago. “You know you're going to make mistakes; you know you're going to make bogeys. You have to keep going. What is par, 70? It's not really 70. It's over par. Five-over at the end of the week, just like at Oakmont [in 2007], probably has a great shot at winning.”

This week’s U.S. Open will take place at The Olympic Club, which hasn’t been part of the host rotation since 1998, giving players ample reason to be sufficiently freaked out entering the first round.

Already we’ve heard pity parties from the field, as if everyone who isn’t competing this week should sympathize with their plight of having to play in the national championship.

The opening six holes are supposedly the most brutal opening stretch ever witnessed; some have argued that 4- or 5-over could be among the best scores on those holes each day. The 13th and 14th holes have nowhere to miss. The 16th hole measures 670 yards, though it may be more imposing to say it’s nearly two-fifths of a mile. The final hole features a green that could fit inside your kitchen.

Sound intimidating? Perhaps Matt Kuchar summed it up best when he deadpanned, “The first 18 holes are extremely difficult.”

It’s enough to leave those watching on the couch at home quivering to the point that Cheetos cheese dust is readily shaking off their fingers.

It also leads to an all-too-appropriate question in response: Are this week’s gloom-and-doom proclamations legitimate or will they be completely unfounded?

We won’t have an answer to that query until the tournament is well under way, but oftentimes this is the case – and maybe it’s by design.

Just as players in the current NBA Finals will flop, dive and otherwise work to convince the referees for favorable calls, this is golf’s version of that strategy. Think about it: If players maintained this was a relatively easy setup prior to the tournament rounds commencing, they’d likely find a more difficult track come Thursday morning. Instead, the opposite is true, with pessimistic attitudes likely driving a kinder, gentler USGA plan that will negate any potentially “unfair” conditions.

Whatever the case, the song remains the same entering this U.S. Open. Listen to the competitors and they’ll have you believe this tournament is golf’s equivalent to reaching the final level of Angry Birds.

We should reserve assessment until play has started and scores are actually being posted. If you believe those who have reached this level, though, expect more angry this week and fewer birds.

Getty Images

Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

Getty Images

Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

Getty Images

McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

Getty Images

Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.