Open for Opportunity

By Mercer BaggsJune 17, 2006, 4:00 pm
U.S. OpenMAMARONECK, N.Y. -- This is the good and the bad of the U.S. Open.
 
The good is that you get a variety of storylines. The casual fan, and even the more hardcore version, gets introduced to players of whom theyve never even heard. Darlings are born, world-wide identities created; the slightly recognizable players can achieve mass appeal.
 
Colin Montgomerie
Colin Montgomerie still has a chance to win his first major championship.
Thats what you get from a true Open championship, where everyone, boy or girl ' with a 1.4 handicap or less ' is eligible to try and make the field.
 
What you dont get sometimes is buzz. And that was the case this Saturday.
 
The better part of the third round lacked any true excitement. There was the hole-in-one courtesy Peter Hedblom, and a few hole-outs here and there, but, overall, Saturday didnt register very high on the Excitement meter ' at least until the end, when Phil Mickelson moved forward while everyone else fell back.
 
And thats always a possibility at a U.S. Open.
 
Due to the extreme difficulty of the layout and the assortment of the field, there is always the possibility that an Open affair will be dressed in black and filled with party crashers.
 
But rarely do we look back and recall vividly the third round of a major championship; we usually only remember the final performance. And if Act III was a bit of a dud, at least it managed to set the stage for what could be a dramatic dnouement.
 
What transpires on Sunday is anyones guess; thats because this Open is wide open.
 
Without question, Mickelson enters the final stanza as the overwhelming favorite to win his third consecutive major championship. He birdied two of his last five holes Saturday to finish at 1 under for the day, and earned a share of the 54-hole lead when Kenneth Ferrie bogeyed the last.
 
Ferries choke job at 18 ' his 4-foot putt to save par wouldnt have fallen in a New York sewer hole ' could be an indication as to what to expect on Sunday. Though hes won twice on the European Tour, and these greens may be strikingly similar to the bumpy surfaces they navigate overseas, he may be ill equipped to handle performing under golfs brightest stage light.
 
This is his first U.S. Open. Should he defeat Mickelson head-to-head on Sunday, and hold off everyone else in the process, this would have to rank among the biggest ' if not the biggest ' upsets in major championship history.
 
It would trump Ben Curtis triumph in the 2003 Open Championship. Curtis, who was playing in his first major championship event, won at Royal St. Georges by sneaking up on everyone and passing them from arrears. The Englishman will have to claim his title from the forefront, which is a much more daunting task.
 
Add in the fact that hes going up against the worlds best player ' based on form, not ranking ' and it damn-near seems impossible. Ferrie wears a belt buckle with the Superman symbol ' only he's the one in need of kryptonite on Sunday.
 
'It's going to be something I've never done before, kind of the first time I've ever contended, being up there in a major,' he said. 'So it's going to be an experience, hopefully a good one.'
 
If he should do it, Ferries would be a wonderful, life-altering story. And that could be said for so many more.
 
Wearing the label of major champion changes everything. It changes the way youre viewed, by your peers and by the public. It changes your way of life: where and what you play; your earning potential. As defending champion Michael Campbell noted earlier in the week, I have new responsibilities as a major champion What I say now really matters back home in New Zealand. My opinion matters, which is quite scary sometimes.
 
Being a major champion, whether right or wrong, increases your worth in the eyes of others.
 
Mickelson knows that. So, too, does Vijay Singh, who is just three back and vying for the third leg of the career Grand Slam. Jim Furyk and Mike Weir, who are both at 6 over, also understand that, as they are major champions as well.
 
But while Mickelson and Singh are both major winners three times over, Furyk and Weir have won but one. One-hundred-and-16 players have won one major title. Just 32 of them have won another.
 
As great as the gap is between winning multiple major championships compared to winning one, there is an even greater chasm between winning one and never winning one at all.
 
Just ask Colin Montgomerie. Better yet, ask him Sunday evening if he can overcome his three-stroke deficit.
 
Tied with Monty are Englishman Ian Poulter and American Steve Stricker. Poulter would love to become more than just a fashionable oddity in this game. Stricker would just love to have a permanent place to play.
 
Two in front of them, and just one off the lead, is Geoff Ogilvy. The Australian can be transformed from an up-and-comer to someone who has suddenly arrived.
 
And while we spent the early part of this week envisioning a scenario of a son winning the U.S. Open and paying tribute to his late father on Fathers Day, we may still get to see that.
 
Padraig Harringtons dad passed away about a year ago this time. Despite a triple bogey at the last, hes just four back.
 
In all, there are 13 players within five strokes of the lead with 18 holes to play. Each and every one has their own story to tell. And each and every one hopes to have the opportunity to do so on Sunday.
 
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