PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Tiger Woods isn’t the least bit surprised at the way U.S. Open leader Dustin Johnson is striking the ball to put himself in contention for an even bigger championship at Pebble Beach.
Woods watched the power-hitting Johnson, winner of the last two Pebble Beach National Pro-Ams played each February, during a practice round here earlier in the week in which Johnson pulled out a 4-iron at the tee on the challenging 17th and proceeded to hit it pin high on the 226-yard hole.
“He’s just stupid long,” Woods said at the time.
The compliments are still coming, and Woods realizes even after his sensational 5-under 66 round Saturday – which put him at 1-under for the tournament and right back in the hunt – that Johnson could be tough to catch in the final round Sunday.
Johnson also shot a sizzling 5-under 66 on Saturday and is 6-under 207 with a three-stroke lead over Graeme McDowell. Woods sits in third.
“I’ve played with long hitters who can play, but he hits it just for miles,” Woods said. “I told the story all week, we played a practice round and he had 226 on 17 and into the wind, and he just pulls out a 4-iron and hits it flag high in the air. … Dustin just pulls out 4 iron like it was nothing.”
HAVRET’S MISSION: Gregory Havret finds himself in contention heading into the final day at his first U.S. Open – tied for fourth with Ernie Els.
Havret beat Phil Mickelson in a playoff to win the Scottish Open in 2007 – and that’s his best win to date.
“It’s great to be there after three rounds. Obviously, it’s a fantastic feeling,” Havret said following his 2-under 69 Saturday that put him at even-par 213 going into Sunday.
The 33-year-old Frenchman rode his reliable short game Saturday into a strong position.
While in the past he has focused more of his energy on the British Open, Havret is thrilled to be playing so well in his U.S. Open debut. He birdied holes 5, 6, 10 and the tricky 14th, overcoming bogeys on Nos. 9 and 11.
And he wants to make sure he cherishes the experience of playing on Sunday in a major, and one played at a spot as special as Pebble Beach.
“Yeah, magical, that’s a good word,” Havret said. “I don’t know, I’ll have a nice evening with my lads and parents, and for sure it’s going to be something else I remember forever, but when you’re in the present you don’t really see and feel that. It’s more after.”
THAI ACE: Thongchai Jaidee has hit 10 holes-in-one in his long golfing career – and he realizes it takes a lot of luck on top of pinpoint shot-making.
He did it on the par-3, 181-yard fifth hole during his U.S. Open round Saturday, a feat he ranks right up there with his best accomplishments in the game. It was his eighth ace in a tournament and first on a stage this big.
“I made it on the green and I was very happy with that,” said Jaidee, who turned pro in 1999. “It’s a very difficult hole. … Very tough course.”
It marked the first hole-in-one in the Open since 2006, seventh in an Open at Pebble Beach and the 41st known ace in Open history. Peter Hedblom had the last one in the third round at the 238-yard third at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
Jaidee, a native of Thailand and among the last to make the cut, hit an 8-iron off the tee and the ball landed on the left side of the green then kicked right and rolled into the hole.
“A hole in one is not very easy,” said the 40-year-old Jaidee, playing his second Open. “You need some luck. Today I got lucky on that one.”
He watched some jaws drop in the gallery and, then, cheers from all directions.
All this after he eagled No. 3 on Friday. He once earned himself a new watch when he aced a hole during a stop in Taiwan on the Asian Tour.
“No prize. That’s OK – in a major, I’m very proud. I enjoyed it,” Jaidee said. “A very good memory for me. An eagle and hole-in-one in this tournament.
GOING SOLO: Ty Tryon had the first tee time at 9 a.m. Saturday – all by himself.
While Tryon had the option of playing with a non-pro “marker” player, he opted to go solo with the guidance of longtime local Pebble Beach caddie Bob “Rocket” Lytle.
It was a tough round for Tryon, who was done in 3 1/2 hours but not at all happy with his game. Tryon had six bogeys and two double-bogeys – two each on the back nine – to finish 7 over for the day and go to 14-over 227 for the tournament.
“I felt really good and thought I’d do better. This is a weird feeling,” Tryon said.
He compared it to being “stepped on” but offered no excuses for his terrible day.
Tryon, the former teen star a decade ago who quickly flopped and is now 26 and married with a 3-year-old son, kept his wits about him. He smacked a high-five with Lytle as they walked down the 16th fairway. Tryon’s wife, Hanna, was just outside the ropes supporting him through the round.
While Tyron heard the crowd cheers all over the course, fans at the 18th were happy to see a golfer on a day tee times began 2 hours later than the previous two days.
“Nice to finally see someone!” one man yelled.
18TH BLISS: Jason Gore walks up to the 18th green at Pebble Beach and instantly is brought back to his wedding day right here in 2003.
“How can you not?” he said.
He and his wife, Megan, were married in the spot where the grandstands now sit. A regular at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February, the Southern Californian had long envisioned a wedding on the famous 18th – with spectacular oceanside views as a backdrop.
“I’ve always wanted to do it here. She just obliged me,” Gore said after his round Saturday. “This place is pretty special. Walking from 18 to 1 yesterday, those stairs are where she walked down.”
There was Megan on Saturday with a cold Diet Coke for her husband when he came out of the scorer’s trailer.
“Thank you, dear,” he said.
When it comes to his golf, Gore is eager to turn around what has been a rough year. He chipped in on his final hole Friday to make the cut and hopes to gain some momentum from reaching the weekend at the Open. Gore shot 3 over Saturday and was at 10-over 223 for the tournament heading into Sunday’s final round.
“I’m looking for anything to give me a glimmer of confidence,” he said.
BIRDIE ON 17: Bobby Gates landed his tee shot on the par-3 17th within two feet of the pin on a hole that has been causing other players fits. Gates made the short putt for birdie.
That was the closest course marshal Larry Pesetski had seen anybody get in three days stationed at that hole.
After partner Kent Jones hit a 4-iron to the right-side sand trap, Gates thought the wind was helping so he went with a 6-iron.
“I just hit it perfect. It fell right toward the hole and landed soft,” Gates said. “It was a tough 2-footer, too. It was a relief to hit a good shot in there after the last two days.”
Jones nearly had his own birdie. His chip out of the bunker spun around the far lip of the cup and out.
“It looked pretty good,” Gates said. “I was thinking, ‘Man, two 2s on this hole is pretty strong.”’
Jones said the pin was easier than the previous two days, but when told he might have the best shot on 17 yet, he said: “It wouldn’t surprise me. It really takes a great shot to get it in there, and a little bit of luck, too.”