SAN FRANCISCO – The manner in which they play their golf ball, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Pennsylvanian Jim Furyk are strikingly similar in medium length, superior precision and ability to scramble around greens.
The two were seemingly built for multiple U.S. Open victories, and after a wild third day at the 112th U.S. Open finished up Saturday, both are in prime position to accomplish just that.
McDowell (2-under-par 68) and Furyk (70) are the lone golfers remaining under par at the Olympic Club. They share the 54-hole lead at 1-under 209.
In fact, it was an easier scoring day the international players seemed to thoroughly enjoy. Of the 13 under-par rounds, nine were posted by non-Americans.
It helped many join the championship fray, including Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson (68), who is in third alone at 211. England’s Lee Westwood, in search of his first major triumph, tied for the best round of the day – a 67 – and moved up to a tie for fourth with South Africa’s Ernie Els (68) and American Blake Adams (70) at 212.
Then there was the unexpected collapse of Tiger Woods in his pursuit of a 15th major title. One of the co-leaders entering the day, he made countless mistakes en route to a 75 – and sits tied for 14th at 214.
Like in previous U.S. Opens at this tree-lined beauty alongside the Pacific Ocean, the non-temperamental control players have fared better on the Lake Course than the brash bombers. It should be no surprise that McDowell and Furyk are leading this championship.
“It’s down to business,” McDowell said. “It’s Sunday afternoon. We both want to win.”
Yet, they are a contrast in off-course styles. McDowell is the one who can be found in the local pub downing a few pints of Guinness beer for pleasure. He is 32. He enjoys fast cars. He just recently found a steady girlfriend.
Furyk is the PGA Tour’s lead pitchman for “5-Hour Energy” drink. He is 42. He is resourceful and reserved – a family man who built one of his own homes – in Hawaii. He and wife, Tabitha, have three children.
None of that will matter today when the former U.S. Open champions – Furyk won at Olympia Fields Country Club in 2003, and McDowell at Pebble Beach Golf Links in 2010 – are paired up in the final group.
What they did share Saturday was overcoming slow starts, and finishing strong. McDowell was 1-over at the turn before making three back-nine birdies – the last after he stuck a wedge approach to 41/2 feet on the closing hole.
“I needed to slow my swing down and get a good groove and rhythm to come in,” McDowell said. “I had some great shots coming in.”
Furyk played with Woods – and promptly fell to 2-over on his round through five holes. When he finally started hitting greens, he made medium-length putts – including 12-footers at Nos. 7 and 11 for birdies.
And on the back nine, when he was missing greens, he found ways to get up and down to save pars.
Furyk then two-putted from 70 feet at the 17th hole for birdie to tie McDowell atop the leaderboard.
“On a golf course like this, you have to go from spot to spot,” Furyk said. “It doesn’t have to look or be fancy. It has to work.”
What did not work was Woods’ game, a shock given his solid four rounds to win the Memorial tournament two weeks ago, and the way he opened this week’s championship with 69 and 70.
His day was like one of those harried, San Francisco trolley rides from the get-go. He drove in the rough on the first hole, and made bogey. He left his 80-foot putt from off the green short at No. 3, and made another bogey. And at No. 6, his approach shot hit the front apron and rolled back against the line of heavy rough and he made his third bogey in six holes.
Woods never did find the right speed of the greens. He bogeyed the par-5 16th. And, facing a makeable chip shot from the rough on the finishing hole, he stubbed it. The ball not only did not clear the high grass, it skipped sideways onto the green, and he missed a 17-foot try for par.
“I kept leaving myself in tough spots. I didn’t really have that many birdie putts today – and they were all lag putting,” Woods said.
Today he will have to come from behind for the first time if he wants to capture his first major title since 2008.
“I’m definitely still in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I’m only five (shots) back, and that’s certainly doable on this golf course, for sure.”email@example.com