PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Set your TiVo and your DVR. Call your dad early in the morning to wish him a happy Father’s Day. Then keep the phone nearby during the afternoon when he calls again. Heck, Sunday at the 110th United States Open is going to be good enough that your neighbor’s father might call to say, “Are you watching this?”
For one afternoon, let’s forget about World Cup goal controversies and 21-year-old rookie pitchers who hurl more strikes than 12-year-olds who play too much bowling on Nintendo Wii. Let’s take a break from worrying about oil spill cleanups and stock market plunges. And please, no more Ron Artest interview highlights.
If Saturday’s spectacle along the Monterey Peninsula was any indication, Sunday at Pebble Beach could well turn into a where-were-you-when moment.
Let’s review the characters on the first page of the leaderboard: Dustin Johnson, a lanky kid out of Coastal Carolina who might be one of three guys in the field who could tee one up at Pebble Beach and land it on Poppy Hills; Graeme McDowell, a hunky Northern Irishman with a permanent 5 o’clock shadow looking to make a name for himself in the States; Tiger Woods, a man trying to find his golf game and 15th major while still dealing with the fallout from a sex scandal; Phil Mickelson, five times a U.S. Open runner-up, and Ernie Els, a two-time Open winner, both of whom epitomize the essence of Father’s Day.
Sounds like the cast of MTV’s “Real World.”
But there’s no way, you say, that we’ll see another afternoon of eagles, right-handed shots by left-handed players, fist pumps and roars load enough to sway 90-foot yachts in Stillwater Cove. All the crusty, cynical sportswriters that have inhabited the press center this week who say it can’t be done either can take a dive off the seventh-hole grandstand.
I say it’s going to happen. I say a Metallica concert is going to break out. I say you’re going to want to buy a Web cam and get your dad on Skype.
Let’s start with Woods, who arrived at Pebble Beach as an afterthought. On Saturday, he turned on the afterburners. Two early bogeys were erased by three consecutive birdies on Nos. 4-6. He then closed with five birdies in his last eight holes, including a 10-footer at No. 16 that was greeted with a raucous fist pump, a downhill slider at No. 17 that brought a grandstand of spectators to their collective feet, and a nuked 3-wood from 260 yards into the par-5 18th that stopped 20 feet from the cup and ended with a two-putt birdie.
“It’s been a while,” said Woods, who started the day nine shots off the lead and shot 66 to stand five back at 1-under 212. “I hadn’t played good enough for anyone to cheer for anything. So it was nice to actually put it together on the back nine and put myself right back in the championship.”
It couldn’t top what Johnson did, however. The two-time defending champion at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am dismantled these seaside links with massive drives and timely putting. He hit 6-iron into the 543-yard 18th and two-putted for his own 66, flying by 36-hole leader McDowell (71) and building a three-shot lead with 18 holes to play.
“This is what I live for,” said Johnson, who turns 26 on Tuesday. “This is what I practice every day for. This is what I go to the gym and do all the stuff that I do is to be in a position like this to go out and have a chance to win a U.S. Open.”
Mickelson’s U.S. Open chances, however, may have washed up on the beach. He started the day two shots behind the lead, but stumbled to a 73. Seven shots back, he’s going to need the round of his life – and a monumental meltdown at the top.
“I didn’t hit it as well as I did yesterday,” said Mickelson, 24 hours removed from a 66. “So I had to fight pretty hard to get some up-and-downs.”
Frenchman Gregory Havret, best known for beating Mickelson in a playoff to win the 2007 Scottish Open, shot 69 and will play alongside Woods in the penultimate group on Sunday. Els, six shots back after a 73, and Mickelson will go off in the third-to-last group.
Who’s going to win? Who the heck knows? In four prior U.S. Open Sundays at Pebble Beach, highlight-reel material has transpired.
“Anything can happen on Sunday,” Mickelson said.
Exactly. So make sure your phone is charged and your dad standing by.
It’s going to be a wild Sunday.