SAN FRANCISCO — With only two players under par – Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk at 1 under – and 15 others within five shots of the lead (including Tiger Woods at 4 over), Sunday’s final round at Olympic Club promises to be an epic U.S. Open finish.
Our staff on the scene debates five key questions before the leaders tee off this afternoon:
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1. Is Tiger done? What will he have to shoot to win this tournament?
JIM McCABE: He’s not quite as “done” as another Sean Foley student, Stephen Ames, who is 16 over. But, yeah, he’s got serious issues. He’s never come from behind in one of these majors and after playing conservatively for most of the week, it’s difficult to fathom an attack mode paying off. That would require more drivers off the tee and that spells trouble. By the turn, he’ll be pondering next month’s major at Royal Lytham.
ALEX MICELI: The Tiger of the first two rounds would have a chance on Sunday, but the Tiger of Saturday has no chance. It’s more of which Tiger Woods shows up and the answer is likely somewhere in the middle. He has no chance even if he shoots a 67 on Sunday.
JEFF RUDE: No, he’s not done. He has a chance, though not a good one. He’s five strokes back and trails 13 players. But he’s in a post position. If he posts 67 early, he has a good chance to win. But he doesn’t seem to be putting well enough to shoot 67 on such a fast track.
SEAN MARTIN: 66 will give him a chance. Can he do it? That’s another question. I don’t think so. He looked like he had a lot to figure out after Saturday’s round, and 66 is the lowest score this week.
JEFF BABINEAU: Never say never at a U.S. Open, and especially at this place. Funny how many people one can fly past by shooting 66 or 67. But Tiger needs a great start through the tough opening six holes, and he’d need an awful lot of funny stuff to happen, what with 13 players between him and that shiny new Jack Nicklaus medal.
RYAN LAVNER: Sure, he could shoot 66 or 67, and maybe steal the title or force a playoff, but history suggests he won’t. His own history, of course. Never has Tiger won a major championship when trailing after 54 holes, and conditions could get fast and fiery come Sunday afternoon, meaning birdies will be rare. Expect him to make a charge, then fall back into fifth or so.
NICK MASUDA: No, Tiger is not done. I believe even-par is going to win this tournament, and that means a 66 out of Woods. He’ll be firing at pins all day. He also has about 80 minutes on the leaders and can put some early pressure on them if he starts quick. Will it happen? Possibly. Golf needs something epic, and Tiger is the guy to provide it.
JAMES ACHENBACH: Done and gone in this major. The kiss of death: third round bogeys at 16 and 18, plus his failure to birdie 17. Needs to shoot 64; nobody can shoot 64 on this course.
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2. Will the winner come out of the final group?
JIM McCABE: History indicates it usually does at a U.S. Open, though it did not the last time we played this thing at the Olympic Club. Back in 1998, Lee Janzen came from five back to win, so keep your eyes on Lee Westwood, playing in the penultimate group, just three behind.
ALEX MICELI: Two-shot lead doesn’t seem like much, but it does provide a cushion. Furyk & McDowell are major winners and know what it takes, you can expect them to keep the ball in front of them and not get shaken by the pack. I expect to see the winner from the last group.
JEFF RUDE: The recent trend says yes, for the past four Open champions have come out of the final twosome. I think it will be different today, with Lee Westwood finally winning a major.
SEAN MARTIN: No. There are plenty of pursuers. Thirteen players are at 3 over or better, meaning there’s a good chance someone can come out of the pack.
JEFF BABINEAU: Yes. That certainly wasn’t the case the last time we were at Olympic, when Lee Janzen came from behind. But given the toughness of the guys in the final pairing, you can count on either Jim Furyk or Graeme McDowell being there at the end.
RYAN LAVNER: It has in the past couple of years, and G-Mac and Furyk have the perfect type of games to play Olympic. They’re patient. They’re unemotional. They’re smart. One of these guys will pick up their second major title Sunday.
NICK MASUDA: No, I think teh leaders will come back to the field a bit and get caught. Of the two, I think McDowell has the best shot of staying in there, but I think nerves get the best of both of them.
JAMES ACHENBACH: Yes, and his last name has five letters.
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3. Of those within five shots, who has the best chance of making a Sunday run?
JIM McCABE: Like I said, Westwood. Then again, Olympic being Olympic, isn’t that the Big Belgian, Nicolas Colsaerts, raising a championship trophy?
ALEX MICELI: Lee Westwood is the most consistent and best ball striker on the board. He has a suspect putter, but if they start to drop early, Westwood could literally run away and hide.
JEFF RUDE: Jason Dufner or Webb Simpson. They’re four shots back in a tie for eighth. Had Dufner putted well Saturday, he’d be leading after 54 holes.
SEAN MARTIN: Lee Westwood, if he can make some putts of course. I don’t think Jason Dufner would be much of a surprise, either.
JEFF BABINEAU: I know Lee Westwood is a popular choice, and he’s done a nice job of getting himself back into the tournament after a horrendous start. But the guy I’m keeping an eye on is Webb Simpson, who is a better putter than Westwood and might have a chance to post something low.
RYAN LAVNER: Westwood. Only three shots back, and in the penultimate group, he’s in ideal position to win his first major title. His third-round 68 showcased the type of ballstriking we’re used to seeing out of Westy. If his putter can cooperate on Sunday — and yes, that’s been his bugaboo in the past — it could be his time.
NICK MASUDA: Outside of Tiger, I think Jason Dufner is the steadiest guy there and doesn’t seem to be fazed by much. I expect him there at the end.
JAMES ACHENBACH: If Lee Westwood could proclaim Steve Stricker to be his designated putter, he could win. He will make a move, but it will be too little too late. Too bad.
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4. Will Beau Hossler break par on Sunday?
JIM McCABE: No, but it’s note like he’ll not have plenty of company. There were 13 sub-par scores Saturday and my guess is, you won’t have half that many Sunday.
ALEX MICELI: Not on Sunday at the U.S. Open.
JEFF RUDE: No. He’s a great story. But this is U.S. Open Sunday and he’s 17. On top of that, not sure if anybody will break par today.
SEAN MARTIN: No, but it’s feasible he’ll put together another good round and end up with a top-15 showing. Of course, I could be wrong. I thought some nerves would show Saturday, but he was quite impressive. Breaking par on U.S. Open Sunday seems improbable, though.
JEFF BABINEAU: No, but that’s OK. If he can shoot 1 or 2 over, he can hang around inside the top 8, which non only would get him to Merion for next year’s U.S. Open, but also into the Masters. And then he’ll return to senior Calculus.
RYAN LAVNER: It’s been an amazing story, a 17-year-old kid with braces and pimples contending at the majors. But Sunday at a U.S. Open is an entirely different deal. The Hoss will shoot a few over par today but will play well enough to earn low-amateur honors, which was his goal entering the week.
NICK MASUDA: I’ve covered the kid the past two days and he has shown more maturity than most of the pros. Will Sunday cause a couple of wayward shots? Sure. But I think Big Beau fires another even-par 70, setting the Twitter world on fire as he stays in the top eight at a major.
JAMES ACHENBACH: No. He won’t come close. There is a 76 in his future.
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5. How do you hope to see Olympic today: crazy hard or scoreable?
JIM McCABE: Even when it’s “scoreable” it’s crazy hard, isn’t it? I mean, Saturday constituted a birdie fest, for crying out loud, and 3 under was the best score. It’s the U.S. Open, not the Hope . . . keep it closer to crazy hard.
ALEX MICELI: Mike Davis would like to see some of yesterday in the results of today. There were too many good scores to the USGA’s liking on Saturday, so less water and some interesting hole locations will make Olympic a little more difficult on Sunday.
JEFF RUDE: Crazy hard. Why change now?
SEAN MARTIN: I hope it’s scoreable. The players have been tested plenty over the first three days. The board is tightly packed. Let them have some fun today.
JEFF BABINEAU: I think you’ll see some scores. I wouldn’t think the U.S. Golf Association would want to createa final-day bloodfest, where the golfer with the fewest bogeys wins. There’s not much thundering applause in that. There will be some scoring opportunities, some tees moved up, etc. Olympic has been tough but fair, and no reason to deviate from that formula today.
RYAN LAVNER: Scoreable? That’s for Sunday at Augusta. I want to see the best players in the world grind it out, and when they come in for the winner’s press conference, they should be emotionally and physically spent, a form of Olympic torture. Survival of the fittest!
NICK MASUDA: Define “scoreable”?? I think shooting anything lower than 68 will be deemed remarkable, as the pin locations promise to hug the sides of the greens, making it difficult to attack most of them.
JAMES ACHENBACH: Fast, firm, bouncy bouncy. It’s the U.S. Open, remember?