Graeme McDowell, Jim Furyk share U.S. Open lead; Tiger five back
SAN FRANCISCO — One thing seems certain. At this wide-open U.S. Open, the winner is going to plod away, not run away.
Expectations of Tiger Woods’ first major title since the 2008 U.S. Open dimmed when the superstar slipped to a 5-over par 75 on Saturday. In Woods’ 14 major championships, he has been under par 12 times and even par twice in the third round, but never over par on Saturday.
Jim Furyk, who shot 70, and Graeme McDowell (68) share the 54-hole lead at 1-under heading into the final round at the Olympic Club. But 11 players are lurking within four shots, and 15 are within five shots.
“I’m just really happy with myself,’’ McDowell said. “I stuck to my game plan. I actually enjoyed myself out there for the first time this week. This golf course has been such a test. I was proud of myself, the way I played today.’’
While Furyk also shared the 36-hole lead, the other co-leaders, Woods and David Toms (76), had tough days Saturday as others made their moves.
Fredrik Jacobson (68) is third, two shots back. Four players (Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Blake Adams and unheralded Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts) are tied for fourth, three shots behind the leaders. Six more players, including 17-year-old amateur Beau Hossler, are four shots off the lead.
Woods is among the four players who are five shots back.
“I’m still in the ballgame,’’ Woods said. “I’m only five back. That’s certainly doable. I just have to shoot a good round early and see what happens.’’
Westwood, 39, arguably the best active player who hasn’t won a major, put himself in contention with a 67 that was highlighted by a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th.
“I’ve played well in major championships; somebody [else] just played a little better,’’ said the veteran Englishman, who’s making his 57th major appearance. “I’ve probably been in contention in major championships more than anybody else over the last three or four years. So I’m looking forward to going out [Sunday] and have some fun and see what happens.’’
Since 2008, Westwood has seven top-three finishes, including a tie for third at this year’s Masters. He also tied for third at the 2009 and 2011 U.S. Opens.
If it’s a tightly bunched field at the end of the day on Sunday, Furyk, 42, also has the been-there-done-that resume to handle the pressure.
In winning his first U.S. Open championship, at Olympia Fields in 2003, he shot an 8-under par 272, tying the record for the lowest 72-hole score in U.S. Open history. Furyk, who finished three shots ahead of runner-up Stephen Leaney, said there are similarities between the suburban Chicago course and this West Coast venue.
“They’re similar in that both courses force the players to play from the similar spots in the fairway,’’ Furyk said. “Length isn’t really much of an issue here. Whether you hit driver off the tee, 3‑wood off the tee or 2‑iron off the tee, we’re all trying to put the ball in similar spots here, for most of the day. And Olympia Fields has that same quality at times as well.’’
Furyk said it doesn’t seem like nine years since he won at Olympia Fields.
“No, time goes quickly,’ he said. “But the kids remind me because my wife was pregnant with our second and he’s 81/2. So I guess it does.’’
Then again, Els, a three-time major winner who won the 1994 and 1997 U.S. Opens, also is used to the pressure of a big-time Sunday round on a demanding course.
“Experience helps around here,’’ Els said. “For some reason, I’m patient again this week and that’s been kind of my virtue in major championship golf — the ability to be patient and wait it out. And I think you’re going to have to do that tomorrow.’’