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U.S. Open at Olympic Club usually ends in surprise

SAN FRANCISCO—Four times, the U.S. Open has come to the Olympic Club. All four times, it has wound up with a surprise champion.

In 1955, Jack Fleck shocked his idol, Ben Hogan, in a playoff.

In 1966, Billy Casper defeated Arnold Palmer in a playoff after trailing by seven shots with nine holes to go in regulation.

In 1987, Scott Simpson emerged from a crowded field to deny Tom Watson.

In 1998, Lee Janzen prevailed over Payne Stewart, who took a four-shot lead into the final round.

In other words, even though the spotlight will be on big names like resurgent Tiger Woods, fan favorite Phil Mickelson and defending Open champion Rory McIlroy, there’s a good chance a relatively obscure winner will emerge.

That’s because the Olympic Club is notorious for putting a premium on accuracy in an event that seems dedicated to punishing mistakes sternly.

This golf course won’t know the golf ball of Woods from the ball of 14-year-old Andy Zhang, the China native who’s the youngest player to make an Open field.

``It’s not too young if you can do it,’’ Woods said. ``You have to go out and put up the numbers, and he did.’’

The focus is on the first six holes, where Olympic’s narrow, sloping, tree-lined fairways and slick, small greens are especially challenging.

``They’re just brutal, brutal holes,’’ said NBC analyst Johnny Miller, who grew up playing Olympic. ``I’ve never seen a tougher opening stretch of holes anywhere in the history of major championship golf. A number of players could lose the tournament there on Thursday.”

Added Woods, ``If you play them for four straight days even par, you’re going to be picking up a boatload of shots.’’

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