Of all of the American states that have hosted the US Open at least 10 times, California was the last to join the rotation in 1948 at the Riviera Country Club. Despite being behind the times compared with other parts of the USA when it comes to hosting the US Open, the Golden State has delivered some of golf’s most golden moments over the years.
Regarded by many as the toughest test of golf on the professional golf calendar, the US Open provides a sense of drama and tension unlike any other tournament. While every year we see birdies galore at the Masters and a creative battle against the elements on the classic links of England and Scotland at the Open Championship, the courses that host the US Open are often set up in a brutally difficult way where near perfect golf from tee to green still may not get the job done!
It goes without saying then that you have to be in the form of your life or one of the sports great champions to have a hope in hell of getting your hands on the famous US Open Trophy. From The early days of Snead and Hogan to Nicklaus, Watson and more recently Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, the US Open has been won by some of the best players in history and with a resurgent Tiger, hall of famer Phil Mickelson and potential future great Rory McIlroy in the field, this year’s tournament may well be one to remember.
From Jack Nicklaus’ stunning 1 iron that struck the pin at the 17th at Pebble Beach en route to winning the 1972 tournament to Tom Watson’s outrageous chip in on the same hole to deny Nicklaus ten years later, the US Open has also had its fair share of iconic golfing moments. Hopefully we can be treated to a couple more this year!
With the 2012 edition just hours away we take a look at five of the best US Opens to date, all of which happen to have been played in the Golden State.
1948 – Ben Hogan – Riviera Country Club
The hype surrounding Ben Hogan leading up to the 1948 US Open was similar to that surrounding Tiger heading into the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach, such was Hogan’s dominance in previous months. Hogan had won back to back LA Opens at The Riviera Country Club, shooting a course record 66 and setting a new scoring record of 275 along the way, and had just won the PGA Championship meaning all eyes were on The Hawk. As usual, he delivered.
Hogan’s great rival, Sam Snead, held the lead after two rounds but closing the tournament with successive rounds in the 60s saw Hogan claim another US Open, a prize Slammin Sam was never able to get his hands on. Along the way Hogan beat the US Open scoring record by a mammoth 5 shots and became the first player to card three rounds in the 60s at what modern tour pros consider to be the toughest test in golf.
No wonder Riviera became known as “Hogan’s Alley.”
1982 – Tom Watson – Pebble Beach
At the 1982 US Open, Jack Nicklaus was going for a record 5th US Open win at Pebble Beach and as if scripted by some cheesy Hollywood writer, it was his nemesis, Tom Watson, who would stand in his way.
The final round turned into a duel between Nicklaus and Watson who, while not playing together, were fully aware of what was happening around the course. Nicklaus was in the clubhouse at 4-under and Watson had a one-shot lead until he three-putted the 16th hole from about 70 feet to fall back into a tie. Nicklaus must have got a little excited when Watson then pulled a 2-iron on the par-3 17th into a treacherous position over the back of the green. His second looked to be impossible. The ball was nestled in the thick, deep rough the US Open is so famous for and the pin was only a few feet onto a green that ran away from him.
Watson needed to get up and down or would need a birdie down the par 5 18th to force a playoff with Nicklaus. His caddie, Brice Edwards, encouraged him to get the seemingly impossible chip shot close but Watson reportedly turned to him and said, “To hell with getting it close…I’m going to make it.”
He did. And with a birdie down the last just for good measure, Watson had claimed his first US Open against his biggest foe of all.
Tom Watson’s famous chip in on the 17th at Pebble Beach is one of the most iconic shots in Major Championship history.
2000 – Tiger Woods– Pebble Beach
There are few who could argue that Tiger’s performance at the 2000 US Open is the single greatest US Open performance, and perhaps the finest performance full stop, in the history of golf.
Mark O’Meara and Paul Goydos had played practice rounds with Woods at Pebble Beach prior to the 2nd major of the year getting underway, and both knew what was coming.
O’Meara told his wife that it didn’t matter how well he played because Woods was going to win, “and not only is he going to win, he’s going to blow away the field.” Goydos saw two reporters behind the 18th green on Tuesday and said the tournament ended that day. “He’s going to win by 10.”
He was wrong. Tiger won by 15.
Not only did Woods win by a record margin for a major championship, a record that most likely will never be touched, but he broke a string of other records along the way. In all, nine records were either broken or tied. Down went the US Open scoring record by four shots; down went the US Open course record at Pebble Beach and so on and so on.
No one else finished under par that week with Tiger’s nearest challengers, Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez, finishing tied on 3 over par. This lead Thomas Bjorn to say years later, “It was literally perfection. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it before, and I find it difficult to believe we’ll ever find anybody doing it again.”
Here’s to hoping!
Will we ever see a performance like Tiger’s 2000 US Open performance again?
2008 – Tiger Woods –Torrey Pines
If Tiger fails to add to his career haul of 14 Major Championships then at least his final win will go down as one of the great stories in golf.
Tiger was advised by doctors not to play in the 2008 US Open due to an injury to his left knee but upon hearing the tournament would be played at his beloved Torrey Pines – he had won here numerous times in his pro career to date – he was insistent on playing and told his then swing coach, Hank Haney, “it’s just pain” when referring to how he was going to win the toughest tournament in the world on a crocked leg.
The left knee was clearly causing Woods discomfort as he struggled to get through the ball in his first two and half rounds, missing countless shots, especially with the driver, to the right. Then suddenly Tiger burst into life and made a breathtaking surge on the back nine of his third round which took him right into contention. A 70-foot eagle putt from the back of the 13th green, a chip in birdie on the 17th and a bending 30-foot eagle putt on the final hole gave Tiger the lead going into Sunday.
With his perfect 13 for 13 record of closing out Majors having held the 54 hole lead, few gave the popular Rocco Mediate, his nearest challenger, a chance in the final round but on the 18th Woods was trailing by one. Forced to lay up, Woods hit his 3rd to the par 5 last to 12 or so feet and the stage was set.
Just as he had for year upon year, Tiger holed the crucial putt when he simply had to. Rocco and Tiger had tied through 72 holes and after an 18 hole playoff they were still neck and neck. The 1st sudden death playoff hole would finally see Tiger defeat Mediate and it was only after the tournament that the Woods camp revealed the extent of his injury.
Not only were the ligaments in his knee shot to pieces but he was also suffering from two stress fractures in his tibia as well. Winning the toughest tournament in the world over 91 gruelling holes on a broken leg…just another day in the office for Tiger Woods!
Tiger’s back nine charge during the 3rd round defined the 2008 US Open.
2011 – Rory McIlroy – Congressional Country Club
Ok…we know this wasn’t in California but hey…it was pretty good stuff sho we thought we would throw it in! Creative licence and all that…
With Tiger injured and out of the field for the 2011 US Open the golfing world was looking for a new hero as it looked increasingly likely that Woods was a fading force and may never return to the winner’s circle. Up stepped the prodigy from Northern Ireland that was Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy’s last outing in a major hadn’t quite gone to plan…well…on the back nine of the final round anyway. Having lead the Masters at Augusta through 63 holes, the young Irishman imploded, threw away a four shot lead and post a final round of 80 to finish way off the pace set by Charl Schwartzel of South Africa.
So after a couple of good rounds at a soggy Congressional course in Washington, the golfing world was surely expecting the curly haired kid to fade again. McIlroy had other ideas and as he started to pull even further away from the pack on the final day, it was clear there wasn’t going to be a repeat of what happened at Augusta.
Rory set no less than 11 US Open records, including the lowest total 72-hole score (268) and the lowest total under par (−16), as he won by a handsome 8 shots. Has there ever been a bounce back of such epic proportions in major golf? We think not.
McIlroy’s run away win in last year’s US Open reminded everyone of Tiger’s in 2000. It was all the more impressive when you consider his meltdown at the Master a few months previously.
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