SAN FRANCISCO – It’s not necessarily expected from a tournament-tested champion, but Graeme McDowell felt fear creep into his system before teeing off for Saturday’s third round of the 112th U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.
He experienced similar emotions two years ago at Pebble Beach. He battled then, kept himself in contention and held on Sunday to win.
And much like he did in 2010, McDowell fought off this described nagging fear of failure once more to command a rigorous course and shoot a 2-under 68, staking claim to a share of the 54-hole lead at 1-under with another former Open champion, Jim Furyk.
“I’ve gone through these emotions all the time. It’s basic stuff. It’s basically fear. Fear of going out there and messing it all up,” McDowell said. “I remember two years ago at Pebble, Saturday being a really difficult day for me, mentally and emotionally. And today was the same way, to be honest with you.
“As I was getting ready to come to the golf course today I felt a little nervous and anxious and really kind of not sure how the day was going to go. And I spent a little time with my caddie and my team just kind of talking about what we were trying to achieve today and got my head screwed back on again and realized today was trying to position for tomorrow.”
Fear was nowhere to be found during McDowell’s conveniently steady Saturday. He birdied No. 18 to polish off is round 68. That conversion gave him a brief lead in the clubhouse. Moments later Furyk, the 2003 champ, birdied the par-5 17th to create the share into Sunday’s final round.
“I’m obviously delighted with my effort today,” McDowell said.
The objectives became obvious early Saturday – scrapping by and hanging around. Frustrating fast with no room for error. Those terms tossed around all week – grind, plod, test and patience – were pertinent.
Moving day at The Olympic Club looked unsettling and uncomfortable for some, but a breath of new life for others.
The reshuffling and scrambling continued as the shadows crept over the Lake Course beast.
The 36-hole leaders – Tiger Woods, Furyk and David Toms – each had a bogey on No. 1. And it only became more interesting from there.
Woods, shaky throughout, is 4-over for the championship after a 5-over, 75 in the third round. Toms, too, disappeared from the top-10 after a 6-over 76.
Furyk, who fell to 1-over at one point, patched together an even-par, 70, to finish right where he started, at 1-under.
“I got off to a little slow start being 2 over for six,” Furyk said. “…Didn’t feel like it was that bad, looking up at the board and seeing the rest struggling. But I kept myself in good position.”
Those who trailed either stayed put or inched a stroke or two closer. Some thought to be too far back, snuck up on the rest.
After another grueling day in San Francisco – a favorite to hoist the trophy is still very much in doubt.
Behind the 56-hole leaders a cluster of survivors remain in prime position. Thirteen players are just four strokes off the pace.
It’s wide open,” McDowell said. “I look at guys at 2 and 3 and 4 over par in this tournament, who I really think they have a realistic shot to win tomorrow.
“Myself and Jim played together the first two rounds, so we’ll have the pleasure of one another’s company tomorrow.”
Lower scores were up for grabs Saturday. Thirteen rounds in the 60s were recorded – five more than Friday and equal to the first two rounds combined. Players weathered the grueling front nine and took advantage of scoring opportunities on the back.
“The back nine on this golf course really gives you an opportunity,” McDowell added. “It plays quite short. You can get short iron in your hand quite a lot and have a chance to attack some pins and make some birdies.”
Lee Westwood tied for the low round of the day and made a noticeable charge Saturday, delivering 3-under 67 to place his name into the championship discussion. Three birdies on the back nine capped a five-birdie round for Westwood, who began the day at 5-over, but is now within striking distance at 2-over. He was one of the few who mentioned the word fun in describing his day.
“Really enjoyed the day,” Westwood said. “The goal was to actually shoot 67 myself and give myself a number and I said, ‘bang on.’ So I’m pleased with that and I reset a new number for tomorrow.”
Ernie Els demonstrated his championship experience during his assent into contention. Els chipped in for eagle on the par-5 17th, added par at 18 for well-done finish to his 2-under 68. He, like Westwood is three shots out of the lead at 2-over.
“Today I felt the course played probably the fairest of the last couple of days,” Els said, earlier noting that he was in a much better mood than he was standing on the sixth tee box, where at that point he was 7-over for the tournament.
“I felt it was a bit more moisture in there and the flag positions were fine; and if you played proper golf today you could shoot under par.”
Fredrik Jacobson, Blake Adams and Nicolas Colsaerts are also 2-over for the championship.
Woods said he felt like he was in a good spot after a second-round 70. Statistics backed up that claim. In nine Majors where the Woods held the 36-hole lead, he went on to win eight times.
But his round never got rolling. In fact it slowly unraveled. He wasn’t as fluid off the tee as he had been Thursday and Friday, and tougher second shots resulted in less results on the greens. A three-over front nine didn’t get much better as the three-time U.S. Open champion made the turn.
“I was just missing by just a few yards and that was enough,” Woods said. “… And then that makes a big difference.”
After Saturday’s setback, just milking a good score out of the course is the priority Sunday.
“I’m just going to have to shoot a good round tomorrow and post early and see what happens,” Woods said.
• Seemingly unaffected by everything around him, 17-year-old amateur Beau Hossler kept cool under the mounting pressure, writing off bogeys with birdies on more than one occasion. Hossler (70-73-70) will have an afternoon tee time on Sunday at the U.S. Open as he sits at 3-over in a tie for seventh.
“I had a great day,” Hossler said. “I went out there and didn’t really have any expectations except for to make sure that I’m getting the most out of my round like I’ve been saying.”
• Sunday’s lead pairing of Furyk and McDowell will go off at 3:10 p.m.
• John Peterson had a hole-in-one – the tournament’s first – at the 180-yard par-3 13th.
• Final round pairings, tee times
9:20 S. Ames J. Ogilvie
9:30 B. Van Pelt J. Bohn
9:40 J. Day S. Dyson
9:50 J. Mueller J. Park
10:00 M. Allen K. Bradley
10:10 R. Pampling M. Baldwin
10:20 K. Kim Z. Johnson
10:30 D. Love N. Thompson
10:40 K. Streelman A. Presnell
10:50 M. Warren M. Hoffmann
11:00 D. Stiles H. Fujita
11:10 F. Molinari J. Curl
11:20 R. Fowler P. Cantlay (a)
11:30 I. Poulter M. Manassero
11:40 B. Grace P. Mickelson
11:50 B. Estes C. Schwartzel
12:00 K. Choi N. Watney
12:10 S. Stricker R. Karlsson
12:20 J. Byrd A. Cejka
12:30 J. Spieth (a) A. Cabrera
12:40 S. LeBrun H. Mahan
12:50 R. Jacquelin K. Na
1:00 S. Langley A. Scott
1:10 D. Toms M. Thompson
1:20 A. Watkins C. Wi
1:30 S. Garcia J. Rose
1:40 P. Harrington H. Hamrick
1:50 C. Wittenberg T. Woods
2:00 M. Kuchar M. Kaymer
2:10 R. Goosen J. Peterson
2:20 J. Dufner B. Hossler (a)
2:30 J. Senden K. Chappell
2:40 W. Simpson N. Colsaerts
2:50 B. Adams E. Els
3:00 L. Westwood F. Jacobson
3:10 J. Furyk G. McDowell