Woods just one story as U.S. Open returns

With a history that includes 10 USGA championship events, including four renditions of the U.S. Open, the tradition, spectacle and formidability of the Pebble Beach Golf Links on the Monterey Peninsula can hardly be disputed.

But it will take a minor miracle for the focus of Pebble Beach’s latest U.S. Open — set to take place June 17–20 — to be on the actual course and not simply on one man — Tiger Woods.

Since he climbed onto the professional golf stage in 1996, Woods has cast a daunting shadow over his PGA Tour colleagues, winning 14 major championships to stake his claim as the greatest golfer of all time.

But for the first time, doubts are swirling about Woods’ ability (he has missed the cut and withdrawn from another tournament), and memories are still fresh from his shocking infidelity scandal, meaning the spotlight directed at him will be even brighter than usual.

While the inevitable media circus will focus on Woods, there are so many other interesting stories to keep a close eye on, the most notable being Phil Mickelson’s quest to follow up his Masters title from this year with an elusive first U.S. Open triumph.

While his chief rival, Woods, has struggled upon his return to golf, Mickelson has flourished, winning the Masters by three shots with a dominant 16-under-par total. His triumph at Augusta National marked his third Masters title, but Mickelson has yet to get over the hump in the U.S. Open, although he has come painfully close on so many occasions.

Last year, Mickelson, nicknamed “Lefty” for his left-handed swing, had the hearts of the nation behind him as he played his second tournament since his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. He started the final round six shots off the pace, then charged into the lead by the 12th hole. However, he bogeyed the 15th and 17th holes on the last day, coughing up a lead to finish second in the event for the fifth time in his career. His quest to overcome those demons at the U.S. Open will be one of the most intriguing plotlines at Pebble Beach.

As the adoration of a young Woods and Michelle Wie’s emergence as a teen on the LPGA Tour has proven, the golfing world always loves a good phenom, and Japanese teenager Ryo Ishikawa more than fits the bill.

Ishikawa, 18, has yet to make a dent on the PGA Tour, but he put up a stirring final-day score of 58 that propelled him to victory in The Crowns, an event on the Japan Golf Tour.

Lucas Glover, the defending Open champion, might be feeling pressure to follow up his surprising win in 2009 with another victory. However, with all of two PGA Tour triumphs to his credit, Glover will likely be playing under the radar once again, although that will probably be his preference.

As interesting as these potential headlines are, nothing is likely to top the drama surrounding Woods — although there is more to this tournament than his off-the-course issues.

With the Open returning to Pebble Beach, Woods will be revisiting the site of one of his — and the tournament’s — most spectacular performances. In 2000 at Pebble Beach, Woods fired a 12-under 272, decimating the field by a record 15 strokes to capture his first Open title.

In the 2008 Open, played at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, Woods, competing on an injured knee that would later require major surgery, defeated Rocco Mediate on the first hole of a sudden-death tiebreaker (following an 18-hole playoff), earning him his 14th major title.

That victory two years ago was Woods’ last in a major tournament and, following a self-imposed exile from golf and lingering injury questions, the capability of the golfing world’s premier draw has been questioned like never before.

110th U.S. Open

Who: 156 of the world’s best golfers
When: June 17-20
Where: Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach
Course: Par 71 (35-36), 7,040 yards
Purse: $7.5 million
Winner’s share: $1.5 million
Winner receives: U.S. Open exemption for the next 10 years, invitation to the next five Masters, invitation to the next five British Opens, invitation to the next five PGA Championships, invitation to the next five Players Championships, exempt status on the PGA Tour for five years

June 17: ESPN, 10 a.m.-noon; KNTV (Ch. 11), noon-2 p.m.; ESPN, 2-7 p.m.
June 18: ESPN, 10 a.m.-noon; KNTV, noon-2 p.m.; ESPN, 2-7 p.m.
June 19: KNTV, 1:30-8 p.m.
June 20: KNTV, noon-6 p.m.

On the Web:

Source: USGA, PGA Tour

SF’s Olympic Club prepares for 2012 Open

While the golfing world is focused on the Monterey Peninsula for this year’s U.S. Open, behind-the-scenes work will continue in earnest two hours up the road in San Francisco, where the U.S. Open will make a return visit to the Olympic Club in 2012.

The club, located on the southern border with Daly City, has already hosted four U.S. Opens, the most recent in 1998. Although the 2012 U.S. Open is still two years away, grounds crews at the course are working around the clock in preparation for the event.

Professional golfers familiar with the club’s Lake Course from the 1998 U.S. Open will see a remarkably different layout come 2012. The greens on the course have been replaced with a new type of grass, and the eighth hole has been completely redesigned, according to Daren Rudicel, a golf professional at the Olympic Club.

The first hole is going to be remade into a par 4 (up from a par 3) and, in general, the Lake Course will be played longer, with the distance over the 18 holes increased to 7,100 yards, Rudicel said. Club officials also plan on growing the rough longer for the U.S. Open, meaning errant shots will be all the more difficult to escape from.

“I think once we get within a year of the events, the efforts to prepare the course will really step up,” Rudicel said. “But work is still happening on an ongoing basis right now to get ready. Everyone here is real excited to be hosting the U.S. Open again.”

Getting around

The U.S. Open is played at a different course each year.

Future locations

June 16-19, 2011: Congressional Country Club, Bethesda, Md.
June 14-17, 2012: Olympic Club, San Francisco
June 13-16, 2013: Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa.
June 12-15, 2014: Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, Pinehurst, N.C.
June 18-21, 2015: Chambers Bay, University Place, Wash.
June 16-19, 2016: Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pa.

Source: USGA

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