Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Hot, Sweaty March To The Finish

It's hot today at Winged Foot.

Sticky, sweaty, stay on the couch in the air-conditioning hot, with temperatures expected to top out around 95 with enough humidity that it feels like the lowcountry in August.

But it's Sunday at the U.S. Open and it's stuffed with possibilities because the USGA has made the course set-up too hard. Two-over par was the lead after 54 holes, the first time since 1974 the third-round leader has been over par. That was Tom Watson who was 4-over after three rounds at -- guess where -- Winged Foot.

The set-up is so severe that one swing can cost several shots, leaving the tournament open to anyone within four or five shots. Then there's the added pressure of someone going out in front of the leaders, shooting a good score -- 69 would be great -- and posting an early number that tells everyone what they have to do.

If, say, Luke Donald shoots 69 and finishes at 6-over par, it would reduce the wiggle room the leaders have.

Keep an eye on Vijay Singh, who won last week and is lurking three back as the final 18 holes begin. He hasn't putted particularly well this year but one good day today would change everything.

As for co-leader Kenneth Ferrie, the last Open rookie to win the championship was Francis Ouimet in 1913, which doesn't bode well for Ferrie's chances. On the plus side, though, Ouimet's victory was so inspiring a movie was made about it.

The focus, though, is on Phil Mickelson. He handled hot, miserable conditions in winning the PGA Championship at Baltusrol in August so that doesn't seem to be a qustion. He has prepared extensively for this moment and carries a notebook in pocket detailing every tee shot, approach shot, pitch shot and putt he expects to face at Winged Foot.

The heat is on.