Once again, the U.S. Open proves to be the ultimate test

Masters Champion Bubba Watson said of The Olympic Club on Wednesday that, “this course is just too hard for me.” Even though almost every player said the 2012 U.S. Open course was tough, they all said it was fair. By the time Tiger Woods took sole possession of the lead shortly after 2 o’clock on Friday, the field was a cumulative 1,016 over par.

The world’s No. 1 & 2 players, Luke Donald and defending champion Rory McIlroy were packing their bags and heading home, utterly disappointed. Unlike the Miami Heat, they and a bounty of others failed to rebound after their first-day loss. Feel-good stories like those of Casey Martin were waiting to see where the cut line would fall with hopes of playing the weekend, looking for help from others playing in the afternoon.

And then there was 17-year-old Beau Hossler, a junior at Santa Margarita High in Southern California, sharing the lead on Friday afternoon with Jim Furyk, David Toms and Tiger Woods.

So now the fun begins at The Olympic Club. When was the last time you saw so many balls going in the hole versus the times you were witness to absurd cruelty at a U.S. Open? Well, it is the U.S. Open, where disaster is not overrated, survival welcomed and unheard-of players got our admiration for a day or two, at best, but that is what makes this championship so brilliant.

So while the world’s No. 1 & 2 struggled, as did many others, The Olympic Club was not being ridiculed like Shinnecock was in 2005. Phil Mickelson, a runner-up in the U.S. Open five times may have summed it up best on Thursday. “It’s a very difficult challenge and if you have great control of your ball flight, of your game, you can shoot a number around par and under par. But if you play like I did and you start missing it off the tee and three-putting, you’re going to shoot a high number like I did.” Phil shot 71 on Friday to go with his 76 on Thursday, making the cut with a shot to spare.

Much has been made of the opening stretch, holes 1 through 6, where the field was a combined 690-over par and over 1,300 strokes higher than par for the entire golf course, a very sick number when you think about it.

The first hole, a par 5 when played by the members measuring some 530 yards, injected lethal doses of anguish, and the pain continued through No. 6. It will make for a very interesting weekend after Friday’s cut when all the players will begin at No. 1. With half the field starting at No. 9, those who had to start on No. 1 faced the brutality immediately and it continued on Friday.

Rickie Fowler, who shot 72 on Day 1, was humbled Friday shooting 40 on the front nine and basically waylaying any thoughts of hoisting the trophy on Sunday. He made the cut on the number.

Fans seem to enjoy watching the best players struggle, reminding them of their own bad days on the golf course when doubles and triples are abundant. Still, there were lengthy putts rolling in from everywhere and plenty of great shots, one of which was 53-year-old Champions Tour player and Olympic Club member Michael Allen’s 2 on the par-4 6th hole.

The feel-good story of the week involves Casey Martin – who adorned the bright colors of Oregon University, where he is the golf coach. Martin shot rounds of 75-74, missing the cut by one. As loud as his golf shirt was Thursday, his Friday jersey was even louder, even brighter than Fowler’s Sunday orange. “My goal coming in was to make the cut,” said Casey. “Still, I’m pleased with how I played. It’s the hardest golf course I ever played.”

Many formidable names are on the first page, Woods, McDowell, Furyk and Kuchar. Will the winner come from those with experience and the patience to master the treachery of Olympic? Or can a first timer like Day One leader Michael Thompson hold it together and shock the golf world like Jack Fleck did in 1955?

And even though Phil Mickelson opened with 76, a good Friday earned him a pass to the weekend. At the U.S. Open, one bad round doesn’t necessarily rule you out.

Did I mention Tiger shares the lead after 36 holes with David Toms and Jim Furyk as he pursues his 15th major title? His last came at Torrey Pines in ’08, 16 majors ago. Following round 2 he said, “That’s hard. That’s hard. That’s a fast golf course out there.” When Tiger has lead or shared the lead in majors, he is a remarkable 8-1.

Surely Mike Davis and the rest of the blue coats from the USGA will have some surprises in the weekend setup eliminating some of the less experienced quickly. “I have to say where we are right now is exactly the setup we were hoping for when we started the week,” said the Executive Director Davis. It really doesn’t get much better than this. It’s the U.S. Open.

What more needs to be said?

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