The atmosphere at the U.S. Open is one of the best in the all the sporting world. I found that out my senior year in high school when my father took me back to his native land of Long Island for the 109th championship at Bethpage. This year, this week, has been the sports experience of my life. Bear with me as I share my experience as DCSportsFan's credentialed man on-site at Congressional Country Club.
Rory McILroy- Taking the U.S. Open by Storm
We all know the 22-year old from Northern Ireland has talent. No one has a four-shot, 54-hole lead at Augusta without talent. But no one expected anything in the neighborhood of the rounds he has been able to put together in the last two days. Rounds of 65 (Thursday) and 66 (Wednesday) have Mr. McILroy in uncharted waters, seriously. Today he became the first person in U.S. Open history to ever reach thirteen under. That's right, no Nicklaus, no Palmer, no Woods. Just McILroy. His first bogey of the tournament didn't come until the 18th today, a nightmare of a hole. I'm going on record. We could be witnessing the coronation of King Rory.
McILroy discussed his Friday domination of the Blue course.
"Yeah, it was great, said Rory. "I'm very happy with the way I'm swinging it, happy with the way I am hitting it. As I said last night, I feel very comfortable on this golf course, and there's no real keys to how I've shot so well or went so low. It's just I just keep trying to hit it in the fairway and hit it on the green and try and hole a few putts, and I've been able to do that."
When asked about the 36-hole scoring record, McILroy acknowledged it, but made it clear that he plans to play his best golf over the weekend.
"I don't know what to say," remarked McILroy about the distinction. "I've played two really good rounds of golf, but I know I have to play another two really good rounds of golf if I want to win this tournament, so that's all I can really think about."
I will be following Rory's group on Saturday and will post the pairings for the third round in forums as soon as they are released.
The Media Experience
I arrived at Holton Arms School, the media parking site, at the crack of dawn Monday morning. As one of the first media members to arrive, I had the advantage of scoping out a mostly empty course and mentally mapping out some key locations. Around 7:15 A.M. I checked in at the media center. The folks at the USGA really outdid themselves. The best way to describe the media compound? Um.... perhaps the control room at NASA. What caught my eye upon entering the complex was a sea of cubicles, thousands each labeled with the name of the media outlet and equipped with a wi-fi modem and surge protector.
My credentials allow me access to three key areas: the locker room, the media center, and practice area (range and putting green). I've made good use of all three and will continue to do so all weekend to bring you live coverage of the final 36 holes.
The Practice Rounds (Monday-Wednesday)
Golfers qualify for the field of major championship in a few different ways. Some, take Phil Mickelson for example, automatically qualify based on their world golf ranking. Others are former major champions, and have a lifetime exemption, regardless of the paths their careers might take. Others still, undergo a rigorous qualifying process comprised of regional and sectional qualifying tournaments. Such was the case of 19-year-old Brett Patterson, who I met up with Wednesday. "I got here Sunday and got to play nine holes by myself before the bad weather rolled in," said the rising sophomore at Middle Tenessee State University. I qualified first locally in Cincinati. I drove upto Cincinati and qualified there locally. I went down to sectionals just north of Atlanta and shot 70-62 to qualify for this thing. And well, I'm here now. A lot of excitement. Now that's everything's starting to settle in a little bit I'm just trying to turn this into a another golf tournament and go through my normal preparation." Patterson shot a 5-over 76 yesterday, and has a chance to make the cut with a 70 or 71 today.
Regardless of a golfer's path to the Open, (anyone British is bashing me for calling it the "Open") he has lot to learn about the golf course before his first round tee time. That's where practice rounds come in. Typically, players take multiple tee shots, move their balls into different lies, and try to practice the same types of shots they may face during the week. On the green, they take note of every ridge and valley, every false-front*.
Monday, I followed the group of Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson. They were the talk of the gallery after their debut music video. Google "Oh, Oh, Oh" by the Golf Boys and you'll see what I mean.
I had the opportunity to interview several golfers on Wednesday. Below is my interview with Jim Furyk in its entirety, transcribed for your reading pleasure. More interviews will follow over the weekend.
Q:What do you think this week at Congressional holds for you?
A: You never know in this game. I've gone to a lot of events not feeling good about it and won. And I've felt really good like I've had a chance to win and it's come out the other way. I really haven't a very good season up unitl this point. I'm try to take some baby steps and build some momentum. I've always liked this golf course, I've had some good success here. So hopefully it projects some good feelings and I have a good weekend.
Q:What parts of Congressional suit your game and what do you think is going to be your biggest challenge in regards to course layout?
A: Well, I think it's a shotmaker's golfcourse. You have work the ball here to get the ball on the fairway. It's difficult to hit fiarways. That's one of my strengths when I'm playing well. I think the two things: they've added some definite length and some more difficult awkward angles off the tees the way they set up it up. It's going to be tough to get the ball in play here. With the U.S. Open rough you have to be able to hit the ball in the fairway.
Q: How far in red figures do you think the lead will be on Sunday?
A: It's going to depend on the set up. It's going to depend on the weather, the pins, firmness of greens, how quick they're going to be. Even par always has a great chance at the U.S Open. Sometimes even over-par wins. So you know if you can keep it around par every day, you're going to have a chance to win.