By Jeff Shain The Orlando Sentinel
SAN FRANCISCO — As Saturday’s U.S. Open adventures took shape, there seemed little question who would be declared the winner: The Olympic Club.
Forgiving enough under fast and fiery conditions to give up nearly a dozen scores in the 60s, the crafty hillside layout still had enough bite to take a chunk out of the leaders’ backsides — especially Tiger Woods’ — and tighten the leaderboard for a free-for-all sprint Sunday.
With snares waiting at every turn, of course.
“If it’s really firm, you won’t see a score under par,” said Ernie Els, whose 2-under-par 68 left him as part of an 11-man chase pack within four shots of leader co-leaders Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk.
“If you get it into the red numbers, I think you’ll win the tournament somehow,” Els continued. “I know it’s saying a lot (when you’re) 2-over, but red numbers will win.”
McDowell, the Open champion two years ago at Pebble Beach, birdied three times on the back nine of a 1-under-par 69 — capping his day with an approach at No.18 that kicked sideways and stopped perhaps 5 feet from the flagstick.
Furyk, the 2003 champion playing two groups later, fell off the pace with a bogey at Olympic’s monster 671-yard 16th — but pulled alongside McDowell again with a birdie at No.17 that brought him home in 70.
Both men completed three rounds in 1-under 209 — the only red numbers left, though there were stretches Saturday in which there were none.
Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson (68) was two shots off the pace after a 68. Next at 2-over came Els, Lee Westwood (67), Blake Adams (70) and Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts (71).
“I just hope I can come out and fire on all cylinders,” McDowell said. “There’s a lot of guys that can still win this thing.”
That includes Woods, though Saturday’s 75 left him as steep an uphill climb — five shots — as any hillside around San Francisco. Of the top 17 names on the leaderboard, Woods’ Saturday score was three shots worse than anyone else.
“I just didn’t make the pars,” said Woods, who carded just one birdie on the day against six bogeys. “I kept leaving myself in tough spots. I didn’t really have that many birdie putts today and they were all lag putting — that or these (hard) breaking putts.”
Most jarring was the finish, where he stubbed a chip from greenside rough at No.18 that barely made it to the green and then took a sharp left turn away from the hole.
Adding injury to insult, he accidentally whacked a photographer’s camera as he left the green, shaking the hand in pain. “I’m fine,” was all he said when asked about the hand.
Beau Hossler, the 17-year-old Californian who briefly stood alone in the lead on Friday, shot a third-round 70 to join a six-man group four off the pace that also included Webb Simpson (68) and Jason Dufner (70).
Hossler carded four bogeys Saturday, but followed each with a birdie on the very next hole.
“You really can’t emphasize how key that is,” the teen said. “You lose one, you can really get on the bogey train if you’re not careful. I managed to get some good ones back and keep my momentum going.”
Woods, Furyk and David Toms shared the lead at 1-under to begin the day, but learned very quickly after teeing off that Olympic had plenty of treachery in reserve. All three bogeyed the long par-4 opening hole, seemingly setting the tone.
Even with a 3-wood, Woods watched his opening tee shot bounce into the rough and couldn’t get his approach any closer than 40 yards short of the green. Furyk missed the green with his approach and chipped long; Toms also bogeyed one group ahead after a poor drive.
And just like that, the red numbers completely vanished from Olympic’s leaderboard.
Toms, by the way, plummeted like a stone kicked down one of Olympic’s steep hillsides. He bogeyed three of his first five holes, compounding it with a double bogey at No.6 on the way to a 76.