As the sun sank toward the western horizon of the Pacific, setting the table for the inevitable fog, Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell emerged as those who had best weathered yet another stormy day at theU.S. Open.
Saturday was supposed to be the resurrection of Tiger Woods in the world of major golf events. He has been gone, for the most part, since the 2008 U.S. Open, when he limped to a playoff victory over Rocco Mediate for the 14th Grand Slam victory of his career.
Woods is far from out of it. There are 11 players within four shots of the lead, making Sunday's traditional Father's Day finale at the U.S. Open a dramatic certainty. That's unlike last year, when young Rory McIlroy went 16 under par and won by eight.
Woods, however, is not one of that group within four good swings of getting even. He ended up flubbing that when he hit his approach shot on 18 in the high rough just to the right of the pin on the par-four, 345 yard hole and then chunked his chip onto the green apron, which kicked it far enough away that he two-putted for bogey.
That left him with a 75 and a four-over total going into Sunday. He had begun Saturday tied with Furyk and David Toms for the lead and teed it up in the final twosome with Furyk.
"Tough day, all around," an angry Woods said afterward. "I couldn't figure it out. The greens looked firmer, but they played slower."
That left Sunday's marquee to Furyk and McDowell, each with a previous U.S. Open title (Furyk in 2003 at Olympia Fields in Chicago and McDowell in 2010 at Pebble Beach) and each with a distinctive style.
Furyk, 42, is the guy you want sailing your ship through the danger. His game and personality are steady as you go. He started the day one under par after 70-69, and merely tacked on another 70.
He navigated through a day that not only included playing alongside Woods and his large, vocal following. The day also saw the veteran Lee Westwood put up a 67 and move all the way up to a share of fourth place; saw another veteran, Ernie Els, chip in for eagle on No. 17 and make his way to two over, alongside Westwood; saw young John Peterson make a hole in one, and saw younger Beau Hossler keep going away and coming back.
At the end of the day, Hossler, the Mission Viejo 17-year-old, was back on the leaderboard, from which he had departed several times. He shot 70, was four behind, a stroke ahead of Woods, and had a round that included four bogeys and four birdies; a three-putt from five feet, and enough additional birdie chances to leave the impression that he remains either unintimidated by, or oblivious to, these world-stage surroundings.
McDowell didn't navigate so much as he swaggered. If Furyk is steady as you go, McDowell is set your jaw and catch the hot streak. Both are as personable as they are great ball-strikers. Furyk has a great self-effacing sense of humor and once referred to his skill at driving the golf ball as "my popgun." McDowell has an equally good sense of the quip, and said his bad tee shot on No. 9 and blast out from behind a tree resulted in "a Tarzan 5."
You'd talk home decorating with Furyk, have a beer with McDowell, and enjoy both.
McDowell said he had his first fun day of the tournament, and said he felt nervous and emotional Saturday before the round started.
"I spent a little time with my caddie and my team," he said, "and got my head straight."
He said when he won at Pebble Beach, his breakthrough, he had the same feelings going into Saturday's round and had to fight through it.
Playing two groups in front of Woods and Furyk, McDowell finished in perfect fashion on the 18th, the same hole Woods flubbed. McDowell hit his approach from the valley perhaps 80 feet below the green to five feet from the pin and made the birdie putt for 68. Furyk had about 20 feet for birdie on 18, lagged it close and took his par.
Interestingly, Sunday's final group, Furyk and McDowell, played in the same threesome the first two days. McDowell, asked about that after Thursday's round, called Furyk's style of play "a plodder," and was quick to say that he meant that as a compliment.
Furyk laughed when reminded of that and asked for his definition of a plodder.
"I think it means you go from spot to spot," he said, "and how you get there doesn't have to be fancy. That's the kind of golf you play at a U.S. Open. I think that's what he meant and I take it as a compliment and a good definition."
Furyk has won 16 tournaments and $50.7 million on the tour. He is not likely to crumble under the pressure.
But McDowell is no shrinking violet, either. He is 32, has won six times on the European tour, made the clinching putt to give Europe a half-point victory over the U.S. in the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales, and has already contributed $1.13 million in earnings this season to his $6-million career pot.
And then there is Hossler. He has said all along that his goal was to be top amateur here. But after being pressed time after time by the media afterward, he said what they wanted to hear.
"I still have the goal to be low amateur," he said, "but my goal now is to win the tournament."
Out of the mouth of babes.