SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Of the states that have hosted the U.S. Open at least 10 times, California was the last to join the rotation in 1948 at Riviera.
But the Golden State has delivered some golden moments over the years.
With the growing importance of television ratings and revenue, taking the U.S. Open to California means prime-time viewing for most of the country. Torrey Pines in 2008 was the first time the tee times were pushed back to allow for a prime-time finish on the East Coast, and Tiger Woods put on quite a show.
Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan were denied a record fifth U.S. Open in California.
Nicklaus had a signature moment on the 17th tee at Pebble Beach with a 1-iron that struck the pin, and 10 years later, Tom Watson had his signature moment behind the 17th green by chipping in for birdie.
Here are the top five U.S. Opens in California:
5. HOGAN’S ALLEY OFF SUNSET BOULEVARD.
Ben Hogan going to Riviera for the 1948 U.S. Open was similar to Tiger Woods going to Pebble Beach. Hogan won the Los Angeles Open in 1947 with a record-tying 66 in the second round. He defended his title at Riviera with a course-record 275. So when the U.S. Open rolled into town in June, all eyes were on Hogan, who had just won the PGA Championship. As usual, Hogan delivered.
Sam Snead, with yet another chance to finally win the U.S. Open, had the 36-hole lead going into the final day. Hogan closed with rounds of 68-69 to win by two strokes over Jimmy DeMaret. Hogan broke the U.S. Open scoring record by five shots – a record that stood for nearly two decades – and he became the first player with three rounds in the 60s at a U.S. Open.
No wonder Riviera became known as “Hogan’s Alley.”
Hogan was not able to defend this title. Eight months after the first of his four U.S. Open titles, his car was struck by a bus in west Texas and nearly killed him.
4. AN UPSET OF OLYMPIC PROPORTIONS
Not many paid attention to Jack Fleck, a club pro from Iowa, and some might not even have known he was in the field in 1955.
The first U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in 1955 was headed toward a record fifth title for Ben Hogan. When he finished late Saturday afternoon with a 70, Hogan was being congratulated in the clubhouse. The only player left on the course who could possibly stop him was Fleck, and he was two shots behind. Fleck, however, made birdie on the 15th and followed with pars on the 16th and 17th. He caught a decent lie in the right rough, and then hit 7-iron to 8 feet for birdie and a 67.
The news was relayed to Hogan, who knew he and his battered legs would have to play another 18 holes the next day.
Fleck wouldn’t go away, holing key putts and seizing control around the turn. Hogan needed a birdie on the 18th to force extra holes, but he pulled his tee shot into rough deep enough to cover the cuffs of his pants. His first shot barely moved the ball a few feet, and his hopes were over.
Fleck wound up with a 69 to win by three shots for his first win in what many consider one of the greatest upsets in golf. But it was no fluke. Olympic was so tough that year it yielded only seven rounds under par. Fleck had three of them. Hogan never won another major, contributing to Olympic being known as a “graveyard of champions.”
3. IN THE CLUTCH ON WOUNDED KNEE
Tiger Woods probably should not have played the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee just two days after the Masters, and weeks before the U.S. Open, discovered two stress fractures of the left tibia. Woods played anyway, and turned in one of his most memorable major performances.
Even as knee began to buckle, he surged into contention with a six-hole stretch late in the third round that was pure theater – a 70-foot eagle putt from the back of the 13th green, a chip that one-hopped into the hole for birdie on the 17th, and a 30-foot eagle putt on the final hole for a one-shot lead going into the final round. But when he came to the 18th hole Sunday, he was one shot behind Rocco Mediate. Woods laid up into the right rough and hit a sand wedge to 12 feet.
His putt bumped along and caught the right edge of the cup, dropping for birdie to force a Monday playoff against Mediate.
Woods again fell behind in the playoff, and he had to two-putt for birdie on the 18th to extend the playoff. On the first extra hole, Mediate ran into trouble off the tee at No. 7 and Woods won with a par. It was his 14th major championship, and his seventh win at Torrey Pines.
Two days later, Woods had reconstructive surgery on his left knee and was out the rest of the year.
2. A CHIP THAT WAS ANYTHING BUT ELEMENTARY
Jack Nicklaus was going for a fifth U.S. Open title at Pebble Beach, where he won the Open in 1972 that was remembered for his 1-iron that struck the pin on the 17th. The same hole proved pivotal 10 years later, only for Tom Watson.
The final round turned into a duel between Nicklaus and Watson, and Nicklaus was in the clubhouse at 4-under 284. Watson had a one-shot lead until he three-putted the 16th hole from about 70 week to fall back into a tie. Then, Watson slightly pulled a 2-iron on the par-3 17th and went just over the back of the green. It looked to be impossible. The ball was nestled in thick grass, but the pin was toward the back of a green that ran away from him.
Watson needed a par so that he could go to the par-5 18th with a chance to force a playoff, or perhaps win with a birdie. His caddie, Bruce Edwards, urged him to get the chip close. Watson had other ideas. “To hell with getting it close,” he replied. “I’m going to make it.”
The shot came off perfectly, ran into the pin and dropped for a birdie. Watson needed only to par the 18th to win his first U.S. Open, and he made birdie to win by two.
1. PERFECTION AT PEBBLE BEACH
Mark O’Meara and Paul Goydos played practice rounds with Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000, and both knew what was coming.
O’Meara told his wife that it didn’t matter how well he played because Woods was going to win, “and not only is he going to win, he’s going to blow away the field.” Goydos saw two reporters behind the 18th green on Tuesday and said the tournament ended that day. “He’s going to win by 10.”
He was wrong. Woods won by 15.
Not only was it a record margin in 140 years of major championships, it was as close to perfection as golf allows in a U.S. Open. Woods opened with a 65, the lowest score ever at Pebble in a U.S. Open. After two rounds, he stretched his lead to six shots, and to 10 shots after 54 holes. Both were U.S. Open records. As Goydos had predicted earlier in the week, Woods only needed to stay upright to win.
So dominant was his performance that he didn’t make a bogey over the final 26 holes. He finished on 12-under par – the first player to finish at double figures under par in U.S. Open history. No one else finished under par that week, leading Thomas Bjorn to say years later, “It was literally perfection. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it before, and I find it difficult to believe we’ll ever find anybody doing it again.”