What each contender needs to do (and avoid)
SAN DIEGO -- Here's some food for thought: While Tiger Woods limped around Torrey Pines, often employing a 3-wood as a cane in order to aid his wounded knee, it became apparent that completing the U.S. Open on Sunday will require a gut-it-out, grin-and-bear-it type of performance, the likes of which we've never witnessed from the 13-time major winner.
But what if his journey doesn't end there?
The USGA is old-school. Though the Masters retains a sudden-death playoff to determine its champion, the PGA Championship uses three aggregate holes and the British Open goes four, the U.S. Open is the only major championship that asks any player tied for the lead to return for 18 more holes on Monday. So it's not out of the realm of possibility that just hours after gritting his teeth through a fourth consecutive day of competitive golf after an eight-week hiatus, he may be standing on the first tee of the South Course once again Monday morning.
If you think this thing's all but over, if you think the engravers should start etching Woods' name onto the trophy based on his current 1-stroke 54-hole lead, it's time to reconsider.
Entering the final round of this tournament in 2005, 3-stroke leader Retief Goosen was thought to be a lock to earn the victory. He lost. Entering the final round in '06, Phil Mickelson was the favorite to win, but he parlayed a 1-shot lead on the last hole into a 1-shot defeat.
But they're not the world's top-ranked player, you say. True, but Tiger is, and last year at Oakmont he entered the final round as part of the day's last pairing, having only once not won a major in such a scenario.
But he didn't win.
Moral of the story: Woods is the prohibitive favorite to claim his third career U.S. Open victory on Sunday, but it's hardly a given. And if he has to return for another round Monday, it will mean increased stress on his knee and more drama at an already dramatic event.
Let's break down what Woods and the other contenders need to do and avoid in order to win the U.S. Open:
Tiger Woods: 3-under 210.
improve what Woods called "a two-way miss." He'll need to drive the ball straighter and find more greens in regulation, because divine intervention in the form of two long eagle putts and a birdie chip-in may not happen two days in a row.
Needs to avoid letting the pain of his knee injury affect not only his swing but also his ability to stay upright on the course. Seriously. Simply being able to walk 18 holes won't be enough to win on Sunday, but it's a pretty good start. "I just keep telling myself that if it grabs me and if I get that shooting pain, I get it, but it's always after impact," Woods said. "So go ahead and just make the proper swing if I can."
Lee Westwood: 2-under 211.
continue grinding out pars in bunches. Chances are the final round won't turn into a birdiefest, so Westwood's propensity for pars -- he leads the field with 42 through 54 holes -- isn't such a bad thing.
Needs to avoid any aversion to the Tiger-themed spotlight. All eyes will be on Woods throughout their final-round pairing, with the Englishman theoretically only providing a sideshow to the main event. He'll need to embrace the underdog role better than he did at last year's Bridgestone Invitational, when he shot 10 strokes worse than his No. 1-ranked playing partner in the third round.
Rocco Mediate: 1-under 212.
stay loose and keep having fun. Throughout Saturday's third round, Mediate provided light moments for the gallery, often imploring it to listen for the roar as Woods made another spectacular shot in the group ahead. That kind of nothing-to-lose attitude has served him well during his career and should yet again on Sunday.
Needs to avoid the big number. Two years ago, Mediate entered the final round of the Masters sharing fourth place but rinsed three balls in Rae's Creek en route to shooting 80. On Saturday, he was 3 strokes clear of the field with six holes to play but was undone in part by a double-bogey on 15. Woods can get away with doubles, but Mediate -- who doesn't have an eagle yet this week -- cannot.
The field: 1-over 214 and above.
post a number and get into the clubhouse. And it's out there to be had, as Miguel Angel Jimenez shot a 5-under 66 on Friday and Brandt Snedeker had the round of the day with a 68 on Saturday. Either of those scores could be good enough to make things interesting, should Geoff Ogilvy or D.J. Trahan -- each 4 strokes behind Woods -- be able to come through.
Needs to avoid thinking of the final round as another Tiger coronation. For any contenders who feel intimidated when Woods is lurking, it would be a good idea to keep those eyes affixed on the prize -- not the name on top of the leaderboard.
108th U.S. OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP
18-hole playoff• Tiger wins 3rd Open in playoff | Watch | Scores
• Forde: Tiger's win was greatest Open ever
• Harig: Haney puts Open No. 1 on Tiger's win list
• Wojciechowski: Tiger, Rocco save sports
• Watch: North's analysis | Reilly's take on Mediate
• Watch: On The Tee: Woods had to grind for win
• Watch: Woods, Mediate discuss epic playoff
• Watch: PTI's Wilbon, Kornheiser talk Tiger
• Photos: The playoff | Tiger's 14 major wins
• Sobel, Harig recap Tiger's victory
• Sobel's U.S. Open blog | Harig chat wrap
• Vote: Can Tiger overtake Nicklaus?
• Top performances of athletes play in pain | Rank
Fourth round• Tiger forces Open playoff | Watch | Photos
• Forde: Tiger's mind vs. his knee to decide Open
• Harig: Mediate finally 'back' on track
• Westwood odd man out of U.S. Open playoff
• Watch highlights: Tiger | Mediate | Westwood
• Jason Sobel's round 4 U.S. Open blog
Third round• Woods surges into U.S. Open lead | Photo gallery
• Forde: As others faltered, Woods held it together • Harig: Uphill battle for Westwood, Mediate
• Sobel: A plan for contenders | U.S. Open blog
• Watch: Rd. 3 analysis ... Highlights | Tiger
• Watch: Reilly's take | Sunday predictions
• Watch: Westwood | Mediate | Ogilvy | Lefty
• Chip Shots: Floundering Phil cards a quad
• Bell: Strong mind helps Woods overcome pain
Second round• Harig: In a blink, Woods changed everything • Appleby up 1 | Watch: Tiger, Phil highlights
• Harig: Love has 'major' plans | Watch
• Forde: No. 18 presents risks, rewards
• Watch: Highlights | Best of Rd. 2 | Rd. 3 preview
• Watch: Reilly's ode to the Open | Photo gallery
• Watch: On The Tee's second round recap
• Watch interviews: Phil Mickelson | D.J. Trahan
• 3 Up, 3 Down: First-round leaders fade fast
• Chip Shots: Cabrera makes early exit
• Sobel: Blog jinx working OT in round 2
• On The Tee: Is U.S. Open Tiger's to lose?
First round• Forde: Circus came to town for opening round • Watch: North, Ravech look ahead to 2nd round
• Watch: Forde, Sobel, Harig on round 1 leaders
• Watch: Reilly on who's cooler ... Tiger or Phil?
• Harig: Hicks (68) wants to extend his 15 minutes • Opening-round recap | Highlights | Photos
• Harig: Red numbers not endangered Thursday
• Chip Shots: Who needs a driver, right Lefty?
• 3UP, 3DN: Cabrera on wrong side of the list
• Jason Sobel's blog: Who got Romo'd?
• Sobel/Harig discuss unlikely Open leaders
Latest News• Heckler tangles with Scott's caddie at No. 9
• Fans outside ropes to face first smoke-free Open
• Woods says knee is sore, but he's 'good to go'
• Woods plays nine, shows no limp
• Report: Scott nurses broken finger, will play
• Tiger, Phil paired in star-studded groupings
• Tiger plays first round since Masters
• As Open nears, rehabbing Tiger hasn't gone 18
• Four players win playoffs to make U.S. Open field
• Round 1, Round 2 tee times
Podcasts• On The Tee: Sobel talks to Imada
• On The Tee: Sobel talks to Okla.. St.'s Fowler
Golf Digest• 'Philip' Mickelson knows Torrey Pines well
• 6 things to know about Torrey Pines
• Torrey Pines course map | More coverage
USOpen.com• Spectator info | U.S. Open championship history
• Player bios | USOpen.com | Golf blogs