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DALY: U.S. Open’s short stay brings lasting memories

Mugshot

Rory McIlroy shoot a record-breaking 16 under par in his march to the U.S. Open championship last year at Congressional. (The Washington Times)

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Did the U.S. Open really visit our fair metropolis a year ago? Did Rory McIlroy, the Bryce Harper of Northern Ireland, really shoot a record-breaking 16 under and dust the field by eight strokes?

Yes and yes. Alas, the Open is a flirtatious creature. If it had a theme song, it would be “Ten Cents a Dance.” It touches down in a town for a week, brings the best golfers on the planet with it, and then the caravan moves on to some other lucky venue. This year it’s back at San Francisco’s Olympic Club, famed for its crooked fairways, Arnold Palmer’s meltdown and Jack Fleck’s slaying of Ben Hogan.

It’ll also, no doubt, return to being the Open - rather than the birdie-fest we enjoyed last June at rain-dampened Congressional, a tournament defending champ Graeme McDowell compared to “the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.” The four previous times our national championship has been held at Olympic, the winning scores have been 7 over, 2 under, 3 under and even par. We’ll probably see something along those lines this week, too, given the USGA’s aversion to grade inflation.

But, hey, at least the 2011 Open made some history. McIlroy’s mark figures to stand for decades, and who will ever forget him nearly acing the par-3 10th in the final round? (Here’s something you likely have forgotten, though: Who tied for third with Lee Westwood and Y.E. Yang? Answer: Kevin Chappell and Robert Garrigus.)

It’s funny. We tend to look at golf majors as turning points or something similarly momentous. These events, after all, are so … grandiose. After last year’s Open, a common theme was that this was the dawn of the Age of Rory - and a further passing of the generational torch that began with fellow twentysomethings Louis Oosthuizen (2010 British Open), Martin Kaymer (2010 PGA) and Charl Schwartzel (2011 Masters). Remember, too, that Jason Day, all of 23, placed second behind McIlroy at Congressional and also had shared second at the Masters two months earlier.

Well, Rory has finished T-25, T-64 and T-40 in the three majors since, and only Oosthuizen has come close to winning one (losing a sudden-death playoff to Bubba Watson at this year’s Masters). This means a couple of things: one, collecting majors ain’t exactly like collecting stamps; and two, Common Themes are a dime a dozen.

Actually, it also means a third thing: that Tiger Woods may still have a few breaths of life in him. He was a no-show at the 2011 Open, you may recall, sidelined by knee and Achilles issues. And at that point, struggling as he still was with his game - and with the fallout from his quadruple-bogey of a divorce - golf folk were beginning to wonder whether he’d ever be great again.

Woods is still looking for his 15th major as he tunes up at Olympic, four years after he won No. 14 at Torrey Pines, but he’s giving off strong indications he may not be done. He ran away with the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, rallied down the stretch to take the Memorial two weeks ago and unleashed a final-round 62 at the Honda to tie for second. Though his latest swing change remains a work in progress, he’s suddenly the fourth-ranked player in the world.

And at the end of June his own tournament, the AT&T National, will be back at Congressional after a two-year stay in Philadelphia. It’s not quite like having the U.S. Open in our backyard, but it sure beats the Kemper/Booz Allen/Your Name Here.

It’s amazing how much the sports landscape has changed in Washington in the past 12 months. At the time of the 2011 Open, the Redskins were coming off a 6-10 season, the Capitals had just been swept out of the playoffs, the Nationals weren’t much to look at without Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, and the Wizards were the Wizards. The Open, in other words, was a welcome respite from our collective misery.

But now the Redskins have Robert Griffin III, the Nats are in first place, the Caps have shown some postseason backbone and the Wizards are sitting with the third pick in the draft (after winning their final six). We don’t need the U.S. Open the way we did a year ago.

Not that it wouldn’t be nice if it returned to our humble burg sometime.

About the Author

Dan Daly

Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at ddaly@washingtontimes.com.

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