Bethesda, MD – All week long at the U.S. Open, the Lake Course at Olympic Club has chewed up golfers and spit them back out, often well over par.
The course claimed world No. 1 Luke Donald and defending champion Rory McIlroy early. They shot 11- and 10-over par, respectively, and didn't even make the cut. Neither did Masters champion Bubba Watson or Dustin Johnson.
Phil Mickelson made the cut, but has struggled the entire time and would need a minor miracle just to get another runner-up finish. Tiger Woods was in good position before shooting a 5-over 75 on Saturday and sinking down the leaderboard.
So, who's still at the top of the leaderboard in golf's version of Last Man Standing? Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell, who are the only players under par at minus-1.
Both are former U.S. Open winners -- Furyk took the title in 2003 at Olympia Fields, while McDowell won two years ago at Pebble Beach -- and both have done exactly what's required at such a demanding course. They've taken risks when necessary, but never had a devastating mistake. Their deliberate approach has paid off.
Furyk, 42, has been especially steady. He's the only player this week who hasn't carded a round above par, going 70, 69, 70 to sit at minus-1 heading into Sunday. McDowell used a two-under 68 on Saturday to join Furyk in the lead.
Several times this week, the two have commented on and complimented each other's games, which seem to suit the tournament.
"I think basically that on a golf course like this you have to go from spot to spot and it doesn't have to look or be fancy, it has to work," Furyk said. "And I think we have styles of games where we put the ball into play, we put the ball on the green and take our chance at the putt and then move on."
Furyk and McDowell will no doubt have the same approach Sunday, but as they battle each other in the final pairing, they'll have a bunched field chasing them.
At the end of the third round, Swede Fredrik Jacobson was two strokes back at plus-1, and four players were tied at 2-over. Headlining that group are world No. 3 Lee Westwood and Ernie Els.
Westwood is still in search of his first major title, while Els has seemingly crept into contention for his third U.S. Open title.
Behind them is a group at plus-3 that includes Jason Dufner and amateur Beau Hossler. A stroke further back at plus-4 are Woods, Martin Kaymer, Matt Kuchar and Retief Goosen.
Low scores have been hard to come by this week, and if Furyk and McDowell can maintain their steady play, they have a good chance at winning. But considering how many players are close to the top of the leaderboard, and how easy it is to slip up, the tournament is still wide open. McDowell agrees.
"I look at guys at 2- and 3- and 4-over par in this tournament, who I really think they have a realistic shot to win tomorrow," McDowell said after the third round. "There's a fine line in this golf course between 67, 68 and 75, 76. There really is."
With that in mind, here's how the past five U.S. Opens have been won:
MCILROY'S RECORD REBOUND (2011)
McIlroy seemed on the verge of his first major title at the 2011 edition of the Masters, where he carried a four-shot lead into the final round. But the Northern Irishman endured a disastrous back nine, carded an 80, and finished in a tie for 15th.
A couple months later, McIlroy found himself at Congressional and rebounded in a big way. He opened with a 6-under 65, followed with a 66 and followed with a 68 to give himself an eight-shot cushion heading into Sunday.
Not only did McIlroy not melt down, but he maintained his enormous margin on the way to the title, thanks to an aggressive approach in the final round.
He opened with a 12-foot birdie putt to extend his lead to nine strokes, and tapped in for birdie at four. He managed nice par saves at two, five and six.
Then, on the back nine, McIlroy maintained his form. At the demanding par-3 10th hole, he spun his tee shot within a foot and drained the birdie to reach 17-under. He stumbled to a bogey at 12, but got the stroke back four holes later and never did anything to jeopardize his lead.
In all, McIlroy set or tied 12 separate records last year. Among them, his score of 16-under 268 set marks for lowest score and lowest score in relation to par in U.S. Open history. McIlroy also became the youngest winner of the championship since Bobby Jones in 1923, and was the third player in U.S. Open history to post four rounds in the 60s.
MCDOWELL AS LAST MAN STANDING (2010)
After tapping in for par on the final hole in 2010, McDowell looked toward the sky and exhaled. He was the last man standing on a brutal Sunday at Pebble Beach that chewed up some of the world's best players.
McDowell -- like McIlroy, from Northern Ireland -- became the first European in 40 years to win the U.S. Open after closing with a 3-over 74 for a one- shot victory over Gregory Havret of France.
Hanging on down the stretch, McDowell laid up and made a two-putt par at the 18th hole to clinch the first major championship of his career. But the day was a nightmare for so many others, especially Dustin Johnson.
Beginning the round with a three-shot lead, Johnson was out of contention by the seventh hole, an epic collapse that included a triple bogey at No. 2, where he took one of his shots left-handed. He missed a short putt at the 18th hole that would have been his only birdie of the day and finished with an 82 that left him five shots back.
Woods and Mickelson also hacked their way out of the championship, combining for nine bogeys and just three birdies on a day when simply breaking 70 would have won them the title. Els had a share of the lead, but his misadventures included a shot over the grassy cliff at No. 10.
How ugly was last year's final round? Among the last 24 players on the course, no one broke par. But McDowell did just enough to end on top of them all.
THE GLOVER ONE (2009)
Lucas Glover made it through a qualifier to get into the 2009 U.S. Open, then won it exactly two weeks later, the unlikely champion of a Monday finish that began with so many possibilities for a storybook ending.
It wasn't the final chapter everyone expected at the rain-soaked championship, but then little went as planned in five stop-and-start days at soggy Bethpage Black.
Things certainly fell apart for Mickelson, David Duval and Ricky Barnes on the final day, but Glover managed to scratch out a 3-over 73 to win his first major at a championship where he'd never even made the cut before.
He beat Mickelson, Duval and Barnes by two shots, becoming only the sixth qualifier since 1960 to win the U.S. Open.
Mickelson had tied him for the lead -- and electrified the crowd -- with a 25- foot birdie putt at the 12th hole and a 4-footer for eagle at the 13th. But he made two costly bogeys after that and posted his record-setting fifth runner-up finish at the U.S. Open -- including fourth in New York. The heartbreaker came just over a week before his wife, Amy, began treatment for breast cancer.
Duval, playing that week as the 882nd-ranked golfer in the world, also earned a share of the lead with three straight birdies on the back nine as he tried to capture his first win since the 2001 British Open. But he missed a 6-foot par putt on the next hole, the 17th, and came up short.
Barnes, the former U.S. Amateur champ who set a 36-hole U.S. Open scoring record that McIlroy broke, folded under the weight of playing in the last group of a major and made seven bogeys for a 76.
ON SHREDDED KNEE (2008)
Is it possible to be too hyperbolic about the 2008 U.S. Open? Probably. But the fact remains that Tiger's 91-hole win over Rocco Mediate that year -- on a severely disabled leg that required surgery soon after -- remains one of the enduring legacies of Woods' on-the-course legend.
The Monday playoff at Torrey Pines was something: Mediate, though overmatched in talent, took Woods past 18 holes and to a 19th before losing.
But it was peanuts compared to what happened during two electrifying days over the weekend.
First came Woods' Saturday charge. Limping and using his club like a cane, he took the 54-hole lead with a highlight-filled third round that included a 70- foot downhill eagle putt with six feet of break, a chip-in birdie from beside the green and another long eagle putt -- three signature moments in a six-hole span.
Then, on Sunday, Mediate could only stand and watch on a TV nearby as Woods rolled in a 14-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole Sunday to tie him for the lead and force the playoff.
The championship, shown during primetime on the East Coast through Sunday, scored great ratings and made a sympathetic hero out of Mediate. But it was better for Woods, of course, who won his 14th major to move within four of Jack Nicklaus' all-time record.
As we all know, he hasn't captured one since.
ANGEL SMOKES THE STARS (2007)
Smoking cigarettes and sweating, Angel Cabrera won Argentina's first major championship in 40 years when he shot a 1-under 69 in the final round at prickly Oakmont in 2007.
The score by Cabrera, who has since won the Masters, was good enough to hold off Woods and Furyk by a shot.
He carded two of only eight sub-70 rounds recorded that year, holding his foot on the pedal till the end and benefiting from mistakes by his closest competitors.
After making back-to-back bogeys from the 16th to fall into a tie with Furyk, Cabrera smashed a 350-yard drive at the 18th and made par, placing the pressure on his more-experienced challengers. They didn't respond, leaving Cabrera with a moment that defined his career until that point.