If the 1960 US Open is golf's greatest championship, as some claim, this week's 97th US Open surely is one of its most anticipated (ESPN and NBC will televise).
The '60 Open had Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer fighting to a dramatic finish, with a fast-charging Palmer prevailing. The '97 has Tiger Woods and his quest for a second major title in two months - as well as a dreamy Grand Slam, which would require additional wins at the British and PGA championships. No one has swept all four, and even Woods is a long shot.
But the best golfers in the world have no way of restraining the player who made the Masters course cry "uncle" in April. They can't gang-tackle or double-team. They simply have to go out and play brilliant golf and hope it's better than anything Tiger can produce over 72 holes at the Congressional Country Club outside Washington.
In today's opening round, Woods has an opportunity to match shots with Tom Lehman, the 1996 PGA Tour Player of the Year, and Steve Jones, who ended a seven-year drought to win last year's Open near Detroit.
The Congressional layout in Bethesda, Md., is the longest in Open history at 7,213 yards. This favors Woods, golf's reigning long-distance king.
He's not only long, he's usually straight, a plus on any course prepared to US Open specifications.
The rough is usually thick and high and no place for the faint-swinging. Then, too, some tight doglegs might force the big hitters to reach for irons, not drivers. Ultimately, however, the outcome may be decided Sunday on the watery, 190-yard 18th, the Open's first par-3 finishing hole since 1909.
Though Woods elected to practice last week, Greg Norman, who leads the current world rankings, tuned up by playing the Kemper Open in nearby Potomac, Md. He finished tied for third.