- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Is it possible the U.S. Open is undergoing a personality change? Can the world's meanest major be developing a fun gene?
Those sounds you heard Saturday at The Olympic Club were actual roars caroming off the tree-lined fairways of this beautiful and brutal course. If the USGA has a heart -- and recent MRI analysis shows that it just might -- the fourth and (maybe) final round of this U.S. Open could set a record for goose bumps and weirdness.
Look at the leaderboard. It's more bunched than a NASCAR restart.
1 -- Graeme McDowell (-1)
1 -- Jim Furyk (-1)
3 -- Fredrik Jacobson (+1)
T14 -- Among others, Tiger Woods (+4)
Don't get me wrong -- nobody walks off the Olympic Club course saying, "Wheeeee! Can we do that again?" There still were lots of slammed clubs, lots of ugly numbers, and lots of Dr. Evil bounces and lies. The USGA might have a soft spot, but it's the size of a ball marker.
Furyk has endorsement deals with an energy drink company and a Scotch whisky maker. After Saturday's adventures, he might become the first person to drink both at the same time.
And for all of us who thought Woods was locked and loaded for a third-round masterpiece, guess what? His swing and putter chose the worst possible time to take afternoon naps.
"I'm definitely still in the ballgame," Woods said. "I'm only 5 back, and that's certainly doable on this golf course, for sure."
He might be right, but Woods can't afford a repeat of Saturday. He bogeyed two of the first three holes, three of the first six and four of the first eight. Or to put it another way: He's now a stroke behind a high schooler with braces.
That would be the 17-year-old amateur Hossler, who is reason enough to tune in Sunday. Hossler's caddie is his godfather. Name another caddie who was in the delivery room when his player was born. We'll wait.
Hossler wears a visor the size of a poolside umbrella. I think I saw him nervous once, but that isn't confirmed.
"I still have the goal to be low amateur, but my goal now is to win the tournament," he said.
Hossler has every shot but very few expressions. He acts as if he's playing for his Rancho Santa Margarita High School team, not at a major. If he keeps this up, there's an outside chance he could kiss the U.S. Open trophy before he kisses his date at senior prom.
OK, that's a long shot. McDowell or Furyk winning this thing is a short shot.
McDowell and Furyk don't have what you'd describe as classic swings. Furyk's swing, in particular, looks like a physics project.
But if you ever get in a bar fight with a course such as that at Olympic, you want them on your side. They can take a punch and give one, too.
Both players have won a U.S. Open (Furyk in 2003, McDowell in 2010). Both of them refuse to take no for an answer. And both of them will show up Sunday absolutely convinced they can win again.
They are grinders. "Workmanlike" is the word McDowell used to describe their styles. At this place, that's a compliment. And a necessity.
"I was happy that I got myself emotionally in the right place today," McDowell said. "Probably for the first time this week, I actually enjoyed the round of golf. It was quite nice out there."
Quite nice? What's happened to our Open?
There are more Sunday storylines than flagsticks at The Olympic Club. You can't swing a wedge without hitting one of them.
The short list:
Can Sweden's Jacobson, who lives in the same Florida town as Tiger, win his first major?
Can Peterson, playing in his first major, record another hole-in-one? (He aced the 180-yard, par-3 13th.)
Can Westwood, the highest-ranked player left in the field (No. 3 in the world) end one of the great golf bridesmaid streaks? The 39-year-old Westwood has 10 top-10 finishes in majors and seven top-3 finishes. He's been so close that it borders on cruelty.
"I've probably been in contention in major championships more than anybody else," he said matter of factly.
If you had to pick a guy other than Furyk or McDowell to leave San Francisco with extra trophy luggage, it would be Westwood. He doesn't stress. Ask him about the pressures of playing professional golf, and he gives you a lesson in perspective.
"It's not a bad way to pass time," he said.
Westwood understands what The Olympic Club and a major can do to players. So he puts on the happy face and says he has plenty of game to win Sunday. And nobody disagrees.
And then there is Els, whose last major victory came at Muirfield in the 2002 Open Championship. But he knows what it takes to win one of these things. He won the 1994 and 1997 U.S. Opens. The question is: Does his swing remember, too?
I'm missing someone. That's because there's a cast of tens that can still hoist that trophy Sunday night. In fact, don't be surprised if the P-word is mentioned more than a few times.
I'm rooting for U.S. Open Sunday chaos. I'm rooting for a USGA Sunday course setup that gives us what we got Saturday.
Just enough fun. Just enough pain.
Sunday at the U.S. Open could bring equal parts pleasure and pain. So don't be surprised if the madness spills into Monday, writes ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski.