Tiger prepares for U.S. Open with an old friend

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- Nothing like mixing a little business with a little pleasure. That's just what Tiger Woods did when he made his way onto Olympia Fields Country Club recently and got his very first look at The North Course, the host course for the 103rd U.S. Open, June 12-15.

Woods certainly didn't want too many people to know that he and old pal and Chicago icon Michael Jordan were going to make their way around the 7190-yard, par-70 monster. There would have been camera crews hanging out of helicopters. Guaranteed.

Before coming to Olympia Fields, Tiger admitted he didn't know that much about the place.

"All I know is that it's in Chicago, " Tiger laughingly said during a live satellite interview at the club earlier in May.

But coming in cold didn't seem to matter much in his introductory round. His caddy told reporters Tiger shot a 68 or 69. And, tipped him $100. Jordan? He played worse but tipped better reportedly carding a 90 and slipping his looper $200.

U.S. Open courses are really not a mystery to Tiger.

"Well, you know the fairways are going to be narrow. The golf course is going to be long. Generally the greens are going to be hard and fast. The rough will be up. It's really no big surprise," Woods said during his closed-circuit interview.

"I think the U.S. Open set-up is wonderful because it puts a premium on ball-striking. And on top of that, it really puts you in a position where you have to think your way around the golf course. It's just not about teeing up a driver and bombs away and hit it as hard as you can and go find it."

That was pretty much Tiger's thinking when he tackled Olympia. He apparently hit his driver only four or five times. That's not to give the impression Olympia is without length. Imagine the ninth -- a 496-yard par-4. And it's not downhill. Six of the final 10 holes are par-4s measuring 440 yards or more. And then there's that beast -- the 17th. It's a par-3 that plays 247, into the prevailing wind and uphill.

But there is variety. In fact some believe the tell-all holes will not be the long ones.

"What intrigues me about this course are its short par-4s, " said Tom Meeks, the USGA's director of rules and competition. "Both 13 and 14 are sneaky-short, but they're also sneaky-hard."

Tiger thinks that sort of mix of holes will help open up the chances for a number of contenders. But he admits, accuracy will be an absolute necessity.

"You have to understand that you're going to have to be very patient, stay very level-headed, and above all, you have to drive the ball well, " said Tiger.

"You can't drive the ball poorly and win a U.S. Open. It just puts too much of a demand on the rest of your game, so you have to keep the ball in play. And from there, you know, take your chances whenever they present themselves. But you know that par is never going to be a bad score."

There is no doubt you'll have to get it in the fairway at Olympia. But still, it will all come down to making the right putts at the right times. You know, that one the weekend golfer imagines he's trying to make to beat Tiger Woods and win "the U.S. Open."

With that thought, Tiger was asked if he still imagines a putt like that despite all his incredible success. And if he does, who does he imagine beating?

"I still play against Hogan, Snead, Jack, Arnold. So when I'm out there, I still do the same things. It's the same old guys."

And if it's the same old Tiger, he's likely to beat everyone, legend or not.

103rd U.S. Open

June 12-15
Olympia Fields Country Club, North Course
Olympia Fields, Illinois (35 miles south of Chicago)
Last championship hosted: U. S. Senior Open, 1997. Winner: Graham Marsh.
Architect: Two-time British Open champion, Willie Parks, Jr., 1923.
History: Hosted 1928 U.S. Open. Johnny Farrell won in a playoff over Bobby Jones.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

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