Stars like Woods, Mickelson mingle with the long shots at US Open

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Tiger Woods held the putter with only his left hand as he rapped a 60-foot putt across the practice green.

Tiger Woods watches his drive off the 9th tee during a practice round of the US Open golf championship in Bethpage

Tiger Woods watches his drive off the 9th tee during a practice round of the US Open golf championship in Bethpage

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Tiger Woods held the putter with only his left hand as he rapped a 60-foot putt across the practice green.

Then he hit another putt with his right hand, a third putt with both hands in conventional style

He asked for the wedge to try a variety of shots out of sticky grass, searching for the best approach.

Woods knows all the drills.

This is his 15th straight year playing in the U.S. Open, and his third attempt this decade at joining an elite group as back-to-back champions in the so-called toughest test in golf.

Woods is the overwhelming favourite at Bethpage Black, where he won by three shots in 2002 as the only player to finish under par.

The challenge figures to come from a familiar cast, whether it’s Padraig Harrington or Phil Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy or Jim Furyk.

What gives the U.S. Open its charm, however, are the long shots.

Ogilvy finished warming up on the range and walked past players he had never seen.

One of them was Scott Lewis, a 20-year-old amateur still trying to get over the shock of playing in his first U.S. Open.

Lewis just finished his sophomore year at the University of California-Santa Barbara, where his best finish this year was a tie for seventh in the Wyoming Desert Invitational.

An alternate from sectional qualifying, he didn’t learn he was in the U.S. Open until Friday.

Before he could blink, he had an audience like never before.

“People are watching me hit balls,” he said. “First time that’s ever happened.”

Stranger still was walking to the range and hearing someone ask for an autograph.

He kept right on walking until his father, who is caddying for him, realized no one else was around and tapped his son on the shoulder to sign.

Another first.

On the far end of the range was Clinton Jensen, a 34-year-old father of two young girls who quit golf for a couple of years until he realized he couldn’t stay away.

He is playing the Tar Heel Tour and wants to try Q-school again this fall, hopeful this time he can get past the second stage for the first time.

“I just couldn’t stay away,” Jensen said.

The U.S. Open is the only major where more than 50 per cent of the field is open to any player willing to qualify.