Dark Horses Sometimes Win the U.S. Open, Don't They?

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Dark Horses Sometimes Win the U.S. Open, Don't They?
(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Tiger Woods may have lost his dominance, but as the defending champion and the winner of 14 majors, he will likely go off as the consensus favorite in next month's U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park (Black Course).

There are those who will argue the point.

They will point to Woods' balky driver and erratic putting.

They will single out his failure in the Masters.

They will observe that Woods has only won one paltry tournament this year following surgery on his left leg.

Still, despite these "woes," Woods is averaging less than 70 strokes per round on some of the toughest courses in the world.

And if his eighth-place finish this year in the TPC at Sawgrass, his best result there since 2001 when he won the tournament isn't a sign that Woods is rounding into form, it's hard to fathom what would convince his detractors.

A couple other factors auger well for Wood's chances next month.

Long-time nemesis Phil Mickelson will likely miss the tournament due to his wife's bout with breast cancer.

Wood also captured his second U.S. Open title when the was held at Bethpage in 2002.

If Woods does fall short, there are plenty of contenders with credible credentials who will be poised to pick up the pieces.

Among the notables:

Geoff Ogilvy, the winner of the 2006 U.S. Open and three World Golf Championships.

Sergio Garcia, the winner of seven PGA tour events who has finished among the top 10 in 14 major events.

Angel Cabrera, the winner of the 2009 Masters and the 2007 U.S. Open.

Vijay Singh, the winner of 34 PGA Tour events, including three majors.

Paul Casey. who has won the ABU Dhabi Championship and the Houston Open this year. Only 31, Casey has finished in the top 10 four times in major events.

Padraig Harrington, the winner of the 2008 PGA Tour Player of the Year award and three of the past eight majors.

Every so often, though, a dark horse, much like Mine That Bird in this year's Kentucky Derby, charges to the forefront to confound the critics.

Here is a look at some of the unlikeliest U.S. Open winners of the past half-century.

 

Jerry Pate (1976, Atlanta Athletic Club)

Jerry Pate possessed the golfing pedigree to accomplish great things. He, like Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus (later Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods), was the winner of a U.S. Amateur. He also was a member of the U.S. team which won the Walker Cup and the Eisenhower Trophy.

Few observers, though, could have predicted that Pate, despite his competence on grand stages, would win a U.S. Open title in only his second year on the PGA Tour.

But Pate stared down such legends as Tom Weiskopf, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller to carve out a two-stroke victory with a three under par total of 277.

Pate would go on to win the Canadian Open later that year and six other PA Tour events.

He nearly won a second U.S. Open title in four years in 1979, ultimately falling two strokes short of Hale Irwin's winning total of 284 at the Iverness Club. Pate tied for second with Gary Player and Larry Nelson.

 

Steve Jones (1996, Oakland Hills Country Club)

Steve Jones owned four PGA titles before he set foot on the Oakland Hills Country Club to do battle in the 1996 U.S. Open.

But he hadn't won in seven years before he shot a two under par 278 at Oakland Hills Country Club, besting both Davis Love III and Tom Lehman by a single stroke.

Jones overcame more than his share of adversity to earn his only victory in a Major.

Jones missed nearly three seasons due to injury.

And he also had to survive a sectional qualifier to even make the U.S. Open field.

Jones would win three more tournaments over the next two years. But unlike Simpson, Jones' victory at Oakland Hills was his swan song in major tournaments. His highest finish would be a tie for 24th in the 1990 PGA Championship.

 

Scott Simpson (1987, Olympic Club, Lake Course)

Scott Simpson had participated in 23 majors, fashioning only two top 10 finishes, before he captured the 1987 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Simpson forged a three under par 277 to defeat Tom Watson by a single stroke.

It wasn't the first time that the Olympic Club was the site of an upset, albeit one of more monumental proportions.

Jack Fleck, just a speck on the PGA Tour landscape in 1955, upset the great Ben Hogan by firing a one under par 69 in an 18-hole playoff to capture the U.S. Open that year.

Simpson's performance at the Olympic Club triggered a successful four-year run in the U.S. Open in which he finished no worse than 11th.

Simpson nearly captured the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine National Golf Club. He tied with Payne Stewart with a six under par 282 after 72 holes. He then lost the 18-hole playoff by two strokes.

Simpson had won three tournaments before his U.S. Open triumph. Still, his victory has to rank as a major upset in light of the competition he faced.

In addition to Watson, Simpson beat back the likes of Seve Ballesteros, who had won two Masters and two U.S. Opens; Ben Crenshaw, a Masters champion; and Curtis Strange, who would go on to win consecutive U.S. Open titles in 1988 and 1989.

 

Michael Campbell (2005, Pinehurst Resort)

Michael Cambell, in 16 previous appearance in majors, had managed just one top 10 finish, a third in the 1995 U.S. Open.

His performances in the  U.S. Opens immediately preceding Pinehurst weren't exactly confidence-builders. He missed the cut each time.

None of this mattered the final Sunday of the 2005 U.S. Open when he overcame a four-stroke deficit and foiled Tiger Woods' quest for a 10th major by firing a final-round one under par 69.

Campbell would continue his hot streak with top 10 finishes later that year in The Open and P.G.A. championship. However, his U.S. Open victory is, to date, his only victory on the P.G.A. Tour.

 

Orville Moody (1969, Champions Golf Club, Cypress Creek Course)

The upset New York Jets, 18-1/2 points underdogs, upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

The Boston Celtics, who had barely made the playoffs by finishing fourth in the Eastern Division, shocked the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals.

The New York Mets, MLB's perennial laughingstock since their inception in 1962, knocked off the talent-laden Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

It was a year rife with upsets, but none was more surprising than Orville Moody's 1969 U.S. Open victory at Champions Golf Club.

Moody's biggest claim to fame before this shocker was victories in three Korean Opens.

Moody didn't join the PGA Tour until 1967 at the advanced age of 34. His one-stroke victory at Champions was his only tour victory, although he later enjoyed considerable success on the Senior Tour.

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