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Past champs provide analysis on Olympic challenge

There is nothing quite like U.S. Open week for the golf fan, particularly with all the broadcast coverage that's on the air.

The Golf Channel will be bombarding us with coverage all week from the Olympic Club in San Francisco, starting today. ESPN will have a presence there all week, also, including live coverage of the first two rounds, Thursday and Friday from noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.

NBC's live coverage on Channel 2 is scheduled for 3-5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 4-10 p.m. Saturday and 4-10:30 p.m. Sunday. Back in May, NBC analyst Johnny Miller participated in a media conference call. Miller, who won the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1973, grew up in Northern California and started playing at the Olympic Club when he was 12 years old.

ESPN held a conference call with Andy North, Paul Azinger and Curtis Strange, who will anchor that network's coverage this week.

How hard a test is the Olympic Club? What can we expect from Tiger and Phil? Who else has the game to win our national championship? For the answers, let's yield the floor to the TV experts, each of whom won at least one major in his playing days. (We have rewritten the questions for clarity; the answers are from the analysts.)

>Q: Let's get right to it: What are Tiger's chances this week?

Johnny Miller: "One thing about Tiger, he knows Olympic Club, and it would not surprise me to see him, if he could somehow get his game together; it fell apart at the Masters after winning Bay Hill, which was a shock to me because it was obviously nerves that happened at Augusta. And in his whole career, nerves never had anything to do with anything in his career." (Miller spoke before Woods won the Memorial last week.)

Paul Azinger: "I'm really curious to see how Tiger does on this golf course. I think Tiger and Phil, this is hitting them in the sweet spot. Because Tiger won the last tournament he played, he's going to be the most confident guy out there."

Andy North: "In this game you never have any idea if you have it the next week. Guys miss cuts. Guys have a bad week. -- I surely would think the fact that [Tiger's] now won twice this year, he's got to be getting a lot closer. I would think he's going to be successful and consistent again."

>Q: Does the Olympic Club set up well for Phil Mickelson?

Miller: "Well, the factor [in other U.S. Opens] has been his driver. He's almost won the Open, despite his crazy driving of the ball. If he would have driven the ball well, any one of those five runner-ups, he would have won at least one Open and probably two or three Opens. The thing I do like about Phil is that his little high draw really sets up great for a lot of the approach shots to the greens; that being said, Olympic is a precision course."

Curtis Strange: "The thing about Phil Mickelson is that he's got such a short memory. He plays poorly sometimes leading up to big events, but he's doing it preparing for that event, and he forgets about his poor play. When he goes to Olympic, I don't think he'll remember anything about the last couple of weeks. I think Phil will be fine. He'll go work on his game. He's a closet hard worker at home. He doesn't just show up and go through the motions."

>Q: Rory McIlroy, the defending U.S. Open champion, has slumped a bit this year. What can we expect from him at the Olympic Club?

Miller: "Well, last year, Congressional, it was a good course but it was almost like a [PGA] Tour course. You looked at the scores that were being shot, it was like playing on a good, strong Tour course. This is a whole different ballgame and more like being back at a U.S. Open. Rory won his U.S. Open sort of in a non-traditional U.S. Open setup, in my opinion. Now we are going to get back to, I believe, where it's not going to be so much fun and games out there. It's going to be hard work and I think a sterner test. So Rory basically won waltzing around there like it was no big deal, and I just don't see Olympic Club with its hilly lies and tiny greens and -- I just don't see that as being something easy for anybody to go around and be able to play and master."

Azinger: "I wouldn't give much credence to missing two or three cuts in a row. We live in such a social media world, and we've got a channel dedicated strictly to golf. So it's more micromanaged by the media, and people want to make a big deal of it. He's only 23 years old. I think he's going to have a terrific career, similar to a Mickelson or an Ernie Els type of career. He's not Tiger Woods. He missed seven cuts in one year. Tiger missed eight cuts in 14. So he's a normal kid, and he plays abnormal golf. I love watching him swing the club. But he's not Tiger."

>Q: Who else might emerge with the trophy this week?

Miller: "The Open [winners] are usually guys that hardly have a pulse. You look at Scott Simpson, year-round, he's a very pleasant guy but he's not an up-and-down guy mood-wise and emotionally, and same with Lee Janzen. Jason Dufner, who is playing so well right now, fits right into the U.S. Open mold of a guy who has learned to temper his emotions totally like Ben Hogan did and Jack Nicklaus did. Even though Rory is a good pick, by the way; but as I said, Jason Dufner is a really good pick. Guys that can hit the ball well, hit the greens in regulation, and hit the ball well like Dufner and Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, Rickie Fowler -- those are some of the really good picks."

Strange: "I think that demeanor can be very advantageous at a U.S. Open. Because I think that's the key for many players is not to get too high or too low, because you're not going to make birdies. You're going to make a bunch of pars. Par is always a good score there. The key for many players is just not to get too high or too low. That describes [Dufner] in a nutshell."

>Q: What is the key to doing well on this golf course?

Miller: "The real standout thing about the U.S. Open at Olympic Club is going to be the first six holes. With No. 1 being a par 4, it's probably the hardest opening six holes maybe in the history of major championship golf with no wind. It's just that they are brutal holes, they are banked the wrong way. So you've got to hook -- you need to hit cuts and you need to hit draws, and you've got some wind coming over the top of the trees."

Strange: "Let me throw these at you. The first hole, par-4, 520 [yards], OK. Hole 2, hard dogleg to the right sloping right to left, 428 uphill. No. 3, 247, par-3. No. 4, 438 uphill. No. 5, 598, par-4. No. 6 is 489. Are you kidding me? That's why the three of us don't try to qualify for the Open anymore. The worst thing that could happen is we would make it."

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Short take

*John Murphy, the sports director at Channel 4, is expected to leave the station to take a job with the Buffalo Bills, as The News reported back in March. However, his departure has reportedly been delayed until sometime in July. Channel 4 General Manager Chris Musial told the website Stilltalkintv.com that the station is "working on final details" with Murphy before his exit.

email: gconnors@buffnews.com