No Tiger. No Problem. U.S. Open shows promise regardless

Even in a golf column solely dedicated to proving the PGA Tour's ability to provide quality golf without the likes of a certain golfer by the name of Tiger, Tiger Woods' name is still the first to be mentioned.

I tried getting around it. But let's be honest here, if I hadn't told you up front that Tiger wouldn't be the point of this article, you would be scrolling aimlessly down the Web browser looking for my two cents Tiger's tragic 1-over-par 211 entering the final round of play tomorrow.

So my brief views on Tiger before we get into things that really matter:

1. Nobody needs to be issuing any sympathy points to the best man to ever grace a golf course. Yes, Tiger had to play in conditions that weren't as jolly as the folks who played after he did Friday. But, isn't this the equalizer that should have been showing us exactly why Tiger is known as the best? If he's the so-far-beyond-everyone-in-the-field best, shouldn't he have overcome the weather? And further, he was playing find through the first 16, playing par golf. It wasn't until the last two holes, at which point conditions were good for producing birdies, when Woods blew up. He shot 4-over-par on the last two holes because of poor execution on some key shots.

2. Even looking at his game today (today, being Sunday... the third round and beginning of the final round), he looked off. In fact, there were several times where I would identify a 20-30 foot putt as a "Tiger putt"... you know, one of the fist bump ones that could have secured momentum for himself. When Tiger is on, he makes those more often than not.

3. This could be a pivotal point for Woods. Now 9 strokes back of the leader, a Woods comeback would be legendary. And it's not impossible. It wouldn't surprise me to see some of the leaders crumble under the intense pressure that is Bethpage Black or the U.S. Open. Even a Phil Mickelson implosion is not out of the ordinary.

So there it is... what you wanted. Now let's move on to more intriguing things.

Conceding the fact that Tiger (see, there he pops up again) won't finish better than fifth or sixth, there are still good stories in the field.

The aforementioned Mickelson sits just six strokes behind leader Ricky Barnes, who has shot a remarkable 67-65-70 to lead the field with an 8-under-par 202. David Duval (a name you probably didn't think played even disc golf much less professional golf) is even closer, five strokes behind Barnes. And eight of the top 10 on the leaderboard are American golfers — only England's Ross Fisher and Canada's Mike Weir are in the mix).

So there are stories.

And there will be competition. It won't be Rocco and Tiger (damn, there it is again), but it will be good golf.

Mickelson, with his hometown fans accumulating by the hundreds in the New York golf course, should have a very good chance of capturing another U.S. Open title. He certainly rides streaks, but if he can get going on the last 18, he has as good a shot as anybody.

Weir has been there the whole tournament. Duval is playing as good as he has in years. And Lucas Glover, who is in second just one stroke back of Barnes, has been whispered to be breaking out.

But look at the scores of some of those guys, and it shouldn't be a surprise if they fall off. Barnes, Glover, Duval and Weir all shot 70 or above in the third round, conceding valuable strokes to Mickelson, who rode a 69 on the heels of a clutch putt on the 18th hole. Players such as Bubba Watson and Sean O'Hair have also cashed in on catching up by posting 67 and 68 respectively.

So the competition will be there, no doubt.

Rain briefly soaked the course again in between the third and final round, so conditions should be decent enough to let us see some movement on the leaderboard.

And we must never forget... Tiger is always lurking.