SAN FRANCISCO - The word was out, drifting across Olympic Club, like the fog that was coming in off the Pacific: Tiger, Bubba and Phil in the same grouping for the U.S. Open. The huge merchandise tent had been unlocked about 10 a.m. Thursday. And now so was the secret.
They've figured it out at the U.S. Golf Association. Blind draw? Tiger Woods here, Phil Mickelson there? That was the old days, when the USGA wanted some pretense of equality and fairness.
Didn't they once start everyone in the Open off the first tee because that's the way a course should be played? No longer.
Now the first two rounds are just like those at every tournament, golfers off the first and 10th tees. Well, at Olympic, the first and ninth, because the 10th is out there someplace near Otis Redding's perch on the dock of the bay.
Now the Open, as heavily involved in the money chase as every other sporting event, is pure Hollywood, pure box office, pure Nielsen Ratings.
Hey, can we squeeze in another corporate hospitality building? The great Dan Jenkins, who started covering the tournament back in the 1950s, wrote that for years he had a parking place at the Open, but now it's occupied by some guy eating salmon pate and sipping champagne.
That said, we get the two most popular golfers in America, Tiger and Phil, plus the new Masters champion, Bubba Watson, head to head at the course they call the "Graveyard of Legends,'' the course where Fleck beat Hogan and Casper beat Arnie.
The course where in four previous Opens the favorite has ended up either the loser in a playoff or a shot behind after 72 holes.
The USGA announced a few tickets remain for a tournament, America's national championship, if you will, that always sells out. That's before the tee times were released.
Even down in the Tenderloin, where the panhandlers hang out, where they might not know the difference between a sandwich and a sand wedge, they've heard of Tiger and Phil.
The two were in the same foursome the final round at Pebble Beach in February, when Mickelson blitzed Woods. But about two weeks ago Woods blitzed Jack Nicklaus' course and everything and everyone else at the Memorial, while Phil was withdrawing because fans with cameras were clicking him into a state of anxiety.
The Open was last held at Olympic in 1998, and while the winner was the usual hit-it-down-the-middle golfer, Lee Janzen, someone who may lack charisma but not talent, both Mickelson and Woods got in their blows.
Mickelson tied for 10th, while El Tigre, who played Olympic now and then - more then than now - when he was attending Stanford 30 miles down the highway, finished in a tie for 18th.
The mavens insist Olympic, with its 30,000 trees and reverse camber holes (dogleft left, slant right; dogleg right, slant left) doesn't help either of those guys - or Bubba, people who at times have a tendency to hit the ball long distances in the wrong direction.
Tiger has won three Opens, but each was at a course, Pebble Beach, Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines, where there was room for an occasional ball off line.
Mickelson, you recall, was leading the 2006 Open at Winged Foot until he smacked one into the trees off the 18th tee, recklessly followed that with a daring shot that went nowhere, made double bogey and lost to Geoff Ogilvy.
"I can't believe I just did that,'' Mickelson moped shortly after his collapse. "I am such an idiot."
Yes, an evil game, golf, one Mark Twain called a good walk spoiled. Twain also is credited with saying the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco, and even if the attribution is wrong, the contention is quite accurate.
Twain briefly belonged to Olympic, which started in a firehouse in downtown San Francisco in 1860 and calls itself "America's oldest athletic club."
Twenty-four members competed in the 1924 Olympiad, the one glorified by the movie "Chariots of Fire.'' Before the golf course, along San Francisco's western edge, was acquired, there were water polo champions, swimming champions, handball champions, wrestling champions.
Cornelius Warmerdam set world records in the pole vole while representing the club. Lon Spurrier broke the world record in the 880 as an Olympian. Hank Luisetti played on the OC basketball team. "Gentleman'' Jim Corbett boxed for OC before turning pro.
Ty Cobb was a member when in 1939 he was beaten by 13-year-old Bob Rosburg in a flight of the club championship. Rosburg would someday win a PGA Championship. Cobb protested a kid being allowed into the tournament, hurled his clubs into his car and never returned to the club.
There's something for Tiger, Phil and Bubba to ruminate about as they wait to strike the ball.