They started near high noon, two gunslingers and a sniper.
They were ready, willing and hoping to be able to bring the enemy to its knees, the enemy being the hallowed and harrowing Riviera Country Club.
The attraction was obvious. Two of the players, Rose and Furyk, were major winners, each having a U.S. Open title in their resume. Johnson is among the best players never to have won a major. He also hits the ball out of sight, as does Rose. U.S. sports fan worship long hitters, no matter what the sport.
And so they began, in near perfect sunshine. Not even the usual Pacific Ocean breeze would disrupt this day of golfing heaven. They teed it up, high on a hill next to the historic clubhouse, and crushed huge drives off into the distance, all thinking about making an eagle on a par-five No. 1 that is one of the easiest scoring holes on the tour. All made birdies.
That was typical Riviera. Lure you in and then steal your wallet.
They finished five hours later, strolling up the hill and onto the fairway of the fabled 18th hole, where just about everybody from Ben Hogan to Fred Couples to Phil Mickelson has contributed to the lore. History and Riviera are longtime partners.
In 1974, Dave Stockton, in the lead on the last day, but angered by some gamesmanship from Sam Snead on the tee, yanked his drive well left, into the hilly rough. He was 244 yards away and angry. So he cranked his next shot to 12 feet and won the tournament.
When you conquer Riviera, even for a moment, it never forgets. There's a plaque on the spot where Stockton hit his shot.
When Friday's famed threesome climbed the hill to the 18th fairway, the sun was struggling to stay above the expensive houses on the hill along the left side. It had been a long day, but much of the gallery had stayed for the trek.
For two of the three players, it had been a good walk not spoiled.
The position of each drive was a symbolic summary for what had taken place over the previous 17 holes.
Johnson was in the middle of the fairway, about 40 yards in front of Furyk, who was also in the middle of the fairway. In the left rough, even with Furyk but partially blocked by trees, was Rose, last year's U.S. Open winner at the Pennsylvania chamber of horrors known as Merion. The hole was playing 475 yards and Johnson probably hit a nine-iron in.
Rose had started the day one under on the par-71 course. Furyk had started three under and Johnson five under.
Only Rose had succumbed.
He had played well — "Much better than his score showed," Furyk said afterward — and even got it to four under with a birdie on the par-five 11th. But then he yanked a drive out of bounds on No. 12, took a triple-bogey seven and stayed along for the rest of the walk. His one-over 72 left him in jeopardy of missing the cut, depending on a handful of finishing rounds Saturday morning.
Johnson, who has already won once this season and finished second last week at Pebble Beach, is often remembered as the player who illegally grounded his club in a trap on the final hole of the 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits, a trap he didn't know was a trap. Had he not done that, he was a likely winner. He has been close before in majors.
Thursday, he started the day as the leader at five under and ended in a tie for fifth at six under. Riviera had teased him, but never let him run away.
"I played pretty solid today," he said. "I had a lot of good looks at birdies, and you know, just couldn't capitalize.… I'm very comfortable with the way I'm playing."
Even more so was Furyk, who was the actual winner of the threesome. He shot his second straight 68, and shares a tie for fifth with Johnson and two others, three back of leader Sang-Moon Bae.