107th U.S. Open Championship Preview

107th U.S. Open Championship Preview

107th U.S. Open Championship Preview
June 11th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In a practice round at Oakmont Country Club two months ago, Tiger Woods debated hitting driver into the wind at the 288-yard eighth hole.

But because the world's best golfer has a self-imposed rule never to hit driver at any par three, he pulled a three-wood instead and knocked his tee ball to 25 feet.

Indeed, if you know one thing about this year's U.S. Open site you should know that its members take pride in their course's ability to chew them up and spit them out, to force them to make decisions like the one Woods was forced to make in April.

"Where 'unplayable' is a compliment," one magazine's cover described Oakmont.

Sounds like the perfect place for a U.S. Open.

Trying to picture Oakmont, think Winged Foot with a few extra rows of teeth, like some great white shark waiting to take a bite out of the world's best golfers.

If Winged Foot was frustrating last year, Oakmont is fixing to be damn near impossible this year. Its fairways will be just as narrow, but what Winged Foot lacked in obstacles, Oakmont has in spades.

Even if its landscape reminds us a little of Telly Savales.

Nearly 4,000 trees have been removed since Ernie Els won the last U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1994, most in clandestine late-night landscaping orgies to keep naysayers at bay and avoid any interruption in play.

Nearly every tree in play when Els won is gone.

The course is bald and open, but there are the nearly 200 bunkers to keep players honest, including the famous "Church Pews" bunker down the left side of No. 3, and the rough will be as penal as it was at Winged Foot last year.

The plan is to grow a 12-foot band of the first cut of rough to three inches, then cut the deepest rough left and right of the landing areas to six inches, the same length as Winged Foot.

It's the second year of the USGA's "penalty fits the crime" plan to make recovery shots harder the further off-line a tee shot is.

In the third round last year, Colin Montgomerie made a double-bogey at Winged Foot's par-three third after he found the deep rough in front of a greenside bunker, duffed a flop shot into that bunker, then two-putted for a five.

"Bloody hell!" the Scotsman shouted.

Expect more of that at Oakmont.

The course has been lengthened 284 yards since Els won in 1994 -- no surprise there; lengthening courses has become the norm over the past 10 years -- so it will play 7,230 yards, about 34 yards shorter than Winged Foot last year.

Scores could be astronomical.

After Phil Mickelson's collapse at the 72nd hole at Winged Foot, Geoff Ogilvy won with a score of five-over 285. It was the highest winning number at a U.S. Open in 32 years -- since Hale Irwin's seven-over 287 prevailed at the so- called "Massacre at Winged Foot" in 1974.

Ogilvy played a practice round at Oakmont with Adam Scott and shot in the mid-80s, he said. Ogilvy also claimed his fellow Australian beat him by double-digits.

That news -- as well as Scott's challenge last weekend in Memphis -- makes Scott a clear choice to join a list of the favorites this week. The usual suspects will be there, too.

Woods hasn't won a U.S. Open since Bethpage Black in 2002, two years after he won his first at Pebble Beach. He also finished runner-up to Michael Campbell in 2005 and placed third in 1999, both at Pinehurst No. 2.

His length means lesser clubs into the greens, and his strength will help him out of the rough. Consider last year's missed cut a fluke; Woods admitted he wasn't ready to play the Open so soon after his father's death.

Tiger will be there on the weekend.

Mickelson was on a roll when he arrived at Winged Foot last year, having won two consecutive majors. He practiced at the course up to a year in advance.

That kind of preparation may have cost him this year, though, as Mickelson withdrew from the Memorial two weeks ago and skipped a scheduled start in Memphis with a wrist injury he said he may have suffered chipping from the rough at Oakmont during a practice round.

If you're looking for favorite 1b, Mickelson is often your guy. But I don't see him winning this year, even if the "redemption" storyline -- which you will see ad nauseam on TV this weekend, we promise you -- gets him into contention.

The remainder of golf's former "Big Five" all make interesting choices, too, especially two-time U.S. Open winners Els and Retief Goosen.

Els won his first Open at Oakmont in '94, then won at Congressional three years later. But is he ready to win again on such a big stage? I'm not so sure. Plus, Oakmont is a different course this time around.

Goosen won at Southern Hills in 2001 and at Shinnecock in 2004. Although he's recently tumbled out of the top 10, he has shown signs of returning to the form that once made him a top-five player. Plus, he's got the U.S. Open game.

Vijay Singh has never won a U.S. Open, but he has two victories already this year and appears to have broken free of the slump that claimed the last half of his '05 season and the first half of '06. With his all-around game, the Fijian can never be counted out.

Looking elsewhere, there are grinders and international stars who can be considered threats.

Keep an eye on Scott, for sure, and Masters champion Zach Johnson, who won again at the AT&T Classic four weeks ago. Sergio Garcia is still the "Best Player Never to Have Won a Major," although if Scott keeps winning he might soon snatch that dubious crown.

Then there's the trio of players everyone forgets could have each won at Winged Foot last year.

Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington and Montgomerie all joined Mickelson on a list of players who collapsed at Winged Foot's hilly 18th green on Sunday. Harrington recently won the Irish Open -- winning your national championship, he said, is second only to winning majors -- and Montgomerie's shotmaking skills are too good for him to be counted out.

But I'm going with Furyk to win his second U.S. Open.

Now ranked No. 3 behind Woods and Mickelson, Furyk won at Olympia Fields in 2003 with a control game that will suit Oakmont just fine. It's a long course, but more important than that, it's a course where control is of the utmost importance.

If he hadn't backed off one too many times from a relatively easy par putt at the 72nd hole last year -- he eventually missed it -- Furyk could have forced a Monday playoff with Ogilvy at Winged Foot.

"I'm disappointed," he said afterward. "I played my heart out and it didn't work."

I see it ending differently for Furyk this year.

Here's how some others see it:

JIM GILLIS, MANAGING EDITOR: Vijay Singh

Vijay Singh might not be the top choice of some so-called experts, but maybe it's finally his time. He's never won a U.S. Open and only once has he finished in the top-five (T-3 at Pinehurst in 1999), but the three-time major champion does have seven top-10 finishes in his 13 appearances. That always makes Singh a contender. He tied for sixth in each of the last two Opens and this year has a pair of PGA Tour victories to his credit. It's been three years since his last major triumph. He's due for another.

PHIL SOKOL, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS: Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els

Driving is the key at Oakmont, where the rough is the thickest the pros will face in years. Furyk's ranked second in driving accuracy and can certainly make plenty of birdies. As for Tiger: No reasons needed. Els won here in 1994 and his game has showed signs of improvement. As for darkhorses, I look for good putters who will do well on the 13-plus greens. Players like Justin Rose, Aaron Baddeley and, this might sound crazy, Fred Funk. He is one of the straightest-hitting guys on tour and a decent putter.

KEVIN CURRIE, GOLF EDITOR: Ernie Els

I think Oakmont is going to weed out those who haven't won a major before. Therefore, look for someone who has not only won a major, but this championship. That means, look out for guys like Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els. The choice here is Els. He struggled earlier in the year with an equipment change, but he is rounding into form. Plus, he won the last time Oakmont hosted the Open. I was leaning towards Goosen, but since sharing second at the Masters, his best finish was a tie for 15th at the Asian Open.

GREG WILEY, STAFF WRITER: Tiger Woods

When Tiger Woods is in the field I have to go with him. I know it's the easy pick, but it's also the smart pick. We all know that the USGA likes to test all aspects of a golfer's game and Tiger is the most well-rounded golfer out there. This year Oakmont is going to play at over 7,200 yards and the toughness of the greens are already being talked about by the players. Woods is in the top-10 in greens in regulation and putting average, and ranks 22nd in driving distance. His one downside is driving accuracy, which ranks 165th on the tour (at just over 55 percent). However, his superior strength to everyone else on the tour gives him a huge advantage when working from the thick rough. That is one of the reasons why I'm not big on Phil Mickelson this week. His driving accuracy is also poor at just over 56 percent and his injured wrist will hurt him when working from the rough. Jim Furyk is also a solid pick to win. The second-ranked player in the world lacks distance off the tee, but that won't hurt as much since he ranks second in driving accuracy, 13th in greens in regulation and 77th in putting average. If you're looking for a true darkhorse, go north of the border and look at Mike Weir. He's not going to win, but could have a strong showing. He finished tied for 20th at the Masters and has three top-25s in his last five tournaments. He has also been strong in past U.S. Opens. The left-hander has five top-20 finishes and three top-10s, including a tie for sixth last year, in eight U.S. Open appearances.

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Re: 107th U.S. Open Championship Preview

Jeff Haney explains why long shots Jim Furyk or Geoff Ogilvy could upset Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson in golf's U.S. Open

Professional golfers who have been playing the course at Oakmont Country Club in preparation for next week's U.S. Open had a succinct description of the notoriously challenging layout.

It's even more brutal than usual.

"They're saying they would gladly sign a scorecard right now at even par," said Jeff Sherman, leading golf odds- maker and assistant manager of the Las Vegas Hilton sports book.

Sherman will take the tough course into account when he creates his proposition wagers scheduled to be posted early next week for the Open, which begins Thursday in Oakmont, Pa.

Odds to win golf's second major of the year are already available, with Tiger Woods (2-1) and Phil Mickelson (7-1) atop the field.

Among longer shots who could stand out, according to Sherman, are Jim Furyk, who brings a strong track record on rugged courses into the U.S. Open, and defending champion Geoff Ogilvy.

Furyk, who typically goes off at odds of 20-1 or greater to win a tournament, is 15-1, tied with Vijay Singh at the third-shortest price on the board for the U.S. Open.

Ogilvy, who won his first major last year at Winged Foot, is listed at 25-1. Before his victory in 2006, odds in the 40-1 range were commonly attached to Ogilvy.

"We received consistent action on him since he won last year's U.S. Open," Sherman said. "He really became a fan favorite and a favorite with the bettors. People kept betting him in every other major right through this year's Masters."

Sherman expects Mickelson, who is recovering from a wrist injury, to play in the U.S. Open but suspects he might not be 100 percent so won't use him in head-to-head matchups or betting propositions. Sherman briefly raised the odds on Mickelson to 8-1 but received a flurry of bets at that price to drive the odds back down.

www.lasvegassun.com

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U.S. Open odds don't worry Austin after third career victory
June 11, 2007

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -Woody Austin knows only too well that no one has followed up a PGA Tour victory by winning the U.S. Open the next week, and he won't be a favorite at Oakmont Country Club.

He doesn't care.

The 43-year-old is going to the major tournament he thinks fits his game best coming off the best final round on tour this year, a stunning 8-under 62 that rallied him from a four-stroke deficit to a five-stroke victory Sunday at the Stanford St. Jude Championship and his third career win.

``Obviously, the odds are still really good it's not going to happen,'' Austin said.

``But I know personally ... that's always been my one tournament I felt like I could always play, and the fact that I'm now getting close to where I feel like my game is coming around, that's just going to give me that much more confidence.''

This event featured six of the world's top 12 golfers, Adam Scott trying to become the tour's first wire-to-wire winner this year, and John Daly's messy personal life overshadowing the golf when he accused his wife of waking him up by attacking him with a steak knife Friday morning.

Daly, playing on a sponsor's exemption, went from tied for eighth after 18 to 79th out of 80 players.

Austin turned the attention back to golf with the best final round in the 50-year history of this tournament and the tour's lowest closing round since Brad Faxon's 61 at the 2006 Buick Championship.

He went bogey-free over the final 49 holes and carded an eagle and six birdies Sunday for a 13-under 267 total on a course where his best finish had been a tie for 44 in 2005. His winner's check was $1.08 million, his first since the 2004 Buick Championship, with the best round this week.

Austin also won the 1995 Buick Open.

Not bad for someone who turned 43 in January and had missed five cuts with his only top-25 showing coming with a tie for 18th in New Orleans in April.

``I played one of those dream rounds of golf,'' Austin said.

Scott would have moved up a spot to No. 3 in the world with a victory, and he opened with a three-stroke lead. He had a share of the lead with Austin through 12 holes before falling apart with a triple bogey and four bogeys down the stretch.

He finished with a 75 and finished seventh at 276.

``I'm going to be hard on myself. I really should be,'' Scott said.

Brian Davis (66) was second with a 272, followed by two-time Memphis winner David Toms (69-273), Brian Gay (70-274) and Brandt Snedeker and Dean Wilson, who tied with 68s for 275.

Everyone here wanted to prep under tournament pressure for the Open. Sergio Garcia finished before the leaders teed off, and Vijay Singh wasn't far behind. Neither broke par.

Only Austin responded with his best finish since tying for seventh at the 2006 Buick Open. A self-taught player, he identified a flaw in his swing two weeks ago and had been working to turn his club to the inside on his downswing with his caddie, Brent Henley.

The changes clicked nearly perfectly Sunday with great iron play, including a lob wedge holed out for eagle from 64 yards out on the par-5 No. 5. Combined with a birdie on No. 2, Austin felt everything come together on the par-4 No. 7 when he hit right at the pin.

He parred that hole by two-putting, but his best shot came on the par-3 No. 14 - the toughest hole on the course with water guarding most of the green. He stuck a 5-iron within 3 feet for birdie, and what had been a one-stroke lead over Scott suddenly became a three-stroke lead.

Austin finished off what he called his best round other than the 57 shot once at home with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17. He celebrated the 16-footer on the par-4 17th with a fist pump, followed up by one more just for good measure.

``That was a true round of golf and was one of those surprises that we all get every once in a while,'' Austin said. ``I'm just happy it happened to me on a Sunday when it really mattered.''

He became the fifth player in his 40s to win on tour this year, and his five-stroke victory matches the largest margin this year. Phil Mickelson, who withdrew from the event to allow a sore wrist to heal for the Open, also won by five at the AT&T Pebble Beach.

He became the fifth player in his 40s to win on tour this year, and his five-stroke victory matches the largest margin this year. Phil Mickelson, who withdrew from the event to allow a sore wrist to heal for the Open, also won by five at the AT&T Pebble Beach.

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Re: 107th U.S. Open Championship Preview

Oakmont a brute even without a U.S. Open
June 11, 2007

OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) -Vaughn Taylor is back at Oakmont, relieved that it's only the U.S. Open.

There has been widespread talk of gloom and doom in recent weeks, from defending champion Geoff Ogilvy reportedly losing seven balls in his round of 85 to Vijay Singh and a host of others saying they would not be surprised if the winner finished 10 shots over par.

Oakmont is reputed to be the toughest golf course in America, but as it prepares to host its record eighth U.S. Open, there is another part of the mystique that players should keep in mind.

If you think it's tough now, come back in July.

``The members say we don't have to do anything except maybe make it slightly easier,'' said Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of rules and competition who sets up the course for the toughest test in golf.

Taylor can attest to that.

He hasn't played in the U.S. Open since 1998, when he was spooked by the narrow fairways and high rough. But he has been to Oakmont twice in the last few years to play a corporate outing, and the greens were unlike any he has played.

``I had two four-putts and three three-putts, and I putted pretty good that day,'' said Taylor, one of the best on the PGA Tour. ``The greens are slower now than they usually are.''

Monday was the first day of practice for the U.S. Open, the first chance for many to see what the fuss is all about. Along with some of the fastest greens anywhere, the rough is as punishing as ever - so punishing Phil Mickelson attributes his left wrist injury to chipping countless times out of the rough during his marathon practice rounds two weeks ago.

Mickelson had his wrist tightly wrapped Monday and did not play a practice round. He only hit half-shots from the grass on the range, placing his ball on a tee to hit a middle iron, graduating to a hybrid that made short-game coach Dave Pelz wince with nervousness, and he hit only one shot with his driver before going back to 30-yard chips.

He plans to play his first round since he withdrew after 11 holes at the Memorial.

Tiger Woods started on the back nine and played 18 holes and offered this prognosis: ``I broke 100.''

But there have been few complaints. They say it is tough but fair, but they have yet to put pencil to scorecard.

``It is stifling difficult, to the point of walking off and feeling like you've got 12 rounds with Ali,'' Paul Goydos said.

He tied for 44th in 1994, the last time the U.S. Open was held at Oakmont, and it is one of his favorite U.S. Open courses. Beyond the famous Church Pew bunkers and frightening fast greens, what intrigues Goydos is the membership, specifically why anyone would want to belong to a club that beats you to a pulp.

``They have an interesting mentality,'' he said. ``I think they're all insane. These people must like losing balls and shooting 100.''

But one way Goydos measures what is a great golf course is how many times it has held the U.S. Open, and he attributes Oakmont's spot in the rotation to a membership that loves seeing how the best players in the world can handle their course.

``The members here relish the opportunity,'' he said. ``They can't wait to have you here. You can feel how excited they are in the clubhouse. They're like a bunch of peacocks showing off their feathers.''

Kevin Sutherland was amazed at the rough, and not because it was a U.S. Open. The USGA again is using a graduated rough, which gets longer the farther a player is from the fairway. It was thick and nasty, and he expects that at a U.S. Open.

What got his attention was realizing the bunkers determined the rough line, meaning the fairways were just as narrow for the members during a summer fourball than it is for the U.S. Open.

``Unless the bunkers are supposed to be in the fairway,'' he said, shaking his head.

This is what led Padraig Harrington of Ireland to suggest that the USGA take the week off. He figures there's not much for its staff to do this week if it wants to protect par. Oakmont already does that.

``What this golf course does is give the USGA more control over scoring,'' he said. ``You could turn up here when there's not a tournament and play a tournament. By its nature, it's already difficult. It's a struggle. They don't have to put the pin 2 feet over a tier. They could put the pin 2 yards over a tier. It's tough enough.''

It certainly looked that way on a warm, breezy sunny afternoon. Craig Kanada opted to hit a hybrid off the 313-yard 17th hole, where the big hitters often opt for driver. His first shot was gobbled up by the rough on the left side. His second shot took one hop and disappeared into the high grass. He finally got it right on the third try.

Jeff Brehaut, playing in his first major championship, walked off the 18th green and handed golf balls to the two volunteers who walked around with him and U.S. Senior Open champion Allen Doyle.

When asked whether he had enough balls left to give away, Brehaut smiled. ``I lost a few of them out there,'' he said.

Taylor grew up and still lives in Augusta, Ga., but he was asked whether Oakmont was a club he would like to join if he lived here.

``I don't know if I could play here every day,'' Taylor said. ``This course just beats you up.''

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Re: 107th U.S. Open Championship Preview

Heat's on? Montgomerie not driving the same caddie for this U.S. Open
June 11, 2007

OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) -The last time Colin Montgomerie played at Oakmont, he forced a three-way playoff for the 1994 U.S. Open title with eventual winner Ernie Els and Loren Roberts. But Montgomerie wilted in stifling heat and humidity to shoot a playoff-round 78.
   
This time, Montgomerie put heat on himself by firing his caddie, Alastair McLean, before arguably the most important tournament of the year. McLean caddied for Montgomerie since 1991. The two also split in 2002, reuniting before Montgomerie's excellent performance in the 2004 Ryder Cup near Detroit.

The latest split came after Montgomerie missed the cut in last week's Austrian Open. Montgomerie is 30th in the European Order of Merit, but hasn't finished higher than 15th in his six tournaments there this year.

Montgomerie was in position to win last year at Winged Foot, but a poorly hit 7-iron on the final hole helped Geoff Ogilvy win. Still, the 43-year-old Montgomerie said his play last year proved he can still compete at the level needed to win a major.


ACE UNSEEN: Kevin Sutherland is back in the U.S. Open after a two-year hiatus, easily capturing the first of four spots available from the sectional qualifier in Murrieta, Calif. The highlight was a shot no one saw.

Sutherland made a hole-in-one in his first round, not realizing it until his partner found it in the bottom of the cup.

``We were dead into the sun,'' Sutherland said Monday after a practice round at Oakmont. ``I couldn't see it.''

Barring a spectacle like Michelle Wie in the field, hardly any fans go to sectional qualifiers, so it's not like Sutherland could rely on a big cheer to tell him the outcome. He didn't see it on the green and figured it went long. He was looking in the rough when his partner found his pitch mark in front of the cup and then saw his ball.

``I kept saying, 'Where did my ball go?''' Sutherland said. ``The guy I was playing with said, 'It's in the hole.' I said, 'Oh.' And he said, 'That's most anti-climatic ace I've ever seen.'''


WATCH THE (LACK OF) BIRDIES: Something to consider when pondering whether Tiger Woods can win his first major at Oakmont, one of the few elite American championship courses he has never played during competition: Can he win a tournament while playing over par?

Woods was a combined 62 under while winning his last four majors: the 2006 PGA (18 under), 2006 British Open (18 under), 2005 British Open (14 under) and 2005 Masters (12 under). Yet Woods says a plus-4 might win at Oakmont - Geoff Ogilvy won with a plus-5 at Winged Foot last year - and Vijay Singh predicts a plus-10 might do it.

Woods has shown he can win when the numbers are in red. This will be a different test, trying to win with scores that may be in the black.

For now, Woods is trying merely to tame his contrary driver. He didn't look comfortable hitting it Monday into Oakmont fairways that, on some holes, were as slender as a model's waist. At one point, he yelled to himself following a poor tee shot, ``Stay on it!'' after he felt he prematurely pulled his right hand off the club.


PINK IS IT: Among Woods' practice partners Monday was the long-hitter Bubba Watson, who could be seen at a distance - and not just because of his long drives - as he trotted out one of his pink-shafted drivers.


HOWELL OUT: David Howell of England became the first to depart the U.S. Open, withdrawing Monday with a wrist injury.

Howell was replaced by Luke List, the first alternate from the Woodmont qualifier who lost a 3-for-2 playoff. It will be the third U.S. Open for List, who just completed his senior season at Vanderbilt. List will make his professional debut.


NOT A 'BURGHER: Woods, interestingly, is playing a competitive event in the Pittsburgh area for the first time in his career. He once played an exhibition at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County, receiving about $1 million, and initially signed up for the 84 Lumber Classic there in 2004. But he pulled out following a disappointing showing at the Ryder Cup the week before.

Oakmont is 14 miles from downtown Pittsburgh, in a pleasant suburban community of about 7,000 that features numerous Victorian-style homes, brick streets, gas lights and, it seems, a clock tower on nearly every corner.


WEATHER: Montgomerie still remembers the brutal weather during the 1994 Open at Oakmont, when highs were in the upper 90s every day except for the Monday playoff, when they cooled off to around 90. He can't remember playing in more oppressive conditions, even during Asian tour events.

Montgomerie hasn't had a very good season, as evidenced by his caddie firing, but at least he won't have to contend with such unseasonable weather again.

Forecasts call for temperatures in the low 80s each day, with mostly to partly sunny skies Thursday through Saturday and more clouds than sun on Sunday. More of the same is predicted on Monday, in case the U.S. Open goes to a fifth day at Oakmont as it did in 1983 and 1994.

Dry weather is enjoyable for the spectators and allows rounds to go off with no delays, but they could make Oakmont's super-fast greens even faster.

Currently, they're about 13.5 on the Stimpmeter, the device that measures green speed. If the USGA dictates, the greens can be made faster still.

``If it's dry, it will be unreal because these greens are so severe, obviously the speed and the tough that they have there, it will be everything you want,'' Woods said. ``Only will it help the scores if it rains a little bit and slows it down.''

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Re: 107th U.S. Open Championship Preview

Just call Oakmont the Green Monster
ESPN The Magazine

It was at a cocktail party during Masters week that word of Vijay Singh's practice rounds at Oakmont started to circulate. "Vijay says 10-, maybe 12-over will win the Open," Tom Pernice Jr. reported, pointing out that even without the U.S. Open rough, Singh, the third-ranked player in the world, struggled to break par. "He says it could be the hardest Open course ever."

With memories of last year's championship at Winged Foot (winning score: plus-5) still fresh -- and images of players rolling putts off the greens at Shinnecock in 2004 not all that distant -- Singh's assessment is no small matter. The thought of an Open track being even harder than recent examples seems, well, diabolical.

In 1994, when Oakmont last hosted the Open, Ernie Els won in a playoff after tying for the regulation lead at 5-under. Since then, Oakmont has gone from a 6,946-yard par-71 to a 7,230-yard par-70. Some 5,000 trees were removed, bringing the course back to its original inland-links style and making wind a bigger factor. Also, the bunkers are deeper, the fairways narrower and the rough will again be graduated, thickening as it gets farther from the fairway.

Still not scared? Consider this: Oakmont's greens are not only the fastest in major golf but also the most undulating. Putting into a slope -- away from the hole -- is not unusual. Mix in four dry days in June, and things could get silly. Even the USGA is a little nervous. "It's a fine line," says Mike Davis, USGA senior director of rules and competitions. "We want the greatest test of total shot-making, but we know when we push conditions to the limit, Mother Nature can push us over the edge."

Players know what they're up against at Oakmont, but that doesn't mean they have to like it. Tiger Woods outlined his strategy as trying "to avoid making bogeys." And Phil Mickelson, who calls the style of golf that wins Opens "mundane," may have tweaked his wrist swinging through the Oakmont rough in late May.

Oakmont does provide a handful of scoring opportunities, including three drivable par 4's, that could make for some dramatic turns of fortune come Sunday. And depending on pin placement, the eighth could play over 300 yards, the longest par 3 ever in a major.

But don't be surprised if the line for post-round cocktails is even longer.

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Re: 107th U.S. Open Championship Preview

Oakmont is on the cutting edge
By Gerry Dulac
Golf World

As a perk of possessing one of the best club-professional jobs in the country, Bob Ford and his wife, Nancy, lived in a two-story home along the 18th fairway at Oakmont CC, a white, wooden-framed structure known affectionately as the "Pro's Cottage." There were a lot of mornings when Nancy would be up at 4:30 a.m., feeding the couple's baby, and hear a strange whirring sound coming from the golf course. When she asked her husband about the noise, Bob would dismiss the question and go back to sleep. Finally, he confessed: "Banks is at it again."

Nancy began hearing those chainsaws in the middle of the night nearly 15 years ago, and the cutting and shredding at Oakmont didn't stop until a small pocket of members, led by grounds chairman Banks Smith, accomplished their mission. What began as a clandestine attempt to restore Oakmont to its original design has wrought the most shocking shearing this side of Britney Spears'.

Oakmont, a club with a logo that features a squirrel, no longer has any trees -- at least not on the interior of the course. They're gone, all but a few, anywhere between 5,000 and 8,000 trees, depending on who is doing the counting and how many were removed surreptitiously by the light of a maintenance cart before anyone at the prestigious club even noticed.

When the 107th U.S. Open comes to Oakmont this week, most of the players and nearly all the spectators won't recognize the place.

"Everybody kept telling me, 'You need to see it, you need to see it,' " says Larry Napora, a former course superintendent at Oakmont in the late 1980s. "The first time I went to see it, I was like, 'Wow. Wow!'"

Oakmont has received a major face-lift since it last held the Open in 1994.
Even Tiger Woods, who had never been to Oakmont until he played the course several weeks ago, said the course sure didn't look like the one he watched on television in 1994 when the Open was last there.

"I just remember seeing all these trees everywhere," Woods says. "Then I got here and -- there's nothing here. You can see all the holes from the clubhouse. It's very different than what I envisioned."

Trees are an integral part of the American golf fabric. About one in 10 courses has some type of tree reference in its name. Even the name "Oakmont" carries a reference to an oak tree, whose fruit is a nut called an acorn. Hence, the club's logo of a squirrel holding a golf ball.

The logo remains, but the trees don't. They were removed as part of a 14-year program that has restored the course to the original appearance desired by founder Henry C. Fownes, a Pittsburgh industrialist who built Oakmont in 1903 on barren farmland near the Allegheny River because the property reminded him of the windswept landscape of Scotland.

More than 3,500 trees were removed from the areas around the tees, greens and fairways -- the same trees that were planted about 35 years earlier by Fred Brand Jr., Oakmont's longtime club president and a man who sought to replicate the beauty of another club at which he was a member, Augusta National. Another couple of thousand trees were taken out to expand the teeing areas at Nos. 4 and 7 and create an added feature: more grandstand space for the U.S. Open, which will allow Oakmont to accommodate anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 more fans per day than it did in 1994.

"I think most of the people are thrilled with the look of the place," says Smith, a former club president.

That wasn't always the case. The decision to get rid of all the trees created one of the most contentious periods in club history, pitting members who liked shaded, tree-lined fairways against those who sought to restore Oakmont to its original design (and, by doing so, improve turf conditions). It didn't help that some of the trees were removed secretly, without the consent of the membership. But with the U.S. Open returning for the first time in 13 years, most of the members apparently have embraced the new look, even if some are reluctant to say so publicly. Trees have been replaced with high fescue grass that sways in the wind, creating the Scottish look Fownes desired.

"If [the support is] not 100 percent, I don't know who is on the other side," says Ford, Oakmont's pro since 1979. "There is no grumbling at all. Everybody is very upbeat about it."

To be sure, the new-look Oakmont has received rave reviews from just about everyone in golf. What's more, the restoration, which began shortly after the club hosted the 1992 U.S. Women's Open, has helped restore some luster to the Oakmont tradition. Because of the changes, Oakmont has moved up to No. 5 on Golf Digest's America's 100 Greatest Courses, behind only Pine Valley, Shinnecock Hills, Augusta National and Cypress Point. Even the USGA is pleased with the new look, advising other clubs seeking to undergo similar restoration to form a committee and visit Oakmont.

"In all my years of doing championships, I have never seen a course look better," says Tom Meeks, the USGA's senior director of rules and competitions until he retired at the end of 2005.

Curiously, Oakmont's decision to remove trees coincided with just the opposite approach at Augusta National. As part of an ongoing attempt to make holes more difficult, the Masters venue added more than 250 trees, the most noticeable being a small forest of pines on the right side of the fairway at No. 11, a 505-yard par 4 that serves as the entrance to Amen Corner.

But Augusta National is the exception. Many courses have started to eliminate trees from their landscape, citing increased sunlight and airflow as necessary ingredients for improved turf quality. Some of the other notable examples: Merion, Winged Foot, the Olympic Club, Oak Hill and Baltusrol.

"For any golf course, fewer trees are better for turf conditions," Oakmont superintendent John Zimmers says. "Shade is a very bad thing. [Tree removal] is catching on at other courses, though I don't know if it's catching on like it did at Oakmont."

Oakmont's decision to remove trees was not widely embraced, even outside the membership. Environmentalists wrote letters and e-mails, protesting the wide-ranging elimination of trees and citing the ecological problems created by their loss. A local church even offered prayers, asking for the trees' survival. Internally, some club members threatened lawsuits, claiming trees were removed without their knowledge. At the center of the storm was Smith, an attorney himself.

"First of all, the trees that were removed were not indigenous to the site," says Tom Fazio, the architect retained by Oakmont to lengthen and reconfigure the course in 2001. "They were not historical trees. I think that's important for the club's reputation. And other vegetation has been planted in other places to create all the necessary things that are part of the environment."

Before it was founded in 1903, Oakmont was a farm, a bleak, treeless piece of property split by the Pennsylvania Railroad -- the perfect site for links-style golf. Bobby Jones once said of Oakmont that a golfer standing at the rear of the clubhouse could look over the course and see 17 of the 18 flagsticks. (It's a sign of how much Oakmont has returned to its original design that that's about the same thing Woods said when he visited last month.)

But that look began to change in the 1960s when Brand, one of Oakmont's most revered members, took umbrage with a comment by writer Herbert Warren Wind in The New Yorker magazine before the 1962 Open. Wind referred to the course as "that ugly, old brute." Brand was offended.

"I got to thinking, why can't it be a beautiful old brute," Brand said years later.

And so it began, a makeover in which Brand commissioned architect Robert Trent Jones to plant more than 3,500 trees (mostly pin oak, crab apple, flowering cherry and blue spruce) around the property. It was known as the beautification of Oakmont, but over the years, it boiled into perhaps the most unsettling era in the club's rich history. Under Brand's program, "that ugly, old brute" had morphed into a parkland-style course that more resembled the tree-lined fairways at Winged Foot and Merion, a look that likely would have had Fownes spinning in his grave.

"They were beautiful trees," Smith says. "But it went from a links-type course to a very pretty, shaded Western Pennsylvania-type of course. It wasn't unique."

Three decades later, Oakmont decided the trees had to go. And the person leading the charge was Smith, the club's grounds chairman between 1991 and 1996. He believed the trees had become overgrown and unfairly caused golfers to alter their shots, taking away from how Fownes originally intended his course to play. What's more, the roots, which suck moisture from the soil, were adversely affecting turf quality.

Actually, the tree-removal program began in 1990, before Smith even became grounds chairman, and it had a modest beginning. Napora, who had replaced iconic Paul Latshaw as course superintendent in 1985, removed 104 pin oaks from the property.

But even Napora, who now works at Treesdale G&CC in nearby Gibsonia, concedes, "That was a drop in the bucket to what happened after that."

Shortly before the 1994 U.S. Open, the club brought in another architect, Arthur Hills, to oversee an extensive tree-removal program. But that was only after some surreptitious work had been going on for quite some time, literally under the cover of darkness.

Unbeknownst to just about everyone at the club, Smith authorized Mark Kuhns, the club's new superintendent, to remove trees early in the day, before any of the members would notice. Kuhns would take a crew of approximately 12 workers and begin cutting trees at 4:30 a.m., using the headlights of maintenance carts to illuminate the area. When done for the day, the crew even piled the logs from the felled trees far from the clubhouse, out of sight of unsuspecting members. According to Kuhn, nobody really knows how many trees actually were removed because no record was kept during the clandestine proceedings. But by his estimate, the number is closer to 8,000 than 5,000.

"We'd take out three, four, five trees at a time," explains Kuhns, who left Oakmont in 1999 and is superintendent at another frequent major-championship venue, Baltusrol GC in Springfield, N.J. "We had all the equipment loaded the night before. Everyone knew their job. We'd spread out tarps so we didn't get a lot of sawdust on the ground. We had two sweepers who would sweep up all the leaves.We'd cut the trees, grind the stumps down to nothing, throw down some soil and plant sod. We would even fluff the grass back up. We would be cleaned up before the players got out there."

And that's what Nancy Ford heard just about every morning in the Pro's Cottage: the sound of chain saws felling another tree.

Eventually, the subterfuge was exposed. One day, one of the members noticed that a group of 13 trees between the 12th and 13th holes had suddenly dwindled to three. He wanted to know what had happened and went right to the club president.

"We were nailed," Smith says.

Like the course, the anti-tree movement was now out in the open. Smith's secret project led to great division among the membership, which threatened to divide the club like the famous cross bunker in the 18th fairway. As trees fell, talk of lawsuits sprouted. Smith, a small man, stood tall, determined to convince the membership that his plan was the right plan. Besides, he said, members would have a tough time distinguishing legally between cutting grass and taking down trees.

"The trees lined the fairways like a picket fence," Smith says. "They had grown out over bunkers and were impinging on some shots to the green from the fairway. It took away the shot making for which the course was designed."

Now, the only trees still standing on the interior of the course are five giant oaks in the area behind the 10th tee and 18th green (a sixth tree in the group, a sycamore, was removed only weeks ago, which allowed Open organizers to add another 1,000 seats to the 18th-green grandstand). For the record, there is also an elm tree near the third tee and another between the fourth and fifth holes ("The only tree that really comes into play," says current club president Bill Griffin). But like all the others, even those two elms could be gone by the time the U.S. Open arrives.

Maybe even removed in the middle of the night.

"A lot of people who play golf are suburbanites; they respect trees -- trees are beautiful," says Oakmont member Mickey Pohl, general chairman of the 2007 U.S. Open. "There was a minority who thought it was a big mistake to remove them. But now people have seen it has improved the course and made it a tremendous course."

Even if it's a course many people no longer can recognize, 1994 U.S. Open champion Ernie Els among them.

"It's hard to imagine we're going to go there and there are not going to be any trees," Els told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently. "I want to go there for a day or two and check it out before the championship starts."

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The 2007 US Open - Odds To Win


Tiger Woods     2-1

Phil Mickelson     9-2

Jim Furyk     15-1

Retief Goosen     25-1

Ernie Els     15-1

Vijay Singh     15-1

Geoff Ogilvy     25-1

Adam Scott     20-1

Luke Donald     30-1

Sergio Garcia     30-1

Henrik Stenson     40-1

Padraig Harrington     30-1

Trevor Immelman     50-1

Paul Casey     75-1

Charles Howell III     75-1

Justin Rose     50-1

David Toms     60-1

Stewart Cink     40-1

Zach Johnson     40-1

Robert Allenby     60-1

Mike Weir     75-1

Davis Love III     75-1

Chris DiMarco     60-1

Tim Clark     75-1

Arron Oberholser     75-1

Colin Montgomerie     100-1

Stuart Appleby     75-1

Chad Campbell     100-1

Stephen Ames     100-1

KJ Choi     60-1

Aaron Baddeley     60-1

Steve Stricker     75-1

David Howell     150-1

Jose Maria Olazabal     60-1

Nick OHern     125-1

Lucas Glover     125-1

Darren Clarke     150-1

Angel Cabrera     100-1

Ian Poulter     125-1

Scott Verplank     75-1

Rory Sabbatini     30-1

Lee Westwood     125-1

Michael Campbell     150-1

Rod Pampling     100-1

Thomas Bjorn     100-1

Brett Wetterich     125-1

Fred Couples     200-1

Carl Pettersson     150-1

Ben Curtis     75-1

Field (Any Other Golfers)     4-1

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Oakmont Figures to Be a Brutal Test for U.S. Open Hopefuls
June 11th, 2007

Geoff Ogilvy, who won last year’s U.S. Open with a five-over 285 at Winged Foot, is among the golfers expecting a tough challenge in Pennsylvania. (AI Wire photo)

Get ready to hear a lot of griping from the dais.

Preppy men invade a suburb of blue-collar Pittsburgh this week and the grumblings have already begun. Defending U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy reportedly lost seven balls and shot an 85 during a test run of the course earlier this year. Vijay Singh and others have predicted the winner could finish 10 shots over par.

The bitching has become an annual occurrence at golf’s second major of the year. The USGA intentionally makes already difficult courses harder to play when they prepare for the best golfer’s in the world. It’s understandable that the players would be upset by the alterations, but the whining’s too much. In Shinnecock Hills, the greens were too fast. At Winged Foot, the rough was unplayable. The complaints at Oakmont figure to be plentiful. Even without any assistance from the USGA, the historic country club is reputed to house the toughest golf course in America.

Along with some of the fastest greens anywhere, the rough is so punishing Phil Mickelson attributes his left wrist injury to chipping countless times out of the rough during his marathon practice rounds two weeks ago. Mickelson had his wrist tightly wrapped Monday and did not play a practice round like most of the competitors. His U.S. Open odds are 8/1 at Oakmont, while Tiger Woods is the 14/5 favorite in the Bodog Sportsbook.

After his practice round, Woods sarcastically said, “I broke 100,” when asked how he fared. Another golfer, Paul Goydos, offered this assessment: “It is stifling difficult, to the point of walking off and feeling like you’ve got 12 rounds with Ali.”

Tough customers, these golfers.

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US Open Golf Betting: Can Phil Mickelson Exorcise Demons?
June 11th, 2007

The world’s No. 2-ranked golfer Phil Mickelson attempts to overcome the demons of last year’s final round collapse, as well as an ailing wrist in this week’s US Open Championship at the Oakmont Country Club.

Mickelson was on track to win his third straight major championship of the season last year when he scored a double bogey on the 18th hole at Winged Foot, handing the tournament on a silver platter to Geoff Ogilvy.

“I still am in shock that I did that. I just can’t believe that I did that. I am such an idiot,” said Mickelson, confirming what most already know about the Ford-sponsored pro.

Not only will he have the memories of that classic golfing collapse to contend with when he steps up to the first tee box at Oakmont, Mickelson is currently having cortisone shots for a wrist injury. The injury caused him to withdraw from the Memorial two weeks ago and to skip last week’s Stanford St. Jude Championship.

However, Mickelson says he’ll be ready to go this week in the Open.

“The good news is there is no break or fracture. I have inflammation that can be relieved and I’m looking forward to playing the Open at 100 percent physically.”

Mickelson currently sits at 8/1 odds to win the US Open in the Bodog Sportsbook.

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U.S. Open Betting Odds and Preview
by T.O. Whenham

I am not at all happy with Adam Scott right now. He had the chance to make this U.S. Open preview incredibly simple to write. He looked like he was on his way to an easy win at the St. Jude, so I was poised to write about how he was dangerous and in form, throw in the standard Tiger and Phil references, pick an obscure name or two for good measure, and bingo - preview written. But then Scott came out on Sunday and had a monumental collapse to fall completely out of contention and give Woody Austin an unbelievably easy win. Now my job is much harder because I have to figure out whether Scott, a guy I was ready to like a lot in the major, just had a bad day (really, really bad), or if this is a sign that he has slipped into the kind of hole that it often takes players weeks, months or even years to climb out of.

That's just the first hurdle I face in handicapping the field for this second major of the year. The second is a far bigger one - the U.S. Open is the most ridiculous excuse for a golf tournament on the planet. I'm all for giving the best golfers in the world a challenge, but this tournament has turned into a painful, ego-driven attempt by the USGA to prove how superior to us mere mortals they truly are. If I want to see players score an eight on a par three all I need to do is videotape a round or two of my own games. I certainly don't need to spend the weekend watching the best players try to overcome comically impossible conditions. Early reviews are that Oakmont is every bit as ridiculous as Pinehurst No. 2 and Winged Foot have been the last two years. That means that you not only have to predict who is in the best form, but who will best handle the unique and totally unpredictable conditions. It's like handicapping the World Series if it were played on ice.

Now that I'm done complaining, here's a look at three players worth considering (two of which are painfully obvious) and their U.S. Open betting odds:

Tiger Woods (+300) - I won't waste your time or mine writing much about him. He's good but he's not in great form right now, but that never seems to matter. He's a threat because he's Tiger Woods. The price may be a bit low, but you can never count him out.

Phil Mickelson (+900) - The reborn Phil, complete with Tiger's discarded coach Butch Harmon, makes for a very juicy story. I personally don't yet feel, though, that this truly marks a new era. I need Phil to show me that things have changed, instead of just telling me, before I really buy in. Until he does, I don't have faith in him keeping it together. He fell apart on the 72nd hole last year, and it would take a good deal of luck on his part for him to get that good a look at it two years in a row. All that being said, I will quite possibly come to regret those words.

Thomas Bjorn (+15000) - This is a slightly random pick, but he stands as good a chance as anyone. He's never won a major, but he's come as close as any non-winner ever has - he has three seconds and a third since 2000, and two more top 10 results. He hasn't had a great year this year, but he hasn't been terrible, and he has the kind of game that could work well for this challenge. Michael Campbell came from out of the obscure pack to win it two years ago, so this Dane could certainly do it this year. My bigger point here is that any one of 100 or so players could reasonably pull it off, so if you are so inclined, find a couple that you can make a case for and hope you get lucky.

To stop this from being a completely dull and predictable article, here are three players that I don't like in this spot at all:

Retief Goosen (+2750) - It's hard to discard a player that has two U.S. Open wins since 2001. The difference this year, though, is the form he comes in with. In 2001, the two tournaments before the Open were a win and a sixth. In 2004 he won his last prep. This year, his two most recent results are 128th and 111th. He'd have to find something that has recently completely escaped him in order to win here.

Zach Johnson (+4000) - In part, I'm a bit worried because he had to pull out of the Memorial, his last tournament, with strep throat. Who know how that has affected his preparation. My bigger problem with Johnson, though, is that his Masters win, and subsequent win at the AT&T Classic, has made the public fond of him, and has driven this price down much lower than it probably should be. I'd give him much more thought at the +6000 of David Toms or Paul Casey, or the +7000 of Robert Allenby than I would at his much less generous price.

Henrik Stenson (+4000) - Like Johnson, hype over this popular pick has driven his price way too low for consideration in my eyes. Stenson was a trendy pick going into the Masters on the strength of back-to-back wins in the World Match Play and the Dubai Desert Classic. His torrid pace has slowed since then, and he just doesn't have the depth of experience, the recent form or the record in the majors to warrant a price this low.

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Welcome to Oakmont - let the bogeys begin
June 12, 2007

OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) -They've heard the horror stories about Oakmont, now they're experiencing them up close. The bunkers that look like they could swallow a football field, the greens where a putt even slightly off line might roll all the way to Pittsburgh.

It's been 13 years since the U.S. Open last visited Oakmont, home of the most fearsome greens in American championship golf. That's plenty enough time for the field to have changed considerably - Arnold Palmer was still playing Opens back in 1994, and Tiger Woods was an amateur - and for new myths to be created for golfers who have yet to tread 7,200 of the sport's scariest yards.

``It is stifling difficult, to the point of walking off and feeling like you've got 12 rounds with Ali,'' Paul Goydos said Monday.

Johnny Miller's advice to all these Oakmont newbies: Believe the stories. Beware of Oakmont.

``Only a couple of guys broke 70 in the whole (2003) U.S. Amateur at Oakmont,'' said Miller, the 1973 U.S. Open winner at Oakmont. ``They know it's going to be a good test. ... There's some brutal holes out there.''

Among the major topics of discussion as the field arrives at Oakmont is the length of the rough, which Oakmont superintendent John Zimmers insists has been cut - he just didn't say if it was last week or last year. Jim Furyk, playing a practice round Monday with Tiger Woods, can't recall seeing rough so threateningly high or thick during a major.

Woods, who has yet to play a competitive round at Oakmont, had problems of his own during his not satisfying tour of Oakmont's hilly terrain. He grumbled about his driver during a round that wouldn't describe afterward, except to say, ``I broke 100.''

Just another day at Oakmont Country Club, where one-third of the few hundred members are good enough to have handicaps below 10. Not many duffers here, and they delight in watching the sport's biggest names be frustrated every decade or so by their home course, one that can be set up with such difficulty that par becomes an impossibility.

Ask Phil Mickelson how tough and challenging that rough can be.

Mickelson has been at Oakmont since at least Saturday but has yet to play a practice round. His left wrist remains heavily bandaged, the result of trying to punch a shot out of Oakmont's rugged rough during a practice round several weeks ago.

On Monday, Mickelson limited himself to half-shots from the grass on the practice range before moving up to a hybrid club that, by merely being in his hands, made short-game coach Dave Pelz nervous. Mickelson hit his driver only once before returning to 30-yard chips. He hopes to play a practice round Tuesday.

When the record eighth U.S. Open at Oakmont starts Thursday, Miller wonders if some in the field will get off to a start so bad they never recover their confidence or their game.

No. 1, a 482-yard par 4, will be the starting hole for half the field, and Miller calls it ``the hardest first hole in the world'' - mostly because of the treacherous slope of the green.

``There's no hole with a second shot like that,'' Miller said. ``If you miss a fairway and leave it short on the downslope, you can't hardly hit the green with a 40-yard wedge shot. That's just the most brutal starting hole of any course in the world.''

No. 10 is slightly easier, a par-4 that will play at either 435 or 462 yards and has a meandering slope that can carry putts not only away from the pin but off the green. Either way, No. 1 or No. 10, there's no easy welcome to Oakmont.

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Phil vs. Tiger? Not likely at Open
FOXSports.com


That item at the top of the wish list often is the most elusive.

And so it seems even before the start of the 107th U.S. Open on Thursday at Oakmont that events are conspiring to prevent what almost everyone in the gallery and the press tent wants most.

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer gave golf one of its most compelling dramas in the same sleepy corner of Western Pennsylvania 45 years ago, and the pundits have been touting another iconic showdown since Phil Mickelson outclassed the best field of the year in the Players Championship.

Even though many of the same people have said the same things several times before, this was supposed to be when Lefty would give every duffer watching on his couch what he craves, a real rival for Tiger Woods.

"What Phil did at the Players makes him the favorite for the U.S. Open, without a doubt, in front of Tiger," said Johnny Miller, the outspoken NBC commentator who carved his own slice of history at Oakmont by shooting 63 in the final round to capture the 1973 U.S. Open.

"To me, he's the guy to beat. ... If he drives it with that cut he was hitting at the Players, he probably will win the Open."

Of course, that was before Mickelson went to Oakmont for one of those marathon practice sessions he has utilized so well in winning three majors since 2004 and tweaked his left wrist while hitting chip shots from the deep USGA rough.

Doctors have told him a shot of cortisone he took early last week should heal the injury before he reaches the first tee, but the problem has disrupted his usual detailed preparation and the work he has been doing with new instructor Butch Harmon.

"The timing isn't the best because I really wanted to play at Memphis," said Mickelson, who has said he performs best in majors after playing the week before but was forced to withdraw from the Stanford St. Jude Championship last week.

"But the good news is there is no break or fracture. I have inflammation that can be relieved, and I'm looking forward to playing the Open at 100 percent physically."

There is no certainty that Woods will bring his "A" game to Oakmont, either, although he has a pretty good track record of being able to ramp it up when he needs it, even when not playing with his best stuff.

Much of the magic he had while winning nine times in 12 stroke-play events through the Wachovia Championship seems to have deserted the best player in the world recently, as he tied for 37th in the Players Championship and tied for 15th in the Memorial.

Woods showed up at Muirfield Village with a fever and strep throat but played through the illness even though he admitted he was worn down from off-the-course commitments.

He has been very hands-on in preparing for the AT&T Classic, an inaugural PGA Tour event that Woods will host at Congressional Country Club on the Fourth of July Weekend, and he recently held Tiger Jam X in Las Vegas.

Not only that, his wife, Elin, is due to give birth to their first child early next month.

"Peaking for a major championship is never easy," said Woods, who told reporters at the Memorial that most of his preparation had been on conditioning for the grueling test at Oakmont and that he would concentrate the last two weeks on the nuts and bolts of his game.

"You try to do everything humanly possible to get ready, including rest, but you just never know until you get to the tournament. Despite a busy off-course schedule, I have trained hard and hope it pays off."

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Analysis: Stories to watch at U.S. Open
FOXSports.com

We can do it. You and I together. Yes, we can. We can list a whole front-nine's worth of reasons to watch this week's U.S. Open without once mentioning Tiger or Phil.

OK, without mentioning them again.

1. Adam Scott. Unless you are one of those die-hard golf junkies that I try to avoid at parties, you might not know that Scott is the highest-ranked non-American in the world. He is fourth in the World Golf Rankings. Yup, ahead of Ernie, Vijay, and a whole bunch of other big names.

This really shouldn't be a surprise. Scott has been projected as a future megastar for several years. But he has yet to win a major, and he can't play the Ryder Cup because he is Australian (though, let's face it: being Australian is so much cooler than playing in the Ryder Cup anyway.) So Scott hasn't broken into mainstream fame quite yet.

Scott won the Tour Championship last year and has contended in majors before. He is only 26, and he has all sorts of game. His time is coming. It might even come this week. And then we will have a young rival to ... uh, whoever the top-ranked guy is.

2. The course. Oakmont will host its eighth Open, a record. A course does not host eight Opens unless it has everybody's respect. It is not considered an especially beautiful course — no Pebble Beach coastline or azaleas here. The beauty of Oakmont is that it appears to be the same stiff, fair test today that it was when men were men and woods were woods.
   
Oakmont has its famed Church Pew bunkers, but also a par-3 eighth hole that is almost 300 yards. It has impossible greens and incredible history — Bobby Jones won the 1926 Open there.

3. Zach Johnson. Let's face it: When Johnson won the Masters two months ago, history told us that he was about to take a lot of weekends off. Guys who surprise you with a major victory are usually overwhelmed by the publicity, the windfall, the galleries and the pressure that come with it.

Not Johnson. He followed up his Masters win by finishing sixth at the Verizon Heritage the very next week. He has since tied for 16th at the Players Championship and won the AT&T Classic in a playoff. He is only 31. And considering his poise on the back nine at Augusta, he should contend in majors for several years.

4. Underdogs. Every few years, somebody totally unexpected captures the "toughest test in golf." Andy North. Steve Jones. Andy North again. The top of the field is deep, so that seems unlikely this year. But of course, it always seems unlikely. That's the point.

5. Geoff Ogilvy. Why Geoff Ogilvy? No reason. He just happens to be the defending champ. Yes, even after somebody (I can't remember his name) collapsed on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot, they gave the trophy out anyway.

6. Michael Vick. He isn't playing.

7. Ernie Els. The Big Easy won the Open the last time it was held at Oakmont. It was one of the ugliest wins in major championship history — Els bogeyed 16 and 18 on Sunday to fall into an 18-hole playoff with Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts. Then Els shot three-over on Monday. He finally won the championship on the second hole of sudden death. Still, he won. That should help him this week. If he wins, he will join the rare group of three-time U.S. Open champs and maybe show that he is no longer spooked out by ... uh ... what's his name,

And speaking of Els' '94 triumph ...

8. Colin Montgomerie. He turns 44 this month and appears to have about as much chance of winning the tournament as Western Pennsylvania's own Arnold Palmer. As Monty told the National Post this week, "(The courses) seem to get longer and I tend to be getting shorter, so it's not a good combination."

But dream for a moment. Wouldn't it be amazing if Monty finally won a major on the course where he nearly broke through in '94? If you are (like me) one of those people who sees Monty as remarkably human, instead of just an enemy of the state, you have to love the possibility, however faint.

9. It's your duty as an American.

OK, with the country at war(s), maybe it isn't really our duty to watch a golf tournament. But this is America's golf tournament.

And who wins?

I guess my money is on Chris DiMarco.

Hey, it's a national championship. Why not pick a Florida Gator?

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Re: 107th U.S. Open Championship Preview

US Open
by Brian Gabrielle

Oakmont could be the new Shinnecock this week. Maybe not in terms of the poor maintenance of greens back in 2004, but Oakmont’s greens are almost as slippery even when watered better than Shinnecock’s and the biggest penalty is the graduated rough that surrounds thin fairways. Bunkers no fun either.

Talk this week has been that the course is going to play well above par. They’ve removed more than 5,000 trees in the last five years, to try to return it to its linksy original design near the Allegheny River.What are the odds Phil Mickelson will hit one of the few that are left?

I’m tempted to break my Mickelson position of not wagering for or against him. A golf history buff, he knows the best thing he could do to elevate his career from Hall of Fame status to one of the best ever would be to win a bunch more majors, starting with this one after last year’s debacle. I don’t know how much I believe in the wrist injury or the problems it might give him this week and I could see Mickelson play this major like A-Rod played April for the Yankees. Bottom line, though, you just don’t know with those guys. I’m staying away.

I always pick Tiger in the majors because he’s Tiger. A grueling mental test sets up perfectly for him. I could see him playing this like he did the British Open last year: lay off the temptation of the short par-4s and play it safe and back with his irons. Stay out of the hay at all costs. Oakmont’s still no walk in the park with a conservative approach because the greens aren’t going to hold much. It’s not like I’ll be kicking myself if he does win at only 11-4 odds.

On the stats front, a good look at driving accuracy and putting can help this week, but the fact is that when players in practice rounds are talking about the possibility of rounds in the 90s, it’s anyone’s guess.

Last week: No go in the outright but Scott Verplank came through in the head-to-head at 11-10, 1 unit for 1.1 units.

Take David Toms (50-1), 1/6 unit: Quietly having a good year with five top-10s and eight top-25s. He’s coming off a third place finish last week in Memphis, which was a tough test in itself. He ranks 37th in driving accuracy, pretty good, and he’s been rolling the ball well with that sweet putting stroke. He withdrew from the U.S. Open last year but since 2000 he’s gone T16, T66, T45, T5, T20 (in 2004,at nasty Shinnecock) and T15.

Take Jim Furyk (16-1), 1/6 unit: Four top-10s and eight top-25s this year, he’s plodding along. Plodding along being a good approach this week. Always among the top players in driving accuracy, finding greens and a grinding putter, it’s no surprise his only major win was the U.S. Open in 2003. Since then, he’s gone T48, T28 and T2 last year because of a costly 18th at Winged Foot. Furyk has his own cross to bear and may be flying a little under the radar this week.

Take Retief Goosen (25-1), 1/6 unit: Not the first time I’ve picked the Goose to win this tournament (I was right in 2004 when he outlasted Shinnecock with brilliant play around and on those treacherous greens). I think there’s a distinction between mentally tough and unfazed. He’s probably as much the latter as the former. Goosen finished T2 at the Masters this year. Driving accuracy is a problem and he hasn’t been putting all that well. Since 2001 he’s won the U.S. Open twice and missed the cut twice, one of those MCs last year.

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Re: 107th U.S. Open Championship Preview

Nick Dougherty Holds U.S. Open Lead; Tiger Woods Lurks 3 Strokes Back
June 14th, 2007

Only two golfers broke par at Oakmont - which played as tough as predicted Thursday.

Englishman Nick Dougherty shot a two-under 68 to take the first-round lead at the U.S. Open. Angel Cabrera of Argentina was one shot back at the historic Pennsylvania country club course, where the scoring average soared over 75. Jose Maria Olazabal and Bubba Watson were another stroke further back at even- par 70 while betting favorite Tiger Woods, whose U.S. Open odds entering the major were 3/1, led a group of 16 players tied for fifth at +1.

“The U.S. Open is brutal, it tests every aspect of your game,” said Dougherty, whose early 68 held up through the afternoon tee times of Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson, among others.

Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy, Jim Furyk, Singh and 51-year-old Fred Funk were among those at 71.

“The golf course is playing hard, and this is with pretty benign conditions and pretty favorable pin positions,” said Woods, who had four bogeys and three birdies. Woods made those comments early in the afternoon, when it looked like Oakmont might still yield some lower scores. The course was softened by rain that fell Wednesday, allowing for slower greens for the first dozen or so groups.

“Oakmont probably will never play easier than we had it in the first nine holes,” said Ogilvy, who won his first major at Winged Foot in 2006.

Dougherty, a 25-year-old from Liverpool, admitted the previous day’s rain helped the early groups. His number was one shot better than the leading 18-hole score last year, when Colin Montgomerie’s 69 was the highest first-round score to lead a U.S. Open in 20 years.

“You can get putts to stop relatively close to the hole,” Dougherty said.

Some weren’t so lucky, even those who played in the more favorable morning conditions.

Adam Scott (76), Henrik Stenson (79), Sergio Garcia (79), Paul Casey (77) and K.J. Choi (77) were among those who couldn’t do enough to avoid the mistakes that can potentially end a player’s U.S. Open on the first day.

Mickelson played with a black brace on his injured left wrist and opened with a four-over 74, a number that looked just good enough to keep him in the mix a year after his 72nd-hole collapse at Winged Foot.

He removed the brace to putt, revealing a bandage underneath. It’s the same injury that forced his withdrawal from the Memorial two weeks ago and caused him to miss a start last week in Memphis.

“I’m not overly disappointed. It could have been a round that got away from me,” Mickelson said.

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Oakmont chews up U.S. Open field
June 15, 2007

OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) -Tiger Woods was above par, and felt fortunate to be there. Phil Mickelson had a 74, and knew it probably couldn't have been much better with his achy wrist. Only two scores were in the red under optimal scoring conditions at the U.S. Open, and three very long and likely dry days await.

This is Oakmont Country Club, as good as it gets. This is the U.S. Open, where the field often expects the worst and most often gets it.

What everyone was wondering after the opening round Thursday on one of world's toughest courses was how much more grueling it will get when Oakmont's greens fully dry out, the pin placements aren't so generous and the pressure that's always there in the most difficult of the four majors ratchets up even more.

If only leader Nick Dougherty (68) and Angel Cabrera (69) could break par at Oakmont with the greens softer than usual, the temperatures moderate and a cooling breeze blowing through, what will the scores be by Saturday? By Sunday?

``We are in for a long week,'' Vijay Singh said.

For Sergio Garcia (79), Shaun Micheel (78), two-time champion Retief Goosen (76), Masters winner Zach Johnson (76) and frequent contender Colin Montgomerie (76), it's already been a long week. Despite scores so high they would already be out of it in most tournaments, Woods offered some encouragement.

``You know if you shoot 3, 4, 5 over par, you're still in the tournament and you've got to hang in there,'' said Woods, whose 1-over 71 left him three behind Dougherty.

One trend was evident Thursday: getting on the course early was much preferable to later. Only four golfers were below or even par, and all four had early tee times - when Oakmont's wickedly fast greens were drying out from a Wednesday afternoon thunderstorm.

``I think the course is, I hate saying it, easy,'' Dougherty said after needing only 11 putts over the final nine holes. ``Goodness I shouldn't have said that. No, absolutely not. The course is barbaric.''

Cabrera (69) owned the only other score in the 60s, with the long-driving Bubba Watson and Jose Maria Olazabal at even-par 70. Woods, Ben Curtis, returning champion Geoff Ogilvy, Jim Furyk and 51-year-old Fred Funk were among those at 1-over 71.

``Imagine if we don't get any rain and the greens get firmer and firmer by this weekend, it's going to be difficult out there,'' Olazabal said.

Going to get difficult? What is it now? David Toms led at 3 under at one point, only to finish at 72 following bogeys on five of his last six holes.

``Even in a major like Augusta, even other difficult major we play, you probably are going to have one or two shots where you can take off,'' Woods said. ``It's not that hard of a shot. You can close your eyes and probably hit it either in the fairway or on the greens, and it's an easy shot. On this golf course there are none, and no easy birdies.''

No doubt it didn't help that only a dozen or so in the field have tournament experience at Oakmont, which hadn't hosted a U.S. Open since 1994 - the year before Woods began playing in the national championship. Once the leaders experience all of Oakmont's nuances, and the greens that tilt like a miswired pinball machine, maybe they'll be more comfortable.

Or maybe not. Arnold Palmer has played Oakmont for 66 years and still doesn't know all of its ins and outs and peculiarities.

``When he (Woods) and I played here last Monday, 10 over would have won it by five,'' Ogilvy said. ``Right now 10 over is not going to win, if it stays like this.''

One of the big questions before Thursday was how well Mickelson would play with an injured left wrist that didn't allow him to play a full practice round this week. The answer: not all that badly, given his 4-over 74. He parred each of the last eight holes, getting more comfortable once he began taking off his wrist guard while putting.

``I feel OK to hit balls,'' said Mickelson, who lost a one-shot lead on the final hole at Winged Foot last year, allowing Ogilvy to win. ``It's sore and aggravating and it's annoying, but it's not like the pain was as little as five, six days ago.''

Justin Rose, among a group of 16 at 1-over 71, said staying around is the main goal of Day 1.

``I haven't shot myself out of the tournament, which is what Round 1 is all about,'' Rose said.

And can anyone feel comfortable with Woods, winner of four of the last nine majors, hanging so close?

``That's what he does, gets the best score of the day he can, not his best but he's still in the tournament,'' Ogilvy said.

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Re: 107th U.S. Open Championship Preview

107th U.S. Open Second Round News and Notes
June 15th, 2007

Oakmont, PA (Sports Network) - Phil Mickelson finished off a 77, then told everyone what he'd be doing for the next several hours.

"Go watch the carnage on TV," Mickelson said.

Lefty was one of the players swallowed up by Oakmont during an impossibly tough second round at the U.S. Open, where the scoring average soared to 76.933 shots -- almost seven strokes over par.

Mickelson missed his first cut at a major since the 1999 British Open, a string of 30 consecutive starts that ranked as the longest such streak in the world.

The last course to foil him? Carnoustie, also the site of this season's British Open.

"I'm going to have to change things," Mickelson said, referring to his preparation for the upcoming majors.

Friday, he was knocked over the cut line when second-round leader Angel Cabrera made a birdie at his last hole, the par-four ninth. That put Cabrera at even-par and eliminated anyone above 10-over par -- the players not within 10 shots of the lead.

Mickelson wasn't the only top player who missed the cut.

That list also included Justin Leonard, Luke Donald, Trevor Immelman, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Davis Love III, Henrik Stenson, Colin Montgomerie and two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen.

It wasn't a cut the world's top players wanted to miss. Even at 10-over par, anything is possible this weekend at Oakmont.

"The tournament starts on Saturday," Cabrera said. "Everyone who makes the cut has a chance. You just have to see what happens."

OPEN NOTES

- The only other time Cabrera held a lead at a major championship was at the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, where he finished in 16th place after going 77-75 on the weekend.

- Cabrera has never missed a cut at the U.S. Open in eight starts.

- Bubba Watson is alone in second place at one-over 141. He is the only U.S. player among the top-five.

- Sixty-three players made the cut at 10-over-par 150, the highest cut line at the U.S. Open since it was also 10-over at Bethpage Black in 2002.

- No amateurs made the cut. Mark Harrell came close, but was eliminated at 11- over when Cabrera made his closing bogey.

- Only one player over 45 made the cut: Fred Funk, who celebrated his 51st birthday on Thursday.

- A funny thing happened ... at the 379-yard 11th. K.J. Choi knocked his approach shot to edge of cup, where it hung precariously while David Toms took aim for his second shot. Toms hit the flag stick. Choi's ball stayed out of the cup, but it was an interesting scene. Both players made birdie.

- The 435-yard, par-four 10th ranked as the toughest hole Friday with a scoring average of 4.692 shots.

- The 358-yard, par-four 14th ranked as the easiest with an average of 4.019 strokes.

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US Open’s Third Round at Oakmont Will Be Even Harder
June 16th, 2007

Oakmont is only going to get more difficult to play. That’s the fear of every golfer who remains in competition for the US Open championship, which heads into its final two rounds Saturday after beating up the players for two days.

Two-time Open champion Tiger Woods said USGA officials are “close” to letting the condition of Oakmont get away from them, as they did in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills in the Hamptons.

“It’s right on the edge, I think,” Woods said. “The first green, thank God I have spikes on, because I think I would have slipped right off the back.”

After 36 holes, Woods is 5-over par and five strokes off the lead. Thirty-five players shot 80 or higher in the second round. Three shot par or better: Paul Casey (66), Stephen Ames (69) and Aaron Baddeley (70).

When Casey sank a 2-foot par putt on the ninth hole Friday at historic Pennsylvania country club to complete a 4-under 66, his fellow competitors and caddies around the ninth green joined the gallery in giving the Englishman a rousing ovation.

It was as much out of disbelief as appreciation.

“They are probably thinking how on earth did I shoot that?” Casey said. “And I’m still a bit stunned at it. … Without a doubt it’s the best round of golf I’ve ever played.”

Casey’s 66 in the second round of the 107th U.S. Open was 11 strokes better than Friday’s average score of nearly 7-over 77, and immediately thrust him into contention.

Casey is in seventh place at 3-over 143, three shots off Angel Cabrera’s lead of even-par 140. Bubba Watson, in just his second major, is one shot back at 1-over 141, and Baddeley, Justin Rose, Ames and Niclas Fasth are two shots back.

Casey recorded one of just two under-par rounds Friday - the other was a 69 by Ames - as Oakmont continued to firm up and lived up to its reputation as the toughest course in America.

Woods, seeking his 13th major, shot a 74. “Given the way I think I hit the ball today I could have shot myself right out of the tournament,” Woods said. “But I stuck with it and gave myself a shot on the weekend. It’s only going to get tougher from here.”

How tough? Only Oakmont holds that answer.

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US Open Report Round Three
June 16th, 2007

The unforgiving course at Oakmont is letting up a little as three players are now under par for their rounds on Saturday.

Vijay Singh has made the biggest move with birdies at two and five to get to two under for the round and six over for the championship.Joining him in red figures are Wisconsin native Steve Stricker and 1997 US Amateur Public Links champion Tim Clark.Clark has played six holes. Stricker, playing with Singh, is through five holes.

Playing by himself, 33 year old Australian Mathew Goggin finished with a 4-over-par 74 Saturday. Goggin clocked in at two hours, 40 minutes for his round. He began the day in 63rd place, and turned down the chance of using a marker. The next closest group after Goggin was five holes behind.

All the leaders are scheduled to begin play in the afternoon, with leader Angel Cabrera set to tee off at 3:15 p.m. with Bubba Watson.

With no players under par after 36 holes, the USGA chose to water the greens at Oakmont on Friday night and Saturday morning, giving Tiger Woods his wish. Woods called for the greens to be watered after finishing with 6 bogeys and a second round 74 on Friday, telling reporters, “If they don’t water the golf course, it’s going to be a lot more difficult.”

The greens on the second, third, fifth, sixth and 13th - the firmest on the course - were watered again early Saturday morning.

The USGA now feels they will be no firmer at any point in the third round than they were late in the day on Friday.

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