Even Scarier Than You Thought

By Brian HewittJune 13, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- Tuesday, in this space, I made the case for the notion that there are two stars here at the U.S. Open which is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. Thursday.
 
Those two stars are, in order of brightness, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
 
Actually, there are three stars.
 
Luke Donald
Luke Donald hits from the famed Church Pew bunkers at Oakmont. (Getty Images)
Yes, I forgot one.
 
The third, with apologies to Johnny Miller, is the golf course: Oakmont Country Club, 7,200 yards of the best conditioned and groomed golfing hell that you are likely to find anywhere.
 
In the span of two breaths Tuesday, NBC announcer Miller anointed Oakmont.
 
This is the finest golf course in the world, Johnny said.
 
This is the greatest course in the world, Johnny added, barely coming up for air.
 
Better than Pine Valley ever thought of being, better than Cypress (Point) ever thought of being, Johnny gushed.
 
A lot of people who have been to a lot of major championships are also saying this years Oakmont version is the toughest test ever at a major. That covers a lot of ground. So I ran it past former player and current TV analyst Peter Oosterhuis, who has played in more kinds of conditions than just about anybody on the grounds.
 
Oakmont the toughest ever?
 
Oosty: It always was.
 
Oakmont has been in the business of thoroughly examining the golf games of the best players in the world for a long time. No other golf course has hosted more U.S. Opens. This will be the eighth for Oakmont.
 
Wednesday the gentlemen from the USGA showed up for their annual state of the U.S. Open press conference. The subject of the golf course dominated the presentation and most of the Q&A.
 
I couldnt resist asking USGA President Walter Driver and Executive Director David Fay for their reaction to Millers comments. And, I asked them, if they agreed.
 
I was told when I took this job that saying anything negative about any golf course was like insulting someones spouse, and you better not do that, Driver said. So I think this is a great golf course. As to comparing it to other golf courses, Im not going to go there.
 
By the way, Fay chimed in, that comment about insulting ones spouse -- Charles Blair Macdonald. Ive got to get that plug in.
 
Fay felt compelled because earlier in the news conference the World Golf Hall of Fame had announced it will induct Macdonald, who designed National Golf Links and Chicago Golf, among others, in November. Macdonald, Fay said, is the father of organized golf in America. Its no stretch to say that without Charles Blair McDonald there would be no USGA and no U.S. Open.
 
Macdonald, if he were still alive, would probably love Oakmont. The green speeds will be in the range of 13 to 14 on the Stimpmeter. The primary cut of rough is 2 inches. The intermediate rough is 5 inches. And the USGA promises those numbers will remain constant throughout the week.
 
Unless, of course, there is what the USGA calls a rain event. One was predicted for late Wednesday. Both Mike Davis and Tim Moraghan told me separately Wednesday that if it doesnt rain, they will be able to control course conditions to just the spot they wanted them to be. Davis is in charge of course set-up for the USGA. Moraghan is the USGAs chief agronomist.
 
Moraghan also told me that there are plans afoot to move the tee box up on the second hole to 300 yards for Sundays final round. The normal tee box on that uphill par-4 is 341 yards. Jim Hyler, chairman of the USGA Championship Committee, hinted strongly that the downhill par-3 eighth will also play 300 yards Sunday.
 
Thats a par-3 and a par-4 playing to the same yardage, if not the same virtual distance. The hope is that there will be players in the field who can drive both.
 
We dont want this thing to be all Starbucks grind, Moraghan told me. We like to have a little fun.
 
Fun, of course, is a relative word.
 
If somebody built a course like this today, Justin Rose told me Monday before boarding his plane to Oakmont, theyd probably crucify him.
 
Ladies and gentleman, Hyler said, clearly having fun, these greens are scary.
 
Absolutely no grain in them, Moraghan said. Just uphill or downhill.
 
Just Oakmont.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.