Oakmont Kicks Field In The Teeth

By Brian HewittJune 15, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- Torture thy name is Oakmont.
 
We all sort of thought we knew this was coming. Lord knows we wrote and talked about it enough. But we didnt really know how nasty it could get until Oakmont Country Club revealed its dark side Friday in the second round of the U.S. Open.
 
Worse, (or better, if you are a card-carrying sadist), the cruelest may be yet to come on the weekend.
 
A wise man once called golf organized torture. But whats going on here in Western Pennsylvania on a greensward of immaculate-groomed horror, bisected by a turnpike full of madly-rushing traffic, is much more torture than it is organized.
 
The leader after 36 holes is a long-hitting Argentine named Angel Cabrera. He is even par. Zero under. The scoring average for the 156-man field Friday was close to 77.
 
All of which prompted me to research the word torture. The American Heritage Dictionary (after all the U.S. Open is an American heritage) defines torture, when used as a noun, as:
 
Excruciating punishment: Hell, living hell, persecution, torment.A state of physical or mental suffering: affliction, agony, anguish, distress, hurt, misery, painwoe, wound, wretchedness.
 
As a verb:
 
To subject to extreme physical cruelty: crucify, rackto bring great harm or suffering to: afflict, agonize, anguish, curse, excruciate, plague, rack, scourge, smite, strike.
 
All of which brings us, in a long roundabout way to Paul Casey.
 
For the second day in a row a young Englishman shot the low round of the day. Thursday it was Nick Dougherty carding 68. Friday it was Casey with a rather astonishing 66.
 
Im still a little stunned, Casey said, almost an hour after signing for a score that other players were already comparing to the winning 63 famously crafted by Johnny Miller in the final round of the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
 
I dont think that (the 66) compares, Casey said deferentially. If I can get through the weekend with all my limbs intact, Ill be very very happy. Its a very dangerous golf course.
 
Justin Rose, in at 2-over, wasnt sure why but he suffered a nosebleed during his round. When somebody suggested it was from the stress of Oakmont, he laughed. Then he said these words: inflicting physical pain on us.
 
Oakmont inflicted physical pain on world No. 2 Phil Mickelson weeks ago when he came here for practice rounds. The result was a wrist injury caused by trying to fight through the thick roughs. And it effectively cost Mickelson a chance to contend this week.
 
He finished with 74-77 and missed the cut, which fell at 10-over, by a shot. But he left with his wrist intact and was glad for that. Youre trying to win and youre trying to hit great shots, Mickelson said. But youre also trying not to end your career in one shot.
 
The question now becomes this: Is there any room for the course set-up guys between where conditions were Friday and the line where the golf course becomes unplayable?
 
When I asked Casey, his reaction was somewhere between a sick smile and a wince. Yes, he told me, Theyve left enough room. Which is quite scary.
 
Torture thy name is Oakmont.
 
Can it get harder? Can the torture become worse on Saturday and Sunday? Casey said he thought it could and would.
 
I have never felt so uncomfortable on a putting surface in my life, said Northern Irelands Graeme McDowell. In his first round McDowell found himself staring in the face of a double bogey with nearly an impossible two-foot putt.
 
Luke Donald, yet another young Englishman, has plans to nurse his Oakmont hangover next week by getting married. If Oakmont could talk and tell jokes, you get the idea that it would suggest, politically incorrectly, that Donald is going from the frying pan into the fire.
 
Padraig Harrington, from the Republic of Ireland, launched into some fascinating inside golf talk when he tried to explain the risk/reward dilemma posed by wanting to one-putt and fearing to three-putt.
 
We are choosing lines which are dead weight, Harrington said. Saying you need to be up here doesnt apply. A person who tries that out here will not hole putts. Either it is correct pace or it is nothing. Most players have realized that to hole putts on these greens you have to drop them right in. And you will leave some short.
 
And it wasnt just the greens. The par 5 12th, which when it plays at 667 yards is the longest three-shot hole in U.S. Open history, has allowed just 30 per cent of the field to hit its green in regulation. Thats right, 30 per cent GIRs on a par 5.
 
Two of the more difficult greens are the opening ones on each side, the first and the 10th. Those holes, said Johnny Miller himself, were designed in hell.
 
Devil of a golf course. Leader named Angel. Heavenly weather.
 
Saturday the survivors will be religious in their concentration for Sunday will assuredly not be a day of rest.
 

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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.