Carnage the Story on Sunday

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2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- The bear that wandered out on the seventh hole Sunday morning at Oakmont Country Club got away just in time. Just like Phil Mickelson so famously predicted, danger lurked everywhere.
 
Mickelson wasn't around for the weekend, though he was surely watching at home with a smile on his face as the carnage unfolded on a hot and sticky afternoon before Angel Cabrera finally emerged as a most unlikely U.S. Open champion.
 
Before that happened, the third round leader gagged his way to a triple bogey on the first hole and was never heard of again. The best player in the world looked like a 10-handicapper when he bladed a chip over a green, chunked the next one back and nearly cost himself any chance.
 
Five different times players had at least a share of the lead only to fall by the wayside by making double bogey or worse.
 
It took forever to finish, and with good reason. No one seemed to want to hit a shot for fear of what might happen next.
 
This wasn't a U.S. Open. It was a demolition derby on spikes.
 
'The next time they have the Open here I might go fishing,' Rory Sabbatini said.
 
Thankfully, another of Mickelson's predictions didn't come true. No one was injured, if you don't count the bruised egos of a lot of awfully good players.
 
They headed toward the player's parking lot muttering among themselves about another typical U.S. Golf Association setup and another familiar result. The best player this week had finally been identified, but even he could only get within five strokes of par by the time it mercifully ended on an anti-climatic tap-in by Tiger Woods.
 
Oakmont had always been billed as one of the toughest Open courses ever. But those who spent the last four days hacking out of the thick rough and trying to keep their balls on greens so slick they looked oily were having trouble comprehending just how tough.
 
'It is unbelievable,' Ian Poulter said. 'It's frightening.'
 
Frightening might not be a word most people would associate with a Sunday afternoon round of golf.
 
Frightened was the perfect description, though, for how Aaron Baddeley looked as he stood on the first tee with a two-shot lead and thousands of people screaming for Woods to make some magic. Woods obliged by hitting a cannon shot 350 yards down the middle, which Baddeley followed by hitting a lazy flare of a 3-wood into the right rough.
 
Fourteen minutes later, Baddeley walked off the first green with a triple bogey 7 on his way to a big fat 80.
 
'To be honest, I was a little bit nervous on the first tee. But that's normal,' Baddeley insisted. 'I enjoyed myself.'
 
If he did, the USGA failed in its mission, which seems to be making players squirm until they can't squirm any more, and then having a laugh about it. Then again, Baddeley wasn't exactly smiling and cracking jokes as he hacked his way through a final round that unraveled from the minute he hit his first tee shot.
 
He wasn't alone. Players were falling everywhere on a hot and sticky day. Stephen Ames was tied for the lead when he made a triple bogey on No. 7, while Steve Stricker had a share of it at the turn before promptly making two doubles in a row on Nos. 10 and 11.
 
The scary thing is, it could have been a lot worse.
 
After a second round on Friday where conditions were so brutal players were in near revolt, the USGA tried to tame the monster it created by watering greens over and over on the weekend and giving players at least a few pins they could shoot at.
 
Cabrera took advantage with two iron shots on the back side for kick-in birdies, then fought back nerves to stumble his way in. He then sat smiling in the scorer's area, happy as heck to be done and secure in the knowledge that whatever course remained would beat up whoever was left standing.
 
The Argentine ended up with the lowest score of the week, though the debate will always be whether he was the better player for four days or simply the player who contained his mistakes the most. That's always the fate of an Open winner, especially those who come from seemingly nowhere to win like Geoff Ogilvy did last year and Cabrera did to a certain extent this week.
 
Those hoping to join Cabrera in the elite club of major championship winners don't have a whole lot to look forward to. Players head for Scotland next month for the British Open at Carnoustie, where Jean Van de Velde's meltdown eclipsed anything seen here this week.
 
Oakmont might have been brutal, but Carnoustie is widely regarded to have been the toughest major championship test ever when the British was last played there in 1999.
 
The wind will blow, rough will be even deeper, and the greens will be just as slick. About the only thing missing will be the bear.
 
He escaped, which on this day made him one of the lucky ones.
 
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