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2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- 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.
 
WELCOME BACK, VAUGHN:
Vaughn Taylor stood on the Oakmont practice green for 30 minutes, then said being on a golf course never felt better.
 
Taylor got a scare last month at the AT&T Classic when he became dizzy bending over to stick a tee in the ground and could not see the ball when he stood over a putt. He withdrew after the first round, went to the doctor and learned he was suffering from vertigo.
 
I didn't know what was going on,' Taylor said. 'The further I bent over, the worse it go.'
 
He said the vertigo was a product of allergies, and Taylor learned he was allergic to just about everything -- pine straw, Bermuda grass, dogs, dust.
 
Taylor returned to the PGA TOUR last week in Memphis after missing two weeks, failing to break par any of the four rounds. But he's feeling good about his game and much better about his health going into this week's U.S. Open, the record eighth at Oakmont.
 
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.
 
NOT-SO-HOT 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 rough 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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