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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