Greens Set Oakmont Apart from Open Venues

By Associated PressJune 13, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- This was no magic trick, just Oakmont.
 
Steve Stricker was standing next to his bag marking his golf balls before his final practice round Wednesday at the U.S. Open when he dropped one on the green. He watched it trickle around the bag, appear on the other side and hit someone in the foot, a 180-degree turn over an area of 5 feet.
 
Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, and Luke Donald
Luke Donald is watched by Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia Wednesday at Oakmont. (Getty Images)
The smile on his face disguised a wince.
 
Stricker is among the best putters in golf, and even he took a breath on the eve of an Open that will be held on a course reputed to have the fastest greens in the land.
 
This is his 12th U.S. Open, and he has come to expect narrow fairways, shaggy rough, firm greens, frayed nerves. 'The setup is comparable from the tee until you reach the green,' Stricker said. 'But once you hit the green, it's another game.'
 
More than its reputation as the toughest course in America, more than the Church Pew bunkers, with or without 5,000 trees, what sets Oakmont apart from other U.S. Open venues is the greens.
 
Oakmont opened in 1903, and while there have been changes over the years, the greens remain virtually untouched.
 
'These are the toughest greens we'll ever play in U.S. Open history, or even any other tournament for that matter,' said Ernie Els, who won at Oakmont in 1994. 'With the rough and these greens, this is going to be a very, very tough test.'
 
But that was before a thunderstorm moved into Pittsburgh and pounded the course with four-tenths of an inch of ran in an hour. USGA officials were hopeful it would not change the course dramatically, but it figures to take some of the fright out of firm and fast conditions.
 
'It's not going to be what we planned for,' USGA agronomist Tim Moraghan said. 'Things were moving along quite well. We thought we'd have a true, hard test for players on Thursday. The rain has altered this a little bit.'
 
Moraghan said the rain should not affect the speed on putts, but softer greens would more easily hold shots from the fairway.
 
Before the storms, it was not surprising to see so much activity on the putting green, an extension of the ninth green at Oakmont. Tiger Woods took the day off, except to hit balls on the range and work on his putting. He hit one that missed on the low side and then rapped another that found the bottom of the cup while the first one continued to roll away until he walked over to pick it up.
 
'They are by far the most difficult greens I've ever played,' Woods said. 'I thought Winged Foot was pretty tough. Augusta is pretty tough. But both courses have flat spots. Augusta may have these big, big slopes, but they have these flat shelves that they usually put the pins on. Here, I'm trying to figure where a flat shelf is.'
 
Mike Davis, the senior director of rules and competition who sets up the course, set a tube of lip balm on the top part of the second green and was gently stroking putts at it.
 
'We're trying to see what to do with the four hole locations,' Davis said. 'Actually, we're trying to find four hole locations.'
 
That's why Padraig Harrington suggested earlier this week that the USGA has more control of the scoring at Oakmont than perhaps any other course it visits. Stick the pins in tough spots and no one breaks par. Find more gentle sections of the green, and there's a chance.
 
'I wouldn't be putting my house that 8 over par is going to win this tournament, but I think it's certainly got a chance,' Harrington said. 'If the USGA wants us to shoot level par this week, the winning score will be level par. It's much more in their control than it is in any player's control. If somebody goes out and shoots 66 the first day, God help us. But I don't see that happening.'
 
The rough is thick enough that most players doubt they will be able to get out of it and onto the greens. That's not unusual at a U.S. Open. The smart play is to wedge out of the hay, leave 100 yards to the green and try to hit another wedge close to the hole.
 
'You hit that wedge shot that takes a big hop and stops,' Stricker explained. 'But here, it takes the big hop and stops, and then it continues to roll. And when you're on the green, some of those putts are treacherous. You think you've hit a decent putt, and it keeps trickling away. It's tough to get inside that 4- to 5-foot area, and you better make those.'
 
Any relief from Wednesday's rain is likely to be temporary. There's no rain in the forecast the rest of the week until a slight chance on Sunday.
 
Oakmont was soaked the day Johnny Miller shot 63 in the final round to win in 1973, but it still was a round that might never be matched. Not this year, anyway.
 
'I could put a great player on every green 15 feet away, and he's not going to make nine of them,' Oakmont head pro Bob Ford said.
 
But before anyone breaks out a white towel, Ford offered some hope. The greens are fast, but they also are smooth.
 
'Although our greens are the most difficult in the world, they're also the most pure,' Ford said. 'Guys get the right line and they can make everything. Winged Foot was slow, bumpy, and everybody was leaving it short. A 6-footer here is like a 3-footer somewhere else.'
 
The greens are but the final piece of the puzzle this week.
 
It starts with a tee shot that must be kept in the fairway to have any reasonable shot at the green, and no miss is a good one. Along with the graduated rough -- the farther from the fairway, the deeper it gets -- the bunkers are so deep that the only priority is getting out.
 
The USGA always says it wants to have the most rigorous test in golf.
 
So far, it will get no argument on this one.
 
'Oak-monster,' Rory Sabbatini called it. 'You have to be fully in control for 72 holes. This golf course will test every single shot you ever thought you'd need and every single shot you never thought you'd need.'
 
Geoff Ogilvy won last year at 5-over 285, and most players figure that would win going away at Oakmont. Some have suggested 10 over par would win, while Sabbatini placed a friendly wager with his caddie that whoever finished last on Sunday would be 40 over par?
 
Hyperbole? We'll soon find out.
 
'This one has been built up as being tougher than the rest,' Harrington said. 'It does make Winged Foot seem very pleasant.'
 
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    Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:50 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.

    The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.

    The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.


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    This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.

    After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.

    “I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”

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    Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:32 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.

    Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.

    “I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”


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    Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.

    To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.

    “More punishment,” he said.

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    DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:35 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.

    Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.

    Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.


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    Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.

    It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.  

    With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.

    Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.

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    TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do

    By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 3:32 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:

    • Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.

    • This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.

    • Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery

     


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    • In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”

    • At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.

    • Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.

    • My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.