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Notes USGA Bending Rules Strickers Windfall

The U.S. Open at Winged Foot featured graduated rough and white circles.
Most of the attention was on a mowing pattern that punished a player depending on how far he missed the fairway. The first cut of primary rough was 3 1/2 inches, then 20 feet away was a second cut of primary rough that was 5 1/2 inches.
The more subtle experiment was more than 50 drop zones, seven of which were around the 18th green.
For the first time, the USGA set up drop zones -- marked by white circles in deep, gnarly rough -- around every green as a way to save time whenever a player's shot was blocked by a temporary immovable object (TIO), such as a grandstand, TV tower or leaderboard. It also will be done at the U.S. Women's Open next week at Newport Country Club, and the U.S. Senior Open at Prairie Dunes.
'This is a test, and we're going to assess it,' USGA executive director David Fay said Sunday morning at Winged Foot. 'So far, I have to tell you, we're very happy with it.'
Fay said it can take as many as 10 minutes for a player to get relief from a TIO by the time he figures out where to drop and the marshals can get the gallery out of the way. The idea was to create mandatory drop zones without changing the nature of the shot.
Of course, there were exceptions.
Stewart Cink blocked his approach well to the right on the fourth hole during the third round. He was close to a boundary fence, and while he still had a swing, the leaderboard was in his line of sight to the hole. Because of the drop zones, Cink was able to move his ball about 35 yards closer to the hole.
That seems to break a fundamental tenet in golf -- advancing the ball without every hitting it.
He still had a miserable lie, but he no longer had trees that affected his shot.
'It was a good break,' Cink said. 'I told Peter (Hedlom), 'I'm getting a drop and I'm going to be 30 yards closer.' And he understood. Sometimes the rules are going to hurt you. And sometimes they help.'
Fay has been talking about drop zones for a number of years, and the USGA decided to give it a try.
'The reason we did it was for efficiency,' Fay said. 'You can start from the premise that just about every green is surrounded by a temporary immovable obstruction, whether it's a grandstand or a leaderboard. Time spent doing a TIO drop is time you don't get back.'
Cink at No. 4, and Kenneth Ferrie on the sixth hole Saturday, were examples of players who got a break by going to the drop area. That's one reason the USGA painted seven circles around the 18th green, to limit the possibilities of a player getting an enormous advantage with the U.S. Open on the line.
As for those who do get a break? Fay noted that without drop zones, players who get relief might not be closer to the hole, but the nature of the shot has been altered by being allowed to approach the green at a better angle.
'What is more important? The angle of the shot or the distance? That's open to interpretation,' he said. 'Will a player get an occasional good break? Yes. Will he get an occasional not-so-good break because that (original) lie had been trampled down? That's the trade-off. This slow game has, over the years, gotten slower. In my judgment, part of it was dealing with these things called -- which is part of big-time golf -- temporary immovable obstructions.'
Perhaps the biggest example came on the ninth hole Friday morning, when Tiger Woods was in the trees to the right. He played a sweeping hook over a corporate tent and toward the grandstand, knowing there was a drop area to the right of the green. His ball went into the bleachers and he dropped in the right circle.
From there, of course, Woods chipped over the green and had to scramble for bogey.
Steve Stricker started the season without a PGA TOUR card, trying to get in tournaments through sponsors' exemptions and those that had room for past winners.
Two weeks changed everything.
Stricker chose a U.S. Open sectional qualifier that offered only two spots in a 33-man field, and won to get a ticket to Winged Foot. Then he played his best golf of the year, and while a 73 in the final round left in a tie for sixth, he won enough money to bring his season earnings to $735,119, which assures him of getting his card for 2007.
There were a few other consolation prizes. Finishing among the top 15 and ties means he won't have to go through qualifying next year, and being among the top eight gave Stricker a spot in the field at the Masters, where he hasn't played since 2002.
Others can look forward to the same.
Jeff Sluman and Kenneth Ferrie also tied for sixth, meaning they will get into the Masters and the U.S. Open next year. Among those exempt from U.S. Open qualifying is Ryudi Imada for the second straight year. Imada closed with a 71 last year at Pinehurst No. 2 to finish in a tie for 15th.
David Duval finished one shot out of the top 15 at Winged Foot, and might have to qualify next year for the first time since 1995.
Tom Kite and Jay Haas were never considered rivals in the last three decades, but it appears one is unfolding now that they are on the Champions Tour -- even though this battle is taking place on the PGA TOUR.
Haas went 1-up when he qualified for the U.S. Open, making him the only player to compete in majors at Winged Foot in four decades -- the '74 U.S. Open (as an amateur), the '84 U.S. Open, the '97 PGA Championship and the '06 U.S. Open. Kite failed to advance out of sectional qualifying in Texas.
And when Haas made the cut at Winged Foot, he broke the PGA TOUR -- previously shared with Kite -- by making his 591st career cut.
'I've been good in spots and consistent,' he said. 'I've been healthy -- I think that's a big part of it. My health has kept me in there for a long time. But I guess I just hate missing cuts. I hate going to a tournament and not being able to play on the weekend.'
When he matched Kite's record at the Memorial, Haas said he would be surprised if Kite returned to the PGA TOUR.
'The game is on,' Haas said with a laugh.
Sure enough, Kite received a sponsor's exemption and will play this week at the Booz Allen Classic.
No one has had a bogey-free round at the U.S. Open since Arron Oberholser in the second round last year at Pinehurst. ... NBC Sports paid the rights fee to broadcast the U.S. Open, which presumably gave chairman Dick Ebersol the right to walk down the middle of the fairway behind the final group in the third round. ... Only six Americans finished in the top 20 at the U.S. Open. ... Ogilvy's victory continued one peculiar trend at Winged Foot. Of its six major champions, Davis Love III at 33 was the oldest winner.
Geoff Ogilvy was never under par at any point in the U.S. Open.
'No one ever gave him the luck I got today.' -- Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, on countryman Greg Norman's losses in the major championships.