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Nicks Knack

2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- Phil grimaced in the afternoon. It was Oakmont. Golfing root canal. His injured left wrist was sore. He shot 74.
Tiger struggled at times in the morning. The live mikes picked up a bit of blue language during his hard-earned 71. It was the U.S. Open.
All of which followed the script to the letter.
Until Nick Dougherty came along.
The course is, I hate saying it, easy, Nick Dougherty said.
The U.S. Open is my favorite tournament to play, Nick Dougherty said.
I love the fun, Nick Dougherty said. You Americans are noisier than us and I like that. I love the atmosphere, the way the tournament is run.
Nick Dougherty is a 25-year-old Brit who was born in Liverpool, the same city that brought us the Beatles. He is the 118th ranked player in the world. He is the 10th ranked Englishman in the world.
And after 18 holes he is leading the 107th United States Open Championship.
This is because he shot 2-under par 68. And that was mainly because he needed just 32 shots on the back nine and just 27 putts on a day where feared Oakmont turned up soft early because of a late Wednesday rain.
Hopefully if I can just cling on now for the next 54 holes, Ill do it, Nick Dougherty said, winking all the way.
Dougherty knows there are a million golfing miles to go this week. He knows he still has the reputation for being a bit of a party boy. He protests the latter.
Those days are gone to be honest, he insisted Thursday after his round provided him with a one-shot lead over Angel Cabrera. I prepare as well as anyone. I train. I do everything the right way.
The thing hes doing best right now is not taking himself or the championship or the golf course too seriously.
Once upon a time Nick Doughertys father bought his son a flute. His general idea, said Nick, was because I was young at the time.he said when youre on Tour, it will entertain you, to be able to sit in your room and play the flute.
That wasnt happening.
TGI Fridays is much more fun, Nick Dougherty said.
History tells us that the Nick Doughertys of the world shoot 78 in the second round of the U.S. Open and disappear quietly and quickly from the leaderboard.
But Thursday at Oakmont he was the fresh face with the insouciant attitude and the red hot short game. And he was happy to tell his story if you were willing to listen.
My mom has been a housewife now for about'well, for as long as dad told her to be, about 20-odd years now, he said.
Dad is a former car salesman who transitioned into property which is what they call real estate in England. Nick Doughertys brother is a corporate lawyer in New York.
Nick Doughertys idol is Nick Faldo. One of his teachers is David Leadbetter. Both are Englishman. Dougherty was supposed to make the European Ryder Cup team last year but his game shorted out at the wrong time.
Last year he shot 78-75 at Winged Foot and missed the cut at that U.S. Open. The year before that he made the cut at the Pinehurst U.S. Open and left the place absolutely enchanted.
Pinehurst is the most special week Ive ever had on the golf course and this here (Oakmont) is fabulous, he said.
It was almost as if Nick Dougherty was drinking in a different air than everybody else in the field Thursday. The most serious he got was when he was pressed about the next three days.
I believe Im a good enough golfer to contend in majors whether its now or this year or down the line, he said. I want to be one of those European and British players the media look at to fly the flag for us in these tournaments because weve had a drought recently.
Drought, indeed. No European has won a major in this century. And no European has won the U.S. Open since Englishman Tony Jacklin conquered Hazeltine in 1970.
Nick Dougherty is a still a long, long shot. Woods is still only three behind. But the longer Nick Dougherty hangs around the leader board the more refreshing that leaderboard will be.
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