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Archive for Thursday, June 16, 2011

Parity dominates this year’s U.S. Open

June 16, 2011

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— Golf’s second major championship of the year seems to have a new name.

It’s the U.S. Wide Open.

Only a small part of that is because of Tiger Woods. He’s not at Congressional because of injuries to his left leg, and he has been missing from the top of leaderboards for more than a year. This is the first U.S. Open since 1999 that Woods is not No. 1 in the world.

The top two players in the world ranking are Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, neither of whom has won a major. Parity has returned to golf so much so that 10 players have won the last 10 majors, and the last three major champions are still in their 20s.

But there’s another reason why the U.S. Open figures to be up for grabs when it gets under way today: No one is complaining.

Jack Nicklaus, a four-time U.S. Open champion, used to listen to players gripe about the narrow fairways, thick rough and rock-hard greens and rule them out of contention. Before long, it was a short field he had to beat.

Congressional isn’t getting much criticism this week. The last several years, the USGA has been trying make the U.S. Open live up to its reputation as the “toughest test in golf” without simply making the course as hard as it could.

“If you’re complaining about playing this course,” Padraig Harrington said Wednesday, “you’re complaining that you can’t hit the shots,”

The Irishman, who has fallen out of the top 50 in the world, spent his final day of practice with Masters runner-up Adam Scott and World Golf Championship winner Nick Watney. They’re part of a field loaded with players who have won something, but no one who has won everything.

The USGA didn’t have the course exactly as it wanted because of oppressive heat the week before that kept them from cutting the green as low as usual, fearful of them dying. Even so, there already were brown patches on some of them Wednesday, and Stewart Cink couldn’t help but notice a sheen on the putting surfaces before the championship even begins.

About the only complaint from Harrington — more subject for architectural debate — was moving back the tee on No. 12 to make it play 471 yards. It took away the option of hitting a draw around the dogleg, and replaced it with another strong hole to start the back nine.

It was suggested to Harrington that Congressional already had ample length at the end.

“It’s an ample start,” he said. “And the middle is not that easy, either.”

Some things never change.

There was another Nicklaus comment that caught the attention of Geoff Ogilvy, who won the U.S. Open five years ago at Winged Foot.

“The U.S. Open is 72 holes of bad breaks with the occasional surprise,” Nicklaus once said.

“Which is kind of how it feels,” Ogilvy added. “It really is 72 holes of trying to not get annoyed at bad breaks. They’re the guys who do it best.”

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