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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

Oakmont, just how monstrous?

OAKMONT, Pa. - So, how sadistic will it be? How high will the winning score be? How red will the golfers' faces be?

A London bookie supposedly has listed an over-under on five-putt greens. Get your money to the window quickly, because the opening round of the 107th United States Open begins this morning at Oakmont.

The Open was held here in 1973 and Johnny Miller tossed a stunning, final-round 63 at this brute, softened by rain and other acts of God, and the United States Golf Association, which views itself as god-like, answered the following year with a tournament that has since been known as the Massacre at Winged Foot. The winning score was 7-over par, the highest since 1951, when Ben Hogan conquered Oakland Hills and referred to it as a monster.

The National Open has visited some challenging venues since the USGA staged its massacre.

Pinehurst No. 2 has twice hosted the event and the winning scores have been 1-under and even par, respectively. Only Tiger Woods bettered par over four rounds at Bethpage Black on Long Island in New York in 2002. Retief Goosen was robotic at Shinnecock, another Long Island legend, in 2004 despite putting on greens that were literally dead, brown, kaput. Winged Foot again dashed many a dream a year ago before champion Geoff Ogilvy was the only man remaining upright with a score of 5-over or better.

Yes, a U.S. Open course is always a potential monster, and the tournament itself is a massacre-in-waiting.

But the lead-up to this Open has been like almost nothing before. This could be golf's answer to thumbscrews, the rack, a vat of boiling oil. This could be torture.

Or have we been misled?

Sure, the rough is gnarly. The first cut is three inches; the deep stuff is twice that. But it's not knee high and it's not the Fourth of July.

"The rough is a half, maybe a third of what it was when I got injured," said Phil Mickelson, referring to a wrist injury suffered during a practice round here several weeks ago. "They had the rough as high as they needed it, and they've since mowed it down to where they wanted it. I didn't realize that at the time. It was two or three times as tall as it is now."

Tiger Woods isn't so sure.

"I know they had the mowers out there," he said, "but I don't know that they were cutting anything. If you get a ball that sits down in the grain, you have no chance of advancing it with anything more than a wedge."

So, the rough is still going to be a big factor.

But Oakmont's greatest defense, as has been the case since the day they opened the door, is its roller-coaster greens, all faster than a speeding bullet, although members will tell you, rather smugly we might add, that the USGA actually slows the pace of the greens when the Open comes to town.

"You're really going to have to play well from tee to green, and then the fun really begins," Woods said. "They are by far the most difficult greens I've ever putted. I thought Winged Foot was pretty tough. Augusta's pretty tough. But both of those courses have flat spots or shelves where they put the pins. I'm still trying to figure out where a flat shelf is here. The greens are all tilted."

And so are the expectations of what might happen over the next four days.

It's pretty much up to the USGA if Oakmont is a monster, a pussy-cat, or something in between.

"It all depends on how the pins are set," Woods said. "They can give us a chance to play or they can make it really impossible. We'll see."

And, at the end, we'll count up the five-putts.



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