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Published: 6/16/2007

Oakmont is fair despite its difficulty

OAKMONT, Pa.- Phil Mickelson walked off the ninth green, his last of the day, his last of the week for that matter, beaten and bowed. It was early afternoon yesterday. His hair was sweat-soaked and matted. His normally cheerful demeanor was replaced by a whipped, hang-dog look. He was 11-over par and, barring miracles, didn't expect to make the cut.

So, how was he going to spend the rest of his Friday?

"I'm going to go watch the carnage on TV," he said.

And, with the 10-shot rule in mind, the one that says anyone within 10 strokes of the lead automatically makes the cut, would he be rooting for carnage?

"I don't have to root for it; it's going to happen," he said.

Welcome to the 107th United States Open and to Carnage Country Club, also known as Oakmont.

The world's best golfers are tackling what just might be the world's toughest golf course and guess who is winning.

Now, before you take the name of the United States Golf Association in vain and accuse that blue-blooded body of creating another sporting disaster, another embarrassment for the contestants, let us say this:

Carnage, er, Oakmont isn't a Shinnecock Hills or a Winged Foot, where the course was allowed to get away, the fairways bordering on dirt, the greens so crusty they turned a glassy blue in the places they weren't turning brown. This isn't a case of the USGA turning off the sprinklers and double-mowing the greens and rolling the fairways and raking the rough up to contrive a snarling beast.

Oakmont is pristine. It is beautiful in a brutish kind of way. It is the best-conditioned Open course in memory.

"It's just so hard out there, it's hard to describe, you know?" said Tiger Woods after a 74.

Unlike some Open venues, it is also fair, enough so that if a golfer plays a perfect round, there is a number to be had.

Yesterday, at least in the morning when it was cooler and when the greens were still holding the occasional well-struck approach, that number was 66. Really. Paul Casey of Great Britain had five birdies and a single bogey on his card and moved from a tie for 104th after Thursday's first round into seventh place. And he didn't stop smiling for the rest of the day.

But nobody else was particularly ebullient.

A field of 155 players completed two rounds and 154 of them are over par after 36 holes. Angel Cabrera of Argentina took the sole lead after staking his approach shot to within inches for a birdie at No. 18. That elevated him to even-par 140 and altered the 10-shot position to eliminate those at 11-over 151, a group that included Mickelson.

"I did not knock out Mickelson," Cabrera said. "Mickelson knocked out himself. He shot 11-over par."

See, even the leader is a bit testy here at Carnage CC.

The only sub-par round, besides Casey's, was a 1-under 69 by Stephan Ames. The stroke average was 76.933. The top five players in the official world rankings - Woods, Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Adam Scott and Ernie Els - were a combined 34-over.

This Open, like most, is one train wreck after another. But it's our national championship and nobody said it should be easy.

The USGA talks about a stern, but fair test of golf. Usually, the cynics among us just shake our heads because, usually, there's absolutely nothing fair about the U.S. Open. That's not the case this time. It's fair. Carnage CC is just grotesquely hard.



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