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After going gets tough, everyone gets going early

June 18, 2007|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

OAKMONT, PA. — The top players in the world couldn't get out of Oakmont Country Club fast enough.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike actually intersects the golf course, between the front and back nines. Truck drivers toot their horns as players and spectators cross separate bridges from the No. 1 green to the No. 2 tee.

It's a wonder half the field Sunday didn't try to hitch a ride before finishing their rounds.

Some eventually would escape by car, taxi and private limo.

Someone asked England's Ian Poulter after he finished at 18-over 298 on Sunday whether he was going to stick around to cheer the European players in.

"I will be on an airplane, and if one of them comes in and wins it will be awesome," Poulter said. "But I am going home now."

Who could blame him?

Oakmont will be remembered as a monster, one of the toughest U.S. Opens ever, ranking with two Winged Foot events -- in 1974 and 2006. Hale Irwin won the U.S. Open in 1974 at seven over par; Australia's Geoff Ogilvy won last year at five over.

Oakmont also played to a five-over champion this year, and players left spitting out a lot of bogeys and dust.

The U.S. Golf Assn. tried to calm the course down Sunday by using what it called "corrective" watering on all 18 greens. The USGA adjusted some holes, moving the par-four second hole up "30 paces" to 307 yards.

There were other tweaks and concessions, but it didn't seem to matter. The scores soared and tempers flared. The course played to an average of 75.7, more than five over its par-70 layout.

The toughest day was Friday, which played to 76.9. Sunday's average was 75.7.

After shooting a 74 Thursday, Phil Mickelson was happy because he said he thought he was below the final score.

He was right.

Poulter, the flashiest dresser on tour, was sent home from Oakmont in a straitjacket.

"It's unbelievable," Poulter said. "It's frightening. I said at the start of the week I would like to sign for eight over par. The scoreboard will tell you.... It is that unbelievably hard. It is laughable."

Paul Casey shot four-under 66 in the second round, and players, watching on the adjacent No. 9 putting green, applauded his effort.

Later, near the clubhouse, Paul Goydos, who finished at 11 over and missed the cut, took a glance at his golf clubs and quipped: "Sixty-six ain't coming out of that bag."

Casey, though, played his other three rounds at a combined 15 over par.

He shot a six-over 76 on Sunday.

"It was just a bad day," Casey said.

Anthony Kim of La Quinta finished on Sunday with a three-under 67, which was terrific. But he played his first three rounds in 17 over.

But those sub-par rounds were aberrations; those efforts virtuoso performances.

Mostly, though, Oakmont left the players, well, let them describe it:

* "Totally demoralized," Poulter said.

* Graeme McDowell, who finished at 17-over 297: "What these weeks are all about is that these are marathons.... They are unbelievably tough weeks.... Glad it is over."

* Geoff Ogilvy, defending U.S. Open champion, who finished at 19 over: "It's hard. It's no fun. But what are you going to do? No one's coming out of here with a great score."

* Scott Verplank, who finished at 10 over: "I'm not going to call it unfair. It was unbelievably difficult.... It's unlike any other golf course you'll ever see."

* Nick Dougherty, who shot a first-round 68 before finishing at 10 over: "This course is barbaric!"

The good (or bad) news for the world's best players?

Only 12 months until next year's 108th U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

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