U.S. Open awaits the veterans

Posted: June 05, 2007

Someone once observed that nobody wins the U.S. Open. Instead, it wins you.

That was never more evident than last June at Winged Foot. Padraig Harrington could have won, but he made bogeys on the last three holes and lost by two. Jim Furyk could have won, but made two bogeys on the last four holes and lost by one. Colin Montgomerie could have won, but he made a double bogey on the last hole and finished a shot back. And Phil Mickelson could have won but he also made a double on the last hole to come up a stroke short.

So Geoff Ogilvy, playing in the next-to-last twosome, took home the trophy by closing with four pars.

It happens.

The 107th U.S. Open will tee off in 9 days, this time at Oakmont, in suburban Pittsburgh, where it was last held in 1994. Yesterday, Harrington was at The ACE Club in Lafayette Hill, with Retief Goosen and Charles Howell III, to help Furyk host his ninth annual Exelon Invitational. Goosen captured the Open in 2001 and '04, and was the 54-hole leader the following year. Furyk, of course, was the 2003 champion. So naturally, much of the pre-competition conversation centered upon golf's second major of the season.

"Having won it once, you get that little taste and you want to keep winning more," said Furyk. "Everyone's trying to focus on what we need to do for our games to prepare for some pretty severe conditions. I was out there last Tuesday and it was ready to go. They were actually topping off the rough. They weren't trying to grow it. It was thick and long, pretty much good to go.

"It's a unique test. Being it's in my home state I'm a little more excited about it, obviously."

Even that 288-yard par-3 that Ogilvy recently called a conversation piece?

"The last time we played there, it was in the 250, 260 range, which back then was a little unheard of," Furyk noted. "Now there are a lot of 250-yard par-3s. So in order to keep it that way, they had to move it back. But it's playable. The bunkering's probably the easiest on the golf course. The green's probably the flatest, and very big. And there's a runway in front where you can run it up.

"It's long on the card, but it's not like your aiming at a postage stamp out there."

Yo, don't give the folks at the U.S. Golf Association any ideas.

For what it's worth, Furyk tied for 28th 13 years ago, in his first major.

Goosen or Harrington will both see Harrington in person for the first time on Monday. And now that nearly all of the 4,000 trees on the course have been removed . . .

"From the pictures I've seen, it seems a bit linksy," Goosen said. "It sort of reminds me of Shinnecock [in 2005] in a way.

"I'm pretty sure it'll be new for everybody."

So, care to divulge any of the secrets to his success in this event?

"I don't know," Goosen said. "I always felt like if I was going to win a major, it would be the British Open. I've done well in those, but not won any. It's a hard week. A tough week, mentalwise. And a long week. You need to pace yourself.

"It's not a week where you're thinking how many birdies you're going make, but how little bogeys can you make. That's the whole thing. If you can keep those drop shots off the card, you know you have a chance by the end."

Speaking of which, Harrington was asked if he still thinks about last year's finish.

"I had three pars to win the U.S. Open," he said, with a smile. "It sounds so easy. Rolls off the tongue very nicely. Yeah, I remember. I can tell you every shot I hit. Probably couldn't tell you anything about the first 15 holes, other than I played very well. It's interesting what sort of sticks out.

"You have to realize that week takes a lot out of you. It's a time for patience. Retief, you can see it in his temperament. He's very level all the way through. He keeps his emotions totally in key. That really helps keep you sort of stress-free. Guys get too high and low, depending how it's going. And you suffer. You're better off kind of plodding your way through it. It's amazing to say it that way. But it's not about the spectacular. It's much more about that steady game.

"One thing about the U.S. Open: Once you've played a few, you have a good idea how the golf course is going to be set up before you get there. It's very similar."

Which means you're never quite sure who's going to survive. Or how. You just know that train wrecks are lurking just around the next dogleg.

Tap-ins

Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington beat Charles Howell III and Jim Furyk in the better-ball format, a new wrinkle this year, 2 and 1. So the International team split $160,000, while the Americans settled for $120,000. Because the match ended before they reached the 18th, they played that hole for an additional $25,000, which was donated to the charity of the winner's choice. When that hole was halved, they went to a chip-off, in which Goosen prevailed . . . The event raised $250,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, which, of course, are the only numbers that really matter. *

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