Editor’s note: I’m at Congressional Country Club this week covering the 2011 U.S. Open. Share your U.S. Open thoughts: Comment below or email me at email@example.com.
PLAYERS WHINING ABOUT THE U.S. Open setup is nothing new. It’s been going on for more than a half century. Horace Rawlins, winner of the inaugural U.S. Open in 1895, probably would have griped about the Newport Country Club had he not won. But the complaints at the 111th edition of the national championship are strangely different.
Congressional Country Club is way too easy. This is not a U.S. Open test, an unfair fight to the finish. Rather, it’s a different kind of bloodbath, a sea of red on the scoreboard resulting from an onslaught of birdies. As one person in the media center put it, the Blue Course is handing out birdies like they’re Halloween candy.
Defending champion Graeme McDowell admitted as much after his 69 on Saturday.
“I’ve been a little disappointed with the golf course the last couple of days,” McDowell said. “It wasn’t as firm and fast as I would like to have seen it. The storms on Thursday night really softened the place. So it’s not a true U.S. Open test out there, to be honest. There were some tough pins out there, no doubt. I’d like to see it tougher than it was.”
World No. 1 Luke Donald, who at 7 over for the championship is not exactly lighting it up, said the rough is not as difficult as at past U.S. Opens.
“It has that different feel,” Donald said of the course. “It almost feels like the Firestone or something.”
Firestone, as in the home of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Due to the rain and cooler temperatures this week, Congressional is playing much softer than expected. The greens are receptive to approach shots, and are not the rock-hard, dry, brownish putting surfaces seen at past U.S. Opens. Rory McIlroy and others are, in effect, playing darts.
The USGA said it can’t be helped.
“I think it’s the oppressive heat we had last week that started us off on this dynamic of weather that we’ve experienced,” said the USGA’s Tom O'Toole, “and then of course making sure that we maintain the health of those greens by hydrating them and raising the cut of our mowing, not rolling, and the number of times we’ve mowed and rolled. So we’ve done all those things to maintain the health of Congressional’s greens.”
In its previous three majors (two U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship), Congressional has yielded scores of 276, 278 and 281. The winning scores ranged from 4 under at the 1997 U.S. Open won by Ernie Els to 1 over at the 1976 PGA Championship won by Dave Stockton.
This week the winning 72-hole total will likely be much lower and could break the U.S. Open record of 272 set by Jack Nicklaus and tied by Lee Janzen, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. Rory McIlroy needs a 72 in the final round to eclipse the U.S. Open standard of Nicklaus and Woods, golf’s two greatest champions. But what McIlroy wants more than anything is his name on the large silver trophy.
−The Armchair Golfer
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