Thu, Jun 14, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Woods looking to join Oakmont greats list

NO EASY TASK AHEAD The course for the US Open championship, which starts today, is strewn with potentially tricky bunkers and expansive rolling greens


A spectator sleeps on the grandstand overlooking the 18th hole as competitors practice for the 107th US Open Golf Championship at the Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday.


Tiger Woods will seek to join a who's who of champions produced by Oakmont when the US Open golf championship returns to the fabled course today.

Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus have all tasted major success at Oakmont, as have Johnny Miller, Larry Nelson and Ernie Els, winner of the last Open held there in 1994.

Nicklaus beat Arnold Palmer there for the first of his record 18 majors in 1962, and Woods will be bidding to continue his march toward Nicklaus's mark by seizing a 13th major title.

It won't be easy.

"I think the toughest stretch, seven, eight, nine, 10, is the toughest stretch in all golf, and that is the stretch that will eliminate the majority of the field," said Phil Mickelson, whose preparations for the Open, in the wake of a bitter disappointment at Winged Foot last year, have been hindered by a wrist injury.

That stretch includes the par-three eighth, which has been stretched to a massive 288 yards, and the ninth, a former par-five that will play for the championship as a 477-yard par-four.

As well as the usual jungle-like rough favored by the US Golf Association for its Open championship, Oakmont is strewn with potentially punitive bunkers, while its expansive, rolling greens have been described as tougher than those at Augusta National.

"They are by far the most difficult greens I've ever played," Woods said. "Most of the greens here are tilted. Some even run away from you. It depends on how the pins are set, if they give us a chance to play or if they are going to make it really impossible. We'll see."

Two days before the tournament, the consensus was the course was tough but fair.

"This a fantastic golf course," said Australian Geoff Ogilvy, who will try to become the first man to retain the US Open title since Curtis Strange in 1989.

"The greens here are the obvious challenge," Ogilvy said. "The greens are something different."

Woods and Ogilvy will tee off together today in a group with Scottish amateur Richie Ramsay.

Woods was still mourning the death of his father and had been out of action for 10 weeks when he missed the cut at Winged Foot last year.

He rebounded with victories at the British Open and PGA Championship and finished tied for second at the Masters in April.

The world No. 1 has has won nine of the last 14 PGA Tour events he has entered, but finished well down in his last two starts.

Perhaps more worrying, Woods ranks 165th among tour players in driving accuracy.

Even so, Ogilvy said Woods has to be considered the favorite.

"He's long enough to come out with two or three drivers a day, and when he's only hitting two or three drivers, he's so far and away the best player in the world it's silly," Ogilvy said. "Especially on a tough course like this, because he's got a great short game and he's a great putter, and that's what this course is going to be about."

Scotland's Colin Montgomerie appeared to have damaged his chances when he split with his caddie days before the tournament.

Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who was also in the mix late in the fourth round at Winged Foot, looked to have the best hopes of ending Europe's US Open drought, while it remained to be seen if Els, still inconsistent after knee surgery nearly two years ago, can benefit from a return to the scene of his first major triumph.

Also seeking to add to their list of major triumphs will be Fiji's Vijay Singh, two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa and Zach Johnson, who stared down Woods to win the Masters in April.

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