SportsPulse: Tiger Woods’ last win at a major was 10 years ago, but USA TODAY Sports’ Steve DiMeglio thinks Tiger can end that decade-long drought at the U.S. Open in Shinnecock Hills.
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You can determine just what kind of golf fan you are by how you reacted to some of the scoring in Thursday’s first round of the U.S. Open.
Are you the kind of fan who lamented that Rory McIlroy shot 80 and Jason Day shot 79 on a windy day and on a tough Shinnecock Hills layout? Or are you the kind of fan who delighted in the idea that some of the best players in the world were publicly humbled by the United States Golf Association and Mother Nature?
Few tournaments in the world can be as polarizing as the U.S. Open.
When Brooks Koepka won at 16-under par last year, traditionalists screamed that the U.S. Open had lost its character, its very essence as a stern test of a player’s skills. But when the U.S. Open has a winning score at or near even par (or in some radical cases, over par), a large segment of fans scream equally as loud that fighting for pars and making easy bogeys is not what they want to see in a course.
The USGA has been its own worst enemy at times in this argument, though not as often as you might think. There was 1974, the infamous Massacre at Winged Foot, when the USGA seemed to respond to Johnny Miller’s 63 in the final round the previous year by making Winged Foot nearly impossible to play. Hale Irwin won that year at 7-over par.
There was the two-year stretch of 2006 and 2007, with 5-over winning the championship each year. And there was the 2004 Open at Shinnecock, the last time the championship was played on that course. The green on the par-3 seventh became so unplayable, so dry, so firm (dead, some might say) that the staff had to start watering the green during play. A lot of players and fans never forgot how the USGA pushed that green beyond the edge.
For years, some considered the opposite of the U.S. Open, if you will, as the Bob Hope Classic, now known as the CareerBuilder Challenge. While even par was winning Opens, that score was missing the cut badly at the old Hope. Even for a five-day tournament, the scoring at the Hope was amazingly low. Phil Mickelson won the event twice at 30 under. Joe Durant held the record at 36 under, one shot better than Tom Kite’s Hope victory.
Fans of the Hope tournament and its birdies and eagles hated the U.S. Open with its double bogeys. Fans of the Open and its demanding test of a player hated what they felt was cartoon golf at the Hope.
But it was possible for a golfer to play well in both tournaments. Arnold Palmer won the Hope and the Open in 1960. Jack Nicklaus won the Open in 1962 and then the Hope in 1963. Billy Casper won two Opens and two Hopes. Johnny Miller won one Open and two Hopes.
Is it possible to enjoy the low scores of desert golf as well as the high scoring at the Open? For some fans, the answer is no. Just as some baseball fans appreciate pitcher’s duels and others want slugfests, some golf fans want demanding golf or tons of eagles, but not both.
Thursday’s carnage at Shinnecock might have been more than USGA officials had expected, and the strong winds certainly had something to do with the scores. Okay, a few officials might have been silently gleeful over the high scores, thinking the U.S. Open had regained its swagger.
The scoring should improve in the next few days as conditions get a little better. A lot of big-name players might not be around to see if the weather improves Saturday.
And if fans want to see better scoring, well, the CareerBuilder Challenge is just seven months away.
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (6760) 778-4633 or email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan.