Dougherty leads battered pros at Oakmont

Dougherty leads battered pros at Oakmont

Nick Dougherty shot an opening-round 68.
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) — Tiger Woods was above par, and felt fortunate to be there. Phil Mickelson had a 74, and knew it probably couldn’t have been much better with his achy wrist. Only two scores were in the red under optimal scoring conditions at the U.S. Open, and three very long and likely dry days await.

This is Oakmont Country Club, as good as it gets. This is the U.S. Open, where the field often expects the worst and most often gets it.

What everyone was wondering after the opening round Thursday on one of world’s toughest courses was how much more grueling it will get when Oakmont’s greens fully dry out, the pin placements aren’t so generous and the pressure that’s always there in the most difficult of the four majors ratchets up even more.

If only leader Nick Dougherty (68) and Angel Cabrera (69) could break par at Oakmont with the greens softer than usual, the temperatures moderate and a cooling breeze blowing through, what will the scores be by Saturday? By Sunday?

“We are in for a long week,” Vijay Singh said.

For Sergio Garcia (79), Shaun Micheel (78), two-time champion Retief Goosen (76), Masters winner Zach Johnson (76) and frequent contender Colin Montgomerie (76), it’s already been a long week. Despite scores so high they would already be out of it in most tournaments, Woods offered some encouragement.

“You know if you shoot 3, 4, 5 over par, you’re still in the tournament and you’ve got to hang in there,” said Woods, whose 1-over 71 left him three behind Dougherty.

One trend was evident Thursday: getting on the course early was much preferable to later. Only four golfers were below or even par, and all four had early tee times – when Oakmont’s wickedly fast greens were drying out from a Wednesday afternoon thunderstorm.

“I think the course is, I hate saying it, easy,” Dougherty said after needing only 11 putts over the final nine holes. “Goodness I shouldn’t have said that. No, absolutely not. The course is barbaric.”

Cabrera (69) owned the only other score in the 60s, with the long-driving Bubba Watson and Jose Maria Olazabal at even-par 70. Woods, Ben Curtis, returning champion Geoff Ogilvy, Jim Furyk and 51-year-old Fred Funk were among those at 1-over 71.

“Imagine if we don’t get any rain and the greens get firmer and firmer by this weekend, it’s going to be difficult out there,” Olazabal said.

Going to get difficult? What is it now? David Toms led at 3 under at one point, only to finish at 72 following bogeys on five of his last six holes.

“Even in a major like Augusta, even other difficult major we play, you probably are going to have one or two shots where you can take off,” Woods said. “It’s not that hard of a shot. You can close your eyes and probably hit it either in the fairway or on the greens, and it’s an easy shot. On this golf course there are none, and no easy birdies.”

No doubt it didn’t help that only a dozen or so in the field have tournament experience at Oakmont, which hadn’t hosted a U.S. Open since 1994 – the year before Woods began playing in the national championship. Once the leaders experience all of Oakmont’s nuances, and the greens that tilt like a miswired pinball machine, maybe they’ll be more comfortable.

Or maybe not. Arnold Palmer has played Oakmont for 66 years and still doesn’t know all of its ins and outs and peculiarities.

“When he (Woods) and I played here last Monday, 10 over would have won it by five,” Ogilvy said. “Right now 10 over is not going to win, if it stays like this.”

One of the big questions before Thursday was how well Mickelson would play with an injured left wrist that didn’t allow him to play a full practice round this week. The answer: not all that badly, given his 4-over 74. He parred each of the last eight holes, getting more comfortable once he began taking off his wrist guard while putting.

“I feel OK to hit balls,” said Mickelson, who lost a one-shot lead on the final hole at Winged Foot last year, allowing Ogilvy to win. “It’s sore and aggravating and it’s annoying, but it’s not like the pain was as little as five, six days ago.”

Justin Rose, among a group of 16 at 1-over 71, said staying around is the main goal of Day 1.

“I haven’t shot myself out of the tournament, which is what Round 1 is all about,” Rose said.

And can anyone feel comfortable with Woods, winner of four of the last nine majors, hanging so close?

“That’s what he does, gets the best score of the day he can, not his best but he’s still in the tournament,” Ogilvy said.

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