Eight was enough today at Oakmont. Actually, eight was more than enough.
The infamous par-3 8th, which can stretch to 288 yards, is the longest par-3 in U.S. Open history. It’s playing like it. By mid-afternoon, No. 8 had yielded just 3 birdies against 43 bogeys, and nearly two-thirds of the field had missed the green with their tee shots. Even those who did find the putting surface off the tee were averaging 2.18 putts.
“It’s probably a par 3-1/2,” Phil Mickelson said earlier in the week.
It was a hair tougher actually, playing to an average of 3.53. The really bad news? The tees were up. Way up.
The hole played just 252 yards Thursday, the same length it did when the Open first visited Oakmont back in 1935. At some point in the next three days, the USGA will take the markers back to everything-you’ve-got-in-your-bag-range, and then the real fun will begin. Not that the “forward” tees didn’t cause enough problems.
Geoff Ogilvy, who teed off on 10, was two pars away from a 69 when he arrived at No. 8. He made 5 and finished with a 71. Nick Dougherty had his own troubles, knocking his tee shot into the sand en route to a bogey.
Few pairings struggled more than Johan Edfors, Ryan Palmer and Bob Estes. Edfors landed his tee shot on a grassy upslope near one of three circular bunkers right of the green. He chipped on and two-putted for bogey. Estes, firing straight at the back-left hole location, also made 4 after dumping his tee ball into the yawning bunker known as “Sahara.” And Palmer? He hit the green but was some 70 feet from the hole. Three putts later, another 4.
If a 288-yard par 3 sounds unfair, the players aren’t getting any sympathy from NBC analyst Johnny Miller. “In the old days they used to play par-3s 250 yards when guys couldn’t hit it 250,” Miller said. “I’m not going to cry for these guys.”
Miller had a point. Most guys today hit hybrids off the tee or, in Bubba Watson’s case, a 3-iron. And you could drive two Mac trucks through the mouth of the green, so the field had plenty of opportunity to run the ball on. Some intentionally played short and right of the green, gambling that they could get up and down from there.
Among the few who slayed the monster was Woody Austin, who hit his tee shot pin high, 40 feet right of the hole. As his birdie putt neared the cup, he knew it was good, and he raised his arms in jubilation. But his next reaction was more telling. After the putt dropped, he spun his hat halfway around his head, shrugged his shoulders and let out a sigh, as if to say, “How did I just do that?”