Last Call from Oakmont

Last Call from Oakmont

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"Finishing second is never fun. You play so hard, and it's just disappointing," Woods said.
Robert Beck/SI

OAKMONT, PA. — It’s last call from the 107th U.S. Open. Final thoughts,
observations and loose change:

• Angel Cabrera of Argentina was no fluke winner. He’s contended
before in other majors, including the Masters and last year’s British Open,
where his poor decision making and Sunday nerves quickly sank his chances.
You could chalk up his back-to-back bogeys at 16 and 17 on Sunday to nerves,
but then again, those were damn tough holes. He hit the gutsiest tee shot of
his life at 18 and made the most important par of his life. He earned the
trophy.

• Tiger Woods rationalized his play in recent majors by pointing out
that he’s finished first-first-second-second in the last four, and that’s
not bad. Give the man four FedEx Cup points for being right. But there’s
something alarming going on with Tiger. Forget that stat about never coming
from behind to win a major on the last day. At the Masters and at Oakmont,
he grabbed the lead on Sunday … and couldn’t hold it either time!

At the Masters, the par 5s cost him. He was spooked by No. 8 and hit 3-wood
off the tee (3-wood?), and then he made a rare poor decision to go for the
15th green in two from a bad lie when he didn’t need to (he found the
water). At Oakmont, he committed a no-no by bunting it over the third green,
biffed his third shot across the green, muffed his next pitch and made an
un-Tiger-like double bogey. The Old Tiger makes par from the fairway there 9
out of 10 times, and the 10th time, he doesn’t make double.

The biggest concerns of Tiger-watchers? Whatever happened to his tempo? It
used to be fluid. Now he seems to be trying to hit everything as hard as he
can, like he did when he overpowered Augusta National in 1997. Is it
possible to have too much muscle? For once, it was his near-flawless play
Saturday that looked like the aberration.

• Oakmont is the king of the U.S. Open courses. I don’t think I’m
alone in that opinion. While it’s debatable if that much rough is really
necessary to make Oakmont challenging, I already can’t wait for a return
visit. (Paul Goydos suggested the course might actually be as difficult if
it had no rough, like Augusta National in the old days. Then balls would
roll into the bunkers and ditches — a hell of a concept.) Memo to USGA
— don’t make us wait another 13 years to come back to Oakmont. If you
haven’t already penciled it in for 2015, do it now.

• It was Oakmont’s monster length that drew most of the attention
during the week — the par-3 8th at 288 yards and the par-5 12th at 667
yards ranked as the longest holes of their kind in major championship
history.

The 8th played 300 yards Sunday, and Cabrera was one of two players to make
a birdie. The tournament’s pivotal hole, once again, was the fabulous 17th.
It measured 313 yards and was the classic drivable par 4. Woods reached the
greenside bunker Sunday with a titanic 3-wood and barely saved par. Cabrera
and Steve Stricker laid up with irons. Cabrera made bogey, Stricker made
double bogey. It was just as difficult to hold the green with a flip sand
wedge from the fairway as it was from the deep hay or the deep bunkers
around the green.

While Oakmont’s downhill 1st hole is probably the toughest opening hole in
golf, and the 3rd and 4th holes share the famous Church Pew bunkers, the
17th hole is Oakmont’s real signature hole. The Opens have proven it.

• Jim Furyk was overlooked during the first 12 holes of the final
round (the story of his career) on NBC’s telecast. Then he made the most
heroic run of anyone in the tournament. With Cabrera struggling to crawl to
the clubhouse, Furyk was tied for the lead on the 17th tee. A birdie-par
finish wins him his second Open. He tried to drive the green and hit it
left, into the deepest rough.

But don’t second-guess that decision. Laying up was no bargain, either. His
only mistake was trying to finesse that flop shot. He needed to get it on
the green, anywhere, and two-putt for par. The one shot Furyk said he’d like
over was that first pitch at 17. That’s the shot that cost him a chance at a
playoff (or a title), not the drive.

• One more thing on Furyk. The most exciting moment of the week was
when he knocked out three straight birdies at 13, 14 and 15. Raise your hand
if you were sure Furyk was going to pull this Open out, and Cabrera was
going to bogey the 18th, too. (Mine’s up.)

• That 74-74 finish doesn’t look so good on the scoreboard but, hey,
it’s Oakmont, where 74 is about two under par. I have a new respect for
Bubba Watson. I thought he was just another basher, a freakshow
long-drive-contest guy with not much else to back it up. Watson showed me
plenty at Oakmont. His short game does, indeed, have some holes in it, but
the fact that he’s hanging around Tiger in practice rounds and asking
questions is a good sign. I also liked how he bounced back after making an
ugly triple bogey Saturday. He’s got game and he’s got guts, and we should
now have great expectations.

• Those young guns still aren’t quite ready. I’m talking about Justin
Rose, Paul Casey and Aaron Baddeley. They all had chances to win Sunday, and
they all melted like grilled cheese. Baddeley’s opening triple en route to
80 was a classic Welcome to Open Sunday moment. Casey and Rose are great
talents, but they’re still looking for Mariano Rivera to come in and close
for them. Chalk up Oakmont as an important stepping stone in their
how-to-win-a-major education because they’re not going away.

• Think it’s not a global game? Wake up. Check out the top 25
finishers’ nationalities in America’s championship: U.S. 13; Europe 5;
Australia and Fiji 3; Canada 2; South Africa and South America, 1 each.

• Next year’s Open site: Torrey Pines. Bring your board, dude. Surf’s
up.