boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

It measures up as a monster

Dougherty seizes lead at Oakmont

OAKMONT, Pa. -- When the sun plays hide and seek behind hovering clouds and a moderate wind buffers the insufferable heat, a golf course is a pleasant place to be.

To play, most certainly.

But to watch is special, too, even if the pleasantries don't show on the players' faces.

Thus did yesterday's opening round of the 107th US Open at Oakmont Country Club play out. There was, as always, that dynamic duo, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. The former went out in the morning and shot 1-over-par 71 to settle into a share of fifth, the latter commanded the afternoon spotlight but struggled with a balky driver and a cranky wrist that translated into a birdieless 74.

Front and center in popularity, Woods and Mickelson trail on a leaderboard topped by Nick Dougherty, whose sizzling inward 32 featured just nine putts and left him at 2-under 68, leading by one over Angel Cabrera, and by two over Jose Maria Olazabal and Bubba Watson. Woods was joined by 15 others, including defending champ Geoff Ogilvy, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, J.J. Henry, and Lucas Glover.

Safely in by around lunch, Dougherty served notice despite being reminded no European has won this championship since Tony Jacklin 37 summers ago.

"I want to be one of those European and British players the media looks at to fly the flag for us in these [major] tournaments," said Dougherty, whose bogey-free back nine featured birdies at the par-4 11th, par-3 13th, and par-4 17th, a hole that deserves a special mention in a summation of the day's activities since it is very much a part of the glory that defines this magnificent course.

At Oakmont, it's the long and short of it that resonates when examining these 18 hardy holes. The 17th, delicate yet dastardly at a mere 313 yards, barely requires more real estate than the eighth, a par 3 that can be stretched to 301 yards but was only 252 for the opener. Swing to the 12th, a monstrous par 5 of 667 yards, then gaze back at the par-4 second and its tidy 341 yards.

Long. Short. It's a delectable recipe at Oakmont that is beguiling to play and intriguing to watch.

"You have to come to places like this to find that," said Allen Doyle, the pride of Norwood, Mass., who at 58 is the oldest player in the field. He got roughed up to the tune of 81 strokes, but he was hardly alone. Dougherty and Cabrera were the only players to break par, the field average was a robust 75.320, and going by world rankings, the top 10 players were a combined 36 over with only 18 birdies. Henrik Stenson (No. 6) went for 79, Adam Scott (No. 4) and Retief Goosen (No. 10) were both at 76. Dipping down to No. 12, the precocious Sergio Garcia slumped home in 79, and 28 of 156 players failed to record a birdie.

In other words, Oakmont scored a knockout, but 54 more holes will determine which man gets beat up the least.

The long and short of it will continue to play a key role, holes that deserve attention, no matter the length.

Start with the eighth, the longest par 3 in US Open history. With the sturdiest hole location on the green, back left, officials offered a reprieve and moved up the tees, yet players still needed 3-woods and hybrids and just 33.3 percent stayed on the green. The trouble arrived early -- of the first 39 players, 19 made bogey and two made double -- and by day's end the field average was 3.526, second hardest.

Still, complaints were few, even from Ogilvy, who made one of nine double bogeys.

"There's nothing wrong with eight," said Jerry Kelly, who shot 74. "I feel bad for guys who can only hit a high cut -- but if all you can hit is a high cut, you wouldn't be out on Tour. It's fair."

Fair, too, in Kelly's mind was the shortish 17th. Kelly played it safe with a hybrid. His playing competitor, Rory Sabbatini, tried to drive the green. In great position, Kelly three-putted for bogey. From a lie that had bogey written all over it, Sabbatini got it up-and-down for birdie en route to 73.

Take the 12th -- and many a player would add "please," for as par 5s go, it was not the feast players normally have with par 5s.

It was more like a "beast," offered Watson.

"I hit driver, a 3-iron layup, and sand wedge to 2 feet," said the long-hitting Watson, who started on No. 10. "That's how everybody is going to play it."

Well, not quite, because the 12th played to a field average of 5.417 and 12 players made double bogey. Woods wasn't one of them, though he didn't eat it up. He drove it wide left and made the last of his four bogeys to fall to 2 over.

"It certainly tests you," said Woods of Oakmont's mixture of holes, and when he took advantage of the 17th, slipping home a 3-foot birdie putt, he was within three of the lead.

No surprise that Woods should cash in there, for the 17th yielded 26 birdies, a total surpassed only by the 31 made at the par-5 fourth. But before you credit that to No. 17's length, consider No. 2, which was the easiest fairway to hit (75.6 percent) but difficult to birdie (only 15 were made), no matter that it plays 341 yards.

The long and short of it at Oakmont is, it doesn't matter. Trouble is at every hole, since every hole has a putting green.

"All the greens fall in different directions," said Woods, who breathed a sigh of relief when he made par at 18, then he smiled.

Not surprisingly, given the wrist woes, but Mickelson seemed content, too.

"I was certainly tentative to go after it," said Mickelson, who pulled out of The Memorial May 31 with soreness in his left wrist and has played very little in the meantime. "But I don't think it was the wrist, per se. I was rusty."

He played the back in 3-over 38, then bogeyed the par-4 first to go 4 over. The championship was seemingly slipping away, but Mickelson recovered with a series of deft putts, ran off eight straight pars, and said, "I believe I'll get better as the week goes on."

The only thing is, there's every reason to believe that Oakmont will, too. That's the long and short of it.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES