Final day course problems dominate US Open
The 104th U.S. Open could have been one of the truly great major championships.
Instead, it will be remembered for three intoxicating days on a classic links-style layout followed by Sunday spillage as the game's best players leaked shots in a battle for par on a rock-hard Shinnecock Hills layout.
South Africa's Retief Goosen managed to hold his nerve to clinch a second U.S. Open crown, putting brilliantly to edge out U.S. Masters champion Phil Mickelson by two shots.
The pair carded matching one-over-par 71s on a bright and breezy afternoon on the eastern end of New York's Long Island, the second best scores of the day after the 70 posted by Australia's Robert Allenby.
"It was probably the toughest round of golf I've ever had to play," said the 32-year-old Allenby, who ended tied seventh.
"It was really tough out there and anything was possible. I hit the ball really well, hit a lot of fairways and greens and saved a lot of putts."
Allenby needed to because the final round proved to be a lottery for the 66-strong field with the firm and fast-running course drying out even more under a baking sun.
The last-day average of 78.7 was the highest at a U.S. Open since 1935 when Oakmont yielded 79.3. It was also the first time since 1963 at the Country Club, Brookline that no player closed with a sub-par score.
"It was scary out there," said 50-year-old Jay Haas, who also closed with a 71. "The greens were getting like toast, with no moisture at all in them."
Several players lambasted the United States Golf Association (USGA) for the way in which the layout had been set up.
"This is not the way it's supposed to be played," said world number one Tiger Woods who battled to a 76, his worst U.S. Open score as a professional, and a tie for 17th.
"The way the golf course was set up was great for the first two days, and yesterday (the third round) was tough but today it just got away from them (organisers). That golf course got out of control."
USGA officials conceded they had been caught off guard by the weather conditions, despite the combination of sun and wind making the par-three seventh almost unplayable on Saturday.
The blustery winds dried the course even more on Sunday morning, forcing a suspension in play for 10 minutes to allow greenkeeping staff to water the problem seventh.
The renowned 'Redan Hole' was then syringed with a light spray in between each group.
"I think we probably would have started syringing the greens at seven this morning, but when I was out there (earlier) they were putting okay," said Walter Driver, chairman of the championship committee for the USGA.
"But they dried out so rapidly as the hot day wore on that we probably should have started syringing a little earlier.
"Granted the golf course was very hard, but let's keep this in perspective," he added. "This is the third modern Open at Shinnecock and Retief shot four under par.
"In 1986, one under (by Raymond Floyd) won the tournament and in 1995 even par (by Corey Pavin) won the tournament.
"We weren't trying to humiliate the best players in the world, we were trying to identify them."
Goosen, who won his first U.S. Open in 2001 at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was careful not to be too critical.
"These greens were unbelievably fast and drying out and getting bumpy," he said. "I don't think there was one slow putt out there. To keep holing good putts was the key."
So it proved. The quietly-spoken South African sealed his second U.S. Open crown with just 24 putts in the final round, 11 of which were one-putts.
For Goosen, the 104th U.S. Open was a great major championship.
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