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Graduated rough a new feature of US Open

Rough - dense, deep, devilish rough - is a defining characteristic of any US Open golf championship.

When the 2006 edition tees off at the 7,264-yard, par-70 Winged Foot West course on Thursday, there will be a new twist on the old test.

"We're doing something quite different this year with the rough than we have in the past," said Jim Hyler, chairman of the US Golf Association championship committee.

The USGA has introduced graduated rough, beginning with a benign cut of intermediate rough less than two inches high alongside the fairways - dubbed semi-rough by two-time US Open champion Ernie Els.

The "primary" rough outside it is then divided into two cuts, the first about three and a half inches and the second five and a half inches.

"The idea here and the philosophy is that the further a player hits the ball off-line, the more penalty they will incur," Hyler said.

"In that three and a half inch cut, if a player hits in there, they do have a chance to advance the ball. It does allow for some shot-making opportunity."

South Africa's Els reckoned the system would achieve its goal.

"If you hit it way off into the third cut, from there you're hitting a sand iron or a wedge," said Els, who won the US championship in 1994 and 1997.

From the second cut, Els said, "you can get the ball 170 yards. If you're into the grain on that second cut, you can probably get it 130 yards or so.

"That's a huge difference," Els added. "If you're way off this week, you're going to pay a penalty."

To make sure the penalty is as stiff as planned, the USGA also moved back the gallery ropes, lessening the chance that an errant shot will find a favorable lie on top of trampled down grass.

"It's a golfer's nightmare this week, because you can't see the ball sometimes," said reigning US Open champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand.

"The ball in some cases sinks right down to the bottom, you can't even see the ball."

World number one Tiger Woods, whose 10 major triumphs include US Open victories in 2000 and 2002, said he saw the rare sight of mowers at work on the rough during his practice round on Tuesday.

"It was tough early today (Tuesday). When we played the back nine, they were cutting it, so it became a little bit easier on the back nine," Woods said. "But I think that's the last time we're going to see clippers."

Not so, insisted Hyler, who said Wednesday that the plan was to cut the three and a half inch rough every day, and the longer rough every other day.

"We want the players to have essentially the same golf course on Sunday that they saw Monday in their first practice round," he said.

Phil Mickelson, gunning for a remarkable third straight major title in the wake of his triumphs at last year's PGA Championship and the Masters in April, said he believed the change made for a fairer test.

"I actually think this is the way the rough probably should be," Mickelson said. "If you miss the fairway by two yards, you're not penalized nearly as much as if you miss it by 10 yards.

"In the past, 10 yards was a lot better than barely missing the fairway, because you'd get the trampled down effect."

June 15, 2006

 




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