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Winged Foot holds special US Open place

In the US Open golf championship's roster of monster courses, Winged Foot Golf Club's West Course holds a special place.

Winged Foot West, where the 2006 US Open starts on Thursday, was the scene of a 1974 championship dubbed "Massacre at Winged Foot," where Hale Irwin emerged as the battered victor with a seven-over-par total of 287.

Recalling that tournament, Irwin said last month that it was clear from the beginning that it would be a brutal week in Mamaroneck, New York, 30 miles north of Manhattan.

"I think we all came in sort of deer in the headlights," Irwin said of the reactions of the players to their early practice rounds.

The panic in the clubhouse only intensified on Thursday, when Jack Nicklaus's first putt rolled right off the sharply sloping green.

"The word went around the golf course in, like, five seconds, and everybody knew about it," Irwin recalled. "I think that's when everybody thought, 'Uh-oh, we're in deep guano now.'"

Irwin believes it was his ability to grind through the week that enabled him to win.

"I think part of the success I enjoyed that week came from some of my (American) football background," he said. "I put my nose to the grindstone and kind of toughed it out."

It's an ability that is rewarded by all US Opens, which the US Golf Association designs as "most rigorous examination in championship golf."

The USGA has denied the 1974 set-up was a direct response to Johnny Miller's final-round 63 to win the title at Oakmont the previous year.

But the picture was less grisly when Winged Foot hosted the championship in 1984, Fuzzy Zoeller beating the young Greg Norman in an 18-hole playoff after both finished on four-under 276.

And Winged Foot showed a more benign face in its most recent appearance as a major championship venue, when Davis Love won the 1997 PGA Championship at 11-under.

This week, players can again expect the searing test typical of the US Open.

The West Course will play at 7,264 yards, compared to the 6,961 yards of 1974.

At 514 yards, the ninth hole is the longest par-four in US Open history while the par-five 12th, at 640 yards, is the second-longest hole in the tournament's history.

In a new wrinkle, the USGA will introduce graduated rough, so shots straying further from the fairway are penalized more.

In 1974, then USGA Vice President and championship committee chair Sandy Tatum was asked if the USGA was trying to humiliate the world's top players.

"Our objective is not to humiliate the best players in the world," he replied. "It's to identify them."

June 13, 2006


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