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Winged Foot earns universal praise

Although penalising and brutal, Winged Foot's par-70 West Course earned unstinting praise from the players at the 106th U.S. Open.

The classic A.W. Tillinghast creation also provided engaging theatre for the fans in Sunday's final round when dramatic collapses rather than birdie runs gained top billing.

All too often, golf courses are overpowered in the modern game with today's players stronger and fitter than their predecessors and able to make the most of high-tech golfing equipment.

On top of that, most fairways and greens on the PGA Tour are in pristine order because of recent advances in agronomy and greenkeeping, leaving players with every chance to execute a near-perfect shot.

Winged Foot, however, was a very different story. Stretched to 7,264 yards since it hosted its previous U.S. Open in 1984, it became the longest layout in the tournament's history.

Renowned for its slick, small and heavily contoured greens, the West Course was given the traditional U.S. Open make-over with narrowed fairways and thick rough.

There was one further change, however, which met with the unanimous approval of the players.

Mike Davis, who oversees United States Golf Association (USGA) championships, instituted three-tiered rough at Winged Foot to lessen the penalty for tee shots that narrowly miss the fairway but more seriously punish wayward drives.

The ploy worked perfectly.

"I think it's a wonderful test of golf and they've got it set up very well," twice champion Ernie Els said at the start of the week.

"I think all the players agree with the tiered rough. The way it's set up right now is as fair as I've seen in a long time."

When Australia's Geoff Ogilvy secured his one-shot victory on Sunday after spectacular late collapses by Masters champion Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie, he did so with a five-over-par total of 285.

It was the highest-scoring U.S. Open since Hale Irwin won the famed "Massacre at Winged Foot" in 1974 with a seven-over-par total but not one player in the field complained about the fairness of the course.

"Pin placements were difficult, but I don't think you'll hear any whining about unfair or anything like that," said 2003 winner Jim Furyk, who cost himself a playoff chance by missing a four-footer for par on the final hole.

"I thought the golf course was tough but playable. I thought they did a good job with the set-up."

Britain's Montgomerie, whose bid for a long-awaited major title ended with a double-bogey at the last, agreed.

"It was a very fair test of golf," the 42-year-old Scot said. "Par means nothing, it's the total that counts and 285 is actually a very good score around here.

"It's a very demanding test, the most demanding test we've ever had, but I think the USGA set the course up very well. All credit to them."

Sunday's closing round at Winged Foot was played out in stifling temperatures and pars, the life-blood of a U.S. Open champion, were difficult to come by.

The sloping greens became more difficult to hold with approach shots in the searing heat and the heightening drama for the galleries came from player agony rather than ecstasy.

For Ogilvy, the experience was pleasurable and, ultimately, career-changing.

"I've always been decent at grinding it out when par has been a good score," he said. "If you really set your mind to it and have the right attitude about it, it can be quite enjoyable.

"It's obviously hard work, but it's quite enjoyable when you feel like you're really, really struggling and you look at the leaderboard and everyone else is making bogeys and stuff."

For Ogilvy, his fellow players and the fans, Winged Foot passed last week's U.S. Open test with flying colours.

 




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