GM Towers, 6.30pm, Wednesday June 20
First of all, apologies for the delay in posting this final entry (tears and sadness all round I know ? to console yourself I advise spending some time reading the rest of the GM site, it?s a proverbial gold mine of golfing excellence and deserves your attention).
Right sales talk over, I?ll give you one guess as to why there has been such a delay? oh yes BA did it again. In an attempt to release my anger here on the page and not at the poor unfortunate who fatefully picks up the phone next time I ring customer services, I?ll give you a quick rundown of what?s got me more red-faced than usual:
Four-hour delay from Pittsburgh to Washington (having spent my last dollars on presents for my good woman ? would not have got in the door otherwise ? five-hours before, when the plane was still scheduled to leave on time).
One-mile sprint at Washington to try and catch the connection, in the company of John Hopkins (The Times) who perhaps needs a bit more time in the gym.
Made the flight with five minutes to spare, which made me happy but perhaps the nice lady I was sitting next to a little less so ? amazing what 18-holes in the blazing sun and a quick run with a laptop on your back can do for your personal hygiene.
Told our baggage was being put on even as we spoke to Dale Winton?s American cousin at the boarding gate.
Arrived at Heathrow two-hours late and with no luggage.
Still no luggage 28 hours later? could be a good film there actually, with BA and US Airways employees getting eaten by Viking zombies.
Anyway, enough of this prevaricating, I know all of you sadistic people want to hear of my pain at Oakmont on Monday. Well, I?m a big fan of the old adage that you give people what they want, so let me tell you about the 1st. After a bit of a chaotic morning trying to find clubs (the rental shop ran out) there was no time to warm-up and I stood on the tee in a pair of tennis shoes (no hire shoes) with a 1985 TaylorMade driver in my hand ? but I was confident. Not quite so confident a few moments later, as my ball headed sharply to the left-sided rough. I eventually located the very top of the ball, nestled sweetly in the long grass. One hack later and I was in the sand, one shank later and I was in the trees to the right. Army golf is what my mate calls it (left-right-left? you get the picture).
So before even reaching the green I wasn?t in the best of states. I did cheer up when Jock, of Golf World (boo hiss) four-putted after hitting the green in two. I eventually holed out for a morale boosting seven. It looked like being a tiring day and those boys in the office who had gone long in the big money sweepstake on my score (in fact everyone went long?) were getting a little over excited.
Things got better though (D:ream?s anthem was my motivation tool after that start) and I began playing quite steady bogey golf, which was my intention from the beginning. I did go in the Church Pews after a huge drive on the 4th but I was still on the green for three (three-putted obviously). At the monster par-3 8th (playing 301 yards for us) I was quite happy to fire my ball pin-high and in the left-side bunker, not quite so happy with taking two to get out.
It was my performance at the 600-yard par-5 12th that summed up what the course is all about for me. I hit a good drive that ended up 10-yards off the fairway, I was forced to hack out with a SW for my second, hit a great 3-wood to 40-yards off the green in the light rough with my third and then hit what looked like a perfect chip all the way until it rolled, rolled, rolled gently off the back of the green. A courageous two-putt gave me a bogey.
It was the rough that really shocked me ? anything off the fairway cost you a shot and that?s not something any of us are used to. The greens were simply magnificent, incredibly fast and difficult but a complete pleasure to play on. The entire course was, clearly, in immaculate condition and to be able to play a day after the US Open, from the same Sunday tees to the same Sunday pin positions was just a huge privilege.
For the record, we had to walk in after 15 to catch our flight (took us 4.5 hours to get that far) which was of course, ironically, laughable, and at the time I was 20-over-par, heading for about a 93. Which would have won no one in the office the cash ? they all had me at over 100 despite my eight-handicap ? so I am claiming it, just reward for a very hard week?s work, I think you?ll agree!
Oakmont Media Center, Close of play, Sunday June 17
Wow, it?s all over. Or is it just beginning? No play-off means 18 holes of golf for this excruciatingly talented young golfer (well, if you can?t lie on your own blog then when can you?!). I have been advised from a number of quarters to take a calculator and an industrial size pack of Pinnacles ? to those doubting my ability round this course I say?yep I?m absolutely bricking it!
Anyway, of course far more importantly (to you lot at least) Angel Cabrera is US Open champion and I for one am seriously delighted. He hit the ball 397 yards on the 12th ? anyone who can do that deserves a Major championship in my book. He also steadfastly refused to dispense with a translator much to the US media?s chagrin ? especially since he didn?t need the translator to translate the press? questions!
For me, it has been absolutely fantastic and I have loved every moment. Best of all I managed to repeat my first round feat and get under the ropes for the final moments. Having been ushered along from standing behind the stands at 18, with no view what so ever, by the Terminator-state-troopers (what a bunch of?) I felt rather pleased with myself when I smiled at a young lady holding a rope at the side of the green and ducked under it announcing that I was with the media. The next thing I knew I was just yards from the edge of the green, standing with a posse of members, all in green jackets. Shades on, arms crossed, I tried and succeeded in looking as inconspicuous as possible. Best of all of course, Tiger missed the putt and the game is on tomorrow ? I am taking on fierce rival Jock Howard of Golf World fame and the stakes are enormous.
So, now all that remains is for me to head back to the loveable parking lot and make my way to the dodgy bikers bar for a couple of American lagers?sound appetising? Well, it?s not! But I have had the best possible week so even if I get chatted up by Doug on his Harley, it?s all been worthwhile. Adios.
(ps if anyone is even vaguely interested I will put one final entry in after my round?adds on breaking 100? Not slim)
Angel Cabrera has won the 107th US Open at Oakmont. Going to catch my breath, stop smiling about the fact that I do now get to play tomorrow, and add some more soon!
Oakmont Media Center, 11.15pm GMT, Sunday June 17
Wow, it?s getting a little tense here as I?m sure you all know. The entire media centre is silent everytime Woods or Cabrera hits a shot and now Furyk is making a major charge ? three birdies in three after two bogeys in two?yikes! There?s lots of debate here about who the money is on ? I am fearing for Cabrera, he has collapsed before ? just last month at the BMW Championship a double-bogey at 15 took him out of it. Woods is looking pretty immense ? although he has clearly been spending too much time in the gym, where did those biceps come from?!
The only dark spot is our boys?god damn, going to be another Major where we have three in the top ten/fifteen but no winner. The crowd is going pretty wild and is not as Tiger-bias as you might think ? Angel is getting some major support and local boy Furyk is driving them wild.
Who are you guys on? If I had to lay my fifty-cents on the line then it?s Cabrera for me. C?mon the big man!! Despite all the veterans advising against it I?m off to the 18th to hear (coz I sure won?t be able to see) Cabrera come in ? if he is the winner I want to be there when he holes out. (hope no play-off!)
Oakmont Media Center, 9.50pm GMT, Sunday June 17
Spectating at any major sporting event is a tactical affair and no where more so than at the US Open. Of course everyone wants to see the big boys and this desire is increased ten-fold when a certain Tiger Woods is in the hunt. However, with over 50,000 people here, temperatures climbing into the 90s and over nine hours of action, it?s no mean feat to be a part of this crowd.
With this in mind, I went to chat to a few souls waiting patiently on the back nine, as our leaders took on the front nine. In the stand behind the 15th green (with a view of the tee-shot on 16) I found Don and his three mates. ?We have been here for three-and-a-hours already, we got here about 10 minutes before Kevin [Sutherland, the first starter who teed off at 9.50am] and we?ll be here till the end,? said Don. The question of refreshment is key; ?We do two waters for one beer.?
Sauntering by the 17th fairway was father and son double act, Bob and Nathan and George and Anthony. They had a slightly different approach to the day?s proceedings. ?We?re here to drink as much as we possibly can and then try and find some girls who have drunk as much as we have,? said father Bob. A slightly different way to spend Father?s Day with your son ? but there you go.
For the most part the fans are extremely passionate. Seventy-one-year-old John, from Pittsburgh, is here with three generations of his family. ?We have found the only spot of shade on the course,? said John, as he sat Mafiosi style under a tree halfway up the 17th. ?And we are not going to move.?
I came across a couple of fans who take the planning thing extremely seriously. ?We came here on recon on Tuesday and Wednesday to find out all the best spots for watching,? explained locals Mack and Tom. And their view on the best spots: ?Stay away from the stands, get yourself a nice spot along the ropes where you can see two or three holes,? advised Mack.
For a few the whole thing becomes a bit much (quite understandably ? if I didn?t have the ice-cold media centre to come home to I would be in serious trouble) and lying in the shade of a TV tower by the 16th tee, unable to see anything I found Kelley and Heather. ?We?re just having a bit of time out and taking it easy,? said Kelley. ?We were in a great place at the 6th but left to get some food and someone took our places,? she explained. For these two the Open means more than just golf though; ?Oakmont has been phenomenal all week and the bars and clubs are buzzing,? said Kelley.
With Tiger and Aaron not too far away I took the opportunity to escape and recover. Things are beginning to happen on the course ?I hope you are all enjoying it as much as I am.
Oakmont Media Center, 6.30pm GMT, Sunday June 17
(Flash news: Play-off certain ? I have got a tee-off time here for 11.00am tomorrow? I?m just a little excited)
Ok, so I might be having my leg-pulled by European Tour PR man, Roddy Williams, but I have just been informed that a Brown Bear and her cub were spotted crossing the 7th fairway early this morning. How cool is that!
Anyway back to the golf, this is my first last day of a Major, if that makes any sense, and I have to say it?s truly fantastic to be here. I have just been out for a wander around with the idle thought that I could go and follow a few of the early starters, those well out of it, like for instance Lee Westwood (+16 at the start of play). A serious under-estimation of what happens on the fourth day of a Major.
The crowds are just immense and they must have been here since dawn ? getting anywhere, even as a privileged member of the media, takes an ice age. My favourite moment was passing the 18th green just a few minutes ago: not only were both grandstands full to bursting but all the standing areas around the green have been taken. And this is two hours before Tiger even tees off, so a good seven hours before they get to see their hero. In fact, Kevin Sutherland, first out this morning and playing on his own, hadn?t even come through yet. Now that is dedication.
However, it has slightly put paid to my plans to stroll around the front nine with the leaders before retiring to the media centre to watch the action unfold. But even in here you can feel the atmosphere building and building as tee-off time for the big boys comes closer. It?s a magnificent place to be.
What must it be like to be the 26-year-old Aaron Baddeley? He did let us in last night on how he would spend his morning ? reading the bible, saying some prayers and writing his thoughts down ? if that wasn?t enough to convince the rest into submission then I am not sure what will. I have just heard that Casey is on the range and looking pretty relaxed?oh please!
The final thought that has occurred to me as I sit here looking at the extended leaderboard in front of me, is that out of 45 rounds played by the top 15 players just five have been under-par.
Oakmont Media Center, 4.30pm GMT, Sunday June 17
I pulled back my curtains this morning to a very different scene ? the 18-wheeler camped outside my window since Wednesday had disappeared, perhaps the trucker finally remembered where he was supposed to be going, but even more interestingly the sky was grey, overcast and bristling with rain. What does this mean for the outcome of the US Open? I?m not sure to be honest but it should signal slightly softer, more receptive greens and maybe even the odd birdie. Now that would make a change and it would really get the crowds going, yesterday the masses were so desperate to cheer for something that they resorted to going wild anytime someone made a par, which still wasn?t too often.
I have been tossing and turning all night (maybe you didn?t need to know that) agitated about whether to write anything about, sshh now, the possibility of one of ours winning a Major. Argh, there I?ve said it now it can?t be undone. Have I put the ?Viking curse? on Casey and Rose? God (help them too please and not just your main man Aaron) I hope not.
Tiger hit 17 greens in regulation yesterday? can you see past that? I?m not sure, if his putter starts working (35 putts yesterday compared to 28 by Baddeley) then boom. Should we have seen it coming? Maybe you all did ? but on the hardest (yes I know everyone is bored of hearing how difficult it is) course you would expect the best to win. And that would make the USGA very happy ? sadistic bunch of ?.
BBQ chicken for lunch
One of the back-runners reaching +30 for four rounds
Bubba collapsing horrifically (sorry big man)
Verplank (my final punt) not making the top five
Getting picked to play here tomorrow then there being a play-off
Finally giving in and getting major sunburn ? it?s horribly inevitable
Munching my 8th burger in five days ? bring that on
Returning to the merchandise shop?again
Adding awesome to my vocabulary
Getting a goatee by osmosis
Watching Tiger walk away with it (my prediction plan, remember?)
Oakmont Media Center, Close of Play, Saturday June 15
+2 Aaron Baddeley (AUS)
+4 Tiger Woods (USA)
+5 Paul Casey (ENG)
+5 Stephen Ames (CAN)
+5 Justin Rose (ENG)
+5 Bubba Watson (USA)
+6 Angel Cabrera (ARG)
+6 Steve Stricker (USA)
+6 Jim Furyk (USA)
ustin Rose started +2 fininshed + 5
Niclas Fasth started +2 finished +7
Nick Dougherty started +5 finished +9
Carl Pettersson started +4 finished +9
Graeme McDowell started +5 finished +10
Ian Poulter started +9 finished +11
Peter Hanson started +5 finished +13
Pablo Martin started +7 finished +14
Jose Maria Olazabal started +8 finished +16
Lee Westwood started +7 finished +16
Kennie Ferrie started +10 finished +17
Anders Hansen started +10 finished +19
Highlights of a sort
My look-alike (according to equipment editor Jezz) leading the US Open by two.
Seeing my two highly pessimistic predictions not coming true as Casey and Dougherty both held on strongly.
Hearing that my Dad has a packet on Casey at 66/1.
Stephen Ames? permanent inane grin ? what does he know that we don?t.
Charles Howell III shanking a chip at 17 out of a bunker and then holing the next bunker shot for an unlikely 3.
Graeme McDowell turning the same shade as his polo-shirt ? it?s hot for us blondes (fake or not).
?Why are you so wet Daddy?? asked a four-year-old being carried all the way across the course by her laterally-challenged father.
Any close-up of Carl Pettersson ? what a Toad of Toad Hall he would make.
Loudest cheer of the day when the lady who was hit in the stands by David Toms? wild tee-shot at 17, announced that she was in fact, OK.
Tiger back on the range just 15 minutes after finishing his round.
Learning that one in two Americans have goatees.
A sparsely dressed Vanessa Feltz having clearly forgotten her factor 50.
Today has been a fantastic day of golf and I can?t believe there is only one more day to go. But wow, what a day in store. My prediction; Bubba Watson to win by three (anything I predict never happens). Everything crossed for Casey or Rose ? c?mon boys, as Napoleon almost certainly didn?t say, Do it already.
Oakmont Media Center, 10.10pm GMT, Saturday June 15
I don?t know about you but when Peter Alliss starts to bumble on (does he ever do anything else?) and on about how the TV screens can?t express how difficult this or that particular course is, I slightly switch off and think, ?whatever?, in true modern British style. So I can totally empathise that a lot of you (I like to think that there are a lot of you!) will skip this next entry and that perhaps it is a waste of my time and resources but to quote the Lord Flasheart, I?m going to do it anyway.
I have spent two and a half days now watching every single mistake, no mater how small, be punished by at least a shot and I think that is the biggest single difference between this course and any other I have seen. Take this for example, GM columnist Graeme McDowell came to the 9th a highly impressive +7, and hit his drive four paces off the fairway, into the bunker. Now these bunkers, unlike most on the PGA circuit, cost you a shot, so he splashed out 20 yards or so, got a bad bounce and found himself quite literally three inches off the fairway. But the first cut of rough is so spongy and sticky that there was no way he could hit the shot he wanted. So one shot, a few yards off line, cost McDowell a double-bogey and that?s before he even reached the green.
To play a Major course, when set-up in tournament conditions, has always been a dream of mine but these greens make me re-consider whether it might not ruin my game forever if I do get picked to play on Monday. This morning I watched Pablo Martin touch a putt from off the green on the 1st and I immediately thought, half-way for girls – it finished five-foot by. On the second the young Spaniard had a three-footer for par, which he tried to stroke crisply into the back of the hole ? it ended up over 30-feet away. Wow.
Paul Casey said yesterday that he couldn?t hit a single putt out there with conviction, while Tiger said he was aggressive on just three putts all day ? unheard of for these two gung-ho golfers.
Anyway there we go ? in true sods? fashion people seem to be holing putts all over the place as I sit and write this. Never one to fight a losing battle, bar with my good woman, I?ll shut up now.
Oakmont Media Center, 7.10pm GMT, Saturday June 15
With a long wait for the leading players to tee off, I finally decided to honour my promise and head for the range, to see how the pros prepare and who is doing what. But one thing I didn?t expect to see was Padraig Harrington. There was the Irishman, next to his fellow competitors, endlessly smacking balls, nothing wrong with that you might imagine? except of course he finished at +13 yesterday and is out of the tournament. OK, so he must be taking the chance to get some (much needed, you might say) practice in but you would have thought he would go somewhere else. Surely being around a Major that you are not in ? especially one where you came with such high hopes ? would be a bit too painful?
The range itself was also not what I expected. For a start it is a lot smaller than you might imagine, with high netting catching any drives or fairway woods – but this netting would never be enough to catch any wayward shots by you and I? I suppose that?s why we are not playing. It also slopes hugely and there are no yardage markers ? all a surprise to me but the players seemed happy enough!
One thing that wasn?t a huge shock was that Vijay Singh (+8) was firmly engrossed in practice, his pale blue shirt turned navy by the morning?s work. Famous as a range hound, he was still there just 10 minutes before his tee-off time, which seemed a little extreme. Lee Westwood (+7) was taking a very different approach, hitting a shot in between jokes with his caddie and an unknown (to me) hanger-on ? probably one of the world?s leading coaches but hey.
It caught my eye that the vast majority of those on the range looked like they were very deliberately practising some aspect of the swing, be it the take-away, swing plane, follow-through etc, as opposed to just warming up. Perhaps this is just a way of calming nerves or keeping mind?s focused. Also around 90% were hitting irons, which maybe indicates the way people?s course strategy is set-up for the weekend.
The oohs and aahs of appreciation coming from all around me was enough indication of just how sweetly and effortlessly these guys hit the ball. Watching them at the range you would imagine that everyone of them will go out and shoot 66 ? if only golf could be judged within the safety of the range.
On the course there is a strange calm before the storm, except all the waves are here already. The course is absolutely packed, yet the main attractions don?t tee-off for an hour or two. So people wander about catching bits and pieces but the intensity is not there, especially since this is a course that is unlikely to allow anyone to storm through and shoot a very low number.
So far the scoring is pretty similar today to the first two days, although there is the odd indication that conditions are verging on the extreme. Is it fun for Major winners Michael Campbell and Zach Johnson to be at +13 and +14 respectively? How do they keep themselves going when they are so far off the pace and finding the going so tough? It?s a true indication of the professionalism of these guys that they keep bothering because I imagine most of them can?t wait to see the back of this place.
I?m going to go and try to gauge for you just how tricky this course is ? a report coming soon.
Oakmont Media Center, 3.15pm GMT, Saturday June 15
Food, glorious food. Beneath the stars and stripes, that must be the true motto of this country. Everywhere I have been, from the departure lounge in Newark airport to the breakfast room in my lavish Comfort Inn, consumption is the watchword of the day.
My favourite moment so far came last night, as in a major change of routine I headed for Primanti Bros ? the best restaurant in the immediate area (I quote Pearl behind the desk at said Comfort Inn). To be fair to Pearl it certainly had more atmosphere than the joints I had been frequenting in my parking lot. So seated at the bar and in conversation with Joe ? an ex-air force man and major soccer fan ? I dipped into the menu and was delighted to find a salad staring up at me. My entire body went into spasms of craving as the prospect of lettuce and tomato flashed in front of my eyes.
It came piled to the rafters with chips.
Salad and chips on the same plate ? that is American cuisine, obviously accompanied by blue-cheese dressing. Of course, I wolfed it down and thoroughly enjoyed it. But, as with every other meal so far, I left with that fried taste feeling clogging my mouth and my belly feeling extremely heavy.
Everywhere on the course people are eating, it?s hardly surprising given the fact that you can?t go more than 20 yards without seeing a concession stand offering, dogs, nachos, burgers, pizza slices?you get the picture. For the average visitor (especially a young Viking male) it?s clearly brilliant, like being let loose in a fast-food heaven. But after four days I am beginning to suffer and I have nothing but admiration for the natives. Of course I have seen a fair few ?fatties? (and I do mean fatties) but nothing in comparison to what you would expect with the national diet as it is.
It?s a major case of modern evolution and it should be applauded ? just as our stomachs evolved from eating grass so the American has undergone physical meta-morphis to be able to process fried food on a continuous basis. Perhaps, like the cow, the American has four or five stomachs. Anyway enough of this, I?m hungry.
(ps exciting news ? for me anyway ? I have just signed up to play here on Monday and my veteran Major friend assures me that the international media gets preference! Here?s hoping?)
Oakmont Media Center, Close of Play, Friday June 15
E Angel Cabrera (ARG)
+1 Bubba Watson (USA)
+2 Aaron Baddeley (AUS)
+2 Justin Rose (ENG)
+2 Niclas Fasth (SWE)
+3 Paul Casey (ENG)
Happy never to return to Oakmont
Steve Elkington +23
Colin Montgomerie +18
Adam Scott +18
Robert Karlsson +18
Steve Marino +18 (what happened?!)
Henrik Stenson +15
Sergio Garcia +14
Padraig Harrington +13
Retief Goosen +13
Luke Donald +11
Phil Mickelson +11
Highlights of a sort
Bubba pipped at the last by Angel?s birdie.
A birdie that sent Mickleson and countless others home
?Say ?get in the hole? Dad,? the devil-child speaks up while watching Tiger Woods.
Collective wince of pain as Sergio Garcia misses another two-footer.
?Awesome? ? you’re lucky if you go 10 seconds without hearing this.
?Wooh this stand is rocking,? yes 17-stone Carl, that would be you.
Monty?s face (again) after a second round 82.
Three different dishes on offer for lunch in the media dining room ? all three swimming in BBQ sauce.
?Where?s Tiger?? Devil?child asks for the 300th time.
Padraig Harrington?s towering iron to 4ft on the 18th and then taking an age to line up his birdie putt for a round of 80.
Nick Dougherty getting to -3 with no one else better than one-over.
Two Englishman on the final leaderboard.
So brutal (the watchword for the Open by the way ? players and press have to use it the whole time or they will be killed) has Day Two been that a USGA official has just informed us that they are ?watering the greens tonight and considering watering them in the morning?. I suspect that those players still here will be gathered in a passionate rain-dance this evening because everyone knows that the USGA are, not very secretly, seriously enjoying this carnage. It?s Gotham time for me, so Adios all and bring on the weekend.
Oakmont Media Center, 10.15pm GMT, Friday June 15
Resistance is futile, you can train for it, you can retreat to your inner sanctum, you can employ ancient yogic mind control but in the end it will get you. The Tiger Woods experience is something that no one can avoid ? it?s as big a cultural phenomenon Coca-Cola and Baywatch and being a big fan of both of those I decided it was time that I embraced it.
Having purposefully avoided the Woods train all week, I was unsure where to start but a quick consultation of the starter?s list told me that the stand half-way up the 17th fairway would be the perfect vantage point for my experiment. From here I could crane my neck and just about see some action on the 15th green, the tee-shot on the par-3 16th and then the entirety of the driveable 17th.
I was in position a good four pairs before Tiger but still I could smell him on the wind ? actually perhaps that was more to do with the fact that the stand was already dangerously full and I was wedged against the copious armpit of Carl, a 17-stone local.
The first visual indication of Tiger?s presence occurs long before he does because the fairways and stands just a few holes back empty suddenly, as though someone has pulled the plug on a giant bath. The ears are assaulted as well. ?Get in the hole? can travel a long way when 20,000 hungry Americans are in unison.
Former US Open winner, Michael Campbell, hardly got a look in, as he went up 17 ? of course people are more interested in straining to not see Tiger putt on a green almost 500 yards away. By the time he walked down 16 the entire stand is swaying (thanks Carl) and the woman on my left is clearly suffering from bad vertigo.
Tiger on the tee with a driver in hand causes mayhem and the kid behind me, who has been talking about Tiger non-stop for 35 minutes (I?d give him to the dogs if I was his father), goes into whine-overdrive. His Dad also gives into to the peer pressure and starts the inevitable hollering. The crowds are now 10 deep on each side of the fairway and not a vantage point is wasted. One thing I do have to say is that when he actually plays there is complete silence (bar the devil-kid of course).
For the record Tiger drove in the bunker, splashed out and two-putted for par. But that?s not really the point, it?s the fact that you can say you saw Tiger that matters to most. And suddenly the crowds are gone, snaking their way down 18 and I head for the medical tent, for some much needed solace. Would I do the Tiger thing again?absolutely, who am I to argue with the masses!
Oakmont Media Center, 6.45pm GMT, Friday June 15
I know that I said I was off to the range but I?m afraid that I never made it. I got hijacked by the ?Paul Casey show?, which was just starting the down the 1st as I passed (his 10th hole). I?m not naturally a Casey fan ? I think he hasn?t quite backed up all his talk with results in the big tournaments ? so I thought this was my chance to be persuaded one way or the other. I picked him up by the second green, where I once again got ushered under the ropes (!) and stayed with him through to the 8th, when I lost my nerve and melted into the crowd again.
Now this guy is a complete showman. He clearly loves the theatre and thrives on being the centre of attention. It is becoming something of a regular event at Major Championships: a bad first round followed by a blaze of birdies in the second (something he acknowledged in the press tent). If I didn?t know better, I would almost say that he does this on purpose because he knows more people will watch him if he is coming charging through the field!
Anyway, I can?t deny that he is great to watch. He smiles, he looks at the crowd and most revealing of all, he chats non-stop with his playing partners ? at one point he even started hollering at Stenson back down the second fairway. He also takes on the golf course. In the seven holes I watched he also played some quite fantastic golf.
He was exuding confidence on every tee and the difference in body language between him and playing partner Trevor Immelman was vast. Immelman took 3-wood and found trouble, Casey took driver and found the fairway. With Stewart Cink making up the threesome it was a Nike dream, with the ?swoosh? occupying every surface.
The 5th is definitely the sort of hole that would stop me sleeping for a week, with a blind drive uphill and an approach over a stream you can?t see due to the foot-high grass, to a green that is so small you couldn?t fry an egg on it. Casey hit it to four-feet. Incredible. He finished with a flourish too, saving par magnificently at the short 6th and then making a great birdie at 7 for a stunning 4-under-par 66.
Of course he then gets his wish; his name is up in lights all over this tournament and his story is the headline news. His press conference was more akin to a circus performance as he bathed in the spotlight. However, I?m wouldn?t put a dime (getting into this) on him still being in it come Sunday ? look what happened at the Masters. But of course, this really means you should all put your mortgages on him to win, after all Steve Marino is coming 143rd, just ahead of Henrik Stenson.
Oakmont Media Center, 2.45pm GMT, Friday June 15
I feel a little bit like Batman at the moment. Quite a strange sentence I know but go with it. Like Bruce Wayne, the eccentric millionaire, the difference between my ?evening-life? and the daytime existence is becoming pretty extreme. At the one end, I am ensconced at beautifully manicured, highly exclusive golf course, that is hosting one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world and at the other, I am living out one of those bad Hollywood road movies.
Last night I left the course about 9.00pm, after a quick beer with some fellow hacks and found my way back to the urban sprawl that I lovingly call home and once in Gotham it?s impossible to escape if you don?t have wheels. Take-away pizza, a couple of Buds and endless channel-hopping followed. I woke up this morning to a room littered with McDonalds wrappers, pizza boxes and a few beer cans ? and of course the first thing I did was switch on the magic box ? I?m learning fast. A toothless, mono-syllabic handyman then drove me to the course for the third straight morning. We are slowly becoming buddies.
Anyway, it?s great to be back here and everything is set for a spectacular day. The black spot on the horizon is that I look increasingly unlikely to become rich. My four top tips, cunningly divided into four categories, are not progressing quite as might be hoped. Out of the fancied pack I went for Adam Scott (currently +10), my American choice was Scott Verplank (currently +3), my European hope was Henrik Stenson (currently +10) and my outsider was Rodney Pampling (currently at +10). So one should make the cut at least ? perhaps now my friends will learn to stop asking me for ?insider? tips.
On that note I am off to the driving range to see if I can pick out a winner ? don?t worry I won?t even think of letting you know who I come up with.
Oakmont Media Center, Close of play, Thursday June 14
-2 Nick Dougherty (ENG)
-1 Angel Cabrera (ARG)
E Bubba Watson (USA)
E Jose Maria Olazabal (SP)
+1 Tiger Woods (USA)
+1 Geoff Ogilvy (AUS)
+1 Jim Furyk (USA)
+1 Ben Curtis (USA)
+1 Justin Rose (ENG)
Nick Dougherty: big smug smile and quite rightly
Justin Rose: strong performance again from the muncher
Ian Poulter (+2): will be slightly bitter with his finish but very pleased with his trousers
Lee Westwood (+2): should be delighted, top stuff Worksop
Padraig Harrington (+3): consistent in his scrambling but needs a new putter after no birdies
Graeme McDowell (+3): GM columnist should be delighted with this
Rhys Davies (+4): keeping the Welsh end up and in with a chance to make the cut
Luke Donald (+4): must be disappointed, at least his fiancée is here to cheer him (and us) up
Kenneth Ferrie (+4): lots of support for the tubby Geordie and not a bad round
Colin Montgomerie (+6): wouldn?t fancy sharing his house after that
Paul Casey (+7): lots of talk but little action from this man
Richie Ramsay (+8): would have wanted more but it?s very tough
Sam Walker (+8): his Mum should be proud of this qualifier
Four pop-up periscopes spotted so far
Posse of unsmiling state troopers in Terminator-style mirror sunglasses
A very short man perched on some steps and still not being able to see Big Phil
An eagle proudly surveying the 9th green
Jeff Golden sporting a pair of trainers on Oakmont?s hallowed ground
No handshake at 18 between Wetterich and Karlsson ? what a pair
Jim Furyk?s “cardigan-style” beige T-shirt
Poulter?s diamante cross necklace
Monty?s face after a double-bogey at 18
So there it is, Day One is over and I?m so knackered that even my parking lot is alluring, if of course I can get there. With no car still and the hotel unable to pick me up, it?s a case of getting on the shuttle to the car park and hoping to persuade someone to go out of their way to drop me off ? because strangely none of the other journalists are in my hotel?! Last night local cameraman Kevin obliged, so fingers crossed for tonight. Oh and by the way, Steve Marino finished at +9 ? I?ll kill his caddie if I see him again on the shuttle!
Oakmont Media Center, 10.45pm GMT Thursday June 14
What?s it like to be a little talked about, slightly lonely 183-yard par 3? Well, with a spare hour or two on my hands (someone has to do this job) I went to find out.
The 13th is not Oakmont?s most well known hole, standing quite literally in the shadow of the ludicrous 667-yard 12th (think that is driver, driver, 3-wood). However, it?s a gem of a par 3, offering birdies and bogeys, with a wickedly slopping green and it was my home for two hours this afternoon ? come to think of it, I might be more comfortable there than at the well-named Comfort Inn (very ironic these Americans, don?t you know).
My first customers were the pretty impressive trio of Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Adam Scott ? the man I have got my money on. They taught me a good lesson; don?t even try and follow Big Phil or Tiger, I was swamped by the crowds and could see nothing. But even had I got near, the “hollering” would have ruined the experience. Columbus must be very proud of his work at moments like these.
Next up was McEnroe look-a-like and a personal favourite of mine, Lee Janzen. He got a great reception and recorded a solid par. Rich Beem stepped up to the plate with a graphite-shafted iron ? complete girl ? while Steve Elkington teed up with the smallest-headed blade I have ever seen; true Aussie macho style. Elk found the bunker and a double-bogey, Beem made an easy par. Shows what I know.
The constantly eating Justin Rose (seems to be a habit since Augusta) hit what was then the shot of the day for me, to 4ft and a birdie 2. He was still munching when he walked to the next tee. After this my interest started to wander as I looked down the list of players heading my way, especially after a couple of slightly faceless groups went through with regulation pars.
My view of those souls that pick a spot and don?t move all day started to turn from admiration to irritation. However, as usual people know a lot more than I do. Faced with six players who I couldn?t possibly pick out in a police line-up ? I was rewarded with two agonisingly close-to-hole-in-ones, a further birdie and two bogeys. Who?s interested in picking a new cast for Grease when you have entertainment like that.
I also had the privilege of speaking to one of those “near hole-in-oner?s” proud parents. Mr McNeil said (of son George): ?It?s his third time at the Open and we were hoping for a lucky charm and he?s going along nicely. The only thing is I wish he would use his driver more but of course I am not telling him that!? Nice to see that he is no Senor Capriati!
Just been to see Iain Carter in the BBC Radio Five Live hut and the poor guy is doing bulletins every quarter of an hour? think I?ll go and get another ice-cream and take it easy for a while!
Oakmont Media Center, 6.30pm GMT Thursday June 14
Woh, still getting shivers down my spine. Just spent an hour and a half torn between quiet ecstasy and absolutely bricking myself that I was about to be hauled off the course and given a major dressing down by the Oakmont equivalent of Hootie Johnson. Let me explain. I had just set off for my first proper walk around and, with advice from the grizzled veteran of 38 Majors, who sits next to me, ringing in my ears, I thought I would follow the first group I came across for a few holes ? just to get into it, if you like.
The three just happened to be Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Zach Johnson. Not a bad trio and even better because Woods was playing so the crowds were relatively sparse. However, the whole scene changed when suddenly I was ushered onto the player?s bridge on the walkway to the 2nd tee. That?s nice I thought, a bit of a shortcut. The next thing I know I am being ushered underneath the ropes at the 2nd tee and am walking just three paces behind this triumvirate.
The next four holes passed in a nervous blur as I was the closest I?ve ever come to professional golf. The first thing that hit me was the quality of the ball striking ? it should perhaps be no surprise to someone in my profession but to be just a few yards away when Harrington hit a blind approach shot on 2 to four feet was just fantastic.
No one asked me a thing as I walked from fairway to green to tee and it was immense! The Church Pews up close on the 3rd frightened the pants off me (luckily not literally, that might have been embarrassing inside the ropes). They are truly huge, a lake of sand with wispy marron-style grass on the top of each pew. My three pals (well, I was very close to them) all avoided it but Chris Di Marco, coming down 4, was in them and just hacked out. However, he didn?t seem too upset as he and Els shared a joke.
In terms of the three, Johnson was totally indebted to his short game ? he played his second shot first on every hole I saw but he putted and chipped like the Masters champion he is. Els seemed to be hitting it sweetly but I was most impressed with Harrington. He was hitting it out the screws every time and played one outrageous chip-putt with the rim of his lob wedge. If I had money on him I would be quietly optimistic? but I don?t, damn.
The fairways and greens are definitely a lot softer than they were and I reckon the scoring is going to be a little better than people think, although as I write that there are only two players under-par! I finally left the party when a rather large security guard came towards me ? he actually was just warning me not to step on the TV wires but I thought that was a sign that I shouldn?t push my luck!
(ps I just had a couple of snaps taken by the nice guys from Getty, so hopefully my office mug-shot will be off your screens shortly)
Oakmont Media Center, 2.45pm GMT Thursday June 14
Get in the hole! (sorry but when in Rome?). And so it begins (apologies now it sounds all Lord of the Ringsish, think I should have avoided the All American jumbo breakfast). In fact my diet so far is enough to make Jamie Oliver squirm in his mock Tudor mansion: two burgers (a quarter-pounder is still the best I?ve done), a hot-dog, fajitas and pancakes with double-bacon. Wonder if the media center has any fruit?
As I glance up at the interactive leaderboard it?s all looking pretty bright at the moment ? our very own Nick Dougherty shares the lead of the US Open! A few other early highlights: a Woods bogey on one ? just missed seeing that live after my lift and I got lost on the way to the shuttle bus ? and Wales? Sam Walker starting, in the very first group, with two birdies and a par on three to lead the Open for a short while. They?ll be singing in the hills.
Have got a new top tip ? sat next to Steve Marino?s caddie on the way up this morning and he told me that not only does he think the course won?t play nearly as difficult as people have been saying but that his man has made nine birdies in 27 practice holes and is worth a flutter. Not sure if I trust him wholly as he was wearing some very suspicious shades but I shall certainly follow him down the first couple of holes.
Had an interesting night when I got back to my parking lot heaven at about 9.00pm yesterday. The first thing I noticed was that an 18-wheeler was parked directly outside my window (that doesn?t open anyway) and the second thing was that my nice neighbours were big TV fans?in fact they don?t ever seem to turn the magic box off. There was just one B-movie horror moment during the night when I woke up to hear a very loud argument in Spanish right outside my window ? I said a few prayers, checked the door (again) and turned over. It does make a nice contrast to the exclusive feel of Oakmont!
Off to catch some live action ? be back shortly.
Oakmont Media Center, 6.15pm USA Time Wednesday June 13
(Just heard that someone is coming to tell us how much damage the storm has caused to the course – will keep you informed)
This isn?t supposed to be happening at all, forget checking out the players fine-tuning on the range and finishing up their practice rounds, the entirety of the international media are huddled in our over-sized tent as a storm of biblical proportions batters the place to within a few gusts of its life. Water is pouring in the doors, thunder is cracking overhead (in fact the fellow UK journalist on my left and I just looked rather silly after jumping out of our seats in fright) and my choice of shorts and a t-shirt is looking extremely foolish.
Before the heavens opened I got a good look at the course and all I can say is, thank goodness no mere mortals are playing. Wow. All the well-known fear factors are there but it is the greens that just scare the daylights out of me. They are so narrow and so small I just don?t see how anyone can stop the ball on them ? can?t wait to see how they get on.
One thing I love looking at on a Major practice day is the pairings ? still not quite sure how many players pick their partners and how many sign up to the lottery but it?s all fascinating. For instance did Monty chose to play with Wagner, Stroud and List ? exactly, who? What about Donald, Garcia and Casey ? were they a bit put out when Pettitt Jnr signed up or did one of them suggest helping out a youngster? Even better, does the bearded Matthew Goggin have personal hygiene problems or did he just choose to go out last, on his own?
I am very pleased to have located a few friendly faces in the last couple of hours after a day or so of chit-chat with the Yanks. It?s also a good tonic before I return to my charming roadside Comfort Inn. It has the distinct advantage of being just three miles from the course and the distinct disadvantage of being miles from the rest of the media and in the middle of an urban shopping centre and trucker hangout. Doors will certainly be double locked and I can forsee a fair few dinners-a-un ? especially since I don?t have a car at the moment. With that in mind I am certainly going to take up the opportunity of heading to American Golf World?s drinks party, where Arnie is making a toast ? a few doubles on the rocks should make the three-mile hike home a little more entertaining. Can?t wait for tomorrow ? my outside tip is Rodney Pampling, saw him hit a monster drive at 9, straight as an arrow, come on Rod!
Oakmont Media Center, 3.15pm USA Time Wednesday June 13
I?ve made it. Planes, Trains and Automobiles pretty much covers the journey but all that can be forgotten now ? my first US Open experience has started for real. I am sitting somewhere near the back of a vast media centre and I, unlike the rest of the very relaxed veterans, am seriously over-excited. A large and rather stupid grin gives the game away and I think Pierre (Swiss press) who has the misfortune of being placed next to me is wondering who this ludicrous rookie is. Everything, from picking up my media passs to collecting my free gift (a rather snazzy Ashworth polo shirt!) puts a huge grin on my face.
Compared to US Airways (sorry ? I will try not to keep harking back to my travelling travails) the staff here at Oakmont deserve a Nobel prize. I have been here just under an hour and yet I?ve visited the help desk a world record 11 times – the staff must be beginning to weary of this strange techno-fobe Englishman, who even needed help plugging in his laptop (well, there are lots of wires around and the blonde hair does have some drawbacks) yet each time they give me a great big smile and tender to all of my needs.
Having learnt from the GM team?s experience at the Masters, the very first place I headed once settled was the dining room ? wow! After nothing but airplane food for 28 hours, a hotdog, a fajitas and burger number one went down very well indeed ? nicely finished off by a jumbo ice cream of course. In true American style veggies seem banned and that suits me down to the ground ? might need to go swap that Oakmont polo shirt for an XXXL come to think of it.
All that remains now is the best bit ? the course. I have heard and read so much about Oakmont and I can?t wait to see it in the flesh. The talk in the media centre is that this could be the most brutal US Open of all. I?m off to take a walk and will report back in a couple of hours.
Crown Motor Inn, Queens, New York 4.11am GMT Wednesday June 13
I knew it was too good to be true… first ever upgrade, sitting next to a very nice man reading Golf Monthly (he actually happened to be a friend of equipment editor Jeremy Ellwood and even better he had beaten him into second place in the medal last week and took great joy in describing Jezz’s pain!), great airplane food and a couple of top action movies. At this stage I was sure that not only was Luke Donald going to claim a monumental victory come Sunday but I would get a Pulitzer for this blog and probably meet Pamela Anderson on the way back home.
Expectations have changed a little – I now know for certain that yet another God-fearing American will cruelly deprive our boys and I will be shipped off to Anglers Mail magazine on my return to report on perch growth in Norfolk for the rest of eternity (where Pamela will be but a faint dream) – it’s not been a good few hours.
US Airways will not be receiving a Christmas card. Flight 189 from Newark to Pittsburgh cancelled without a word, no hotels/vouchers/compensation offered by the ‘so-called friendly staff’ that made Gordon Brown look cheerful (apparently they can’t control the weather…), no flights available from Newark to Pittsburgh for another 23 hours. So a 45-minute ride to La Guardia – no flights to Pittsburgh for 14 hours (an improvement, you’ll agree) but best of all no hotel space in the vicinity. After an hour or so of frantic searching with my two new best friends (Pittsburgh residents) they were ready to sleep on the departure benches. I had one more effort in me.
As such I am now sitting on a rather sticky sofa in the Crown Motor Inn in Queens, New York, waiting for my room to be cleaned. The very friendly counter guy Nik assures me it is all safe but since I have just noticed that rooms are rented out by the hour as well as by the night, I am not so sure. Best of all since I managed to find the only hotel with any beds in (I wonder why) I arrived here with a gaggle of highly respectable Americans and English in tow. The taxi did get quieter and quieter the further down the Boulevard we went. I fear they blame me.
The one bright spot is that I am yearning for the sanity and beauty of Oakmont more than ever now. With a lot of luck I will be there tomorrow!
GM Office 4.38pm Monday June 11
Twenty-two hours, nine minutes and forty-five seconds until take-off (BA, of course may have other ideas). I can report that I?ve got that twitchy, highly over excited, ?about to go on holiday? feeling ? although of course this will be a gruelling, devilishly hard-working week (ed!).
Quite simply, I can?t wait to set foot on Oakmont CC and breathe in the US Open. A few little hurdles before then though. Finishing up my commitments here at GM Towers is proving tricky, with the US Open site flickering attractively in the corner of the screen and an increasing propensity to daydream my way onto the 18th green as Luke Donald sinks an eight-footer for the title and the British contingent of Pennsylvania goes wild?
With a memory like a poor imitation of a sieve, my desk is covered in post-it notes. If I get to Heathrow with my laptop, press pass and hotel details it will be miracle of old-school, biblical proportions. Aaah, that reminds me; passport ? must fish that out of my sock draw.
Sun cream is one thing that I will not allow myself to forget ? just been on the Oakmont site (again) and there is more chance of Monty hitting a clean 7-iron to the 18th to win on Sunday than there is of rain in Pittsburgh. Being a bit of a Viking look-alike, it?s factor 50 all the way for me or I?ll end up watching the whole thing from my motel bed.
Main hopes for the week: being let in (my printout pass looks worryingly unofficial), avoiding sunstroke, finding a pound-burger stall (long-held ambition), watching Monty make a mockery of my first blog entry and seeing Tiger hit a driver at a par 3, oh and not leaving my laptop in Burger King at Heathrow.
Here?s hoping I get to log on for the first onsite report on Wednesday!