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Oakmonster or not?

My U.S. Open preview piece is here.

From the article:

There’s another factor that will definitely affect play this year: over 4,000 trees were removed from the property. Almost all of the trees in question were not originally part of the golf course. Some were added for “beautification,” while others were planted in dedication of a deceased member. Nevertheless, they encroached on airspace and overly shaded some of the greens. “The removal brings the course much closer to what Fownes wanted,” noted golf course architect and historian Stephen Kay. “Trees are bunkers in the sky,” he quipped, quoting Alister Mackenzie. “They could plant trees in Scotland, but they don’t. Why?”

It’s a proper question to philosophize. Not enough “buzz” has focused on this point. While I refuse to opine on whether, “If a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound,” I know for certain that when a tree falls at Oakmont it makes a tempestuous noise! These felled trees have ignited a heckuva ruckus already. But they may also determine the winner of the tournament because the removal clearly favors Tiger Woods. He has more airspace for his misses and more chances for recovery. Tiger’s length will ensure his usual advantage and his misses will not be compromised by any extra punishment now that they won’t be blocked out as they would have been prior to the tree removal.

Woods already has a solid game plan going into Oakmont. After trying to overpower Winged Foot and missing the cut, Woods learned that some courses require a laser and not a hammer. He two-ironed everyone to death at the British Open last year. During a practice round at Oakmont last month, he said he wasn’t going to waste his time hitting driver. Woods even joked, “Hitting driver here is against my religion.”

In contrast, Phil Mickelson may stubbornly blockhead himself out of this Open. He insists he lost last year’s Open by “not hitting the driver well enough.” Maybe he has not learned a lesson from Winged Foot. The problem wasn’t the driver – it was trying to hit a shot that was too tempting and treacherous. Phil seems hell-bent on proving himself correct, and the U.S. Open is not the tournament to pick that fight. At the Open, “speed, strength, and aggression” always get punished, while “balance, patience and wisdom” get rewarded.

So it becomes a question of whether Woods makes enough putts to cash in on his length advantage. Strangely, he says, “I don’t like greens that have elephants buried under them.” But he’s won four times at Augusta, and should have no fear of Oakmont. Like at Hoylake, if Tiger makes his putts, he wins. If not, he opens the door for a grinder with a hot putter, someone like Larry Nelson.

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