- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

HOYLAKE, England — The USGA should have a long, hard look at Hoylake.

Sure, the 7,258-yard, par-72 course on England’s Wirral Peninsula has been bathed in more red numbers than the airline industry. The winner of the 135th British Open could well end up challenging the championship’s scoring record — 19 under, established by Tiger Woods in 2000 at St. Andrews.

But is the R&A; in a royal hand-wringing froth over the beating the world’s best players are administering at Royal Liverpool?


Have you heard a soul whine about protecting the integrity of par?


But have you heard a single player at the 135th British Open suggest that Hoylake isn’t major-worthy?


Fact is, the names on the scoreboard determine a course’s worthiness as a major venue, not their scores. And 1907 aside, when Hoylake had the audacity to hand the claret jug to a Frenchman (Arnaud Massey), Royal Liverpool has proved it has fairly impeccable taste in the big board department. From J.H. Taylor (1913) and Walter Hagen (1924) to Bobby Jones (1930), Peter Thomson (1956) and the current crop of leader board denizens, Hoylake has a knack for bringing out the stars.

How can you argue with a 54-hole leader board featuring six of the world’s top 10 players — No. 1 Tiger Woods (13-under, 203), No. 4 Retief Goosen (208), No. 5 Jim Furyk (205), No. 6 Adam Scott (207), No. 8 Ernie Els (204) and No. 9 Sergio Garcia (204).

“At the end of the day, a win is a win, and it doesn’t matter if it is at 5-under par or 20-under par,” Goosen said. “At a major championship, you are always going to see the top players rise to the top, and that is what you are seeing already. If it’s 20 under, it’s 20 under. Who cares, as long as we have a good champion.”

The USGA, of course, operates as if it has no such concerns, annually converting a venerable track perfectly capable of defending itself into a torture chamber demanding defensive golf.

Unlike the British Open, which always (forgiving Canoustie) relies solely on the elements for protection, the U.S. Open specializes in contrivance — single-file fairways, graduated rough and greens crustier than month-old pizza.

As a result, the U.S. championship is routinely the dullest major of the year, an interminable par-fest that is entertaining for only about 45 minutes every Father’s Day during the inevitable stretch-run debacle (see Phil Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie, etc.).

U.S. Open’s aren’t won; they are survived. Name the last player to win a U.S. Open by making a birdie on the last hole.

The late Payne Stewart, of course, made a 15-footer for par on the 72nd hole to win the 1999 U.S. Open. Hale Irwin made a birdie bomb at the 72nd hole to force a playoff. But you have to go all the way back to Bobby Jones in 1926 at Scioto (Columbus, Ohio) to find a player who birdied the 72nd hole to win the Open. So, it has been 80 years since somebody did something truly heroic on the final hole to win an Open.

Now, there’s a history of thrills for you.

“They talk all that nonsense about identifying the best player, and then they give you Steve Jones or Michael Campbell or Andy North or Lee Janzen. Great, how’d you do those weeks?” said Dan Jenkins, the planet’s dean of golf writers, scoffing at the USGA from an ocean away yesterday. “[Heck], the U.S. Open gave us Jack Fleck, the worst result in the history of sports by a nudge over the zebras giving gold to the Russians. … The USGA hasn’t identified the best players. All they’ve done is make the Open unwatchable.”

Never has that sentiment seemed so pertinent than this week, when the juxtaposition between last month’s debacle at Winged Foot and the current spectacle at Hoylake begs for a little USGA lashing.

This week’s British Open has been everything electric the U.S. Open wasn’t and never is: riveting golf requiring creativity and allowing a multitude of intriguing options rather than forcing the game’s ultimate artists to paint by the numbers.

The boys on the ancient side of the Atlantic didn’t just give us the game. They give us the game’s best tournament.

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