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Hoverboard-riding dentist sentenced to 12 years for Medicaid fraud 9 Ways Trader Joes Changed the Way We Grocery Shop Tough test for tough times: US Open at haunting Winged Foot

When golfers fall asleep imagining how they’d play this course or that, they’re almost never dreaming about Winged Foot. That includes Tiger Woods.

The place is a nightmare for him, too.

© Provided by Associated Press Dustin Johnson, of the United States, tees off the ninth hole during a practice round for the US Open Golf Championship, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) © Provided by Associated Press Tiger Woods watches his shot off the sixth tee during practice before the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament at Winged Foot Golf Club, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Then again, if the aim is to stage the toughest test in golf, in the midst of a pandemic no less, where else would you plant the flagstick? Only two players have finished under par in the five U.S. Opens contested over the century-old design and no one on the ground in Mamaroneck, New York, this week, including the favorites, expects to make a serious dent in that legacy. Just the opposite.

“The viewers at home are going to see some pretty bizarre stuff and probably a lot of putts and chips that make us look pretty bad,” Justin Thomas said.

“If you’re into that stuff,” he added, “then you’re going to like this week.”

Which prompted at least one enterprising fan on Twitter to retort: “Why would I want to watch bad golf when I can do that to myself?”

A fair enough question, but one which the U.S. Golf Association rarely bothers to ask itself. The USGA selects the venues for the national championships and sets them up, sometimes diabolically, happy to let the game’s three other major championships and nearly every week out on tour offer what amounts to a skeet-shoot.

Birdies have been plentiful since golf resumed play back in June. Six players have won with scores of 20 under par or better, including an eye-popping, 30-under-par win by Dustin Johnson, the favorite at tee-off time, at the Northern Trust last month. The low scores could be the result of golfers using the extra time off to practice or just decompress, or maybe even a lack of fans applying pressure on the leader coming down the stretch.

© Provided by Associated Press Patrick Cantlay walks the 12th fairway during practice for the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament at Winged Foot Golf Club, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Whatever the reason, don’t expect a lot of red on the board, or conversely, too much complaining by the players this week. It was at Winged Foot, not coincidentally, where the USGA’s rallying cry was made by the late Sandy Tatum, its president at the time, after a particularly brutal opening round in 1974.

“We’re not here to humiliate the best players,” he said. “We’re simply trying to identify who they are.”

Along with Johnson and Thomas, several other guys on impressive runs are being touted by the bookies, few gaining more buzz than Jon Rahm. The Spaniard by way of Arizona State has already notched the two toughest tournaments this year — the Memorial at Muirfield Village and the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields, holding off loaded fields in both — and is poised for his major breakthrough.

With tight fairways, thick rough, slick greens and five closing par-4s of 425 yards and better, Winged Foot places a premium on driving accuracy, distance control with the irons and especially the short game. That could bring young Collin Morikawa, the recently crowned PGA Championship winner, and just-turned-40 Aussie Adam Scott into the mix.

Most of the top 70-ranked players in the world will be on hand, including three-time winner Woods, defending champion Gary Woodland and eight other U.S. Open winners. Missing is Brooks Koepka, who won back-to-back in 2017-18, but will sit this one out due to an injury.

Woods, seeking his 16th major, claimed the 2000 U.S. title at Pebble Beach with a performance that ranks among the greatest four days of golf ever played. Now 44 and day-to-day because of a surgically repaired back, he might have trouble just hanging on into the weekend. When the 1997 PGA Championship was played at Winged Foot, Woods finished T29. In the previous U.S. Open there, in 2006, weeks after the death of his father, Earl, he missed the cut.

© Provided by Associated Press Louis Oosthuizen plays a shot off the 12th tee during practice for the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament at Winged Foot Golf Club, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Phil Mickelson, the other aging superstar, has an even more tortured history at Winged Foot. Having just turned 50 and dominated in his first Champions Tour start, he’s spent much of the week recounting his improbable meltdown in 2006, one of a half-dozen runner-up finishes he’s collected chasing the one major championship that has eluded him.

But at least he’s having fun with it. In a TV ad running recently, Mickelson promises a free driver to a lucky contest entrant whose favorite Callaway golfer wins the U.S. Open.

“Come on,” Phil says in the promo, “we all know who it’s going to be. When have I ever let you down at Winged Foot?”

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Im so sick of this Mickelson in second-to-last at US Open

Phil Mickelson chose driver again on the 18th at Winged Foot.

He blocked it to the left again. Made bogey instead of double bogey this time.

But instead of walking off in second place, the way he did in 2006, he headed to the clubhouse Thursday in 142nd, tied for second-to-last at the U.S. Open.

Back at the scene of his most crushing defeat, Mickelson found no reason to enjoy this beast of a course any more than when he left it 14 years ago.

“I drove it poorly, and I putted poorly,” he said in offering a succinct summary of an awful day.

He found a grand total of two fairways over a 5-hour slog through the thick grass, sand and greens that he couldn’t figure out. He three-putted twice over the final four holes — including once from inside of 9 feet — and finished at 9-over 79, About the only good news to come from it is that there’s no way he’ll have a chance to give away another U.S. Open, the way he did the last time at Winged Foot.

“I’m 9 over,” Mickelson said in discussing his plans for Friday. “I’ll play as hard as I can and enjoy the round.”

Whenever Mickelson and the fans in New York get together it makes for great theatre, never more than in 2006, when he held a one-shot lead heading to the 18th hole, but hit an errant driver that triggered a chain of events that left Geoff Ogilvy holding the trophy.

There were no fans because of the COVID pandemic that pushed this U.S. Open back three months. But there was no forgetting his history here, either. When he blocked his first tee shot into the left rough, analyst Nick Faldo was blunt: “There it is, memories of the 18th right there. the same shot.”

He made birdie there and followed with another birdie after another missed fairway on No. 2.

All that scrambling also stirred some memories. Largely forgotten about Mickelson’s fourth round from 2006 was that he hit only two fairways that day, too. But, as he recounted last week, “It was the best short-game week of my career. I need to strike it better.”

He didn’t.

And while Winged Foot wasn’t at its most brutal — Justin Thomas’ 65 was the lowest U.S. Open score ever shot at the course — Mickelson is 50 now, not turning 36, which is where he was in 2006, when he headed to Winged Foot as the reigning champion of both the PGA and the Masters.

He almost didn’t make this return trip. Under the USGA’s traditional format, the top 60 players receive exemptions into the U.S. Open. That was expanded to the top 70 after qualifying was scrapped due to the COVID pandemic. Mickelson, ranked 61st, said he wouldn’t have asked for a special exemption had the standards not changed.

“Look, I’m 50, my career is what it is,” he said in a Golf Channel interview earlier in the week. “It’s fun for me to come back after ’06. It’s a fun opportunity for me to try to add a bonus to my career. That’s kind of how I’m looking at it.”

There was nothing fun about Day 1.

By the time he reached the ninth tee box, he had not hit a fairway, and an NBC graphic cheekily pointed out that he had hit 14,477 tee shots since hitting his last fairway at Winged Foot — in 2006, also on the ninth hole.

He broke the drought there, then promptly headed to the fairway, grabbed a 5-wood and blocked it so far left, it landed on the first tee box.

“I’m so sick of this,” he said as he bent over in disgust.

Things only got worse from there.

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