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First-round leader Nick Dougherty had, indeed, observed that the course was slightly soft from overnight rains. But the young Englishman had immediately disavowed the e word, saying, "Goodness, I shouldn't have said that. No . . . the course is barbaric!"
"He was mocking us," Deep Rough muttered. "What'd he shoot today, 77? Reminds me of that punk Miller, back in '73. It rains all night, and he comes out in funny pants and shoots a final-round 63. Trust me, if it'd been the club championship he wouldn't have broken 70."
His hands flew up. "Do I have to spell it out for you? Who ordered our super to cut the rough over the weekend? Who made him slow the greens to 131?2 or 14? Who told you media guys that Oakmont would be 'tough but fair?' " Realizing that his nose had popped out of the shadows for a second, Deep Rough drew back. "Fair? Who said golf was supposed to be fair?"
Regaining his composure, he let his voice drop to a melodramatic whisper: "Follow the dandruff."
I nodded. Neither of us said anything for a very long time. Finally, Deep Rough said, "You have to leave first. I'm in a�corner."
I spent the weekend looking into Deep Rough's allegations. If there was a conspiracy to make Oakmont less punishing for the Open, the players certainly weren't in on it. "It's disappointing to have the course setup injure you," said Mickelson, who shot rounds of 74 and 77 and missed the cut in a U.S. Open for the first time since 1992. "Certainly with this liquid fertilizer and these new machines that make the grass stick straight up, it's dangerous. It really is."
But I did find hints of some kind of organized plan. Mike Davis, the USGA man who sets up courses for the Open, admitted under tough questioning that the second cut of rough had, indeed, been shortened from six inches to five. He also fessed up to the slowed-down greens, insisting that speeds of 15 or 16 would have rendered certain hole locations unusable. Then he made a careless slip, saying, "Whether 10 over or 10 under wins, we don't really care."
I could imagine the howls of rage when the club members heard that. Or when they heard that Stephen Ames had birdied the par-5 12th hole on Saturday from "the ladies' tee"-- Ames's words--a mere 632 yards from the hole. And Deep Rough probably spit out his breakfast coffee when he read in the Sunday paper that Bubba Watson thought the course "seemed softer, more friendly." ("The words Oakmont and soft don't belong in the same sentence," Deep Rough had said on Friday. "When a guest double-bogeys a hole, we pound his backside with a cricket bat.") The ultimate insult came late in the final round, when Angel Cabrera, after hitting a mammoth drive from the 12th tee, twirled his driver while sauntering down the fairway.