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Friday, June 13, 2008

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Cabrera
It was that kind of week for Angel Cabrera, who will head home without this year's crown. (John Mummert/USGA)

By Phillip Howley

San Diego – When the ax falls at a major championship, when the excitement and anticipation of competing for one of golf’s grandest prizes is prematurely laid to rest, it’s never easy. Players rarely go softly into that good night.

“I have to say, I think they are the worst greens I’ve played on in a U.S. Open,” said Britain’s Justin Rose, often a pre-campionship favorite, this time a victim of the 36-hole cut. Rose could do no better than 76-75 in two days at Torrey Pines.

He could do no less than shake his head at his putting performance. “I just cannot get my head around the way I putted out there for two days,” he added.

Rose was one of several prominent players to get a much unwanted Torrey Pines pink slip. Major championship winners such as Ben Curtis, Lee Janzen, Zach Johnson and Mark O’Meara were ejected. Pre-championship dignitaries such as K.J. Choi, Charles Howell III and Bubba Watson bit the dust.

And of course, the reigning U.S. Open champion, Argentinean Angel Cabrera, packed his bags early. Cabrera’s defense of the crown included rounds of 79-76. But the disappointing performance simply fits the U.S. Open model.

The U.S. Open champion has not doubled his pleasure since Curtis Strange repeated in 1988-89. Before that, you have to retreat to Ben Hogan in 1950-51. In terms of follow-up success, winning the U.S. Open isn’t exactly like making the cover of Sports Illustrated, but it’s in the neighborhood.

Since 1991, Tiger Woods and Retief Goosen are the only champions to finish better than 40th the following year. Goosen tied for 11th in 2005, Woods was 12th in 2001 and 20th in 2003.

The cut was especially cruel for those who settled at 8-over par 150. The championship's 36-hole leader, Stuart Appleby, completed his second-round 70 and reached the 3-under penthouse by draining a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 18.

At the time, the long bomb blew nine golfers out of the water who had completed 36 holes at 150. In the end, the pill was especially tough for some, like Scott Sterling. Playing in his first Open, Sterling valiantly tried to recover from his opening-day 80 with a second-round 70. Thanks to Appleby, it wasn’t good enough for the 36-year-old PGA Tour rookie.

Still others, like 19-year-old amateur Rickie Fowler, barely escaped the 8-over reaper. The youngest player in the field, Fowler was one of the first-round highlights with a 70, But the Oklahoma State star found day two at the U.S. Open to be a bit more trying, as he finished Friday with a 79.

He made it to the weekend by a stroke. “Yesterday was good; today was bad; that sums it up,” said Fowler, securing the unofficial U.S. Open prize for obvious statements. “There were only a couple of shots that I could name that I hit how I wanted to and hit solid. But it looks like I’ll get to play the on the weekend.”

Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.usopen.com.


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