BETHESDA -- If the Masters is golf's version of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, a subtle chiller of unseen horrors and sly psychological torture, what is the U.S. Open?
It's "Jurassic Park," a screeching nightmare of dangers that are about as subtle as a herd of hungry dinosaurs.
The Masters embraces you with fresh springtime weather and bright, blooming azaleas, and gives you a fighting chance with its absence of rough and its par- 5 holes that many pros can reach in two shots.
The Open kicks your rear with June heat and humidity, and breaks your spirit with five-hour rounds, 5-inch rough, narrow fairways and maddeningly unreasonable pars.
If golf is the cruelest game, the Open is the ultimate symbol.
Out of 312 golfers who have played in the past two Opens, only four have finished under par.
The other 308? They were a combined 3,000 strokes over par, give or take a few.
Hackers, duffers and banana-ballers of the world, this tournament is for you.
There are 156 victims, er, golfers in this year's Open, which begins today at Congressional Country Club, and it's possible none of them, not even the winner, will stand below par when the tournament is over.
Congressional is a classic Open course, which means, well, it's completely unfair.
"It will really take some playing to shoot under par [for 72 holes] this week," said Steve Jones, whose winning score of 2-under at the 1996 Open was 16 shots higher than Tiger Woods' winning score at the Masters.
"To win, you'll have to be mentally and physically fit to sustain punishment all week," said Sweden's Jesper Parnevik, one of the top players on the PGA Tour.
"This one is a beast," Greg Norman said. "It's 7,200 yards of pure no let-up."
It's 7,213 yards, to be precise, the longest course in Open history, yet it's playing to a par of 70, two strokes lower than par at many courses.
In other words, two holes long enough to merit a par-5 instead are playing at a par-4. Why? The poobahs at the United States Golf Association, who run the tournament, just want to be meanies.
Actually, they're just making the course as tough as it should be fTC for a national championship, which is refreshing to see after watching watered-down pars get destroyed every week on the PGA Tour.
"Par here is basically irrelevant on a number of holes," Parnevik said. "All you can do is try to shoot the lowest score you can."
Several factors will make that difficult, most notably the rough.
High grass bordering the fairways is an Open staple, but Congressional's rough is higher than any in memory.
"Never seen it this high," Phil Mickelson said.
It's up to eight inches in some places, and seldom lower than four.
They still haven't invented aweed-whacker that could trim a jungle like that.
"If you hit it in there, it's basically a stroke off your score," Parnevik said. "You can't do anything with the ball except whack it out of there. And you certainly can't scramble for a good score."
The tall rough and narrow fairways drive the entire character of this week's tournament; since the penalty for missing the fairways is so great, the golfers are using shorter clubs off the tee to increase their accuracy and make sure they hit the fairway.
A long-ball hitter such as Tiger Woods is compromised because he has to hit shorter clubs and his biggest advantage isn't as meaningful.
At the Masters, where there was no rough and the fairways were relatively wide, Woods was able to smash his tee shots without fear of being penalized.
L "Augusta was basically a driving range," Woods said Tuesday.
He outdrove everyone by 50 yards, and, not coincidentally, won by 12 strokes.
At Congressional, he will use his driver on only three holes, he said. He'll still outdrive a lot of folks using 3-woods and 2-irons off the tee, but his advantage won't be as pronounced as it was at the Masters.
"I think it was obvious Tiger was very comfortable playing [Augusta]," Scotland's Colin Montgomerie said. "Here, it is different where it takes possibly his greatest asset, length, more out of the equation and gives us mere mortals more of an opportunity to compete."
As for the greens at Congressional, they aren't nearly as treacherous as those at Augusta, which are as tough as any in the world. But they're still no fun.
"There's a lot of slope on the greens here, a lot of speed," Brad Faxon said.
Faxon, one of the top players on the PGA Tour, spoke to reporters before his practice round yesterday.
"Every year at the Open we come in here saying, 'This is the deepest rough, the hardest course, the toughest one,' and this one really may be [the toughest]," he said. "I haven't seen a number of holes in a row that are this tough. You don't get any breather. You don't get a chance to make an errant shot. It's set up too tough, really."
Come to think of it, that's an appropriate subtitle for this or any U.S. Open.
Pub Date: 6/12/97