The top golfers in the world are in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, this week as the second major tournament of the year, the U.S. Open, tees off Thursday. As VOA's David Byrd reports, world No. 1 Tiger Woods looks to erase memories of last year's failure, while South African Ernie Els revisits the site of his first major tournament win.
Tiger Woods did something at last year's U.S. Open that he had never done - he missed the cut in a major tournament. Woods has captured two U.S. Open titles in his career, but last year's debacle remains a blot on his record.
His uncharacteristic performance came just over a month after his father Earl died in May of 2006. This week, Tiger looks to prove that last year's result was an aberration.
To win, Woods will have to conquer a course widely regarded as the toughest layout in the United States - the par 70 Oakmont Country Club Course near Pittsburgh in the eastern state of Pennsylvania. Organizers have removed 5,000 trees from the course and lengthened it to 6,725 meters. Tiger says while the course is difficult, anyone has a chance to win.
"I just think that we are all going to see what happens on pin locations. Because they can go crazy on pin locations and make it impossible. But if they put pins in generous spots, I think it will be a fantastic test," he said.
One man sure to be tested by the Oakmont Course is American Phil Mickelson, who has been struggling to recover from a wrist injury. Mickelson played some practice holes earlier this week with his wrist in a brace, but says he will be ready to compete.
South African Ernie Els is also looking to regain his major-winning form. The man known on the Tour as "The Big Easy" has been trying to regain his game since injuring his knee and undergoing surgery two years ago.
Els has fond memories of Oakmont - he won his first major tournament there in 1994. The South African says he looks forward to the challenge of this year's layout.
"It definitely a different look. But even in '94 the trees that we had were out of play - just basically a tree-lined golf course. And to come back here now, and I look at it and it is very different. But it does not affect play. It does not play any different, I would say, from '94," he said.
Ernie Els and Tiger Woods face a star-studded international field, including defending champion Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, Stephen Ames of Canada, Colin Montgomerie of Scotland, former champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand, Sergio Garcia of Spain and Vijay Singh of Fiji.
Other top American players include former champion Jim Furyk, Masters champion Zach Johnson and former PGA winner Davis Love III. This year's champion is scheduled to earn nearly $1.25 million.