FAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

Jun 12, 2007 1:41 AM

Mention Oakmont and fans know they’re in for golf rarely matched anywhere else.

Last year’s U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy claims 10-over could win. At least that’s what the famed teaching pro and Las Vegas resident Butch Harmon said last week on a national radio show. Oakmont once produced Johnny Miller’s final round 63 and the win in 1973.

I figure this year’s champ will wind up somewhere in between. Ernie Els won at Oakmont in a three-way playoff on the 20th hole in 1994, the last time a major pro golf event was held at the famed layout outside Pittsburgh. Els is 20/1 this year at the Hilton and that’s being generous.

Majors drive Tiger Woods, the Open favorite at the ridiculous, yet logical odds of 2/1. Harmon, who once coached Woods and now guides Phil Mickelson, said Tiger is the best golfer he’s ever seen. Harmon also said Oakmont doesn’t want to seen another 63.

So chances are Oakmont will play especially tough and quite similar to Winged Foot last year where Ogilvy survived. And, the Open should play that way. This isn’t Phoenix or Memphis, where 30-over or 62s win golf tourneys. Ogilvy’s 10-over jab was obviously a quip in terms of number, but his message was serious. Expect even par to be a score most players will shoot for Sunday at the end of 72 holes.

It just may be good enough to lift a trophy.

Picking Tiger to win is stating the obvious. For that to happen, Woods has to hit fairways often. At the Memorial, he was all over the golf course until finding his putting stroke in the final round.

Mickelson has been much more accurate under Harmon, taking fewer chances off the tee without sacrificing anything from his outstanding short game. However, an injured wrist forced Lefty to withdraw from the Memorial and Harmon believes his pupil is not yet 100 percent.

Assuming Tiger is still erratic with the big stick and Phil remains tender of wrist, that leaves a few candidates more than worthy of winning at Oakmont.

Here are five to consider, each promising a good payday at the window.

Jim Furyk (15/1): Jimbo is so straight and reliable, he’s boring. He’ll be in the hunt.

Adam Scott (20/1): Adam is playing the best golf of anyone right now. The ex-UNLV star is sure to win a major in his career. That time could be here.

Padraig Harrington (30/1): Joey’s cousin is a live wire. When’s he’s on, there are few better with the blade from long range.

Stewart Cink (40/1): A Furyk clone the "incinkerator" will lull golf fans to sleep with straight drives and an unassuming nature. He’s low-key and solid.

Rory Sabbatini (50/1): Our pick. Sabbatini has no fear and is ready to be this year’s Ogilvy.

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