Potential tale of the unexpected woos Europeans

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The Independent Online

Sleepy Hollow, a nearby town of mysteries and ghouls, has nothing on Winged Foot. About the last occurrence of any predictability was Bobby Jones winning the US Open here in 1929. Otherwise, it is all tales of the unexpected.

Billy Casper won here in 1959 by laying up at the par-three third every day. In the so-called massacre of 1974, Jack Nicklaus used up his monthly quota of putts on the first four greens and Hale Irwin won at seven over par. Nine years ago, Davis Love's victory in the US PGA was marked by a rainbow sent by his late father.

It was at Winged Foot that a harassed official of the United States Golf Association denied trying to humiliate the best players in the world. "We're trying to identify them," he pleaded.

They are still trying. Tiger Woods, grieving for his late friend and father, missed his first cut as a professional in a major championship but, in the circumstances, there were more surprising surprises to be found.

Take David Duval rediscovering red figures. It is almost five years since Duval won the Open at Lytham, and about four years and 10 months since he underwent his existential crisis that there must be more to life than winning a major championship. He moved to Denver, got married, started raising stepkids and eventually rekindled his enthusiasm for the game. With the hint of a paunch, together with massive forearms and stumpy legs, he is starting to look like a relation of the Stadler family.

"I've said it's been getting close but no one was listening," he said. Duval played the second round with Colin Montgomerie and, weirdly, the crowd were also cheering Monty. Really cheering, not jeering. Time softens everyone. Tiger exiting early, Duval making his first cut in a major for four years and Monty contending - that would have been a tasty accumulator. At the most relentlessly American golf tournament of them all, only 10 locals filled the top 28 spots at halfway. Monty led a strong European challenge, including the first-timer Kenny Ferrie.

Perhaps the slow, bumpy greens that Darren Clarke rightly complained about were helping the transatlantic invasion? Montgomerie said simply that Winged Foot was just different for every-body and favoured no one. Padraig Harrington stated that, contrary to all known belief systems, narrow greens and thick rough are more prevalent in Europe than America.

Graeme McDowell, who like Monty and Luke Donald names the US Open as his most likely major opportunity, liked the course from the moment he saw it. However, Ferrie, bidding to join the Ashington Hall of Fame along with the footballing Charltons and cricket's Steve Harmison, perhaps stretched credibility by saying, "There's a load of birdie chances out there."

Tony Jacklin's 1970 triumph has always been the exception that proves the rule when it comes to Europeans not winning the US Open. It could yet change with another chapter of the unexpected tonight.

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