Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Tom Watson and the overwhelming majority of the 153 players entered in the 78th U.S. Open beginning here today are in agreement: the Cherry Hills course is difficult and demanding . . . and fair.
"The rough, for example, is the most uniform and the most difficult I've ever encountered," Nicklaus said yesterday. "It's going to be the same for everybody. Nobody is going to be able to get out of it. But this course is excellent. It's beautifully prepared. What has been done has been done well."
Nicklaus captured the 1962, 1967 and 1972 Opens. He is one year behind on his "five-year plan" but he is an 8 to 1 favorite to prevail this week in what figures to be a death march in the hot Colorado sun against par 71 - 284.
"I was playing as well as I ever played in my life, going into the Masters this year," Nicklaus said. "In fact, I was playing so well I acted like I was protecting my lead, if you know what I mean. Then, in the third round, I looked up and saw I was six strokes back, and I couldn't catch up."
Gary Player, who won the Masters plus tournaments the next two weeks, also figures to play smartly here in the 30-yard-wide fairways. "I'm not so concerned about winning the Grand Slam (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA), because I don't think that's ever going to be done (in one year)," Player said. "But I'd love to get my second U.S. Open to complete my second slam. I've won the other three tournaments more than once. Jack's the only man to have won them all at least twice."
Player, who won in 1965, picks Trevino to add the '78 to his 1968 and 1971 Open collection. "If the tour played on a course like this every week, Lee would be the world's greatest money-winner," Player volunteered. "This course is made for his game."
Trevino disagreed. "It would be if I could use my one-wood more." he said. "That's my advantage, hitting the driver straight on a course like this. But this course doesn't play long enough for me to have that edge.Everyone won't be walking around with a driver in his hand. They're not going to need it, except maybe four times on 18 holes. So many advantage is out the window."
The winner, Trevino suggested, will be one of the longer hitters who can concentrate on long-iron play.
"The guy who can go with the one-or two-iron out 270 to 280 yards, to get in position to get an eight or nine-iron to the green, That's the guy," Trevino said. "The other factor here is the altitude. I'm down one club, because the ball carries longer. Some of the big hitters will be down two clubs. . . . and the ball doesn't work as well, in the thin air, with the fades and the draws."
So perhaps Watson is the man-to-beat, even though he's never won an Open. Last year's Masters and British Open victor played well in the Masters, losing on the last hole. "I think Tom's the one guy who you know will be there at the finish of the major tournaments now," says Lou Graham, a straight-shooter.
Watson believes he is already "for four rounds of defensive golf."
"The course is more than 7,000 yards (7,083 but it's playing very short." Watson said. "There are places out there where you'll be going for a spot on the green 30 feet from the pin, but that's the way this course will have to be played to survive. You will have to take what it gives you, and that's not very much. The great driver is penalized here. We're all going to lay up. I think 280 (four under) will win."
Nicklaus, defending champion Hubert Green and most of the others believe a score slightly lower than that will be necessary.
"The ball is running very well," Nicklaus commented. "If there's no rain, if the sun stays hot, someone's going to do a little scoring somewhere along the line, although there are plenty of opportunities, if you're a little off, to shoot a pretty high number. I'll just be satisfied if I'm sitting in a good position coming to the last nine, as I was here 18 years ago."
That was in 1960 when Arnold Palmer captured his only Open. Palmer charged from far back to beat Nicklaus, then the U.S. Amateur king, by two strokes.
WJLA-TV-7 will televise highlights of the first two rounds tonight and Friday night at 11:30. The station will have more complete coverage of the third and fourth rounds on Saturdayand Sunday, from 3-7 p.m. each day.