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Liguori: 116th U.S. Open Is Knee-Deep In History And Difficulty

By Ann Liguori
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OAKMONT, Pa. (CBSNewYork) -- Oakmont Country Club, the quintessential U.S. Open course, overflows with history and is the toughest test in golf, period.

I saw it first-hand when I covered the Open in 2007. No course could be more difficult, I thought. Merion was a brutal test, but that course, which hosted its most recent Open in 2013, comes in second, in my opinion.

Oakmont can be the ultimate nightmare for the greatest players in the world due to a combination of factors: narrow, slanted fairways, impossibly tall rough, lightning-fast greens that tilt dramatically, deep bunkers -- 210 of them, an 8th hole that is the longest par-3 in championship golf at 305 yards, and church pew bunkers on the left side of holes 3 and 4, named for the long, grassy ridges in-between the sand.

And then there are the ditches. Yes, ditches! Deep and long trenches on various parts of the course featuring gnarly fescue. It's difficult to find a ball that lands in these danger zones let alone hit an effective shot out of them. And there are only two par-5s on the course and one of them, the 12th, can be played as long as 667 yards.

Oakmont has the highest average winning score of any U.S. Open in history. In 2007, Angel Cabrera won at 5-over-par, 285. The field that year broke par in only eight rounds. Cabrera was the only player to break par in two rounds.

The club has hosted 15 previous USGA championships, and the names who have won here are historic. In the 1925 U.S. Amateur, Bobby Jones prevailed. Tommy Armour won the 1927 U.S. Open. Ben Hogan defeated Sam Snead in 1953. In 1962, Jack Nicklaus, as a 22-year-old rookie, won the first of his record 18 majors, beating Arnold Palmer in a playoff. Johnny Miller shot a 63 on his way to winning in 1973. In 1994, Ernie Els, at the age of 24, won the first of his four majors in a three-way playoff. Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk lost by 1 shot to Cabrera in 2007.

Oakmont Country Club will be set up at 7,219 yards and will play to a par 70.

Jordan Spieth, the defending champ, tees off at 8:35 a.m. on Thursday, with British Open champ Zach Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion who gave up his spot at Oakmont when he turned professional and then earned a spot in the U.S. Open after shooting a 7-under 63 in one of the qualifying rounds.

World No. 1 Jason Day gets started at 2:20 p.m. with Adam Scott and Louie Oosthuizen. Phil Mickelson has an afternoon tee time on Thursday at 2:09 and will head out with 2013 U.S. Open champ Justin Rose and Sweden's Henrik Stenson.

No matter who wins here this week, Oakmont Country Club, due to its sheer difficulty, will continue to be considered a premier test in golf. And if Mickelson somehow pulls out a magical victory to complete a career grand slam, well, it would be apropos considering the rich history in the hills on the outskirts of Pittsburgh.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori

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