OAKMONT, Pa. -- Nick Dougherty remembers the last time the U.S. Open was played at historic Oakmont, back in 2007. And that week was the pinnacle of his professional golf career.
That week, the former top-50 player in the world came to Oakmont with minimal expectations. Following treacherous practice rounds, he said that if he was keeping score it would have definitely close to 80, if not higher, those expectations dwindled to non existent.
“The course was nearly unplayable the days leading up to the opening round,” Dougherty told me. “I really had no expectation, just try to stick to my game plan and hope for the best.”
Maybe the golf gods were looking after him. Wednesday night thunderstorms provided a huge advantage for the morning pairings took on a softened Oakmont. Dougherty had an early tee time for his first round.
After not exactly playing flawless, Dougherty shot 2-under 68 to take sole possession of the first-round lead.
“I didn’t play incredibly well, but managed to miss it in the right spots, make the putts when they presented themselves to keep a positive momentum and limit my mistakes," said Dougherty, who is here this week as an analyst for Sky Sports.
When asked about his round, the second word that came out of his mouth was practically sacrilege in these parts: "Easy."
“Did I say that?”Dougherty asked Tuesday with a rye smile.
“Well that was obviously said jokingly, but the course definitely played different than it had all week and I was fortunate to draw a favorable tee time.”
Dougherty wasn't so fortunate on Day 2, shooting 77. However, Dougherty, who made the cut despite the score, didn't think the gap in his scorecards was as big as the scores indicated.
“I actually played very similar during my second round,and I shot nine strokes higher!” Dougherty said.
Dougherty's two-round total put him in position for a whale of a third-round playing partner: Tiger Woods.
“I had never been more excited about round of golf in my life," the Englishman said. "This is the reason I play golf. I was obviously nervous, but I was more excitement and adrenaline that I was feeling.”
On the first tee, Dougherty couldn’t tee up the ball, something he had done thousands of times.
“I was so excited, that I was shaking, and I had a real tough time steadying myself to do it,” he said.
After eventually managing to steady his hands and get the ball in the air, Dougherty witnessed one of the great rounds in U.S. Open history. Unfortunately, he didn't author it. However, he held his own during a round in which only two players broke par, one of them being his playing partner. Dougherty shot 4-over 74 on that Saturday.
“Tiger was great to play with," Dougherty said. "It was amazing to witness his consistent focus for 18 holes. We would talk to each other between shots, then when it was his turn to play, he just flipped a switch to complete focus."
Dougherty went on to post his best career finish in a major with a tie for seventh, earning himself a trip to the following year's Masters. Quite a memorable week.
Fast forward nine years, and Dougherty believes scoring will be similar due to the current course conditions and a weather forecast that, in many ways, mirrors 2007. Although Woods didn't win that week in '07, losing to Angel Cabrera by a shot, Dougherty says someone with the moxie of the 14-time major winner will be champion come Sunday.
“Tiger had a knack for never really shooting himself out of a tournament or beating himself," Dougherty said. "This week's winner is going to need a stable mind, 'cause mistakes will happen. It’s just limiting those and being able to bounce back when they occur.”