Early Storylines Starting to Develop Around the 2014 US Open

Mike DudurichContributor IApril 22, 2014

Early Storylines Starting to Develop Around the 2014 US Open

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    A men's and women's Open championship will be contested in Pinehurst, N.C.
    A men's and women's Open championship will be contested in Pinehurst, N.C.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    A U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 is always a special occasion.

    But will two U.S. Opens, men's and women's, in back-to-back weeks also be special?

    How that works is one of the leading storylines, as those national championships are now less than two months away.

    There most likely will be no Tiger Woods, meaning the chase to win the U.S. Open will be wide-open, just like the Masters was.

    Here are a half-dozen other interesting storylines to keep your eyes on.

Challenges of Staging Back-to-Back Open Championships

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    Can Pinehurst No. 2 be as good for the U.S. Women's Open as it will be for the men's?
    Can Pinehurst No. 2 be as good for the U.S. Women's Open as it will be for the men's?Gerry Broome

    The United States Golf Association has set up golf courses for U.S. Opens for a long time.

    But until this year, when setup time came, it was just for a men's Open. This year, however, the USGA will be staging both the men and women's Opens at Pinehurst No. 2.

    While the course itself is somewhat different from when the U.S. Open was previously on No. 2 in 2005, the preparations for the men's Open from June 12-15 will be standard operating procedure.

    The biggest challenge will be to have a course as good as the women are used to competing on for their national championship from June 19-22. Because the men will have been practicing and playing on that course for at least seven days, the challenge seems formidable.

No Rough on Pinehurst No. 2, but Plenty of Hazards

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    Contestants will find waste areas that look like these just off the fairway.
    Contestants will find waste areas that look like these just off the fairway.Gerry Broome

    Among the changes made to No. 2 by architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore during their restoration project is the elimination of rough. There are two grass heights for the Open: fairway height and greens height.

    Where fairways, which will be much wider than normal USGA setup, end, waste areas begin. And that's where the fun might begin for the field of 156.

    Wire grass occasionally sprouts up in those areas, while other natural vegetation could have grown up, some of the sand will be soft and some very hard. Pine straw will be present in some areas.

    So while players won't be worrying about four-inch rough, there will be plenty of uncertainty if they miss the fairways.

What About the Women?

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    Ryann O'Toole was most outspoken about women's fears about Pinehurst No. 2.
    Ryann O'Toole was most outspoken about women's fears about Pinehurst No. 2.Rick Osentoski

    Rightfully so, women who will play their Open the week after the men at Pinehurst No. 2 are concerned.

    Having 156 players, 156 caddies and an untold number of players, coaches, psychologists, life coaches, etc., will have walked on those tees, fairways and greens while practicing for and playing their Open.

    The women who make the Open field will come to Pinehurst expecting pristine conditions, and that's not what they're going to find.

    During U.S. Open media day at Pinehurst on Monday, USGA Executive Director Mike Davis spoke confidently about how the women will play a course that will be very much like what the men will play.

    Only time will tell if that will be the case.

Phil Mickelson's Quest for a Grand Slam

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    Will it be this kind of week for Phil Mickelson at Pinehurst?
    Will it be this kind of week for Phil Mickelson at Pinehurst?Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Phil Mickelson needs a U.S. Open title to complete the career Grand Slam. He would become the seventh player in the history of golf to do so.

    Any discussion of his chances to do so at Pinehurst is dependent on one thing: Mickelson's health.

    If he's healthy and he rediscovers the short game that left him at the Masters, Pinehurst No. 2 should be a reasonable fit for the veteran left-hander. He can let loose the driver, fire at the somewhat wider fairways and get creative when he finds the waste areas off the fairways.

    But if he doesn't, it will be just another goodwill effort for Mickelson.

Whether the Weather

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    The media gets a preview look at Pinehurst No. 2.
    The media gets a preview look at Pinehurst No. 2.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The USGA seems to have a lot of the contingencies covered for the back-to-back U.S. Opens on the same course, and, while they can't control the weather, the elements could play a big role in the festivities of the week.

    The tournaments will be staged in mid-June, a time of year that can be very hot and humid. Those are a couple of perfect ingredients for thunderstorms that could throw a big wrench into schedules that have very little wiggle room.

    If a day of play is lost due to inclement weather and the men's event is then forced into a playoff, it could get very messy for the women's event.

Players Whose Games Might Fit Best at Pinehurst

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    Can Graeme McDowell rediscover the magic he showed in winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach?
    Can Graeme McDowell rediscover the magic he showed in winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach?Tyler Lecka/Getty Images

    Because Pinehurst No. 2 has been stretched to a capability of over 7,500 yards, bombers like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson come instantly to mind.

    But the plan is for No. 2 to never play to its fullest; it will take more than just distance to win there. The previously mentioned duo can do more than just go deep off the tee.

    If Watson can get refocused by mid-June, he could be dangerous.

    But this is the kind of course where a guy such as Graeme McDowell, who won the U.S. Open in 2010 at Pebble Beach, or someone such as Matt Kuchar, who is still looking for his first major, could win.

    And, oh yeah, don't forget guys such as Adam Scott, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy who may have something to say about the second major of the year.