Early Storylines Emerging Ahead of the 2014 US Open

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistMay 28, 2014

Early Storylines Emerging Ahead of the 2014 US Open

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    The 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst is now just a few weeks away. The majority of the game’s best golfers will tee it up at the Memorial Tournament this week and then shut it down for a few days prior to heading to Pinehurst, North Carolina, ahead of the June 12 first round.

    As the field has nearly fully taken shape and the local qualifiers have been played, it’s time to take a look at the early storylines ahead of the USGA’s annual effort to determine the best player in golf.

    Read on for the storylines.

What Will the State of Rory’s Game Be?

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    Prior to his split with fiance Caroline Wozniacki before last week’s BMW PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy’s PGA Tour season looked like this: eight of eight cuts made with six top-10 finishes, including an eighth-place finish at the Masters.

    Following his much-publicized decision to call off his engagement, McIlroy promptly won the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, in come-from-behind fashion.

    The whispers that Ms. Wozniacki might not be the best thing for Mr. McIlroy’s game have not necessarily subsided. And Wozilroy detractors likely feel a degree of vindication as the Ulsterman won in his first start sans Wozniacki.

    Per Oddschecker, McIlroy is the early U.S. Open favorite at most major sportsbooks. It will be very interesting to see how he follows up his BMW PGA Championship victory at the Memorial Tournament this week and on what note he enters the season’s second major.

Phil Mickelson Expects to Win

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    Nearly victorious at Merion last year, Phil Mickelson enters the 2014 U.S Open expecting victory.

    That’s right.

    As Mickelson told ESPN’s Rick Reilly, “I'm going to win a bunch of tournaments. I'm going to win at least one U.S. Open, maybe two.”

    Even though he hasn’t recorded a top-10 finish this season and missed the cut at both the Masters and The Players Championship, Mickelson is clearly heading to Pinehurst with a lot of confidence.

    Whether Mickelson makes good on the prediction or his suggestion that “the next five years are going to be the best of my career” remains to be seen. However, the claims, plus Callaway’s marketing efforts (giving away the same dollar amount as his Open paycheck to those who demo their driver) have generated a buzz around the 43-year-old.


Will Tiger Woods Tee It Up?

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    On May 19, Bob Harig of ESPN.com wrote, "Seven weeks after undergoing surgery to alleviate a pinched nerve in his back, Tiger Woods still isn't hitting full shots and remains uncertain about when he will be able to return to competitive golf."

    Thus, it seems incredibly unlikely that Tiger Woods will be a participant in this year’s U.S. Open.

    However, as Team Tiger hasn’t disseminated an official announcement, we’re left to wait and speculate.

How Will the Top 5 in the FedEx Cup Rankings Fare?

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    Looking at the current FedEx Cup rankings, the top of the list reads as follows:

    1. Jimmy Walker
    2. Bubba Watson
    3. Matt Kuchar
    4. Dustin Johnson
    5. Jordan Spieth

    And here’s how they finished at the Masters:

    • Walker (T8)
    • Watson (1)
    • Kuchar (T5)
    • Johnson (Cut)
    • Spieth (T2)

    To put it another way, they all played pretty darn well in Augusta (with the exception of Dustin Johnson). And none of the above have displayed a marked decline in form since, so it stands to reason that their games will be in good shape entering the season’s second major.

    The top five all have to be on the short list of “Next Golfers to Win a Major,” and all are on form this season. The golf world will be watching to see who among them makes the strongest case prior to Pinehurst, and expectations for all will be high once they’re inside the ropes in North Carolina in a few weeks.

The Challenge of Hosting Two US Opens

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    As has been widely publicized, Pinehurst will be hosting both the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open, one after the other, this year. Although the transition will present logistical challenges, the decision to stage the men’s competition and then the women’s shouldn’t present a huge difficulty for the stars of the PGA Tour.

    The USGA will be free to set up the course as it pleases for the men. The women could deal with beat up fairways, areas trampled by galleries and some less than ideal spots on greens.

    Again, the men shouldn’t face significant issues, but you’ll hear a lot about the USGA’s decision to stage back-to-back Opens at the same course in the weeks ahead.

Who Will Fill out the US Open Field?

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    The U.S. Open field has nearly come into focus with the tournament little more than two weeks away. Here are the only entrant categories still to be determined, via a pair of questions.

    Will anyone not currently inside the top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking make the jump by June 9 to book their passage?

    Who will the sectional qualifiers be? According to the USGA, the “number of qualifying spots is determined by the quality and quantity of the field at each location.” Last year, there were 57.

    You can see who has already earned a spot here.