The 2014 U.S. Open is finally upon us, and the tournament returns to a notorious course that has undergone a drastic makeover since the last time it hosted this prestigious event.
Pinehurst Resort has been the site for some memorable U.S. Opens in the past. In 1999, Payne Stewart fought off a charge from Phil Mickelson to win his third major and his second U.S. Open. In 2005, Michael Campbell won his lone major with a one-under-par 69 in the final round. It was enough to hold off a late rush from Tiger Woods; a final-round collapse by Retief Goosen ensured victory for Campbell.
Anything can happen at the No. 2 course in Pinehurst, which guarantees golfing fanatics an entertaining tournament full of uplifting play and agonizing breakdowns.
Here are my predictions for the top 10 finishers in the final standings:
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Jason Sobel of GolfChannel.com provided some insight about the type of golf that leads to success at the U.S. Open:
U.S. Open is about patience, perseverance and pars. Boring golf wins. So here's a surprise: Top two in bogey avoidance are Sergio and Bubba.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) June 9, 2014
Matt Kuchar is known for his consistency and his intellect rather than his awe-inspiring drives, and that makes him the perfect candidate for the top of the leaderboard at Pinehurst.
Mickelson will be looking to end his agonizing run of near victories at the U.S. Open. It is the last major tournament he needs to add to his legendary resume, which includes five victories at majors and 42 total PGA Tour wins.
He's finished second at the U.S. Open a record five times, a dubious—and, at the same time, rather extraordinary—feat unmatched in the annals of U.S. Open history.
Lefty might want the elusive victory even more than his legion of fans. Via ESPN.com's Bob Harig:
There's such a difference in the way I view the few major champions that have won all four. I'm fortunate and honored to be part of that long list of great players who have won three of the four -- that's great -- but it would mean a lot to me. I would look at myself, I would look at my career, in a whole different light if I were able to get that fourth one.
If this truly is to be Mickelson's year, it could hardly come during an unlikelier stretch of his career. Mickelson has zero top-10 finishes in 2014 and has made the top 25 in just seven of the 14 events he has participated in during this calendar year.
Mickelson's focus at the U.S. Open will provide him with his first top-10 finish of the year, but it won't be enough to put him atop the leaderboard.
Webb Simpson effectively ended his recent string of putrid performances with a tie for third place at the 2014 FedEx St. Jude Classic. He shot a 66 in the final round of the tournament, an excellent performance he can take into the U.S. Open.
Simpson won this tournament in 2012 but has underperformed at most majors and is nowhere close to playing his best golf in 2014. He will need to demonstrate accuracy with his considerable driving distance in order to have a chance at Pinehurst, but the rest of the field will likely bury this inconsistent pro.
McIlroy is a fine bet to conquer the Pinehurst course. He's comfortable pulling out the driver on longer fairways and adept at reading difficult greens. He will have to be careful during the tournament, as it's possible a left knee sprain that cropped up at the Memorial Tournament will be a factor.
Kyle McGinty of the Irish Independent noted McIlroy favored his knee during a recent practice run at Pinehurst: "After McIlroy missed this exceedingly difficult putt, it was concerning to note a slight limp as he walked after his ball and how he instinctively reached for that left knee after a constrained attempt to imitate Stewart's elaborate celebration."
CBSSports.com's Kyle Porter reminded golf fans about how the No. 1 player in the world, Adam Scott, has fared at this particular major.
Adam Scott top 10s at the US Open: 0— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) June 9, 2014
Scott's efforts have historically been futile, but he's optimistic about his chances on the revamped Pinehurst course:
The redesigned course No. 2 at Pinehurst is the most important factor in this year's edition of the U.S. Open. The turtleback greens, often described as upside-down saucers, are incredibly difficult to judge and can throw off many players' final approaches.
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The cutdown on deep rough should make this tournament easier for strong drivers, such as McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson. That being said, the course is still fraught with peril and will tempt many players into taking aggressive shots in order to make up ground on the longer fairways.
Tiger Woods' absence from the tournament allows lesser-known players on the PGA Tour to take the spotlight. The U.S. Open has proved to be a great equalizer in the past, and the thrill of watching old pros such as Mickelson and Jim Furyk compete with up-and-comers such as Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama will make for great television even without golf's biggest star.