The 2014 U.S. Open begins Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina, kicking off what should be a thrilling weekend of action.
Unlike previous years, the U.S. Open will not feature the thick, challenging rough that has been known to give golfers trouble and keep scores around par. Instead, the course will showcase waste areas off the fairway that include mixtures of sand, wiregrass and weeds.
But don’t think the championship will suddenly be easy. The holes will be longer and the fairways will be wider, but the nature of the course is what will make it difficult. The fairways will be fast and firm, increasing the chance that a shot finds the “new” rough. In addition, Pinehurst’s turtleback greens stress accurate ball location, otherwise it will roll down off the green.
Let's take a look at how some of golf’s biggest names may perform this weekend.
Rory McIlroy is the sixth-best golfer in the world, according to the latest Official World Golf Ranking. Per Odds Shark, he is the favorite to win at 10-1 odds, despite not having won a tournament in the U.S. since September 2012. However, he has three top-two finishes this year, including a victory at the BMW PGA Championship last month in Europe.
McIlroy has the talent to blow away the competition. He won the 2011 U.S. Open by finishing 16 under par with an aggregate score of 268, both U.S. Open records, and became the youngest U.S. Open winner since 1923, doing so at age 22, per Golf Magazine’s Cameron Morfit.
However, he also is known for losing a tournament with a particularly poor round negating three solid ones. He shot a final-round score of 80 to lose the 2011 Masters after entering Sunday with a four-shot lead, while also missing out on a chance to win the 2010 British Open by sandwiching an 80 between three sub-70 rounds.
The two-time major winner will be making his tournament debut at Pinehurst this weekend. But ever since Tiger Woods’ dominance in majors ended in 2008, the favorites rarely win in golf. With a particularly tricky course and the likelihood of one bloated round, don’t expect to see McIlroy winning the U.S. Open.
Prediction: McIlroy finishes sixth
The storylines are obvious. Phil Mickelson has finished second in this tournament a remarkable six times. The U.S. Open is the only major preventing him from completing the career Grand Slam. Will this finally be the year that he wins?
According to PGATour.com’s Sean Martin, this weekend’s course is well-suited for Mickelson:
Pinehurst No. 2 seems ready to reward so many of Mickelson’s strengths – bold tee-shot strategy, risky recovery shots and a strong short game. Several holes allow players to select how boldly they want to play from the tee. The sandy areas off the short grass will allow players to scramble when they miss the fairway. Pinehurst’s domed greens will pose a strong short-game test.
Mickelson agrees, telling Martin: “If nobody hit a green, I feel like my chances are the best. I’m excited about the prospect of a U.S. Open that has (the) short game as such an important element.”
However, the world No. 11 has yet to finish in the top 10 in any U.S. tournament this season. While he did finish tied for 11th at the Wells Fargo Championship and the most recent FedEx St. Jude Classic, he also missed the cut at both The Players Championship and the Masters.
Although this particular course plays to Mickelson’s strengths, it also demands the best out of each golfer. While Mickelson certainly has the ability to play his best golf of the season, he hasn’t played well enough in 2014 to believe he will win the only major that has eluded him this weekend.
Prediction: Mickelson finishes fifth
Adam Scott is the No. 1 player in the world. He won his first major at the Masters in 2013 and has won four tournaments in 2014. However, Scott has always had trouble with the U.S. Open. He has never finished in the top 10, and his best finish came in 2012 when he tied for 15th.
While he ranks fifth in scoring average (69.77), he is just tied for 27th in driving distance (298.7) and 56th in driving accuracy percentage (63.58)—per PGATour.com—two categories that will be critical to success this weekend.
While the Australian should improve upon his struggles at the U.S. Open and have a career-best finish, asking him to win the event isn’t realistic this year on this particular course.
Prediction: Scott finishes eighth.
Which golfer will have the best finish at the U.S. Open?
Jordan Spieth is just shy of 21 years of age, and he took the golf world by storm when he finished tied for second in his Masters debut earlier this year. He was tied with Bubba Watson through 54 holes and momentarily held a two-shot lead on Sunday.
But the Texas alum showed his inexperience on the back nine and ultimately lost to Watson by three strokes. Nevertheless, his ability to compete in the final round of a major at such a young age was extremely impressive and drew comparisons to Woods and McIlroy.
Outside of his performance at Augusta, Spieth has played well but not extraordinary. He has six top-10 finishes, including the Masters, but has also twice missed the cut. This weekend will mark the third time he will play at the U.S. Open, having tied for 21st as the low amateur in 2012 and missing the cut last year.
If Spieth can keep the ball on the fairway and navigate the tricky turtleneck greens, he should put himself in a good position to succeed. In 2014, Spieth is tied for 20th in total one putts inside five feet (211) per PGATour.com. I expect him to play well, but the challenging course will ultimately cause him to just miss out on a top-10 finish.
Prediction: Spieth finishes 11th
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