At such a difficult tournament as the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, all eyes will be on the PGA's best to weather the challenge and compete for the championship on Sunday.
True to form for this tournament, Pinehurst presents treacherous greens and even more unforgiving waste areas beyond the fairway. It will challenge every player not just to play to the best of their abilities, but to recover and traverse the course in the moments they do not.
This is the type of environment in which fans would love to see Tiger Woods play, beating the elements and the field to win a major again. But Mark Soltau, writing on Woods' website, revealed that Tiger's health would keep the world No. 4 player out of the U.S. Open, further extending his six-year major drought.
The rest of the PGA's top five will be in play, though, focused more on battling Pinehurst than the field in the lead-up to the tournament.
No. 5: Matt Kuchar
Cerebral play won't necessarily make for the most exciting golf to watch, but it is effective for Kuchar, and as he tells ESPN's Farrell Evans, playing the percentages makes him well-suited for U.S. Open play.
I think I understand shot value better than most tour players. If I hit a 5-iron from 200 yards and I have a 30-footer on the green, I'm not going to be pissed off. I see some guys get mad because they have not hit the perfect shot.
How many times am I going to stick it to five feet from 200 yards? It's just not going to have much. If I hit a wedge from 80 yards to 30 feet I will be disappointed, but I will get over it pretty quickly.
A level head and a short memory are both qualities that will prove useful for Kuchar this weekend as he plays in a tournament that can punish aggression and give golfers hell trying to correct course.
Pinehurst now features coarser waste grass rather than the traditional roughs it has had in the past, which should hurt Kuchar's competition more than it does him. Though he's no more prepared to play from those conditions than anyone else, he'll make sensible reactions to unfavorable lies, which should keep him in contention for the tournament's duration.
No. 3: Bubba Watson
On the other hand, pragmatism is not exactly a hallmark of Watson's game. Yet even he knows he won't be able to rely on long drives to power his game at Pinehurst, as Bob Harig reports for ESPN.
It's a tough test of golf. For me personally it's going to be all about the tee shots. I'm going to try to lay farther back than normal. It's still iffy -- I don't know what they call it, rough, dirt, sand -- but you don't know what kind of lies you're going to get [off the fairway]. So I'm going to lay back and have a lot longer shots into the holes.
There is certainly logic behind Watson's strategy. Like Kuchar, he knows that if he shortens his drive and makes hitting the fairway his top priority, he'll set himself up for more manageable shots thereafter—though long balls off the tee could set him up for easier shots at foreboding greens.
Then again, he's also taking away one of his greatest strengths in order to lean more heavily on his mid-iron game, with which he is not as adept at playing.
Watson might be right that he has the best chance to win this way, but guys like Kuchar are better at this style than Watson is. Even if playing his usual game would be risky, it would pay him bigger dividends if he did it right. Instead, his performance won't likely be anything remarkable.
No. 2: Henrik Stenson
Stenson is capable of producing an extraordinary performance with his accuracy rather than his power.
In practice prior to the Open, he was sure to put in work approaching greens, prepping ahead of time for the obstacles he will surely face in addition to scheming how to avoid them. Taking a ball from the waste and putting it as close to the pin as possible will neutralize the bad lies and give him a key advantage over his competition.
On the hilly greens of Pinehurst, approach precision can make the difference between an easy one-putt finish and a three-putt adventure. The greens are vast, and the lies could change slopes multiple times on the way to the cup. Finding the sweet spot and putting the ball there is essential to victory.
Stenson can do that, and he can convert once he's on the dance floor. If he can keep his stroke total down en route to that placement on the green, he'll find himself in great shape on the leaderboard.
No. 1: Adam Scott
The top-ranked player in the world has not found the success at past U.S. Opens that he is accustomed.
Similarly to Watson, he's at his best when he can play aggressively from the tee and put himself in position to shorten holes and cut strokes off his total. That style of play does not lend itself to U.S. Open success, and Scott's track record shows as much.
That puts him in basically the same situation Watson is in, forced to choose between clashing either with his own inclinations as a golfer or with a course that leaves very little room for compromise.
And while his iron striking makes him a better intermediate player than Watson, he's still not going to be at his best on Pinehurst. Scott might just sneak his way into first U.S. Open top-10 finish here, but winning is out of the question.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!