Thursday marks the beginning of the 114th U.S. Open, with the 2014 edition of this renowned major championship being held at the pristine Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
A slew of storylines accompanies this year's event, which should help compensate for the absence of golf's biggest star in Tiger Woods. A new No. 1 has emerged in Adam Scott. The Aussie's caddy, Steve Williams, used to carry Woods' bag once upon a time. Now Scott is seeking his second career major in as many years as one of the favorites this week.
But Scott will have plenty of formidable challengers. Talented young star Rory McIlroy (10-1) is listed as the top favorite ahead of Scott (12-1), and perennial U.S. Open runner-up Phil Mickelson isn't far off at 14-1, per OddsShark.com.
Justin Rose won last year's event at Merion for his maiden major, as Mickelson placed in second for a record sixth time.
Both elite players have been thought of as the best never to have won a major at previous stages in their careers. Now that distinction lies with the likes of Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson. The same stigma is persistent with regard to Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, among others.
Below is a breakdown of the vital information, including where to watch the action, tee times for the first 36 holes and analysis on the top groups to watch for in the first two days of the year's second major.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com unless otherwise indicated.
When: Thursday, June 12, through Sunday, June 15
Where: Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit usopen.com.
Winner's Share: $1,440,000
FedEx Cup Points: 600
|Thursday, June 12||TV|
|9 a.m.-3 p.m.||ESPN|
|5-6 p.m.||ESPN 2|
|Friday, June 13||TV|
|9 a.m.-3 p.m.||ESPN|
|Saturday, June 14 and Sunday, June 15||TV|
|12 p.m.-7:30 p.m.||NBC|
Source: USOpen.com. All times (ET).
Analyzing Marquee Groups
Redeem Team: Justin Rose, Matthew Fitzpatrick (a) and Phil Mickelson
A lot of history is working against Rose to pull off back-to-back triumphs. Curtis Strange last pulled off the feat in 1988 and 1989. Part of what makes it so tricky is the elite competition, the change in venues and the sheer mental grind the U.S. Open demands.
The English star, ranked No. 9 in the world, weighed in on his chances to repeat as champion, per Sky Sports:
I feel like the US Open test suits me. For me being defending champion, I don't even like that word, defending, because it puts you already behind the eight ball. You don't want to be out there being defensive at all.
I'm just really excited about the opportunity this week presents. Obviously it is only one guy who has the opportunity to repeat, but I'm seeing that as a pressure-free situation. These tournaments are so hard to win, I'm just going to enjoy the challenge of trying to do that.
Rose has sort of had Mickelson's number lately, defeating him down the stretch at last year's U.S. Open and besting him in a thrilling singles match comeback at the 2012 Ryder Cup. So while Rose won't be feeling too much heat with the major monkey off his back, it will be doubly difficult for Mickelson to get the best of him.
But that won't be what Lefty is thinking about. All that should be on Mickelson's mind is the shot to complete the career Grand Slam. That seems more realistic now than it has all season, considering Mickelson just matched his best finish of the year with a tie for 11th at last week's FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Robert Lusetich of Fox Sports provided his analysis, noting that Mickelson's PGA Championship triumph was reminiscent of a U.S. Open layout:
About Phil Mickelson's failure to win an Open. Baltusrol in '05 was a de facto Open, from set-up to winning score.— Robert Lusetich (@RobertLusetich) June 10, 2014
As long as his sharp short game is clicking, he should scramble for pars with the best of the field. Pinehurst No. 2 can accommodate for Phil the Thrill's reputedly wild tee shots. There isn't thick, lush rough here anymore due to the course redesign from when the U.S. Open was previously hosted in 1999 and 2005.
In the former year, Mickelson had the first of his six runner-up results, losing to Payne Stewart by one stroke. It would be fitting for Mickelson to honor the late, great Stewart by winning this ever-elusive tournament at this site.
Fitzpatrick is seeking redemption of his own. The U.S. Amateur winner missed the cut by one shot at the Masters. Then he bounced back with a 23rd-place finish at the difficult RBC Heritage. If pars are a premium at Pinehurst, that should bode well based on Fitzpatrick's final round, per PGA Tour Media:
Although he's somewhat slight in frame, he hits the ball longer than many expect, is accurate off the tee and has stupendous touch in chipping and putting.
There's a reason Fitzpatrick is turning pro after this week. He's got game, and he'll have the opportunity to showcase it alongside some of the best golfers of his generation, including his compatriot in reigning champion Rose.
Master Class: Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel
This trio constitutes the past three Masters champions, though Watson has won twice in that time. PGATour.com's Bill Cooney added up the rankings players held in statistics of total driving, scrambling and putting from inside 10 feet to determine U.S. Open success.
Guess who ranks No. 1? That would be Mr. Scott. One has to like Scott's chances this week thanks to his improvement under major pressure in recent years. Here's one potential caveat, per Golf Digest's Mike O'Malley:
Adam Scott has missed the cut in half of his 12 U.S. Opens. Best finishes: T15, Olympic; T21, Winged Foot; T26, Torrey; T28, Pinehurst.— Mike O'Malley (@GD_MikeO) June 10, 2014
Watson is third in the world and was just in contention to win the Memorial Tournament, slipping with an even-par 72 in the final round. Since he's so reliant on feel, it's hard to gauge how Watson will handle a brand new venue.
But based on Watson's raw power, ability to imagine more shots than just about anyone in golf history and his own enhancement with the flat iron, he's bound to be in contention anytime he tees it up. The U.S. Open should no longer be an exception, as the lack of rough will work to his advantage, too.
Golf Central documented what Watson had to say with regard to his strategy this week, which is far different than the freewheeling "Bubba Golf" fans are accustomed to:
"I am going to lay farther back than normal... Hopefully in 4 days I can tell you it was a great strategy" - Bubba Watson #USOpen— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) June 10, 2014
In the aforementioned Cooney formula, Schwartzel is fourth in three key categories. Since he birdied the final four holes to win at Augusta National in 2011, there's no reason to doubt him if he's in the hunt come Sunday.
Results haven't been spectacular this season, but the smooth-swinging South African is coming on strong, with ties for 11th and eighth at the HP Byron Nelson Championship and the Memorial, respectively.
Dark-Horse Watch: Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Victor Dubuisson
Labeling either of these three a dark horse may come to them as a bit of an insult. They're all ranked in the top 20 in the world yet are entering this event somewhat under the radar.
Grantland's Shane Ryan even implied that these guys are good:
Underrated U.S. Open grouping: Dustin Johnson, Victor Dubuisson, Jimmy Walker— Shane Ryan (@ShaneRyanHere) June 6, 2014
The raw athleticism Johnson brings to the links is stunning to witness. What continues to lag behind is his putter and skill at getting up and down. Ranking 82nd in scrambling and 85th in total putting gives reason to shy away from endorsing Johnson as a viable threat to win the trophy.
Innovative tactics may be necessary for Johnson to get comfortable and gain some kind of edge. Golf Digest's Ashley Mayo observed an interesting wrinkle Johnson seems to be throwing in:
Dustin Johnson is practicing bump-and-run chips with a fairway wood, a shot that'll be handy around these tightly-mown greens. #usopen— Ashley Mayo (@AshleyKMayo) June 10, 2014
Another noteworthy equipment switch came from PGATour.com's Jonathan Wall:
With at least one win in each of the past six seasons, all that's really missing from Johnson's resume as he enters his prime is a victory at one of golf's four marquee events. Perhaps this is the week he turns it around, having had multiple chances to do it in the past.
Former PGA Tour player Bob Friend fancies Johnson's chances:
For the US Open, I like Dustin Johnson. Southern boy on southern course. No rough, long course, and it's time.— Bob Friend (@BobFriend_Golf) June 9, 2014
As bewildering as Johnson's power is, the rest of this group will surprise with their own pop.
Walker has had a breakout 2013-14 campaign in winning three times to top the FedEx Cup points standings. Some may be surprised to learn that he averages over 300 yards off the tee. The three wins were rather early in the season, so some haven't noticed that Walker has quietly done well in other big stops.
A tie for eighth at the Masters and joint sixth at the Players Championship proved that Walker isn't afraid of the big stage.
The fact that he's coming off a top 10 at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial amid a significantly log-jammed leaderboard makes Walker even more dangerous. It only seems a matter of time before he gets into the winner's circle at a major. His swing coach, Butch Harmon, has worked with the likes of Woods at the height of his powers.
Funny enough, Harmon tutors both Walker and Johnson, giving him two strong candidates to join the ranks of major title holders. They happen to be playing together for the first 36 holes.
Don't doubt Dubuisson, either. Look no further than the Frenchman's mind-boggling short game display in the title match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Jason Day, a two-time U.S. Open runner-up in the past three years, can attest.
Dubuisson is one of the most overlooked rising stars in golf. A nagging shoulder injury has kept Dubuisson from playing more since his breakout performance at the match play event. However, he seems to finally be healthy based on his second-place finish at the Nordea Masters in his last appearance:
Thanks everybody for all your support during the Nordea Master. Having a week resting my shoulder to be ready for the U.S open— Victor Dubuisson (@Vdubush) June 3, 2014
While his hands are rare around the greens, he also generates pop off the tee, averaging better than 310 yards per drive this season (h/t EuropeanTour.com). That distance, combined with a deft touch from 100 yards and in and a calm demeanor, should allow Dubuisson to be a factor on the weekend.
Who is a likelier first-time major winner at the U.S. Open?
A good mix of players who have won other legs of golf's Grand Slam, as well as new hopefuls, should be in the thick of things in the final round. Choosing any one player to win from this exceptional field is difficult, but the man could emerge from one of the above groups.
Most will be cheering on Mickelson to finally break through. If he were to complete the career Slam, his stature in the game's hierarchy would be exponentially bolstered. Any of the young guns would do well to claim victory and become even more established stars as well.
Whatever happens, professional golf figures to thrive at Pinehurst No. 2. The unique U.S. Open setup should still lend to plenty of high scores, frustrated players and a deserving coronation for the winner in the end.