The 2014 U.S. Open got underway early on Thursday with the first round at Pinehurst No. 2, which looks ready to provide a serious test. The key for every golfer in the field is trying to play a steady opening 18 holes to avoid falling too far behind early.
As is often the case at the season's second major tournament, it's as much a test of endurance and mental strength as anything else. The way courses are set up at the U.S. Open is normally very difficult, which means players must avoid having one or two really bad holes so as not to eliminate their championship hopes.
With that in mind, let's check out all of the important details for Day 1, including where to catch the action. It's followed by an outlook for the opening day of play from North Carolina, along with some predictions for how things will play out.
Day 1 Viewing Information
Where: Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina
When: Thursday, June 12 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET
Watch: ESPN (9 a.m.-3 p.m., 6 p.m.-7 p.m.), NBC (3 p.m.-5 p.m.) and ESPN2 (5 p.m.-6 p.m.)
Outlook and Predictions
The combined score of the two U.S. Open winners at Pinehurst is one under par. It's important for players to keep that in mind throughout the first round because there will likely be a few golfers who get off to hot starts and go low by the tournament's usual standard.
Those who try to get overly aggressive in order to keep pace are going to pay a heavy price. Again, the most important thing for everybody in the field, and especially the top contenders, is simply remaining close to par in the early going.
One of those big names is Rory McIlroy, who, as usual, assumes favorite status with Tiger Woods still sidelined due to injury. Based on comments passed along by BBC Sport, the Northern Irishman understands pars are a golfer's friend this week:
"It is going to be a real tricky test and a lot of patience is going to be required this week. ... Par is a good score out here and if you can grind out pars you are not going to lose any ground to the field."
It's something Justin Rose did very well last year at Merion Golf Club. He never went super low in any round. He simply stayed right around even throughout the tournament and, when the dust settled at the end, was on top of the leaderboard at one over par.
The golfers who play smart, limit risk and hit good approach shots are the ones who will be in contention on Sunday.
Perhaps those traits are exactly why the U.S. Open is the only major Phil Mickelson has never won. He's good enough to stay in contention, but his go-for-it mentality usually comes back to hurt him on Sunday when he tries to pull away from the field.
He's come close several times, as noted by Fox Sports Live, but he's never been able to finish it off:
Is this the year Phil Mickelson finally breaks through for a win at the US Open? pic.twitter.com/a8agYR02Zd— FOX Sports Live (@FOXSportsLive) June 11, 2014
Along with McIlroy, Rose and Mickelson, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson, the latter of whom opened the major schedule with a win at the Masters, are the other notable players to watch early on.
Who's your U.S. Open pick?
Of course, there's usually at least one golfer who flies under the radar only to make a push toward the top. Last year it was Mathew Goggin, who finished the first round at two under par. The conversation then shifts to whether or not they are legitimate contenders—and often the answer is no.
All told, look for the lead to sit around three under par after the opening round. It could very well be McIlroy setting the pace based on his strong play recently. He's finished in the top 10 in three of four starts since the Masters, including a win in the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship.
Of those aforementioned top contenders, the one most likely to struggle is Watson. He's only made four cuts in seven U.S. Open starts, and one of those missed cuts came after he won the Masters two years ago. The type of play doesn't match his style.
While Watson may not thrive under the conditions, they do tend to lead to plenty of drama. And it should start right away on Thursday.