The U.S. Open is perhaps the most difficult tournament the sport of golf has to offer, which is what makes it so gratifying when someone is able to overcome adversity to win.
Even the eventual winner is bound to struggle at some point in this tournament due to the difficulty of the Pinehurst course. That is what makes the U.S. Open such a joy to watch, as golfers have to persevere and dig down deep in order to succeed.
What happens in Round 1 may not be fully indicative of how the entire tournament plays out, but Thursday's round of play will be key in terms of weeding out some of the pretenders from the contenders.
For golf fans who desire live leaderboard updates throughout the first round of play, here is all the information you need to know regarding how to get them.
Where: Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, North Carolina
When: Thursday, June 12, starting at 6:45 a.m. ET
Watch: ESPN (9 a.m. ET to 3 p.m. ET and 6 p.m. ET to 7 p.m. ET), NBC (3 p.m. ET to 5 p.m. ET) and ESPN2 (5 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET)
Live Updating Leaderboard
Players to Watch
Although his play has been erratic at times throughout the year, there is no question that Rory McIlroy has the tools necessary to win the U.S. Open when he is on his game. McIlroy was spectacular in winning the BMW PGA Championship last month, and he got off to a torrid start in the Memorial as well, but he doomed himself to a 15th-place finish largely because of a second-round 78.
Anything can happen at the U.S. Open, but McIlroy probably can't afford to post another round of 78 if he hopes to win this tournament. McIlroy won this tournament in 2011 at Congressional, so he is well aware of what it takes to thrive on U.S. Open-style courses. According to Karl McGinty of the Independent, McIlroy likes the look of Pinehurst as well.
I'd never seen Pinehurst before, so it's my first time around the course. I loved what I saw, I really did. I love what they've done with the native areas by taking the deep rough away. It's going to be different to what we usually expect at the US Open. I think some guys are going to be surprised by the look of the course compared to 1999 and 2005, but for me it's new and I don't know any different. So I really liked it out there.
McIlroy's comfort level with the course leading up to the tournament doesn't necessarily guarantee that he'll be able to perform when push comes to shove, but the fact that he isn't intimidated by the course is certainly a good sign.
After an awful 2013 season, McIlroy is currently in excellent form. He has nine top-10 finishes to his credit on the PGA Tour and in Europe, and he'll give himself a chance to win at Pinehurst provided he remains on this trajectory.
Who is most likely to win the 2014 U.S. Open?
To call Phil Mickelson snake bitten at the U.S. Open would be an understatement. Lefty has won the other three majors, but he hasn't been able to finish off the career Grand Slam. Mickelson has certainly had his fair share of opportunities with an incredible six second-place finishes; however, he has never been able to seal the deal.
Perhaps this is the year for the 43-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer. His form has been up and down to say the least, but his game is perfectly tailored to U.S. Open courses. That is why he is near the top of the leaderboard more often than not. Mickelson may not be viewed as a great U.S. Open player due to his missteps in the past, but he could be a multi-time champion had a few more bounces gone his way.
Mickelson has noticed a trend when it comes to his better finishes at the U.S. Open, so he is hoping that Pinehurst gets hit with a bit of precipitation at some point, according to Golf Digest:
Phil: "Of those six second-place finishes, five of them it rained. "So I'm pulling for rain." http://t.co/8JPpkrMPoA— Golf Digest (@GolfDigestMag) June 11, 2014
It is true that Mickelson doesn't have a top-10 finish this year on the PGA Tour in 14 events, but he is such a streaky player that he can turn it around in an instant. Everyone is well aware that Mickelson is perfectly capable of contending at Pinehurst, but he has yet to prove that he can excel with the U.S. Open title on the line.
It remains to be seen if or when that will ever happen, but there will certainly be plenty of golf fans cheering him on.
Everything appears to be trending in the right direction for Adam Scott. He followed up a win at the Crowne Plaza Invitational last month with a solid fourth-place showing at the Memorial, and he just so happens to be the No. 1-ranked player in the world. Perhaps the only thing that could make life better for the Aussie is a U.S. Open win.
Scott finally broke through the major glass ceiling last year when he won the Masters, but he unquestionably has a thirst for more. Scott always seems to be in the mix at majors, but his lack of success at the U.S. Open might come as a surprise to some. According to Jason Sobel of GolfChannel.com, the U.S. Open has far and away been Scott's worst major tourney:
Adam Scott at majors: Masters Top-10s: 4 U.S. Open Top-10s: 0 Open Championship Top-10s: 3 PGA Championship Top-10s: 4 Just sayin’.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) June 10, 2014
That doesn't mean that he is incapable of contending, but it does suggest that he'll have to work that much harder and have that much more luck on his side than many of his competitors.
Scott's game may not be a perfect fit for the U.S. Open, but many said the same about Mickelson at the Open Championship before he finally won it last year. All it takes is one great tournament to achieve a lifetime of glory, and Scott has the potential to make that happen.
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